Friday, December 28, 2007

Morgentaler's Auschwitz: a drama in two parts

The Protest

This afternoon, on the way to work, I happened upon a curious sight: an anti-abortion march. It caught me off guard, and my initial reaction was to laugh. Out loud. Still incredulous, I then turned my bike around to take photos.

I'm not really sure why. I guess I've never seen an anti-abortion march before. I mean, I've seen a block-long poster session along Bank Street (which I didn't consider worthy of a photograph), and I've seen that guy who sits on the lawn in front of Parliament Hill with photos of a distended foetus, (which I did). But never a march.

It must have been the surreality of the participants. Six people, all white, all over 60 years of age. Four were male, two female, and all marching peacefully and silently.

It must have been the one in the back that got to me. Don't be fooled by the purse or the fur coat--it is a man. His sign--"Abortion is Murder"--was the icing on the cake. I'm so used to the stereotypical "Fur Is Murder" protest slogan that I just couldn't help but be amused by the sight of a man holding a "______ is murder" sign while wearing a fur coat.

The "Morgentaler clinic is Sparks St. Mall's Auschwitz" sign was also quite audacious. Many a letter-writing campaign has been sparked simply because someone used the word "holocaust" to refer to any genocide other than "The" holocaust, so I'd expect a much grander outrage at the term being used to refer to a mere abortion clinic. Maybe the backroom censors combing through my blog for anti-semitic sentiments can tip off the Political Correctness League on these folks?

I can only assume these people are making the connection to Morgentaler, who himself survived Auschwitz in World War II (according to Wikipedia), and aren't simply making a facile hyperbolic assertion.

The Reaction

I reacted to the protest by laughing. But what might a sane, logical reaction be?

To that, I turn to a radio interview on CHUO's The Train with Andrew Nellis from July 19, 2007. I managed to download the hour-long podcast back while it was still available on the Internet Archive (I'd re-post the CC-licensed podcast here if it weren't 30 MB).

In the interview, Andrew made some tremendously logical arguments in a number of moral and philosophical areas based on his anarchist philosophy. Thus was his opinion on abortion, which begins halfway into the recording (my transcription and emphasis):
[0:30:11] Now I'm probably going to get in trouble here, but, you know, I have to tell you, I don't like abortion. I think abortion is a very selfish choice. But you know what? I'm never going to have to have one, and I will fight for any person's right to have one, because that's their choice. [Abortion] may be a wrong choice, but it's their wrong choice to make--not mine.

I'll tell you something else: when I see anti-abortion protesters out there, I go over and I shake their hand, because if these people really believe that it's murder occurring in these clinics, I don't understand why there aren't millions of people out there protesting. You know, I think it's alarming, I think it's absolutely damning that these people think murder is occurring and they can't even be bothered to go out and do anything about it.
-- Andrew Nellis, Ottawa, July 19, 2007
I certainly had this near the front of my mind when I saw that protest, but I was too overtaken by the protest's whimsical self-parody to let it bother me. I respect these people's right to protest, but I would never shake their hand: all too often, abortion opponents aim to remove--as Andrew puts it--the right to make a "wrong" choice.

(Personally, as I've never been in the position to consider having one, I see no reason to take a position that all abortion is necessarily a "right" or "wrong" choice.)

- RG>

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The $62 Frozen Dinner

A rare double-post tonight!

Tonight was one of those nights where I had to do the laundry if I wanted to have anything clean to wear tomorrow. So I went to the laundromat down the block and put my clothes in the washer, then came back home while the cycle was going.

It wasn't until after I had taken off my winter boots and jacket that I remembered I wanted to go to the corner store to get a particular style of chips. Since I was fairly warm and needed to cool off, I just went out with my walking shoes, my sweater, and a fleece hat.

The corner store didn't have the chips I wanted, because the delivery truck was delayed from the snowstorm. So I got a frozen dinner instead.

The price on the label was $1.99.

When I got back to my place, I realized that I had left my keys in my jacket. The jacket I wasn't wearing. Crap.

I rang the neighbour's doorbell to get him to let me in to the building, to no avail. Luckily, I did have my cell phone on me, so I tried calling the landlord. But between no answer at home and his office door not being cleared of snow for the last couple days, I concluded that he wasn't around. Crapcrapcrap.

After dropping my frozen dinner box into the snowed-over recycling bin by my front door (in this weather, I don't have to worry about it thawing!), I stepped in to the pizza place next door to "wait". What for, I don't quite recall, but maybe it was just so I could collect my thoughts.

Collect them I did, as I remembered that I had a load of laundry going. I headed to the laundromat to put my clothes into the dryer as I pondered further.

I remembered that I hadn't tried calling my landlord's cell phone. So I called it on a lark.

Success! He answered! He said it wouldn't bother him at all to come over to unlock my front door...only he's out of town. Out of town!

I had anticipated this, so I realized that my only reasonable option was to call a locksmith. So I did, and I waited next door for him to come. One interesting thing he asked me is if I had called another locksmith, as apparently some people call a bunch of them in hopes that one will come earlier than the others. This I had not done.

I waited.

And waited.

He did finally come, and it took him less than a minute to open my front door. As I got into my apartment (the door of which I had left unlocked for the "brief" trip to the corner store), I put on my jacket and asked him how much I owed him.

Sixty bucks.

Yowza! I was expecting $40 or so, but sixty? Oh, well. So I grabbed my wallet.

"You take VISA, right?"

"No, just cash."

Shucks, because all the cash I had on me was twenty five bucks and a bunch of laundry change. He was kind enough to drive me to the nearest bank machine, so I wouldn't have to pay the exorbitant charges for using a white-label machine. He couldn't drive me back, but that's fine, as I had my jacket (though no scarf or gloves...brrr).

I got inside, and put my frozen dinner into the microwave.

It didn't taste like it was worth $62, but I sure felt good when I finally got to eat it!

The $62 Frozen Dinner:

- RG>

Bank/Somerset Re-opening

Going home tonight, I stopped by the Somerset House site, and noticed some changes. There were Jersey barriers around the site, and some of the barricades had been removed. Sure enough, at around 11pm, an article appears on the Citizen's website announcing this intersection will re-open.

Here are my photos from my visit tonight (I also have many photos from previous visits that I have not blogged):

- RG>

Friday, December 07, 2007

Winter Cycling Tip

Winter cycling tip: As you can see in the photo below, salt on your chain is pretty unavoidable. Try to keep your chain well lubricated and free of salt so that it will not corrode.

- RG>

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Bank/Somerset businesses doing fine

You read in the news that businesses in the Somerset/Bank area are doing poorly because of the road closures and barricades set up around the Somerset House building, which the City claims is structurally unsound.

But yesterday, when I got some items from Hartman's grocery store, it was packed. Shoppers not only had to deal with the road closures, but also the 20-40 centimetres of snow on the ground, too.

"About a half-dozen local business owners" staged a protest on November 24th on the City's inaction. And even though "about a half-dozen" means five-to-seven, they managed to score a 440-word article in the Citizen, complete with photo. Many protests with far more participants and better coordination barely get any mention (much less a photo) in the Citizen.

Looking closely at that photo, the lady with the bullhorn is not a "local business owner", but homeless advocate Jane Scharf, who I strongly doubt was protesting the same thing.

While the owner of the building might have cut a lot of corners (perhaps all of them), it would be a lot cheaper for him to tear it down. His resistance to tearing it down shows how highly he values the charismatic 105-year-old building. It is far more attractive than any box of bricks that could replace it, and it would be a shame to let it go for others' impatience.

- RG>

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Climate: a much higher priority than it should be

I just received yet another of those myriad e-mails from friends, acquaintances, and, presumably, random people who coughed while typing and somehow entered my e-mail address.

It's one of those e-mails that invites you to get involved with this campaign, or go to that event, or to otherwise bitch about somebody's inaction climate change. Heck, this week's Charlatan even has a full-page article on how you can save the world if you stop using plastic bags.

Fancy that, eh? And you didn't even have to go out and buy that Prius!

Nobody's really asked me whether or not I believe in climate change, but that hasn't stopped me from telling them that I don't care.

For me, environmentalism is mainly a byproduct of pragmatism. That is to say, any choice I could make for the benefit of the environment is likely to have other benefits that affect me in much more direct and concrete ways.

Consider my decision to use the bicycle as my primary mode of transportation. What are the benefits of riding a bicycle?

Well, for one, I'm not contributing to the smog problem. That means that it is slightly easier to breathe in my neighbourhood and city. That's an environmental benefit. But considering I live on a major street in downtown Ottawa, the difference is negligible.

My community benefits on a financial basis as well: a bicycle is much smaller and lighter than a motor vehicle (including a bus). Having a smaller vehicle means I contribute less to traffic congestion (a benefit you don't get with low- or zero-emission cars), and having a lighter vehicle means the roads I travel on will take longer to deteriorate. These mean it will be longer before the municipality has to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to rebuild the roads I use, and when they do, there will be less need for additional lanes.

But all that means is that property taxes in my city might be very very slightly lower in a decade or two.

A bicycle can't travel as fast as a motor vehicle, and therefore my trips either must take more time, be less frequent, or go less far. Some might see this as a drawback, but it also acts as a benefit, as it requires me to plan my trips better, and consider what I choose as destinations. As proof to that, I rarely go more than 2 kilometres from my home. When you consider that the average person travels four times as far in a day today than they did sixty years ago, and there are many more people, a heckuva lot of roads need to be built to accommodate that traffic. That's extremely expensive for taxpayers.

So by making this choice to cycle, I may have reduced everyone's tax bill by a couple pennies over a decade, not counting inflation. Don't bother giving me an award just for that.

But let's get to the person who really matters in today's society: me.

By cycling, I am getting cardiovascular exercise, thereby improving my health and increasing my life expectancy. If my trips were longer than my average 15-minutes-in-traffic rides, my body would release more serotonin and I'd feel happier, too.

A cynic would say, "If you care so much about your health, why do you eat so much unhealthy food? And why don't you get a doctor to check out that twitch in your eye?" Okay, the twitch thing I should get checked out, but our cynic is correct on the other point. Being healthy and active simply is not a high priority for me, nor is it for the average North American.

While some people put time out of their day to go to the gym or to jog, I cycle precisely to avoid this. Since I need to get to work anyway, why don't I get my exercise while going to work? That's all there is. It saves me time, and saves me having to worry whether I should dedicate a specific time to exercise to improve my health.

Cycling saves me money, too. If I could own and use a car for as little as it costs to go by bike, I would certainly consider it. But even the bus is more expensive: in 2006, my total transportation costs for all modes totaled $706--less than twelve monthly adult bus passes.

While society tends to push money as the most important goal, for me it's time. I don't believe in an afterlife, and I might die in sixty years or in sixty hours--so I'd better make good use of the time I know I have--right now.

There's a wonderful quote by Ivan Illich reprinted in the book "Divorce Your Car!" by Katie Alvord (and probably on my blog once or twice):

The typical American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it is idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for fuel, tolls, insurance, taxes, and traffic tickets. He spends four out of his 16 waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it. And this figure does not take into account the time consumed by other activities dictated by transport: time spent in hospitals, traffic courts, and garages; time spent watching automobile commercials or attending consumer education meetings to improve the quality of the next buy. The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7.500 miles; less than five miles per hour. (Ivan Illich, Energy and Equity, 30-31.)

That bolded part is the most important to me (as much as I get a kick out of the five-miles-per-hour bit): There are some people who actually spend hours each day commuting to and from their boring jobs. To me, this is insane. Commuting is most often a means, not an end.

A means? To what?

To work, which itself is often just a means to get money (which is an end goal only for the most pathological of people). There have been many attempts to make commuting less stressful and more productive (for example, the car radio), but at the end of the day, if you're not deriving pleasure from traveling from one place to another, and if you do a lot of that, then you should think about how your life is structured.

If you live your life in such a way that you don't have to spend so much of it getting from one place to another, you'll have more time, more money (or less need to spend time earning money), and you may have helped keep the mean global temperature from increasing by one degree over the next fifty years.


Remember, this blog post is about Global Warming; cycling is just an illustration. Compared to my arguments based on pure hedonism, greed, and utility, the altruistic "prevent climate change" argument is pretty weak.

And that's just for the argument to get one person to ride a bicycle. Individuals making changes in their own lives will never solve more than a fraction of the world's problems. There are also many institutional, industrial, and international problems that require change. The changes necessary to address these problems might also affect climate change, but somehow I doubt that a person in a war-torn Middle-Eastern country would really care to sign your petition to prevent Global Warming by reducing bombing in their country to 5% below 1990 levels.

Whenever I hear someone citing "Climate Change", or "Greenhouse Gases", or "Kyoto Protocol", I get the same feeling in my gut as when I hear "Mandatory minimum sentences", "War on Drugs", or "Tough on Crime". It shows that they haven't got their priorities straight.

Like any other buzzword, these terms are used by people to draw attention to themselves, to their groups, or to the events they are organizing. Were these people to actually look at the goals of these events, how to achieve them, and how to sell them, they might actually elicit some real change.

- RG>

Sunday, November 25, 2007

SMAP: Corporate Edition

While my previous attempts to get the City of Ottawa to acknowledge its support for Motherhood and Apple Pie (SMAP) did not succeed, I found inspiration on the door of a cruiser that was parked by the closed Bank/Somerset intersection:

(click for larger version)

Since there isn't a war being fought with Motherhood and Apple Pie that warrants a sticker on police cruisers, maybe I can get corporate sponsorship from companies like Microsoft, MBNA, and various corporate media outlets did here.

I mean, if they can get endorsement by the Ottawa Police Service in the form of their logos being on police cruisers, then certainly SMAP can! It's open season!

I must, however, acknowledge the two polite police officers who did not tase me while I photographed their cruiser door. Either they were too busy chatting amongst themselves to notice me, or maybe they actually respected my right to photograph them in a public place.

- RG>

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Explicit Hedonism

Feeding the wardrobe

I realized this morning that I had only packed two shirts, when I had intended to pack three. I decided that I'd go out and buy one, since I'd wanted to get a new shirt for a while anyways.

The last shirt I bought, which is the nicest one I have, I got at the thrift store in Hintonburg for $5.29 plus tax. The tie, which goes along with it quite snazzily, I got at the same store for a dollar. Unfortunately, that store and the Phase 2 in the Glebe were both out of any decent shirts. So I had been meaning to buy a new one, but never got around to it.

So today, once I was satisfied that everything would run smoothly in my absence, I trotted off to a store to shop. I didn't want to shop at Tommy Hilfiger, or any of those other brand-name outlet stores. After walking around and noticing surveillance cameras at nearly every intersection, I found a nice place. It had an old-fashioned charm to it--including its fast-approaching closing time of 6 pm. There were two people who assisted me in finding a good shirt, based on my requirements (namely, what colour ties I had brought with me).

It hadn't occurred to me up to this point the price of these shirts, until I had started to narrow down the selection. Each one was at least one order of magnitude higher in price than the shirt I was wearing cost at the thrift store. I bit my tongue and told myself it was the price of small-town charm and old-fashioned service.

I picked a shirt, tried it on, and learned from the clerk that I needed new pants, because there were at least two things wrong with them (the third one--the bike grease stains--I had already pointed out). Who knew? I think I'll check the thrift store first.

I made my way back to my hotel room to scurry away my expensive new shirt. Fine if my laptop gets stolen, but if this shirt gets stolen before I even get a chance to wear it, I'm in total shit!

Dressing the appetite

In my room, I tried to find a place to eat. I eventually decided that I wanted steak. A good steak, from a good steak place. And even though I could get a taxi voucher covered, I'd rather walk, so it would have to be within a few blocks.

The phone book and travel guide weren't giving me very useful information, and my laptop was still at work, so I headed back there to do further research.

At work, I searched for a place nearby that served steak. Unfortunately, none of the places that put their menus online had steak! My mouth watered as my hunger grew. As amusing as it would be for RealGrouchy to eat at Crabby Joe's, I wasn't in the mood for a "family atmosphere". The only other place that I could find was a bit out of my price range.

My boss happened by, and when I asked her about my steak-hankering, she suggested a place not too far away, and gave clear directions, noting the number of blocks and the names of the streets. "It's got a big red sign--you can't miss it!" So at around 7 pm, I went.

When I got there, I--

I didn't get there. Well, I got to the general location that she had indicated, but I couldn't find the place. The only place with a big red sign you couldn't miss was Canadian Tire, and I'm pretty sure they serve grills, not steaks. I walked around the general area--"exploring", then headed back in a more familiar direction in the hopes I might magically find this, or any other, steak house.

Heading back in the direction of my hotel, near which I knew there was at least an Honest Lawyer, I passed the Union Mission (which, unfortunately, looked very large and well-used). I passed one convenience store and considered going in to ask, but there was a customer in there, and I didn't really feel comfortable asking for a steak house right across from the Mission.

Around the corner was another convenience store, where I asked the guy behind the counter if he knew a place where I could get a steak. He flagged down Walter, who I assume lives in the condo building next to the store. Walter directed me back to Crabby Joe's. I asked about the place my boss told me about. Turns out it had been closed for a couple years already!

So I headed toward Crabby Joe's. My hotel was on the way, so I decided I'd step in to ask the clerk if they knew a place. The counter was busy, so without leaving the revolving door, I went back out and asked the security guy. He suggested a place that was a bit higher fare than Crabby Joe's, and gave me what I thought were clear directions.

Following his directions, I went hungrily for yet another walk. I found the clubbing district, which I believe also was the gay district. There weren't as many surveillance cameras here, and there were noticeably more panhandlers. I gave the last two quarters in my pocket to one lady. Anything to buy off the guilt of buying a ridiculously expensive shirt.

(Actually, while there are a hell of a lot of panhandlers here compared to Ottawa, they are all incredibly polite. Last night, on my misadventure searching for the hotel, one guy asked me "Excuse me, sir, but would you happen to have a cigarette?" Maybe it has to do with the panhandling market being saturated, or maybe the cameras.)

I went down to the end of the street, and found no such restaurant. All the places were clubs with their gates still closed until later at night. The record store guy was standing outside his door, so I asked him where I could find the place I was looking for. If I had room in my bags on the way back, and were I not flying Air Canada, I would probably have gone in and bought a record or two.

He knew where I was going, and gave me better directions. It still took me a bit of walking around, but eventually I found the place. I walked in, and asked to see the menu. Turns out, it was the pricey place I had decided against earlier! Fuck it, I was hungry, and damned if I was going to find another steak house!

All in all, I think I would have been better off taking a taxi to the Keg. This place was the kind that puts less on your plate the more you pay. Sigh.

On the way back, I took note of a couple other places I might eat. I'm glad that I'm eating all this rich-people food on my trip, as it reminds me how much I prefer regular fare.

- RG>

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Conspicuous Consumption in Action

I am posting this from a train.

My employer is sending me down to help with our annual conference in southern Ontario, and I decided to take the train down first class, which is a much more pleasant (if longer) trip than a 70-minute up-down flight in cattle class, plus all the associated probing of cavities and containers (which I'll experience for the way home).

The last time I took the train I was literally too young to remember. It's quite the pleasant experience, and far, far simpler than any plane ride I've ever been on. I haven't done much traveling within Canada, so it was nice to walk around downtown Toronto for an hour (albeit with my bags). Much more vibrant than Ottawa, with plenty of pedestrians, although I don't know if that's just because of the hockey game that was an hour away from starting. The multicolour lights on the CN tower does a good job of hiding its ugly.

I could only see two types of people on the street: rich-looking metropolitans walking places who didn't make eye contact, and panhandlers who quietly sat and asked for change. I literally saw nothing in between. I held a door open for one man, and he was absolutely shocked (but he did thank me!).

I'm on the second (and last) leg of my trip, right now, and it looks like the internet connection is stable enough on this train to warrant spending the ten bucks for the internet connection. I mean, work is paying for the whole trip, so I can splurge a bit on my own expenses, right?

- RG>

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Kill A Watt for free in Ottawa

A couple months ago, a friend of mine mentioned online that she had used a device called the Kill A Watt (description, photos and review available here) to determine how much power her idle electronic devices use.

Lately, I've been wanting to do the same, but since the $30 or so price tag for the device is half my last hydro bill, I didn't really want to shell out for one. (Looking at my records, my hydro bills in the last year range from $62.88 to $195.38. Ottawa Hydro bills every two months)

It turns out that in Ottawa, I won't have to.

The Ottawa Public Library has a number of Kill A Watt devices at each of their branches. And according to their online catalogue, almost none of them are in use.

I'll definitely check one out...of the library!

- RG>

Thursday, November 01, 2007

On a Swap Box mission

Edit: see the first and second blog entries on this topic.

Thanks to Monocle Barbie's tip leading to's blog entry on Swap Boxes, I discovered that the Swap Box Project was started by a fellow who goes by the name maks (or elmaks), and that the project is still in its infancy.

I realized that I should write a story on the swap boxes for one of the local community papers to build more visible community support before it gets killed by the BIAs. To do so, I'd need to get in touch with maks. I looked around on the internet, but everything led back to his deviantART page, and there's no contact info for him there. I could do the lame thing and post comments in other peoples' blogs, but that would be lame.

Instead, I decided to go the more creative way. I rummaged around in my apartment for some Swap Box-sized stuff (no shortage of that here!). I found a small, round mirror, a small key, and a dead 0.3A fuse. I assembled them with some silicone aquarium sealer, and wrote in red Sharpie "LOOKING FOR MAKS - RG>".

Here's a photo.

I needed something white for a backdrop, so in true hipster fashion, I used the Beatles' White Album. I then hipster-whored it up further with some simple photo editing functions. That was all purely for my enjoyment. (Note: it was only after taking this photo that I discovered that he goes by maks, and not elmaks, his deviantART handle. I corrected this before placing it in the box.)

I took it to the nostalgia swap box on Elgin, took out the empty mini-bottle of Bailey's that someone had shoved in the box, and put the mirror in. Hopefully someone who knows him--or maks himself--will find it and get the message. I also hope he appreciates the symbolism in the pieces I used in making it.

Apologies for the poor photo quality. Also in the box at the time were a small figurine and a narrow pad of orange post-it notes. Also, looking at that photo just now, I realize that the frame on the front of the box is derived from one of those stupid ads you see in washrooms. Good on you, maks, for defending our mental environment from those damn things!

maks, if you're reading this, I can be reached at

- RG>

PS: I discovered unexpectedly that you can get Sharpie off a mirror by freezing it, breathing on it, then wiping the condensation off with a tissue. Unexpected, but gave me a chance to spell his name properly.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Streetpost Art #2

Yesterday, walking back to the office on Elgin street, I spotted a new resident of the space on the streetpost in my previous blog entry:

The Nostalgia Swap Box. A little box to put things and find little treasures.

Today on my way back from lunch, I left a little something in it.

A cursory search of "Nostalgia Swap Box" on the internet turned up this Flickr photoset for other Ottawa-area swap boxes and street art.

I think it's a delightful little break from the bleak, monotonous browns and greys of street infrastructure, taking a little culture back from the gigantic corporations that scatter our streetscapes with signs, billboards, and advertisements.

Looking at the other photos on that flickr photoset, though, it appears there have been other street art that has already been taken down. I hope these swap boxes survive; I've got a lot of little trinkets to get rid of!

Edit: See the follow-up entry about this swap box!

- RG>

Monday, October 22, 2007

Streetpost art

Earlier this year, I was walking back to work from lunch on Elgin street. I came across this interesting sight:
Someone (or perhaps a bird) had picked away at the inch-thick layer of staples surrounding this telephone pole. Here's a closer-up view.
At the next post up the street, I saw this little work of art, leading me to believe that the other post was not unintentional.
More recently, here's another look at that first pole. Either more people plucked away at it, or the staples came off as more recent posters were removed.
Whatever the case, it sure breaks the monotony the street and really gives you something to think about!
- RG>
Edit: See the follow-up entry about the swap box that appeared shortly thereafter on the same post!

Monday, October 15, 2007

National Grouch Day

Apparently, today is National Grouch Day.

You can celebrate it by hugging the nearest grouch fucking off!

- RG>

Friday, October 05, 2007

Into the Wild

So last night, after finishing late at work, I headed to the coffeeshop to relax and to catch up on a bunch of work.

No sooner did I sit down with my tea did a friend of mine walk in and invite me to share in her stash of passes to an advance screening of a film--Into the Wild. The film started in less than an hour. Naturally, I went.

Boy did I make the right choice.

Right from the start, I could tell I'd click with this film.

It's based on a true story, starting off at the main character's college graduation, where he laments the artifice of society that has been constructed around him, and the goals that people have to achieve these empty status symbols.

He chooses to cut off all ties, and starts living a life of his own with nothing but the clothes on his back and his own two feet.

In the year or so of time the film covers, he Lives, with a capital L. That is to say, he experiences life far more deeply and truly than I fear I may ever live mine.

About halfway through, he decides that his goal is to go up into the bowels of Alaska, away from all society, living completely off the land. You know he makes it there, because the film switches between his journey in Alaska and his journey to get there.

I am in awe of this film. It reminded me to put things into perspective, to really evaluate the decisions I make as a member of society. To justify the way I live from the ground up, not based on what others have done before.

On my way home, I bumped into a friend of mine who is has been an active participant in the Canadian Friends of Burma for a few years. His committee is organizing Burma related events right now, including a film tonight at Ottawa Cinema Politica, and a demonstration tomorrow at noon on Parliament Hill.

After walking with him to where he was going, I went home, and just laid in the backyard, staring at the stars and collecting my thoughts, reflecting on what I had just seen in this film.

It reminded me that there are risks in life in everything you do. As much as you try to preserve your own existence, you can't eliminate those risks, and when you try to, you keep yourself (at least in part) from Living. You have to balance the preservation of life with the realization of life; you can never be completely in control, so don't try to be.

Now, I'll tell you to see this film, but please don't pay for it. As great a film it was, it was produced by Sony BMG, who has been part of the coalition trying to restrict artistic expression for corporate profit by buying out politicians the world over. (Well, also I don't want to look like a shill because I got a free pass to an advance screening)

- RG>

Sunday, September 16, 2007

In a coffeeshop, on a corner

A few nights ago, I was sitting inside a coffeeshop downtown.

Outside, in front of the garbage bin, was a panhandler, trying desperately to get a bit of rest while he sat unassumingly with a cup between his legs.

He knew that people would snub him as they walk past, ignoring his sign that asked for spare change for this "unemployable" man.

I sat in the coffeeshop, reading the papers and sipping on my tea, catching up on some paperwork, all the while keeping an eye out for him.

For most of the hour and a half I sat there, only one person put any change in his cup. A few people stopped or cocked their necks as they passed. Most people walked by without even noticing him, as though he were somebody else's problem.

A man in a sweater came by and left a paper bag in the resting man's lap. The bag likely held a sandwich or a bagel.

The panhandler looked up and thanked the man. The man waved back and smiled, then each returned to what they had been doing.

I walked up to the man in the sweater. I thanked him, too.

- RG>

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why We Fight - And why we must SMAP

There is a very good documentary called "Why We Fight". You can watch it in four parts on YouTube at This Link. I've also embedded part one into this post, below.

Among the other storylines, including President Eisenhower's worryingly accurate warning about the power of the Military-Industrial complex, is one of a retired New York Police Department sergeant, whose son worked in the World Trade Center and died on 9/11.

This officer's story shows how important messages like "Saddam Hussein wasn't behind 9/11" can be hidden behind carefully crafted campaigns and slogans. This is important in the "Support Our Troops" ribbon debate, because the message "You don't have to support the war to support the troops" is another one that isn't obvious when you see the ribbons.

On Wednesday morning, when I go out there with a couple of buddies with "Support Motherhood and Apple Pie" paraphernalia, I will be proving a similar point. I expect many people to get angry at us. And their anger will not be because we are supporting Motherhood and Apple Pie. Their anger will be at the unwritten message of our ribbons.

Of course, the message behind my campaign is that "Support Our Troops" ribbons should not be on police cars. While I disagree with them, I don't have any problem with the right of individuals to put these ribbons on their own--private--vehicles.

If people come away from my demonstration thinking that my ribbons mean anything other than "Support Our Troops Ribbons Shouldn't Be On Police Cars," then I will have proven my point: that the ribbons say more than just what they say.

And therefore, they don't belong on our cruisers.

Here is part 1 of the documentary Why We Fight:

I encourage you to support the filmmakers by purchasing a DVD of the documentary. (I am unaffiliated with them or the documentary)

- RG>

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Support Motherhood and Apple Pie this Wednesday!

At this Wednesday's City Council meeting (agenda), the following item is listed:

11. Notices of Motion (For Consideration at Subsequent Meeting)


Moved by Councillor G. Brooks

Seconded by Councillor R. Jellett

WHEREAS Canadian troops and emergency services workers selflessly perform their duties for Canadians everyday;

AND WHEREAS Canadian troops and emergency services workers sometimes suffer injury or sacrifice their lives for other Canadians;

AND WHEREAS the Council of the City of Ottawa appreciates the service and sacrifice of Canadian troops and emergency services workers, wherever they may be serving at home or around the world;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Ottawa authorizes the use of ‘Support Our Troops’ decals on city vehicles;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Ottawa supports the decision of the Chief of the Ottawa Police Service to authorize the use of ‘Support Our Troops’ decals on police vehicles.

Don't be fooled. Even though it says "for consideration at subsequent meeting", it is entirely likely that they will vote to waive the rules of procedure, and consider it at Wednesday's meeting. They tried the same thing two weeks ago, but failed to get the three-fourths support needed to consider it then and there. If they do push it through, the decision would be final. Wednesday may be our only chance to fight it.

That's why on Wednesday, I'll be at City Hall with my red "Support Motherhood and Apple Pie" t-shirt, and my posters, stickers, and cards with the same logo.

I welcome you to download and print your own as well. Click on the image below for a high-resolution .png graphic:

While the ribbons are amusing, the issue is very serious. Just as with the Flying Spaghetti Monster movement. If you don't show your support for motherhood and apple pie, then this is what will happen to the debate on Afghanistan:

E-mail me ( if you want pdf versions of the ribbon graphics, including 3-up and 6-up versions. These are vector-based graphics, so they don't get fuzzy as you increase their size.

- RG>

Monday, September 03, 2007

Emergency parade!

I'm used to hearing loud, eclectic music from the neighbours across the street, but this time it something was different. Here's what I wrote on IRC:

12:39 Dixieland!
12:39 Across the street!
12:39 Live, I think!
12:39 Must investigate!
12:39 Yay! Labour Day Parade!

Indeed, it was true! A parade going by the house.

So I grabbed my hammer, smashed the front off the box in my kitchen that says "IN CASE OF PARADE, BREAK GLASS", grabbed my parade bike and went out to join in the fun!

In under ten minutes, I was in amidst the action, bringing joy and tears to children and adults alike!

I passed the Amalgamated Transit Union guys, busted past the Will Murray/NDP folks, and chatted with one of the ladies of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Before the turn onto Bronson, there was a bit of a holdup, so I did a few circles and tricks on my bike and posted for some photos.

Around the corner, there was another holdup, and the Sgt. Crozier made a bunch of terrible puns about my bowling pin helmet. I had heard the "on strike" one before, but admittedly, never in a Labour Day parade.

I chatted with Councillor Clive Doucet (I also chatted with Coun. Doug Thompson, who I believe had no clue who I was) as well as with the Dixieland players. They said they get together once a year for this parade. I proved my knowledge of the Ottawa Dixieland scene by mentioning pointing out that the RCMP Dixieland band plays across from Parliament Hill on Friday and Saturday mornings.

I got into the park, and someone offered to take my photo. How could I not oblige!

Happy Labor Dabor.

- RG>

Sunday, September 02, 2007

"Support our troops", preview

On the night of August 24, as I was about to go to sleep at 2 am, I decided to check out the Ottawa Citizen's news feed to occupy me for a couple more minutes before going to sleep.

I didn't get to sleep until 8:30 am on Saturday.

It was this article that did it. Police Chief Vernon White has installed 180 yellow "support-our-troops" ribbons onto the back of municipal police cars.

It was not just that that pissed me off, but Mayor Larry O'Brien's ignorant stance expressed in the CBC article on the topic (this is the second night in a row that his ignorance lost me sleep, as I felt compelled to write an anti-O'Brien letter to the editor on Thursday morning at 2 am, which went into Friday's paper).

It seemed inherent to me that the "Support Our Troops" slogan implies support for the mission in Afghanistan, despite O'Brien's claim that they were semantically distinct. I wrote out a whole essay-length blog post about it, until I realized at 6am that I didn't have to prove that the two were the same to argue logically that the "Support Our Troops" slogan stifles dissent.

Support for Cullen is very weak, especially among councillors. Council narrowly avoided discussing it at last Council meeting, not getting the required number of votes to put it on the day's agenda without notice. The media have since reported that it will be up for discussion at the September 12 meeting of Council.

In today's Ottawa Citizen, Janice Kennedy has an editorial titled Why I don't wear red, which goes over some of the reasons why the ribbons are political. That will serve as some food for thought until I prepare and post my essay.

In the meantime, please check out this clever and poignant video video.

Until I get the second draft of the essay up, please consider this "1000-word" version:

- RG>

Monday, April 23, 2007

Poke me

I tend to go to a lot of meetings, and usually what comes out of those meetings is a lot of things for me to do.

Very often, months will pass before I look at my (handwritten) notes from that meeting, and I will see highlighted, asterisked, and underlined notes of things I should have done ages ago.

Since most of these items are "forward my e-mail on this subject to so-and-so" or "add this person to the e-mail list," I tend to ask that person to e-mail me a reminder to do that. I've done it for other people, too, with good results--just a one-line e-mail reminding them to do it.

At a meeting I was at tonight, I decided to use a name for this action. "Poke me about putting that item in the next newsletter." "Poke me to send you Jen's e-mail address."

I think it's quite appropriate, and I'm posting it here to poke myself into using it more often. Let's hope it gains wings.

- RG>

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Overheard in a classroom earlier today... the people paying attention to me.

A student today was questioning whether a number on the board was a "10" or a "70". The professor told him it was a "10", but the student was being stubborn that it sorta looked like a "70".

So I turned around, and I told him something along the lines of this:

"You see, effective learning requires the combination of both visual and auditory inputs.

"Had you been paying attention to the auditory inputs when the professor originally wrote the number on the board, you would have been aware that it is, in fact, a ten, and this whole misunderstanding would have been avoided."

I believe the professor was quite amused.

- RG>