banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Open the pod bay doors, Hal (3)

From The New York Times:
Impressed and alarmed by advances in artificial intelligence, a group of computer scientists is debating whether there should be limits on research that might lead to loss of human control over computer-based systems that carry a growing share of society’s workload, from waging war to chatting with customers on the phone.

Their concern is that further advances could create profound social disruptions and even have dangerous consequences.


The researchers — leading computer scientists, artificial intelligence researchers and roboticists who met at the Asilomar Conference Grounds on Monterey Bay in California — generally discounted the possibility of highly centralized superintelligences and the idea that intelligence might spring spontaneously from the Internet. But they agreed that robots that can kill autonomously are either already here or will be soon.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Obesity, like smoking, saves taxpayers money

Jacob Sullum at Reason Magazine asks "if obesity saves taxpayers money, should it be encouraged?"
Far be it from me to deny the undeniable, but the fact that obese people have higher annual health care costs does not mean they have higher lifetime costs. It therefore does not follow that reducing obesity would reduce total medical spending in the long run. In fact, a study published last year in PLoS Medicine reached the opposite conclusion: Because obese people tend to die sooner than thin people do, the researchers found, eliminating obesity would increase spending on health care. "Although effective obesity prevention leads to a decrease in costs of obesity-related diseases," the authors wrote, "this decrease is offset by cost increases due to diseases unrelated to obesity in life-years gained. Obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is not a cure for increasing health expenditures" (emphasis added). Overeating, like smoking, seems to be one of those risky habits that saves taxpayers money (especially when you take into account not only health care but Social Security spending). If reducing demands on the public treasury is the aim, such habits should be encouraged.

"Dorm-room bong-session insight"

James Lileks is less than bowled over by the movie version of The Watchmen:
Look. I love graphic novels, and this one gets props for upending the Superhero Mythos when it did, but great writing it isn’t, and brilliant insight it lacks. (I much preferred “Marvels,” which came along later, and had better art - the illustration in “Watchmen” never bowled me over, and the coloring was often horrible.) From here in 09 I could smell its 80s roots - dated, sorry, tired politics that lack anything other than sullen adolescent angst and dorm-room bong-session insight.

Reminded me of the Dark Knight comics: Reagan was President, which somehow explained why the cities were such horrid dystopias. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Doesn’t it? Some how? Same here: the reign of Nixon (Jeezum crow, Nixon) ties in with urban decay, filth, moral calumny, and all those incidents of debauched decline Rorschack decried as he walked the mean streets. If there’s one thing we know for sure about hated iconic Republican presidents, they prefer a society full of prostitutes, child killers, drug addiction, and other sundry pleasures of modern life.

Uh huh. Imagine someone setting a comic like this in the 90s, with Dr. Bronx and the Jokester heading off to Bosnia to kill Serbs at the request of President Clinton - who’s in his third term, because he suspended the Constitution to prepare for Y2K - and later the Jokester, fresh from killing Vince Foster and Ron Brown, argues with InkBlot over who killed the American Dream, with InkBlot insisting it was supply-side economics.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Architectural crimes against humanity (3)

Joseph Brean has an article in today's National Post - Redesigning the asylum - about the impending demolition of the 1950s addition to Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health on Queen Street West and the upcoming redevelopment of the complex.

Designed in the architectural style known as Brutalism (of which I have written here and here), the building is literally contributing to the mental illness of its residents. Brean writes:

Architecturally, the buildings that stand here now might constitute the worst psychiatric hospital in the country, a maze of cinder block hallways behind concrete walls.


Walls are not just walls here. They are cringe-inducing metaphors for "the mistakes of the past," as the psychiatric euphemism has it. The lobby has no gift shop. Two doorways lead off it, one labelled "Our Past" and the other "Our Future," and from each a hallway seems to stretch forever, lined with locked doors. In the patient wards, corners are too tight for stretchers to turn. Communal bathrooms for 20 people inexplicably have one toilet and three sinks. The only phone available to patients is in the hallway across from the nursing station. When the elevator opens on the mood and anxiety ward, the first thing you see are the prison-like metal bars that have been screwed into balcony railings to prevent suicides.


In the central atrium -- itself born of the realization that the mentally ill sometimes need to socialize, but flawed in that it allows them contact only with each other -- even the snack counter had to be rescued from Queen's Park bureaucrats by mental patients, who today muddle through, serving tea and muffins in all the ambience of a rural hockey arena's skate-sharpening bar.


This is yesterday's zeitgeist cast in concrete and cinder block. The proper architectural name for much of it is Brutalist, which invites mockery but defies humour. Listening to Dr. Goldbloom describe the design foibles with the weary resign of someone who has little choice but to muddle through them for just a little while longer, the whole place starts to feel like a joke in poor taste, or a Far Side cartoon come to life.

Read the whole article for a good look at the CAMH's plans for the redesign of the centre. One down, so many to go.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Gay Republicans

This short video from CurrentTV takes a look at gay Republicans in the U.S. A quotation from one of the interviewees:
The gay community should want our votes to be fought for among the two parties instead of being taken for granted by one and ignored by the other.

(HT: Towleroad)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Hillary Clinton: "funny lady"

The North Korean foreign ministry reacts to Hillary Clinton's characterization of them as "children clamoring for attention":
“We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community,” the North Korean statement said. “Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping.”

Washington's expected response: "I know you are but what am I?"

Architectural crimes against humanity (2)

In a recent post I offered up some comments about the Sheraton Centre - one of Toronto's monuments to a much-loathed architectural style called "Brutalism". The theme continues today with a discussion of another Toronto Brutalist eyesore - the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

Brutalism is a term coined by French architect Le Corbusier & is derived from the phrase beton brut, meaning "raw concrete". Brutalist buildings are characterized by their bulky, angular geometry and their use of poured concrete, usually left unfinished with the marks of the forms still on it. They often deliberately expose structural features that are usually hidden, like support members, plumbing & ventilation. They are unrelentingly ugly.

Brutalist buildings were built en masse in many large cities and especially on university campuses in the 50s, 60s and 70s when a postwar distaste among architects for old traditional styles resulted in the razing of whole city blocks and the erection of these horrendous, soulless public buildings.

Brutalist buildings, although popular with architects, never caught on much with the people who actually had to live and work in them. This was famously illustrated by a colossal high-rise apartment complex in St. Louis called Pruitt-Igoe, which was at one time the largest public housing project in the U.S. Although not made of poured concrete, Pruitt-Igoe had many of the features of Brutalist architecture, and was an almost immediate failure when it was built in 1952. Tom Wolfe wrote about the fiasco in his book From Bauhaus to Our House:
Millions of dollars and scores of commission meetings and task-force projects were expended in a last-ditch attempt to make Pruitt-Igoe habitable. In 1971, the final task force called a general meeting of everyone still living in the project. They asked the residents for their suggestions. It was a historic moment for two reasons. One, for the first time in the fifty-year history of worker housing, someone had finally asked the client for his two cents' worth. Two, the chant. The chant began immediately: "Blow it....up! Blow it....up! Blow it....up! Blow it....up! Blow it....up!" The next day, the task force thought it over. The poor buggers were right. It was the only solution. In July of 1972, the city blew up the three central blocks of of Pruitt-Igoe with dynamite.

The destruction of Pruitt-Igoe was featured in the film Koyaanisqatsi accompanied by menacing music by Philip Glass. The following YouTube clip contains the scene:

Theodore Dalrymple wrote this about the Brutalist post-war housing projects of his native Britain:
As for the buildings themselves, they are, with a vengeance, Le Corbusier's "machines for living in"—though perhaps "existing in" would be more accurate. The straight line and the right angle reign supreme: no curves, no frivolous decorative touches, no softening materials add warmth to the steel, glass, and concrete. There is nothing that Mies van der Rohe, another dictator in architect's clothing, would have condemned as "aesthetic speculation."

What do the tenants think of their apartment blocks? They vote with their urine. The public spaces and elevators of all public housing blocks I know are so deeply impregnated with urine that the odor is ineradicable. And anything smashable has been smashed.

It's hard to find someone who loves a Brutalist building. Some owners of these structures would dearly love to have them torn down to start fresh. A case in point is the congregation of the Third Church of Christ, Scientist in Washington, DC. Their church was built in the seventies and designed by architect Araldo Cossutta who worked for the renowned I.M. Pei. Church members hate it and want it torn down and replaced, but the D.C. government had other ideas:
Parishioners at the Third Church of Christ, Scientist, say their 1970s modernist church is crumbling, uninviting and too expensive for the small downtown flock to maintain.

Church officials want to tear down the bunker-like structure, located two blocks from the White House, and replace it with a revenue-generating office building that includes space for the church.

The congregation won in the end and a demolition permit was eventually issued:
Harriet Tregoning, director of the city's Office of Planning and Mayor Adrian Fenty's agent for historic preservation, overruled a decision last year by the city's Historic Preservation Board that granted the building landmark status and prevented its demolition.

Preservationists say the building, with its windowless facade and concrete slabs, is a classic example of Brutalist architecture that should be maintained for future generations.

Tregoning, in her ruling, said forcing the congregation to maintain the building "would result in the inevitable demise of the Third Church as a downtown congregation" and would violate the spirit of the landmarking law.


Terry Lynch, executive director of the city's Downtown Cluster of Congregations, praised the decision.

"Historic preservation was never meant to be more important than the very people or purposes that buildings were meant to serve," he said. "This 1970s Brutalist-designed building ... would have bankrupted this congregation and forced it out of downtown where it had been for 100 years. That makes no sense."
Toronto has an abundance of Brutalist buildings blighting its civic landscape, but not many invade their neighbourhoods quite like the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts on Front Street. It was built as the city of Toronto's Centennial project and opened in 1970. Designed by Gordon S. Adamson & Associates, it is the permanent home of the Canadian Stage Company, the Esprit Orchestra and the Hannaford Street Silver Band. It contains two performance spaces, the Jane Mallett Theatre and the Bluma Appel Theatre.

 describes the building euphemistically as "a low-slung modern concrete building that follows the slope of Lake Ontario's former shoreline down from Front Street". That's putting it mildly - it follows the slope of the former shoreline like a German pillbox followed the shoreline at Juno Beach.

The building has all the hallmarks of a classic Brutalist structure: hulking, factory-like street facade completely lacking in ornamentation, poured-concrete construction and harsh angular geometry. It is truly ugly.

The most disturbing thing about the St. Lawrence Centre is the way it intrudes on its neighbourhood. This area of Front Street is home to the famous Gooderham Building

the popular St. Lawrence Market

and one of the best-preserved 19th century commercial blocks in the city

That apparently meant nothing in 1967 when this horrible building was grafted on to the streetscape like a ghastly prosthetic limb. Here are a few shots of the St. Lawrence Centre and its immediate neighbour to the east. You can get a sense of what was destroyed to make way for this structure:

Here's the sidewalk view that is presented to pedestrians who happen to be strolling down the south side of Front Street. Some neo-Victorian lamp-posts have been installed and some forlorn trees have been planted out front to soften the blow.

The facade is utterly devoid of architectural ornamentation. Any structural elements could be mistaken for those of a nuclear reactor:

The interior spaces are not much better. Mingling at intermission in the lobbies & corridors would certainly concentrate one's attention on the bar. It must be tough to stage comedies in this forbidding place:

Toronto has a lively and vibrant live theatre and concert scene, and the St. Lawrence Centre is an important part of it. The artistic tenants deserve a better building to showcase their efforts. I can sympathize with the Pruitt-Igoe tenants who chanted "Blow it....up! Blow it....up! Blow it....up!"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Canadians & their crappy health care system

Stephen Crowder at Big Hollywood responds to critics of his video about the shortcomings of Canada's government-run health care system:
You’ve got a jealous nation with an often-misplaced inferiority complex combined with a Canadian news media (largely owned by the government) pushing the virtues of Canadian healthcare on a regular basis. So what happens is that “nationalized healthcare” becomes the one point of pride that Canadians can lord over their American counterparts.

If you tell Canadians that you want to interview them for a critical piece on the Canadian healthcare system, they’ll put on their best trophy-wife smile for the camera and list it’s many accolades.

Catch them on a day with their guard down in need of actual care however, and the truth comes out. They run through the same old exasperated, frustrated complaints pointing out the terrible flaws in the system that they all know to be true. They know that it’s long, the quality of care is sub-par and that if they’re going in for an operation that they’re probably coming out with one less appendage than needed to be removed

Monday, July 20, 2009

Architectural crimes against humanity

A tourism website called recently did a survey of its one million members to compile a list of the world's ten ugliest buildings, and not surprisingly the winner was Boston City Hall - a horrendous example of a post-war architectural style called Brutalism. Canada has its share of these soul-destroying buildings, as anyone who has spent any time on a Canadian university campus can attest.

Boston City Hall, built in 1969 and designed by architects Gerhardt Kallmann and N. Michael McKinnellis is perhaps the most infamous example of Brutalism, with its characteristic repetitive angular shapes, its hulking bunker-like street presence and its rough-cast concrete construction (still displaying the texture of the plywood forms used in the pouring). The blog Blogadilla elaborates:

Brutalist architecture combines the glamour of raw poured concrete (the woodgrain pattern of the mold still visible on the concrete surface) with the playfulness of military bunkers and the repetitive geometric shapes of a Russian psychiatric prison.

Architecture critic & blogger Clem Labine describes Boston City Hall as

... a monument to architectural hubris, an inhumane construct that is despised both by many of the workers who use it every day, and by most passersby who encounter it face to face. Because of its lack of civility, disdain for ordinary citizens and scorn for its urban context, I would happily swing the first sledgehammer to begin its demolition.
Theodore Dalrymple, in a 1995 essay titled Do Sties Make Pigs?, wrote about the effect Brutalist architecture had on his home town of London:

Until quite recently, I had assumed that the extreme ugliness of the city in which I live was attributable to the Luftwaffe. I imagined that the cheap and charmless high rise buildings which so disfigure the city-scape had been erected of necessity in great gaping holes left by Heinkel bombers. I had spent much of my childhood playing in deserted bomb shelters in public parks: and although I was born some years after the end of the war, that great conflagration still exerted a powerful hold on the imagination of British children of my generation.

I discovered how wrong I was not long ago when I entered a store whose walls were decorated with large photographs of the city as it had been before the war. It was then a fine place, in a grandiloquent, Victorian kind of way. Every building had spoken of a bulging, no doubt slightly pompous and ridiculous, municipal pride. Industry and Labor were glorified in statuary, and a leavening of Greek temples and Italian Renaissance palaces lightened the prevailing mock-Venetian Gothic architecture.

"A great shame about the war," I said to the store assistant, who was of an age to remember the old days. "Look at the city now."

"The war?" she said. "The war had nothing to do with it. It was the council. "

The City Council—the people's elected representatives it transpired, had done far more damage to the fabric of the city in the 1950s and 1960s than had Goering's air force. Indeed, they had managed to turn it into a terrible visual ordeal for anyone with the most minimal visual sensibility.

I attended the University of Guelph in the late seventies and the campus of my alma mater is a typical example of what happened to many universities after the war. A massive enrolment increase resulted in an unprecedented building boom at exactly the time that architects were collectively obsessed with building the most hideous structures in the history of mankind. In the middle of Guelph's stately tree-lined campus, amid beautiful buildings like Creelman Hall:

or Johnston Hall:

were erected Brutalist structures like the McLaughlin Library:

and the McKinnon Arts Building:

Guelph is not atypical: the University of Toronto erected the monstrous Robarts Library in the centre of its leafy 19th Century downtown St. George Campus:

The University of Western Ontario, not to be outdone, built the Weldon Library in the middle of its beautiful campus:

This is a long, roundabout way of commenting on one of Toronto's monuments to Brutalism. I was in Canada's World Class City recently and stayed at the Sheraton Centre on Queen Street, directly across from City Hall. It takes up most of a full city block and is shockingly ugly from the outside:

The low section containing the main lobby and the shopping concourse looks like a sewage treatment plant and the high-rise tower reminds me of the kind of apartment blocks put up by the communists in East Berlin.

The building is constructed of poured concrete in textbook Brutalist style, and up close it has the look of a parking garage or a highway overpass.

This is the ordeal that faces pedestrians as they walk along the south side of Queen Street in front of the building - a featureless, windowless expanse of concrete that sucks the life out of the sidewalk outside. It looks like the Berlin Wall.

To complete the Soviet prison theme, it even has a mini guard tower on one corner. The only thing missing is barbed wire.

The building's exterior is so devoid of ornamentation and detail that it is almost impossible to find the entrance. Fortunately the management has provided helpful signage for confused patrons trying to find their way into the building. This, believe it or not, is the hotel's main entrance off Queen Street, complete with sign saying "Main Entrance". You have to wonder about an architect who would design a building that needs signs to tell you how to get in:

As is typical with Brutalist buildings, the Sheraton Centre makes no attempt to blend in with or even augment the neighbourhood it is situated in. This block of Queen Street is home to more successful modern buildings like City Hall with its surrounding square :

and the beautiful Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts:

The hotel also shares the block with two much-loved historic structures: Osgoode Hall

and Old City Hall

The visual effect of this hulking concrete monstrosity on a street that is (or was) the centre of civic life is jarring. It's like a whole block in the centre of town has been abandoned or occupied by a hostile enemy.

Fortunately, the proprietors have lavished much attention on the hotel's interior, perhaps as befits a building that has turned itself completely away from the street. I was expecting a university dormitory, or perhaps a hospital waiting room, but instead walked into this elaborate lobby decked out in polished marble, dark mahogany and leather-upholstered furniture, all flooded by natural light from an interior courtyard. The rooms were luxurious and made for quite a pleasant stay.

This was quite the contrast to the exterior, and the people who work there must be constantly apologizing for the face their hotel presents to the public.

The oldest Brutalist buildings were built in the 1950s and are starting to show the effects of age and shoddy construction techniques. Architectural preservationists are in a quandary about whether or not to devote money and resources to the preservation of these horrible eyesores - they are, after all, reflective of the historical time in which they were built. It's hard to imagine anyone in the future protesting the demolition of the Sheraton Centre, though.

Next post: another Brutalist eyesore: Toronto's St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On the death of the "most overrated reader of news"

Roger Kimball muses on the death of Walter Cronkite:
According to a story in The Los Angeles Times, Cronkite was “was not just a news man.” Quite right. He was also a pop celebrity. Like Michael Jackson, he was so successful because he perfectly incarnated certain popular clichés. His success was not a matter of substance. It was a matter of tone. As that piece in the LA Times acknowledged, “The news that Cronkite reported was barely distinct from the news his colleague-competitors reported.” Indeed. He didn’t research or write the news. He read it. He emitted the same platitudes every other news reader mouthed. He did so, however, with a sort of cardigan authenticity that used car salesmen would climb naked over broken bottles to emulate. When JFK was assassinated, Cronkite wept, almost. He swooned when Neil Armstrong walked upon the moon. He was righteously indignant over the war in Vietnam, Watergate, and the war in Iraq. How he loathed President Bush, how he admired President Carter, the “smartest” president he ever met. He was a partisan news reader whose reputation for impartiality survived only because he espoused the same ideology as those in the media who determine who is awarded points for impartiality. Liberals like Cronkite suppose they are objective because they are secure in the belief that their opinions represent a neutral state of nature. It is (they believe) only those who dissent from those opinions who bring politics into the equation.

"The relentless rectitude of Vancouver's dining community"

Alan Richman, a restaurant critic at Bon Appetit magazine, writes this month about Vancouver's obsession with sustainability and the "100 mile diet". Some excerpts:
Nobody in this southwest Canadian metropolis ever speaks badly of ingredients, unless the stuff comes from somewhere else. Vancouver is the heartland of every admirable (and sometimes infuriating) food cause you've ever encountered—local, sustainable, organic, and eco-gastronomical among them. Fish is frozen at sea, residents are expected to frequent farmers' markets, tourists are advised to dine on homegrown products, and everybody is made aware of the 100-mile diet, a kind of imaginary line that harvesters are expected not to cross.

On the wilder side, you'll find the anti-foie gras lobby, energized by mild regional temperatures that allow year-round picketing. Allow me to add a warning: Suppress any urges for Chilean sea bass before coming to town. "If we served that, there would be so many protesters, our door would be closed," says David Foot, a local chef who runs the kitchen at Market by Jean-Georges, a high-profile new spot operated by Jean-Georges Vongerichten's restaurant group and located in the Shangri-La Hotel. Chef Foot confesses to one imperfection: using wasteful paper place mats on his tables, for which he is regarded as a reprobate. He explains, "It's a market!"—but he may be in trouble nonetheless.


While Vancouver's practices are obviously beneficial, not everyone is entirely pleased. At a restaurant where I dine anonymously, I engage one of the owners in casual conversation about the pressure that local restaurateurs are under to conform. He replies, in a gently mocking tone, "The 100-mile limit? What if the food is 108 miles away? Don't get me started. It's like a religion." Later, on the record, he is respectful, careful not to offend.

I hear anecdotes about the shunning of chefs who dared to source worldwide, rather than locally, but Clark insists that the pressure to conform does not come from chefs like him. "It's the media and the local consumers who demand this," he says. "The residents of Vancouver put down roots in alternative lifestyles before chefs and restaurants joined the green movement. We have a huge organic community. People in B.C. want healthy lifestyles—cycling, swimming, jogging, flax, and hemp. That was in place long before I came around."

At the Thomas Haas pastry shop on the North Shore (by now Haas might have a midtown branch in place, alleviating the need to endure bridge traffic to eat his unparalleled almond croissants), the candy boxes offer more information than any reasonable shopper requires: "Printed on paper with post-consumer recycled content, using vegetable-based inks. Please recycle."

Haas is a splendidly genial fellow, the sort who might be expected to throw confetti into the air at German sausage festivals, but when speaking of local food, he is cautious. He practically apologizes for having to import cocoa beans and almonds, which of course are not grown in Canada, before finally making a modest stand: "Sometimes the reality is that we can't do everything. We use chocolate that is not 100 percent organic, Valrhona, because it is the best in the world. I don't want to be out there on the bandwagon, pleasing all organizations, but we do want to do what's right. It is a natural habit."


Relief from the relentless rectitude of Vancouver's dining community is readily available. Granville Island, connected to the city by a diminutive causeway, is an oasis of individuality. In the markets there, amid the "Eat Local" signs, I notice Taiwanese tilapia, snapper from New Zealand, Norwegian mackerel, and even, God bless it, some terrible farm-raised salmon. There is more: smoked meat from Montréal, European links, Parisian ham, and, I am pleased to see, doubly dubious previously frozen German wieners.

A friend of mine who lives near Vancouver tells me, "We're a culturally diverse place, and people want food from where they're from." I am reassured, not because I want the opportunity to buy such products, but simply because I want to find out whether the merchants are comfortably able to sell them. (If you wish to walk around with such items, I suggest purchasing an Organic Acres Market cotton shopping bag: perfect camouflage.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Anti-Americanism: Canada's acceptable bigotry

I have a few American friends and I find myself frequently apologizing to them for the appalling rudeness they often encounter from Canadians. In our mythical "cultural mosaic", where acceptance of all cultures is drilled into us from birth, anti-Americanism is worn as a badge of pride by many Canadians and even taught in our schools. The phrase "American-style" is an epithet frequently used to taunt one's political opponents at the highest levels of government in this country. Robert Fulford has an excellent article in today's National Post - Canada - a nation of bigots - which eloquently explores this theme. Some exerpts:
"For three years," Brian [an American expatriate living in Canada] wrote, "I have had countless and relentless encounters and bad jokes about my nationality, and notice it is especially significant in Jr. High and High school teachers, as my kids were shocked to discover." Michael Moore's poisonous documentaries about America appear to be favourites of some Ontario schoolteachers. In one town, a history teacher showed Brian's daughter's class Bowling for Columbine, commenting that it showed true insight into America. At another, in a media teacher's class, she found herself viewing both Bowling for Columbine and Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. The teacher elicited from students views such as "Every American loves violence" and "Americans are always starting wars to invade countries."

All this came as a shock to Brian. He had lived for 40 years in the American Midwest and can't remember ever hearing a discouraging word about Canada.


Multiculturalism has been installed as a kind of Canadian religion. But the covenant that now throws an umbrella of protection over most cultures doesn't stretch far enough to embrace Americans. People who would kill themselves before saying a word against an Egyptian or a Chinese will reflexively (often eagerly) laugh at Americans.

Perhaps we imagine they are already too successful. Perhaps they don't qualify as authentic immigrants, since they are already half-Canadian in the same way we are half-American. Perhaps they should organize, demand official recognition from Ottawa. Perhaps ordinary tolerance and decency requires a government mandate.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Homeopathic E.R.

Check out this hilarious parody of homeopathic medicine from the British comedy duo Mitchell & Webb. "Sometimes I think a trace solution of deadly nightshade or a statistically negligible quantity of arsenic just isn't enough."

(HT: John Stossel)

Somebody tell Rosie O'Donnell

Interstate 75 near Detroit may be closed until Thanksgiving after a collision on Wednesday caused a gasoline tanker to explode. The resulting fire brought down part of a steel-reinforced concrete overpass onto the highway below. Will this shut up the 9-11 "fire can't melt steel" truthers? Not likely.

Here's the story from the Detroit News:

Hazel Park -- A tanker explosion Wednesday night that melted a portion of the Nine Mile bridge, left gawkers in awe and, surprisingly, produced no serious injuries has created a lasting commuting problem for drivers who typically rely on Interstate 75.

And while it is unclear how long the interstate will remain closed, it looks like it will be November before the bridge reopens, transportation officials said Thursday.


On Thursday, crews from the Posen Construction Co. used excavators mounted with jackhammers to demolish the western half of the overpass while another crew broke up the eastern overpass that crashed Wednesday night.

"We will have the western half of the bridge demolished and debris cleaned up Saturday morning. Southbound I-75 will be reopened sooner than northbound," Morosi said.

Morosi said pavement specialists will inspect the freeway to determine the best course of action: simple resurfacing or complete replacement.

Morosi said the best-case scenario is that MDOT will only have to resurface the freeway, but in the worst case it will have to reconstruct the pavement. He said it would take longer to replace the Nine Mile bridge, which had just been extensively repaired as part of a project that saw 16 overpasses repaired between Eight Mile and I-696.

"The bridge beams are probably fried," said Morosi, who witnessed the fire and described it as an inferno.

Designing and ordering the bridge beams can take up to two months, he said.

"We hope to have the bridge reopened by Thanksgiving," Morosi said.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Remembering Apollo 11

Check out these fantastic pictures of the Apollo 11 mission from the Boston Globe.

"40 years ago, three human beings - with the help of many thousands of others - left our planet on a successful journey to our Moon, setting foot on another world for the first time. Today marks the 40th anniversary of the July 16, 1969 launch of Apollo 11, with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin Jr. aboard. The entire trip lasted only 8 days, the time spent on the surface was less than one day, the entire time spent walking on the moon, a mere 2 1/2 hours - but they were surely historic hours. Scientific experiments were deployed (at least one still in use today), samples were collected, and photographs were taken to document the entire journey ... In the words of astronaut Buzz Aldrin: "In this one moment, the world came together in peace for all mankind."

I was 10 years old during the Apollo 11 mission & remember vividly staying up late with my parents to watch Neil Armstrong take his first step on the Moon on a crappy black & white TV. What an amazing time that was - it seemed that man was capable of anything.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Canadian health care sucks

Stephen Crowder at PJTV takes a trip to the Great White North in search of free health care:

Bastille Day

James Lileks on the French Revolution:
I have no illusions about the French Revolution - it wasn’t another iteration of the American version, but a particularly European variant, with all the usual hatreds, bloodshed, ancient factions, and sublimation of grand ideals in a petty struggle that ended up in oceans of blood, Thermidor purges, the rise of state terror and the inauguration of messianic cult-of-personality tyranny. Other than that, well, nice job.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

"A Conservative Is Just a Barista Who's Been Mugged By Reality"

Jonathan Last at the Weekly Standard Blog observes that some Starbucks baristas aren't too thrilled with having to share their workplaces with smelly homeless people who take space away from paying customers:
I've never seen any polling data on this, but my guess is that Starbucks baristas probably vote, as a class, like Prius owners. I'd be pretty surprised if they didn't go 75-25 for Kerry and 85-15 for Obama. Walking these guesses a little further down the lane, I suspect that, in general, baristas are down with most of the liberal compassion agenda. Until, that is, it intersects with their world.

Read the rest.

(HT: Right Side of the Rainbow)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

An open email to Warren Kinsella from a gay Conservative

Warren Kinsella wonders how I can sleep at night:
I was sort of wondering how you can be gay and a Conservative supporter at the same time.

I mean, not only do they deny your very existence - they think cabinet ministers should be punished for appearing in any way supportive of you, or those like you.

It's your life and all that, but I was just wondering how you sleep at night.

As I've indicated before, if the Harper Cons don't want you, we do.

Faithfully yours,


Kinsella's concern arises from this news from the website of the Campaign Life Coalition, which states:
SASKATOON, July 6, 2009 ( - The revelation of $400,000 in funding from the federal Conservatives for the recent Toronto Gay Pride parade, which is notorious for its inclusion of full frontal nudity and public sex acts by homosexuals, came as a shock to most social conservatives in the nation. According to Conservative MP Brad Trost, however, the decision to fund the event also came a shock to most of the Conservative caucus, even those inside the Prime Minister's office.

Speaking to from his riding office in Saskatoon today, the 36-year-old Conservative said, "The pro-life and the pro-family community should know and understand that the tourism funding money that went to the gay pride parade in Toronto was not government policy, was not supported by - I think it's safe to say by a large majority - of the MPs. This was a very isolated decision."

Trost also hinted that Minister Diane Ablonczy, who was responsible for the funding, lost the file as a consequence of the embarrassment to the Party. Protesting more than once that there was no "official connection," he said, however, "it should be noted that the file has been reassigned to a different Cabinet Minister since that announcement was made." He added, "The whole tourism program and funding for major tourism events is being reviewed."

Trost claimed that "almost the entire Conservative caucus" including "most of the Prime Minister's Office were taken by surprise at this announcement."

"It shouldn't be deemed to have been a change in Party policy," he said, adding, "Most of the caucus is still strongly pro-traditional marriage."

The MP attributed the move to "sloppiness."

"Canadian taxpayers, even non-social-conservative ones, don't want their tax dollars to go to events that are polarizing or events that are more political than touristic in nature," he said.

"I'm glad they're owning up to a very grave error here," said Mary Ellen Douglas, national coordinator for Campaign Life Coalition (CLC), in response to Trost's remarks. CLC had originally protested the decision to fund Gay Pride as soon as it was made public. At the time, CLC's Jeff Gunnarson had told LSN, "Given the fact that the Conservative government supports marriage as a union of one man and one woman in Section 68 iii of their Policy Declaration, I am concerned that they find it prudent to give nearly half a million dollars to a group that diametrically opposes that very section of the policy."

Mary Ellen Douglas told LSN today, "Hopefully such mistakes won't happen again, especially at a time when the economy is so bad."

First of all, the Campaign Life Coalition is not an arm of the Conservative Party of Canada. Declarations by this organization should not be interpreted as reflecting the official policy of the party or the government, even if they are supported by a back-bench Conservative MP from Saskatchewan.

Brad Trost does not necessarily represent the CPC any more than former Liberal MP and notorious homophobe Tom Wappel represented the Liberal Party or the governments of Jean Chretien or Paul Martin, in which he served as a back-bench MP for many years.

Here's Mr. Wappel in a policy paper he wrote while serving as an MP for the Toronto riding of Scarborough West on the subject of protecting gays from discrimination:
This portion of the paper makes clear the reasons for my objections to those who would force society to regard homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and why I see this as the inevitable result of recklessly (albeit with the best of intentions) adding "sexual orientation", howsoever defined, as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act.
It further outlines my thesis that matters which deal with homosexuality are deeply moral, upon which a free vote must be permitted.

also from Wappel:
Homosexuality is statistically abnormal, it's physically abnormal and it's morally abnormal.

Just an isolated incident? How about this from former Liberal MP Roseanne Skoke, who also once ran for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party:
Homosexuality is not natural. It is immoral and it is undermining the inherent rights and values of our Canadian families and it must not and should not be condoned.

The Liberal Party has had its share of MPs who failed the Liberal litmus test of acceptance of gays: support for gay marriage. In 2005 when the Liberal government introduced a bill in Parliament to legalize gay marriage across Canada, 32 Liberal MPs (out of 127 present) voted against the legislation. Joe Comuzzi resigned from his cabinet post rather than obey a direct order from Prime Minister Martin to all of his ministers to vote for the bill, saying at the time "I promised faithfully to the people of Thunder Bay-Superior North that I would defend the traditional definition of marriage". Liberal MP Pat O'Brien quit the party rather than vote to support gay marriage.

OK, maybe a few rogue Liberal back-benchers didn't get the memo and went off-message. Surely someone who had served in the Cabinet in jobs with important national responsibilities would support the party line? Here's Liberal Joe Volpe, who served under two Liberal Prime Ministers as the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, and was the senior minister responsible for Ontario and Toronto:
... marriage cannot be treated like any other invention or program of government. Marriage serves as the basis for social organization; it is not a consequence of it. Marriage signifies a particular relationship among the many unions that individuals freely enter; it's the one between a man and a woman that has two obvious goals: mutual support and procreation of children (barring a medical anomaly or will). No other type of relationship, by definition, can fulfill both goals without the direct or indirect involvement of a third party....for most MPs, marriage remains the cornerstone of society, not some government response to the most recent lobby.

Yes, there are social conservatives in the CPC who don't support acceptance of the homosexual "lifestyle" and are opposed to gay marriage. There are Liberals who share the same views - does that fact make it impossible for gays and lesbians to be Liberals? Furthermore, the CPC is a political entity independent of the Government of Canada. The CLC's article, which states "Given the fact that the Conservative government supports marriage as a union of one man and one woman in Section 68 iii of their Policy Declaration ..." is misleading. This policy was a plank in the election platform of the Conservative Party - the Government of Canada's policies support no such thing. Prime Minister Harper held a free vote in the House of Commons regarding gay marriage - a majority of MPs (including many Conservatives) voted not to reopen the issue, and I take Harper's word for it that the issue is now closed. I'm sure if I had the time I could wade through Jean Chretien's Red Book and pull out policies that might be embarassing to Liberals too (abolish the GST, anyone?)

The Campaign Life Coalition's website is confusing two separate issues: taxpayer support for Toronto's Gay Pride parade and gay marriage. The Gay Pride issue is a separate thing, and I have to admit that I have a few problems with public nudity at something that was advertised as a family event - that doesn't make me homophobic. If an event is publicly funded, participants shouldn't be surprised if it attracts scrutiny if laws are broken. Gay Pride should be treated exactly the same as Caribana, and I'd wager that the government would have a few things to say if people were strolling down Lakeshore Blvd stark naked wearing cock rings and waving dildos during that event. Would that make Conservatives intolerant of Caribbean immigrants?

I'm the first person to admit that the Conservative Party of Canada isn't a perfect fit for gays, but my support for a party doesn't depend solely on the issues of gay marriage and whether the leader marches down Church Street in the Gay Pride Parade. There is a host of political, economic and foreign policy issues that I'm more concerned about that would make me rather crawl on broken glass than vote Liberal. I sleep fine at night - thanks for asking, Warren. How do YOU sleep at night?

Monday, July 06, 2009

Celebrity's death causes mass hysteria - in 1926

It's impossible to avoid the carnival of public mourning brought on by the death of Michael Jackson - even CBC Newsworld is carrying tomorrow's memorial service live. This kind of obsession is nothing new - try to imagine how CNN would have covered a similar event that occurred in 1926: the death of film star Rudolph Valentino.

Here's a description of the craziness prompted by Valentino's death in New York:

An estimated 100,000 people lined the streets of New York City to pay their respects at his funeral, handled by the Frank Campbell Funeral Home. The event was a drama itself: Suicides of despondent fans were reported. Windows were smashed as fans tried to get in and an all day riot erupted on August 24. Over 100 Mounted officers and NYPD's Police Reserve was deployed to restore order. A phalanx of officers would line the streets for the remainder of the viewing. The drama inside would not be outdone. Polish Actress Pola Negri, claiming to be Valentino's fiance, collapsed in hysterics while standing over the coffin, and Campbell's hired four actors to impersonate a Fascist Blackshirt honor guard, which claimed to have been sent by Benito Mussolini. It was later revealed as a planned publicity stunt.[69] Media reports that the body on display in the main salon was not Valentino but a decoy were continually refuted by Campbell.

Here's another account of the circus:
Two women attempted suicide outside the hospital, and a boy died on a bed covered with photographs of Valentino while a woman in London drank poison as she gazed at his image. A new song was quickly written, There's A New Star In Heaven To-Night, which was recorded by the popular singer Rudy Vallee, and immediately was heard blaring from radios coast to coast.

The piano sheet music with Valentino's portrait on its cover was distributed throughout the country before he had even entered his tomb. Despite their long separation and divorce, Rudolph and Jean Acker had remained good friends until the end of his life. Jean wrote a song in testament, "We Will Meet At The End Of The Trail," the piano sheet music which displayed Rudolph and Jean on the cover. The east coast premiere of The Son of the Sheik was a huge and astounding success.

Movie star Pola Negri made headlines as she rushed from her film set for Hotel Imperial and dashed across the continent to be with Rudolph, with whom she declared she was to be married. Donning the most opulent mourning costume she could conjure, the histrionic Pola arrived supported by two bodyguards and accompanied by her secretary and press agent.

Shrieking relentlessly in front of the photographers while dripping in $3,000 worth of black fabric and priceless jewels, she threw herself across Rudolph's open coffin, fainting and inciting the inflamed crowd to hysterics as they tore through a huge plate glass window. Pola cried loudly to the press, swooning repeatedly, "My love for Valentino was the greatest love of my life. I loved him not as one artist loves another, but as a woman loves a man." It was a wax replica on display for visual consumption, as the real embalmed Rudolph was locked safely away in a back room.

Valentino's coffin was transported to Hollywood as thousands of people stood by to watch the train pass through their city. Bushels of rose petals were showered from an airplane over the cortege as he was carried into the mausoleum. The funeral became an unprecedented event as thousands of fans bordered on mass hysteria while Madame Negri created another scene as she shrewdly cried amidst a $2,000 bed of red roses with her name POLA spelled out in white roses at the center.

She repeated her tear-drenched dramas at numerous subsequent press conferences, and Photoplay Magazine announced that Pola would erect a marble wedding cake to sit atop his tomb, a delicacy that was never built. Easing her obvious sorrow and disappointment, she married Prince Sergei Mdivani, and became Princess Pola.

The behaviour of Jackson's fans in reaction to his death may be many things, but it is not unprecedented.

Anglican bishop says gays should repent

Archbishop of Rochester (UK) Michael Nazir-Ali said in a recent interview that the Anglican Church welcomed gay people, "but we want them to repent and be changed."
LONDON (AP) — A senior Church of England bishop has angered gay-rights campaigners by saying homosexuals should repent.

Archbishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper that the Bible defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman. He said the church welcomed gay people, "but we want them to repent and be changed."

Nazir-Ali is a leading member of the conservative wing of the global Anglican Communion, which is riven by divisions over homosexuality and the ordination of women.


Nazir-Ali's remarks appeared a day before the launch in Britain of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, a coalition of conservative parishes from around the world, which Nazir-Ali supports.

He was quoted as saying that people who depart from traditional Biblical teaching "don't share the same faith."

"We want to hold on to the traditional teaching of the church," he told the newspaper. "We don't want to be rolled over by culture and trends in the church."

The Anglican Church is of course free to espouse whatever doctrine it chooses - no one is forced to be an Anglican after all. The church does get considerable state support in the form of its tax status as a charitable organization, so one could argue that if it wishes to support doctrine that runs counter to the policies of the secular state it should voluntarily give up its tax-exempt status, but that's another argument.

I was raised in the Anglican Church but no longer attend, mainly because of policies like this. I have no desire to associate with an organization that wants me to "repent" for something that is a fundamental part of me and which I cannot change (although I spent years trying). I don't expect Anglicans who believe in a literal interpretation of holy scripture to support acceptance of gays in their congregations - that's fine. But you're going to have to worship without me and many people like me. Just don't be surprised when you read news stories like this:
Church attendance 'to fall by 90%'

In one of the most holy weeks in the Christian calendar, a report says that in just over a generation the number of people attending Church of England Sunday services will fall to less than a tenth of what they are now.

Christian Research, the statistical arm of the Bible Society, claimed that by 2050 Sunday attendance will fall below 88,000, compared with just under a million now.

The controversial forecast, based on a "snapshot" census of church attendances, has been seized upon by secular groups as proof that the established church is in decline. But the Church of England has rejected the figures, saying they were incomplete and ignored new ways of worshipping outside the church network.

According to Dr Peter Brierley, former executive director of Christian Research, by 2030 just under 419,000 people will attend an Anglican Sunday service. By 2040 the number will be down to 217,200, falling to 153,800 five years later. By 2050, if the trend prediction is correct, only 87,800 will be attending.

"Rolled over by culture" indeed.

Canada & Honduras

Victor Davis Hanson comments on the "coup" in Honduras:
Consider: the U.S. reacted quickly and meddled unambiguously in condemning the Honduran arrest of President Zelaya. It mattered little that for the first time in memory we Americans now were on the side of autocrats like Castro, Chavez, Morales, and Ortega in showing revolutionary solidarity with Zelaya ( and of course the UN as well).

We cared little that both the Honduran Supreme Court and Parliament had acted lawfully in ordering their President’s removal on grounds that he had acted unconstitutionally, in bold, unlawful efforts to obtain a third presidential term through a likely rigged plebiscite.

(It would be analogous to an Obama or Bush demanding a third term, illegally acquiring ballots to force a plebiscite, ignoring a Congressional conviction of impeachment, and a Supreme Court edict of unconstitutionality, only to be arrested by the Joint Chiefs and escorted out of the country).

Canada supported the US in a UN resolution condemning the removal of Zelaya. The Canadian government needs to seriously rethink its position.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Hideous Public Art (6)

Yes, it's the return of Hideous Public Art - a semi-occasional feature that has been a fan favourite in the past (with all two of my fans) and has been on hiatus for a while. Today's example comes from Toronto - a world-class city that has its share of world-class eyesores.

This monumental bronze excrescence is called "Universal Man" and was created by Gerald Gladstone in 1976. According to Wikipedia, Mr. Gladstone frequently complained that "his work was misundertood by the Canada Council's arts bureaucracy" - quite the statement considering the hideous art inflicted on the public by Canada's "arts bureaucracy" over the years.

It originally stood at the base of the CN Tower to "give a balance of human scale" to the world's tallest free-standing structure. It was removed in 1987 and re-erected in 1994 in a parking lot on the west side of the Yorkdale shopping mall, where it was unveiled by North York Mayor Mel Lastman (himself a living monument to bad taste). According to the accompanying plaque, Universal Man was created "to symbolize the earthbound human energies reaching towards a higher universal knowledge".

Here it is in its current location, reaching towards a higher universal knowledge outside the entrance to the Bay. You can see the scale of the thing - its at least twenty feet tall and towers over the surrounding parking lot.

I read a short story when I was a kid about a murderer who buried the body of one of his victims in a shallow grave in a forest. A weird fungus grew around the corpse and for some reason became animate - the victim's skeleton then rose from the grave surrounded by a quivering mass of now-sentient slime and lurched into town to take revenge on the killer. This memory comes back to me everytime I look at this sculpture - I can imagine this bronze creature slithering into the Shopper's Drug Mart gurgling "I'm looking for the man who shot my Pa" as terrified customers try to hide behind barricades of disposable diapers. I mean really - just look at it:

In fact, now that I think of it, it kind of reminds me of an episode of The Simpsons, where Homer ingests an alien parasite and mutates into this scourge of Springfield:

I guess it could be some reference to nuclear annihilation - we were all bummed out about Mutually Assured Destruction back in the 70s after all. This does look like a man caught in an atomic bomb blast, futilely hurling a rock or something at his destroyers while his flesh literally melts off his body. Here's the Crack of Doom made visible:

Maybe he's a warning to teenagers visiting the mall about the dangers of drug abuse. Steroids in particular can have this effect on the genitals, even if they do give one a killer sixpack:

I'm curious about the statement the sculptor is trying to make by his portrayal of Universal Man's head as some sort of embryonic bird beak, or maybe the mouth of a tapeworm. A shapeless blob of protoplasm with no features and just a mouth slit symbolizes "earthbound human energies reaching towards a higher universal knowledge"? OK, well I guess I can see it now that it's been explained to me by the helpful plaque.

Poor Universal Man. Erected to give a human scale to Toronto's most prominent structure, removed from public view for seven years and then installed ignominiously in a parking lot outside a suburban shopping mall. Is this the fate of western culture? Or did the powers that be at the CN Tower get tired of looking at this monstrosity every day and finally dump it on Mel Lastman's doorstep? Either way, it's finally in an appropriate location.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The costly truth about Canada's health care system

John Stossel takes a look at Canada's health care system at Reason Magazine in this article: There's no such thing as free health care. An excerpt:
It's true that America's partly profit-driven, partly bureaucratic system is expensive, and sometimes wasteful, but the pursuit of profit reduces waste and costs and gives the world the improvements in medicine that ease pain and save lives.

"[America] is the country of medical innovation. This is where people come when they need treatment," Dr. Gratzer says.

"Literally we're surrounded by medical miracles. Death by cardiovascular disease has dropped by two-thirds in the last 50 years. You've got to pay a price for that type of advancement."

Canada and England don't pay the price because they freeload off American innovation. If America adopted their systems, we could worry less about paying for health care, but we'd get 2009-level care—forever. Government monopolies don't innovate. Profit seekers do.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Conservative hypocrites

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford has been labelled a hypocrite for preaching from the GOP's "family values" prayerbook while having an affair with an Argentinian woman who is not his wife. Does this standard of hypocrisy apply to liberals too? Leigh Scott at Big Hollywood has some thoughts on the issue. An excerpt:
First off, if this is “conservative hypocrisy” isn’t every Democratic scandal involving money an example of “liberal hypocrisy?” The statist agenda is to take your money and have the government spend it because, supposedly, they can do it better and fairer than you can. So when we indict a Democrat over bribes, theft, or kickbacks why don’t we talk about how that effects their agenda? Shouldn’t the Rod Blagojevich scandal generate a full Anderson Cooper show about how the Democrats are going to proceed in telling us that they should take care of the cash when they are all a bunch of crooks?