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)

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Blues for New Year's Eve

Judy Garland sings Happy New Year from her 1957 album Alone.



Happy New Year, Onefineguy.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Architectural crimes against humanity: Kingston, Ontario

Kingston, Ontario is a beautiful little city on Lake Ontario at the headwaters of the St. Lawrence River. European settlement began here when the French founded Fort Frontenac at the mouth of the Cataraqui River in 1673 - in fact the ruins of the fort can still be seen today. There was a substantial influx of Loyalist refugees in the 1780s and the town was heavily fortified after the War of 1812, resulting in the construction of some of Kingston's most beloved buildings, like Fort Henry and the Martello towers that still guard the harbour.




















At one time Kingston was the capital of the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada and was the home town of Canada's first Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald. Its location at one end of the Rideau Canal and its importance as a military garrison and the home of Queen's University led to a period of prosperity and ambitious building projects. Many, like its magnificent City Hall, have survived and give the modern city's downtown an impressive collection of 19th century architecture.

























Unfortunately, Kingston went through a period in the 1960s and 1970s when a lot of hideous modern buildings went up and vandalized the downtown streetscapes. Wandering around today the visitor strolls down streets like this












































only to be visually assaulted by buildings like this hotel, built right on the historic waterfront within sight of City Hall and adjacent to a Victorian fire hall:





















or this horrendous bank, now abandoned, which squats like a nuclear reactor across from the Market Square, making no attempt to blend into the surrounding streetscape in any harmonious way:













































Whole downtown city blocks were razed to put up Brutalist concrete structures like the "Hanson Memorial Parking Garage" near the Market, which I notice has been painted with cute children's art to make it less threatening. I'm not sure what Mr. Hanson did to deserve this memorial. Its pedestrian entrance looks like a maximum security Soviet prison:













































But of all the ugly buildings in Kingston, there is one that is head and shoulders above the rest: Princess Towers - a hulking apartment block at the corner of Princess and Division Streets. There are no other high rise buildings in the downtown core, so this structure dominates the city like a medieval castle. Its blank featureless concrete north face confronts visitors travelling south down Division Street from Highway 401 as they enter the downtown business district; it's the first impression that most tourists get of downtown Kingston, somewhat like crossing through the Berlin Wall at Checkpoint Charlie.



























It reminds me of the Flak Towers that Hitler built to defend German cities from the Allies during the Second World War, like this one that still stands in Vienna:

























The story of the Princess Towers is a cautionary tale. According to the Queen's Encyclopedia it was originally built in 1972 as "Elrond College", an "experimental cooperative student residence" owned by Queen's University but run by the students themselves. It was named after a character from J.R.R. Tolkien's novel Lord of the Rings, which is appropriate since the building looms over Kingston like Mount Doom over Mordor. The Queen's Encyclopedia tells the sad tale:
The idea for Elrond College came from students in the late 1960s, who were fed up with traditional residences, restrictive landlords, and the perennial shortage of housing in Kingston. The co-op, named after a character in the Lord of the Rings whose house was "a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness", was to be a coeducational residence "where the `they' is `you' and the rules are your own," as early promotional material promised. The students secured support from the alma mater society, Queen's administration, and the federal government, and had high hopes for a new era of student housing when the co-op opened in 1972. But the 16-storey project was plagued by financial problems, including a lawsuit levelled by its construction company and a chronic inability to fill its 400 beds. It worked fairly well as a co-op at first, with all residents doing a couple of hours of cleaning and cooking work each week. But the system began to break down in the mid-1970s and the building became increasingly shabby. But what finally brought Elrond to its knees was its inability to pay off its mortgage, thanks again to a persistently high vacancy rate. After a long and winding road of financial misery, the idealistic project closed its doors for good in 1981. The building was sold and it has been a privately-owned apartment block ever since.
It's no wonder there was a chronic inability to fill its beds. Take a look at this building and try to imagine spending a cold Kingston winter or two inside its forbidding ramparts:

















































The Princess St. entrance alone is enough to depress even the most optimistic Hobbit - how anyone can think that this leads into a building that is "a cure for weariness, fear, and sadness" defies belief. It looks like the entrance to a subway station or a bomb shelter:




















The former hippie cooperative is now being run by capitalists as a private enterprise, and instead of a utopian commune where "the `they' is `you' and the rules are your own", the building advertises its convenience and downtown location. Maybe that's a good marketing campaign for all failed socialist experiments - I'll send the idea along to Angela Merkel and her friends at the European Commission.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year

Christmas in Austin Texas, 2010: Jo's Coffee Shop and Taco Stand, South Congress Ave.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Kim Jong Il's Funky Get Down Juche Party

In memory of the Dear Leader - some classic North Korean propaganda films set to music.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: All Your Love, by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The veil is not a choice

Farzana Hassan, past president of the Canadian Muslim Congress, wrote today in the Huffington Post (!) that she fully supports Immigration Minister Jason Kenney's decision to prohibit women from covering their faces during citizenship oath-taking ceremonies. This should be required reading for all those who worship at the altar of political correctness and can't decide what's the more important shibboleth: feminism or multiculturalism.
Minister Kenney deserves our applause for taking a bold stand against one of ultra-orthodox Islam's most pernicious symbols: The face veil.

...

Indeed newcomers to Canada must embrace gender equality as a core Canadian value. In recognizing the patriarchy behind the veil, Kenny acknowledged that women must make choices freely in an atmosphere of equality and transparency. The face veil must be removed, not just to ensure the integrity of the oath-taking ceremony, but also to affirm the equality of the sexes. And despite what third-wave feminists and multiculturalists assert, the burka is both oppressive and anti-feminist, steeped in patriarchy and control.

It is nonetheless the muticulturalists' love affair with the "exotic" that prevents them from seeing the larger picture about the burka. Their view is obviously predicated on moral relativism that regards all cultures--even the horrendously patriarchal ones--as equal. Third- wave feminists, in particular, assert that women should be free to define their own femininity even if it includes donning the veil. But can a choice be deemed feminist if one adopts a practice that is clearly the result of patriarchal religious edicts?

Regrettably, contemporary feminists continue to support a woman's right to wear the burka. According to them, women have chosen this path of femininity for themselves. Their choices must be respected and any contradictions in their stance must be accepted. To deny a woman the right to wear the burka would mean imposing someone else's standards of equality and freedom.

And herein lies the fallacy. Women who purportedly choose practices that stem from patriarchal interpretations have in fact not defined their femininity. Burka adherents have most certainly taken their cues from chauvinistic and patriarchal religious interpretations and embraced them without question. That women must accept polygamy, that they must veil before strange men, that they must restrict themselves to domestic roles are the result of patriarchal conditioning, rather than women defining these roles for themselves.
Heads are exploding at CBC headquarters at this very moment.

Thank you Peter Kent

So it's official - Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Accord, and it's about time. The New York Times reported on Environment Minister Peter Kent's announcement of the long-anticipated move:
In announcing the decision, government officials indicated that the possibility of huge fines for Canada’s failure to meet emissions targets had also played a role.

“Kyoto, for Canada, is in the past,” the environment minister, Peter Kent, told reporters shortly after returning from South Africa. He added that Canada would work toward developing an agreement that includes targets for developing nations, particularly China and India.

“What we have to look at is all major emitters,” Mr. Kent said.

Under the Kyoto Protocol’s rules, Canada must formally give notice of its intention to withdraw by the end of this year or else face penalties after 2012.

The extent of those penalties, as well as Canada’s ability to redress its inability to meet the treaty’s emission reduction targets, is a matter of some debate.

Mr. Kent said Canada could meet its commitment only through extreme measures, like pulling all motor vehicles from its roads and shutting heat off to every building in the country. He said the Liberal Party had agreed to the treaty “without any regard as to how it would be fulfilled.”

He also said the failure to meet the targets would have cost Canada $14 billion in penalties.
Matt Horne, Director of Climate Change at the Pembina Institute, isn't happy:
“It’s not a surprise that it happened,” Mr. Horne said of the government’s decision to withdraw from the treaty. “But it is a bit of surprise that it happened pretty much as they got off the plane from Durban.”
I love majority governments. Well done, Minister Kent.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gays, socons and the GOP

The world economy is circling around the drain, the Middle East is teetering on the edge of the abyss, Europe is collapsing, and what are the Republicans arguing about in the US presidential primary race? Gay marriage and homosexuals in the military.

Rick Perry, trying to revive his sputtering campaign, has recently discovered that homosexuals are the greatest threat to America. He put out an ad last week in which he said "I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school." Really? That's what's wrong with the US?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a much-lauded speech last week in Geneva to mark International Human Rights Day in which she announced funding for LGBT rights groups overseas. She said:
Now, there is still, as you all know, much more to be done to secure that commitment, that reality, and progress for all people. Today, I want to talk about the work we have left to do to protect one group of people whose human rights are still denied in too many parts of the world today. In many ways, they are an invisible minority. They are arrested, beaten, terrorized, even executed. Many are treated with contempt and violence by their fellow citizens while authorities empowered to protect them look the other way or, too often, even join in the abuse. They are denied opportunities to work and learn, driven from their homes and countries, and forced to suppress or deny who they are to protect themselves from harm.

I am talking about gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, human beings born free and given bestowed equality and dignity, who have a right to claim that, which is now one of the remaining human rights challenges of our time. I speak about this subject knowing that my own country's record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect. Until 2003, it was still a crime in parts of our country. Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences. So we, like all nations, have more work to do to protect human rights at home.

...

It is violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave. It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished. It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgendered women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their nations and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives. And it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay. No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.
Perry was outraged by this apparent attack on America's "traditional values". His campaign issued the following statement:
“Just when you thought Barack Obama couldn’t get any more out of touch with America’s values, AP reports his administration wants to make foreign aid decisions based on gay rights.

“This administration’s war on traditional American values must stop.

“I have proposed a foreign aid budget that starts at zero. From that zero baseline, we will consider aid requests based solely on America’s national security interests. Promoting special rights for gays in foreign countries is not in America’s interests and not worth a dime of taxpayers’ money.

“But there is a troubling trend here beyond the national security nonsense inherent in this silly idea. This is just the most recent example of an administration at war with people of faith in this country. Investing tax dollars promoting a lifestyle many Americas of faith find so deeply objectionable is wrong.

“President Obama has again mistaken America’s tolerance for different lifestyles with an endorsement of those lifestyles. I will not make that mistake.”
This is incredible. The Republicans are facing off against Barack Obama in eleven months, and they seriously think that now is the time to bring up gay marriage, Don't Ask Don't Tell and the so-called "war with people of faith"? Here's what blogger Bill Quick has to say about this:
Job number one: Fix Washington so that it is no longer actively trying to destroy the United States of America. Job number one-point-five: Defeat Barack Obama and his party as the first act in fixing Washington so it no longer…etc.

Socons tend to fixate on their own issues and miss the big picture. Because abortion and gay marriage are absolutely critical to their political views, they think they are to everybody’s belief system. But they aren’t. Here’s where the American voter ranks them currently on their list of major concerns: Social issues, two percent. Gay issues, one percent. And so on.

Any politician who thinks he or she is going to ride those issues to victory in today’s climate is simply delusional about what today’s climate really is. And their supporters are projecting their concerns onto the big screen of their desire, which doesn’t reflect the reality of the day at all.

...

The prospect of hanging focuses the mind wonderfully. And the national mind has felt the noose tightening around its collective neck for several years now. Angel-on-the-head-of-a-pin arguments about abortion, or sweeping hysteria about gays destroying the institution of marriage are minuscule distractions when you’re faced with possibly permanent unemployment, bankruptcy, negative home ownership, and a government that seems hell-bent on making your pain worse, not better.
The world's on the brink of catastrophe and the Republicans are arguing about gay rights. Good grief.

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Tobacco Road by Spooky Tooth (1968)

Christie Blatchford infuriates me

I have a love/hate relationship with Christie Blatchford. I think she is one of Canada's best reporters, and I was delighted when she recently returned to the pages of the National Post. She has a gutsy, no-holds-barred irreverent attitude that is unbelievably refreshing in the politically correct hot house environment of Canada's major news media. She frequently slaughters sacred cows and poses the questions that everyone is thinking but no one has the nerve to ask. Her columns on the terrorist attacks on 9-11 and the native occupation of Caledonia are unmatched.

Take her coverage of the Shafia honour-killing trial currently under way in Kingston, for example:
Mr. Shafia, in addition to being an exemplary father, if only by his own measure, is also a shameless brown-noser (“the police in this country is like family,” he said once cheerfully), compulsively flowery (“Dear lady” and “Respected lady” is how he addressed Ms. Lacelle), and the sort of fellow who is able to claim, when faced with a mound of pictures of himself with a chocolate-covered face, that he never touches the stuff, never has and never will.
However, she frequently has a tortured writing style that drives me nuts and makes me wonder what's wrong with her editor. She has a particular fondness for long-winded run-on sentences, like this one from her column Toronto, City of Sissies in today's Post:
This was about the time that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty was all over the airwaves, with his anti-bullying crackdown, and poor old Doug Ford, a Toronto councillor whose brother Rob just happens to be the city mayor, was caught out (by the Toronto Star, of course, the newspaper in such a permanent state of nervous Nellie-dom about the Fords, forever crying in front-page headlines “The world is ending! Again!”, that it renders the boy who cried wolf a reticent little beggar by comparison) shilling for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, or UFC, which of course was made legal in the province only this year by, wait for it, the government of Premier McGuinty.
Whew. Reading that is like going nine rounds with a prize fighter - I'm exhausted and need a drink. There are so many parentheses, quotation marks and subordinate clauses that I feel like I've followed a trail of bread crumbs through the woods by the time I reach the end.

Christie, on the off chance that you read this: I think you're great but you're making me crazy.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Send in the gay Marines

On September 20 the Obama administration ended the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy which prevented openly gay men and women from serving in the US military. This toxic policy meant that thousands of gay people in the military were forced into the closet, in constant fear of being outed. Many people with valuable skills and years of expensive training were kicked out of the armed forces when their sexual orientation was revealed.

Conservative critics warned that ending DADT would have catastrophic effects on US military strength, with many warning of the pending calamity of straight soldiers having to shower with their gay comrades. Rick Perry, Governor of Texas and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, made it clear that he was against repeal of DADT and would be "comfortable" reinstating it if he became President:
Rick Perry said it was "irresponsible" for President Barack Obama to repeal the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that banned gays from serving openly in the military.
In an ABC News/Yahoo News interview, Perry called don't ask, don't tell a "workable policy." The Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate accused Obama of playing politics with the military.
"(Obama) wanted to make a political statement, using the men and women in the military as a tool for that," the Republican presidential candidate told ABC's Christiane Amanpour. "I truly believe that he did it to respond to his political base."
But Perry refused to say whether he would reinstate the policy if he were elected president. He told ABC/Yahoo that he would be "comfortable" going back to the policy.
Perry used the DADT issue to throw some red meat to his Christian base in this TV ad:



It was in this context that I recently read a touching blog post written by Captain Matthew Phelps, a ten-year veteran of the US Marine Corps. DADT was making his life a living hell, and when it was finally repealed his life changed drastically for the better. He writes a particularly moving account of taking a gay male friend as his date to the Marine Corps Birthday Ball in San Diego on November 10, knowing that he and his friend would be the only male couple there. Anyone who doubts that gay men and women can't serve effectively in the armed forces and be accepted by their straight comrades should read his account in its entirety. He concludes with these words:
I was overwhelmed by the whole occasion, and happily surprised at how well everything had gone and how supportive everyone had been. There was one particular moment, however, that struck me and I’ll never forget it. Brandon and I were standing in the middle of the room, him handsomely as ever in his suit after his first Marine Corps event, me in my dress blues on my 236th birthday, surrounded by an amazing group of gay and straight civilians and Marines, and I looked at him. We had survived a night I thought would never come, and with it behind us there would be many more: maybe for us, but definitely for all those who will come after we have been long forgotten. I thought to myself as I looked in his eyes that we’d done it, and I kissed him.
Bravo, Captain Phelps.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Women drivers

The reason for Saudi Arabia's law preventing women from driving cars is revealed: according to the Daily Mail, allowing women to drive will cause people to turn gay and will mean "no more virgins" in the kingdom:
Repealing a ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia would result in ‘no more virgins’, the country’s religious council has warned.
A ‘scientific’ report claims relaxing the ban would also see more Saudis - both men and women - turn to homosexuality and pornography.
The startling conclusions were drawn by Muslim scholars at the Majlis al-Ifta’ al-A’ala, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious council, working in conjunction with Kamal Subhi, a former professor at the King Fahd University.

...

The report warns that allowing women to drive would ‘provoke a surge in prostitution, pornography, homosexuality and divorce’.
Within ten years of the ban being lifted, the report’s authors claim, there would be ‘no more virgins’ in the Islamic kingdom.
And it pointed out ‘moral decline’ could already be seen in other Muslim countries where women are allowed to drive.
In the report Professor Subhi described sitting in a coffee shop in an unnamed Arab state.
‘All the women were looking at me,’ he wrote. ‘One made a gesture that made it clear she was available... this is what happens when women are allowed to drive.’

You can't make this stuff up.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Waiting for a response from the NDP [crickets chirping]

Back in October, a group of Conservative MPs, including Foreign Minister John Baird and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, recorded anti-bullying videos for Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign, which is designed to help gay teenagers deal with homophobic bullying. The MPs made the videos in response to the suicide of Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley. There was considerable criticism at the time and many, including Dan Savage himself, were outraged that presumably homophobic Conservatives dared to weigh in on the issue.

In particular, NDP MP Randall Garrison, the NDP critic for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, drew on deep wells of contempt and snapped that
... the Conservatives' video "fails to understand the basic concept" of the campaign, adding that message only works if delivered by openly gay people.

"And there's a shortage on the Conservative side," he said. "You can't do these (videos) if you're not an out, gay person."
Fast forward to Queen's Park, where today Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, a Liberal, released his own "It Gets Better" video:
Today, Premier Dalton McGuinty delivered a simple message to Ontario students who are bullied or feel alone: it gets better, and we can make it better, together.

The Premier met students at L'Amoreaux Collegiate Institute in Toronto, where he also released his "It Gets Better" video, which encourages students, teachers, parents and community members to do their part to help end bullying and intolerance.
I assume that Mr. McGuinty, married, father of four, is not an out gay person. Over to you, Mr. Garrison.

Review of the century

Read this review by Matt Cartmill of Donna Haraway's book Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science and stand in awe of this epic slapdown:
This is a book full of vaporous, French-intellectual prose that makes Teilhard de Chardin sound like Ernest Hemingway by comparison; but that is not a criticism, because the author likes that sort of prose and has taken lessons in how to write it, and she thinks that plain, homely speech is part of a conspiracy to oppress the poor.

This is a book that clatters around in a dark closet of irrelevancies for 450 pages before it bumps accidentally into its index and stops; but that is not a criticism, either, because its author finds it gratifying and refreshing to bang unrelated facts together as a rebuke to stuffy minds. This book infuriated me; but that is not a defect in it, because it is supposed to infuriate people like me, and the author would have been happier still if I had blown out an artery. In short, this book is flawless, because all its deficiencies are deliberate products of art. Given its assumptions, there is nothing here to criticize. The only course open to a reviewer who dislikes this book as much as I do is to question its author’s fundamental assumptions—which are big-ticket items involving the nature and relationships of language, knowledge, and science.


(HT: Improbable Research)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What's happened to Britain?

Compare and contrast:

2011: Prime Minister David Cameron responding to the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran:
The Iranian government must recognize that there will be serious consequences for failing to protect our staff. We will consider what these measures should be in the coming days.
1843: Sir Charles James Napier, British Governor of Bombay & Commander of British forces in India, to holdout enemy leaders who refused to surrender after the Battle of Miani:
Come here instantly. Come here at once and make your submission, or I will in a week tear you from the midst of your village and hang you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Brains behind Occupy Wall Street disappointed by the "loony left"

Last week, Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters magazine and the man behind the campaign that launched the Occupy Wall Street movement, expressed his disappointment in the quality of the protesters who showed up at Occupy camps in Canada and the US. In an interview with CJME radio, he said:
"I must admit, there is something kind of special about Canada," Lasn said in a telephone interview. "Somehow I found that many of the things that were happening in the U.S., there seems to be more vigour and spunk in some of the occupations there."

Lasn's impressions of the comparative lassitude stemmed from visits to the Occupy site in his adopted home town of Vancouver, which _ along with other urban campsites in Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and Edmonton _ was forcibly shut down by city authorities earlier this week.

While the site attracted its share of energized, politically engaged youth who the Estonian-born Lasn describes as "the new left," he also noted a stronger presence from fringe elements that has given left wing movements a bad name in the past, he said.

"I just had a feeling that there was a little bit too much of the loony left there," Lasn said. "I had a feeling that we needed more of the young, new-left spunk that I felt was happening in Zuccotti Park. I didn't see all that much of it here in Vancouver."
"New-left spunk"? So that's what that smell was. Mr. Lasn naturally blamed the collapse of the movement on "the mainstream media":
Lasn is quick to lay much of the blame on mainstream media, who he accuses of depicting the protesters as lawless rebels and their camp sites as dens of iniquity.

By zeroing in on incidents of drug use and crime _ which take place in staggering numbers every day _ Canada's news outlets failed to communicate the key message at the heart of the "Occupy movement," he said.

"The Canadian media really dropped the ball on this one," Lasn said. "Instead of seeing it as a movement of young people fighting for a different kind of future, which is so beautiful and so valid, they basically saw it as a pesky irritation that had to be got rid of."
You've got to be kidding me. The mainstream media handled the Occupy protests with kid gloves and hyped it beyond belief. Most reporters filed breathless stories like they were calling in from Tiananmen Square. If it hadn't been for bloggers and a few outlets like Sun News and the National Post, we would have learned very little about the filth, violence and substance abuse that was happening.

I personally visited two Occupy camps in Ottawa and Kingston. I saw for myself what was going on and I would have been really surprised if I had relied solely on the CBC, CTV or the Toronto Star for my information.

I have news for Kalle Lasn: the loony left IS the new left.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Time to end Ontario's beer cartel

Most beer drinkers in Ontario don't realize that the neighbourhood beer retailer with the folksy name "The Beer Store" is not a branch of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, nor is it run by any government agency at all. It is in fact a legal cartel run by Ontario's three largest brewers: Molson's (now owned by US brewer Coors), Labatt's (now a branch of Anheuser Busch InBev of Belgium) and Sleeman's (owned by Japanese brewer Sapporo). It jealously guards its monopoly and furiously resists attempts to allow competition, and it's not above strong-arming small craft brewers to do so.

In 2008, The Beer Store (TBS) harassed the Brick Brewing Company of Waterloo and threatened to cut off its supply of industry-standard long-necked bottles if it didn't stop bottling its Red Cap beer in distinctive stubby bottles. This prompted a lengthy and expensive court case which Brick eventually won:
The fight over the stubby is just one example of how tough it is to compete in a retail distribution system owned by some of his biggest rivals, Brickman told the Star earlier this summer. His comments came in an interview for a series examining the ownership structure at The Beer Store.

Though licensed by the province, the retail chain that accounts for more than 80 per cent of all beer sales in Ontario is owned and operated by Canada's three largest brewers, which in turn are foreign dominated.

They are Labatt, owned by Belgium's InBev SA, Molson, part of U.S.-based Molson Coors, and Sleeman, now owned by Sapporo of Japan.

Together they control $2.5 billion in beer sales in the province, with little government involvement.

So, when Brick got into a fight with The Beer Store over its use of the non-standard bottle, it had nowhere to go but court to complain – an expensive route for a small firm, Brickman noted.

"Our beef is that the owners (of the store) have their own agenda," he said.
That same year TBS squeezed the Beau's All Natural Brewing Company, a craft brewer in Vankleek Hill near Ottawa. Beau's sold its signature Lug Tread Lager in bottles with ceramic swing tops. Although Beau's didn't sell its beer at Beer Store outlets (opting for the LCBO, the only other legal retail outlet in the province), customers were returning the empties to the Beer Store and getting a refund. However, since Beau's was not carried by the Beer Store, TBS refused to give the company its bottles back. Beau's eventually set up a charity bottle drive through Operation Go Home, an Ottawa based youth shelter, just to get its bottles returned.

Beau's is again in the sights of the beer monopoly because it had the temerity to set up a home delivery service (proceeds were again being donated to Operation Go Home) which last week ran afoul of Ontario's Alcohol and Gaming Commission. Steve Beauchesne of Beau's explains:
Today we launched Buy Your Beau’s Online, our project with Operation Come Home to deliver beer to people’s homes in Ottawa, and promptly had the service effectively shut down by the AGCO.

That’s right, after less than a day of operation, BYBO has been closed, after another brewery (we weren’t told which one) complained. The complaint has nothing to do with the service or the fact that at-risk youth were involved, but over a technicality involving what I believe to be a typo in the regulations around home beer delivery services.

Our retail store operates as an authorized beer store by the LCBO, but the regulation around home delivery uses the wording ‘operated’ instead of ‘authorized,’ which is how it is worded to allow us to sell to special occasion permit holders, and retail customers. It is interesting to note that the Beer Store, which is not operated by the LCBO or government is somehow allowed to sell to home delivery services.

So…

No specialty beer delivered to our Ottawa customers.
No employment for homeless youth, to get them off the street.
No additional revenue for Operation Come Home.

What’s really got me irked about this situation is the complete arbitrariness of the regulation that is being used to kill a social enterprise designed to do good for the community and the malicious behaviour by another brewery in this province.

The Beer Store is a retail outlet owned by three breweries. Why would they be allowed to sell to a home delivery service and Beau’s (or any other brewery) not be? It doesn’t make any sense, it’s anti-competitive and it restricts choice to the residents of this province.

I know that there are a lot of cut-throat competitive tactics used by some of the less honourable members of the brewing community, but taking a job from a homeless youth to thwart us is beyond reprehensible.

I’m disappointed that the AGCO has decided to act this way, using the letter and not the spirit of the law to guide their decision-making, but ultimately I understand that they may not have had a choice once the complaint was lodged. I would have rathered more consultation from them or that they refused the delivery license application when they were informed how the service would work. If that had happened, at least Corey and Kyle, the two youths who had been hired to start this service, wouldn’t have had their hopes lifted and then let down in such a dramatic way.

I’m simply aghast, though that another brewery instigated this.

I’m really disappointed that this service is unfortunately going to be shut down.

I’m sorry to the youth who have been dealt yet another misfortune, to our customers who were looking forward to gaining better access to our beer and to other breweries who probably would have been able to use similar models to compete better in this Province.
Beer purchases are tightly controlled in Ontario. Beer drinkers can get their suds from the Beer Store, a cartel run by the three big brewers and regulated by the Ontario government, or from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, a liquor monopoly run by the Ontario government. This crazy system was set up in 1927 after Prohibition ended to placate the nervous Nellies of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and almost a century later we're still under its thumb. What kind of civilized country still treats its alcohol consumers like crazed underage teenagers and permits a cartel run by three foreign multinationals to control the beer supply? The province has a paternalistic assumption that the citizens of Ontario are not mature or responsible enough to handle wider more unrestricted access to alcohol. It's embarrassing and insulting.

By the way, if you want to sign a petition urging the Ontario government to end the Beer Store's monopoly, go here. Free the oppressed microbrewers of Ontario! And if you're in the Ottawa area, pick up a case of Beau's Lug Tread Lager - it's really good.

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: The Messiah Will Come Again, by Roy Buchanan

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gay marriage & the BC polygamy court decision

It's not often I get to gloat in this blog and say "I told you so", but I'm going to indulge a little today. I saw the recent BC Supreme Court decision on the Bountiful polygamists coming, and I was correct in saying that allowing gay marriage in Canada did not set a precedent that inevitably lead to legalized polygamy.

Way back in 2007 I responded to an article by David Warren in the Ottawa Citizen in a post I called The polygamy red herring. Warren had written that
polygamy follows "multiple parentage" as night follows day. It likewise followed from same-sex "marriage" -- for if the institution cannot be restricted to one man and one woman, how otherwise can it be restricted?

...

Long ago, we realized the marriage formula "one man, one woman" must secure the hearth of our settled culture -- that no other arrangement could possibly end well. The centuries pass, and we manage to forget why we came to that conclusion, and start tinkering with it again. Civilized men and women have their own taboos -- founded in reason and historical experience -- and the one against polygamy is (or was) among the most powerful. Cross the essential taboo lines, dare others to cross, and the superstructure of any society comes down, whether that society be civilized or primitive.

...

Wake up, gentle reader. If you don't want polygamy in Canada, you had better start making a loud noise. For the internal enemies of our civilization have laid all the groundwork for this coup de grace.
In my response, I wrote:
Even rabid libertarians acknowledge that not all individual rights are worthy of protection. John Stuart Mill, in his great essay “On Liberty”, laid the framework that has guided most western common law rights traditions: he wrote that individuals are entitled to life, liberty and property rights only so far as the exercise of those rights does not harm the rights of others. You may have the right to keep plutonium in your garden shed, but if it makes your neighbours sick or you are planning to build a weapon of mass destruction with it, then the state is justified in restricting this right to property.

It is difficult, in my mind, to argue that gay marriage infringes on the rights of anyone else. If a homosexual couple gets married, I can’t see how this significantly harms heterosexual couples or society at large. Similarly, if the state recognizes that a child has three legal parents, I don’t find the argument that this harms children very convincing. I think it makes sense from a libertarian perspective for the state to recognize that there is no valid reason for people not to exercise their liberty in this regard.

However, a very strong case can be made that polygamy does create harm. First of all, let us recognize that in societies that practice polygamy, it almost always means that one man has multiple wives, and not the other way around. In a population that statistically has a 50-50 split between males and females, and where males take multiple wives, the logical result is that many young men are prevented from taking wives of their own. The result in these communities is that surplus young men are frequently ostracized or banished from their communities against their will. This phenomenon is well documented in polygamist communities in the U.S. and Canada. This alone would justify the state’s intervention in limiting a man’s right to take multiple wives.

Furthermore, polygamist communities have a disturbingly high rate of incest, child abuse and wife battering. In Utah, where approximately 2% of the population are practicing polygamists in spite of a legal ban on plural marriage, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2001 that polygamist communities had extraordinarily high levels of these crimes, as well as widespread reliance on welfare, unusual levels of child poverty, wide-ranging tax fraud, limited education, and over-taxed public services. It is difficult to prosecute polygamy in Utah because the victims in these cases rarely press charges and it is almost impossible to compel witnesses to testify. However, there is no doubt in most people’s minds (including most Mormons) that polygamy should be illegal - the harm it produces far outweighs the rights to liberty of its practitioners. The state is fully justified in prohibiting it.

Opponents of gay marriage (and now “multiple parents”) argue that once the precedent for “non-traditional” family arrangements has been set, there is now no argument for continuing to insist that other non-traditional practices like polygamy remain illegal. Nonsense. The state has imposed limits on heterosexual marriage for centuries; the courts have upheld traditional taboos against marrying your mother, or your sister, or your dog. It is a legal requirement for heterosexuals to limit the number of their spouses to one. Homosexual marriage has the same legal limits - the centuries-old common law traditions have not been overturned, they have been extended, to include gay couples.

Gay marriage is now legal because its opponents could not muster up enough support for the argument that it caused harm to society. Fair enough. However, it would be difficult to make the same argument for polygamy, and the courts can and will recognize this. In my opinion, the moral floodgates have not been opened - everyone take a pill and relax.
Justice Bauman of the BC Supreme Court apparently has a similar opinion:
Chief Justice Robert Bauman wrote that Section 293 of the Criminal Code, the law banning polygamy, does, in fact, run counter to sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In particular, he made reference to Section 2, which protects such fundamental freedoms as freedom of religion, and Section 7, which guarantees the autonomy of the individual.

He ruled, however, that the ban remains constitutional under Section 1 - allowing "reasonable limits" on absolute rights that can be "demonstrably justified" - because the harm that flows from polygamous relationships outweighs any violation of constitutionally protected rights.
Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that in Canada, rights (including the right to religious freedom) are not absolute:
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
As reported by Lorne Gunter of the National Post, Justice Bauman clearly outlined the justification for limiting the religious rights of the Bountiful polygamists:
Yet as B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Baumann ruled on Wednesday, in upholding the constitutionality of Canada's anti-polygamy laws, "there is no such thing as 'good polygamy.'" While in theory polygamy should be an individual right, nowhere - at least not in North America - does polygamy exist without harm to children and mental damage to spouses. Therefore, Judge Baumann reasoned, while banning polygamy violates the religious rights of fundamentalist Mormons, that right is outweighed by the harm the practice necessarily does to women and children.

"The harms associated with the practice are endemic; they are inherent," the judge wrote in a 357-page decision. "This conclusion is critical because it supports the view that the harms found in polygynous societies are not simply the product of individual misconduct; they arise inevitably out of the practice." It is simply impossible to allow polygamy without condoning abuse.
Gay marriage has none of the inherent harms associated with it that polygamy does; I can't think of any situation where anyone would be coerced into a gay marriage (well, none that wouldn't similarly apply to heterosexual marriage) nor can I see any realistic harm to society at large that automatically ensues from allowing gay couples to marry.

Before Justice Baumann's ruling, the Bountiful case had skittish politicians paralyzed with indecision. We shouldn't confuse a failure of will on the part of the authorities to enforce the law with a collapse of the moral order brought on by gay marriage. Even though the ruling pointed out potential problems and loopholes in Canada's anti-polygamy laws and is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, there is no excuse now for governments not to act against the criminal offence of polygamy in Bountiful and elsewhere. Failure to enforce the law now can only result from spineless politicians trying to avoid confrontation. Don't blame gay couples for this.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Literally ...

One of my pet peeves is the mis-use of the word "literally" in conversation. It's proper meaning is "actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy,as in the city was literally destroyed." However, its current usage equates it with "virtually" or "in effect" - a sloppy mistake that must be stopped at all costs.

Rob Lowe uses the confusion to comic effect in the TV sitcom "Parks and Recreation" - his character Chris Traeger uses the word "literally" as a modifier in almost every sentence ("My body is literally a finely-tuned machine"). However, I don't think most viewers get the joke, that his body is not ACTUALLY a machine. It's funny to most people just because of its repetitive use.

Over to the talking heads at MSNBC. Commentator Mika Brezinski was driven to rant in spectacular fashion the other day by Newt Gingrich's comment that the people at Occupy Wall Street should "get a job, right after you take a bath". Practically hyperventilating, she said:
I'm so disgusted by that that something horrible is going to come . . . I, I, am I alone here? Am I over-reacting? I'm sickened by that . . . It's fair to say he's in the 1%, correct? He's telling the 99% to take a bath and get a job? Really? Really, I wonder how they do that right now. How, given the state of this country, how anyone's going to just get a job and take a bath. Who is this man? Who does he think he is? And why is he surging in the polls? I don't get it. I mean,to hear Newt Gingrich standing on literally his high horse, after taking advantage of the system, cashing in, being the biggest, literally the biggest hypocrite in the Repubican field, probably in politics today. The biggest hypocrite. And then to cast aspersions and to speak down to these people as if--plghhh--they should be flipped away? It's disgusting. It's absolutely disgusting. It's a very angry way to start the show. I'm extremely sorry. But it's the first time I'd seen that. And it literally made my skin crawl. I can't believe he resonates.

I'm trying to picture Newt Gingrich, who's literally the biggest hypocrite, literally standing on a high horse, making Ms Brezinski's skin literally crawl. It actually makes me shudder.

Russian city may enact draconian anti-gay law

The municipal government of St Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, is one step closer to enacting a harsh new law prohibiting "gay propaganda" which may have the effect of silencing the city's gay citizens:
The bill, which St. Petersburg’s city assembly passed nearly unanimously on the first of three readings on Wednesday, effectively bans public events by LGBTI people and organizations under the pretext of protecting minors.

If enacted, the law would allow authorities to impose fines of up to the equivalent of US$1,600 for “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.”

“This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to legalize discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia’s second-biggest city,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.

“The notion that LGBTI rights activists are somehow converting Russia’s youth through ‘propaganda’ would be laughable, if the potential effects of this new law weren’t so dangerous and wide-reaching.”

Local LGBTI rights activists have blasted the law, saying it will provide legal cover for banning any of their actions, including the distribution of information leaflets or even actions against homophobia.

Under the measure, freedom of assembly and expression for LGBTI groups would be prohibited anywhere children might be present. This would rule out nearly all public events carried out by or on behalf of LGBTI people and organizations.

The publication of anything relating to LGBTI rights or providing assistance or advice – including informative leaflets as well as publications in the media and on the internet – would also be severely curtailed.

Other Russian cities like Moscow have planned legislation to ban “propaganda for homosexuality”, while Arkhangelsk and the region of Riazan have already introduced such legislation.

Although consensual same-sex activity was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, LGBTI people still face widespread discrimination and violence.

LGBTI activists’ attempts to organize Pride marches, cultural festivals and other events in major cities, including St. Petersburg, have frequently been met with official red tape and violence from anti-gay groups, among them people associating themselves with the Orthodox Church. Violent attacks against LGBTI activists often go unpunished.
The Washington Post reports:
Russia’s top gay rights activist on Thursday condemned a bill passed in the country’s second largest city that prohibits “propaganda of homosexuality” to minors, warning it could be used to ban gay protest rallies.

Nikolai Alexeyev of the GayRussia.ru group described the legislation tentatively approved by lawmakers in St. Petersburg as a “disgrace.”

The bill was proposed by the dominant United Russia party and passed Wednesday by a 27 to 1 vote, with one abstention, in the first of three required readings. It calls for a fine of up to $1,600 for “public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.”

Alexeyev said the bill could become “the main legal reason to deny any public actions by the LGBT community.”

“It theoretically allows the ban of anything anywhere where kids could be present,” he told The Associated Press.
This is yet more evidence that Russia is sliding further into totalitarianism. If you would like to add your name to a petition of support for Russian activists fighting this bill, go here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy Kingston: This is what a pathetic protest looks like

I was in Kingston, Ontario this afternoon taking a stroll downtown on a beautiful fall day when I stumbled on the Occupy Kingston encampment in Confederation Park in front of Kingston's beautiful 19th century city hall. I had such fun talking to the folks at Occupy Ottawa a few weeks ago that I thought I would wander over and see how the revolution was going.





















Kingston is a city of about 150 000 people (including the surrounding suburbs) at the headwaters of the St Lawrence River and home to Queen's University (approximately 15 000 students) and the Royal Military College of Canada. It is a town of remarkable beauty with a distinguished history; it was once the capital of the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. I was curious to see how a movement to bring down the capitalist system would fare in this establishment town; I was confident the lefty Sociology and Post-colonial Studies students at Queen's could be counted on to put on a decent show.

Check out their website - there's the standard boiler-plate agitprop about being part of the world-wide "Occupy" movement that sounds quite impressive:
From America to Asia, from Africa to Europe, people are rising up to claim their rights and demand a true democracy. Now it is time for all of us to join in a global non violent protest.

The ruling powers work for the benefit of just a few, ignoring the will of the vast majority and the human and environmental price we all have to pay. This intolerable situation must end.

United in one voice, we will let politicians, and the financial elites they serve, know it is up to us, the people, to decide our future. We are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers who do not represent us.

On October 15th, we will meet on the streets to initiate the global change we want. We will peacefully demonstrate, talk and organize until we make it happen.

They've been at it for over a month - surely the movement has grown to the point where the citizens of Kingston can no longer ignore it. I wandered over expecting to encounter a raucous crowd of malcontents, but that was far from the case. In fact, when I spotted their weird igloo made of fiberglass tarpaulins, I thought it was maybe a construction excavation that had been covered over for the weekend.































This couldn't be the Kingston cell of the infamous Occupy Wall Street movement, could it? I walked around the structure and finally found a sign that said that this was in fact ground zero for the Kingston Revolution (even if they couldn't spell "Kingston" properly).

















The "People's Tent" is apparently sponsored by organized labour - there was a United Steelworkers flag flying over it and a banner from the Ontario Federation of Labour taped to one side. Steelworkers of the world, unite!
































The Occupiers also apparently have a problem with WalMart:

















I would love to have talked with the protesters about how the destruction of WalMart would help the working class, or how the hobbling of giant corporations like Stelco and Dofasco would benefit the Steelworkers of Canada, but I couldn't find anyone to talk to. There was no one around. Not a soul. The camp was empty. In fact the only people anywhere near the encampment were a young couple who were taking pictures of each other in front of the People's Tent. This is apparently now the main function of Occupy Kingston - a backdrop for tourists to use to update their Facebook photo pages.

This is the movement that is sweeping the land? This is what the mainstream media have been breathlessly and uncritically reporting as North America's "Arab Spring moment"? Pathetic.

My advice to the Mayor of Kingston is to leave this camp in place to expose it as the sham that it is. Trying to get a court injunction against the occupiers and sending the police in to clear out the tents will only feed the media narrative and give the occupiers undeserved publicity. Wait until the winter arrives in earnest and the tarpaulins collapse under the weight of a Kingston winter, and then send in the Parks and Recreation department in the spring to clean up the mess.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

This is how it's done, folks

In New York, a former NYPD cop teaches a lesson to an Occupy Wall Street protester:
Meet New York’s newest hero.

Kevin Hiltunen, a former NYPD officer, yesterday grabbed an Occupy Wall Street demonstrator by the collar and dragged him out of a Queens school where he’d been heckling US Rep. Bob Turner at the congressman’s swearing-in ceremony.

“I guess you could say I sorted him out,” said Hiltunen, 48, his jacket and tie barely mussed after dragging the scruffy protester out on his rear end.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blues for a Saturday Night

I'm starting a new feature here at Diogenes Borealis, mainly as a way to store links to great music, but also to share my love of the blues. Tonight, enjoy "Maggot Brain" by Funkadelic:

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Down with the LCBO

When I was a university student in Ontario in the 1970s the only place to legally buy liquor was downtown at a single run-down LCBO store. Buying liquor there was what I imagine shopping at the GUM department store must have been like in the Soviet Union - there were no products on display, no pictures or advertisements, just row after row of lists of various types of booze available in various bottle sizes. You had to find the stuff you wanted on the list and use a little stubby pencil to fill out an official purchase order with your name, address and the serial number and quantity of hooch you wanted. You then guiltily handed the PO to a crusty guy behind a wicket who perused your order, looked you up and down and then, sighing, went into a back room and eventually brought out your purchase in a brown paper bag. When the whole sordid transaction was complete, you snuck out of the store feeling like you'd just been caught by your dad reading dirty magazines.

Thankfully that humiliating experience is now history in Ontario, but the provincial government still maintains a stranglehold on the sale of most types of wine and liquor, and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario stubbornly defends its monopoly while touting its mandate to be a "socially responsible, performance-driven and profitable retailer, engaging our customers in a discovery of the world of beverage alcohol through enthusiastic, courteous and knowledgeable service." This may be a laudable goal, but is it really the government's role to control the retail sale of alcohol rather than just regulate it?

The LCBO's conversion to "enthusiastic, courteous and knowledgeable service" while "engaging customers in a discovery of the world of beverage alcohol" may be sincere, but it's damned inconvenient. In the village where I live (population 3000) there is a tiny LCBO outlet that has only enough shelf space to carry the community's lowest common denominator of product, which means it's well stocked with Mike's Hard Lemonade and Canadian Club whiskey. To satisfy the more, shall we say, discriminating palate, you have to drive for 45 minutes to the city of Belleville (population 48 000) which is served by exactly ONE LCBO store.

Compare this to the experience in most US cities. For example, the upstate New York city of Watertown (population 27 000) near the Canadian border has seven conveniently located liquor stores and every grocery store has a huge selection of beer and wine, including fantastic local microbrews and an impressive selection of imported and domestic wine. The first time I wandered into the Hannaford's grocery store there and beheld the beer & wine section I felt like Howard Carter opening the tomb of Tutankhamun - I saw "wonderful things".

Once every decade or so someone runs in a provincial election in Ontario promising to release the LCBO's death grip and allow the sale of wine and beer in convenience and grocery stores, but inevitably the powerful LCBO employees' union mounts a ferocious campaign which portrays it as the only thing standing between the citizens and the complete moral collapse of society. Without the LCBO standing guard, there will be thousands of drunken infants littering the gutters of Ontario and the whole province will turn into a hellhole like Watertown. Inevitably the party foolhardy enough to propose the end of the monopoly backs off.

Is it impossible to end a state monopoly on alcohol sales? In Ontario, that seems to be the case. However, voters in Washington State have recently shown that it can be done:
Thanks to a $22.7 million campaign headed up by Costco, grocery stores and other large retail establishments will soon be allowed to sell booze. What's particularly neat about the ballot measure was that it abolished not only the state's monopoly on retail, but on distribution as well. Liquor sellers will now be allowed to buy directly from distillers and warehouse their own inventory rather than going through the state.
The ballot intitiative was approved by 60% of the votes cast, in spite of the dire predictions of the No campaign:
Early on, the No campaign focused on the safety implications of the measure and was winning in phone surveys. Its lead diminished as the campaign turned to speculation about how many gas stations and minimarts might sell liquor, and to Costco.
In a statement, the opposition coalition said it remains concerned about the public-safety consequences and hopes the measure's supporters will make good on promises of extra revenue for law enforcement.
The fact that 900 state liquor store employees would lose their jobs didn't make much difference. In fact, the change is expected to generate more jobs and increase revenue to the State of Washington:
The state budgeting office figures the number of outlets selling liquor will jump from 328 to 1,428. It also expects the change to generate an average of $80 million more in annual revenue for the state and local governments over the next six years.
I would like to think that such a thing is possible in Ontario, but with the voters having recently chosen another four years of Nanny McGuinty, that has about as much chance as a wine cooler in hell.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Occupy Ottawa - at this rate, the revolution is going to take awhile

I was in Ottawa on the weekend to attend a concert at the downtown National Arts Centre, so on Saturday afternoon while I was waiting to hobnob with the bourgeoisie I wandered down the block to Confederation Park where the "99%" are camped out to Occupy Ottawa. From what I saw, the revolution is going to be a tough sell.

Confederation Park is located within sight of the Parliament Buildings at the corner of Laurier and Elgin, about a block from the War Memorial and the National Arts Centre. It covers about a city block and fronts onto two of Ottawa's busiest streets. The protesters have set up a tent city on the lawn in one corner of the park.

Ottawa is of course the national capital and is the fourth largest urban area in Canada after Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. Including the surrounding suburbs, it has a population approaching 1 150 000 people. You'd think that here at the nexus of the government/urban/military/industrial complex the Occupy Wall Street movement would find a seething cauldron of revolutionary fervor ripe for upheaval, but apparently the message isn't resonating with Ottawa residents; I counted less than a hundred people in the park at 1:00 pm on a beautiful fall day, and most of the ones I talked to were from out of town.

The tent city has maybe 50 tents set up around a forlorn and muddy common area that serves as sort of a main office. Here's a panoramic shot taken from Elgin St:








There's a little soup kitchen with a few people standing around chatting about revolution:
















The residents mill about, hanging up wet bedding and making announcements using their weird call-and-response "human microphone". While I was there I heard someone yell "Mic check" and everyone responded "MIC CHECK". The first person yelled "Is there anyone here from the security committee?" and everyone standing around chanted "IS THERE ANYONE HERE FROM THE SECURITY COMMITTEE?" even though no one in the camp was further than 20 yards from the person asking the question.

































Everyone seems bored and waiting for something to happen. People skateboard and throw frisbees around. There's a permanent smell of pot smoke in the air.




































The usual angry signs are scattered around the park, but it seems a little forced. The messages are mixed to say the least - this sign outlines the broad spectrum of their grievances, which just about covers everything:
















There were several confusing signs referring to the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act which was passed by the US Congress - not sure what that has to do with Ottawa or the Canadian banking system, but the movement is a big tent, apparently.





















I must say, for a group that according to the breathless reporting of the media is about to march on the manor houses with torches and pitchforks, it's the most unthreatening crowd I've ever been in. I've felt more on edge during high school basketball games. They have meetings all the time and there are tons of committees and healthy snacks; they even recycle their garbage. It's like a meeting of an elementary school PTA.









































People are friendly and love to talk; I chatted for a while with these two young men, one from Vancouver via Montreal, and the other from Toronto. The guy on the left smoked pot during the entire conversation while his two pet rats clambered over him; both of them were eager to explain why they were there.
















The guy with the pipe said he had come up from Occupy Montreal because "there were too many rules" in the Montreal camp. Apparently Occupy Ottawa is a lot more libertarian. The guy in black told me he had come from Toronto where he "ran a transportation company" which also has a branch in Ottawa. I asked him who's running the company while he's camped out in Confederation Park: he responded that he "has employees" and that he runs the company from his smart phone, and he really should be home doing invoices. Sounds pretty bourgeois to me.

When I asked them how it was going in the camp, they both said things were generally fine, but they were having problems with homeless people. "They come in at night and eat our food, and a lot of them are drunk" said Pipe Guy. Transportation Guy nodded and said "I support the homeless, but a lot of them are taking advantage. Sometimes they create problems - like one of them assaulted a woman the other day." When I asked him what they do when this kind of thing happens in the camp, he said "we call the police".

Transportation Guy seemed a little frustrated by the lack of focus; "No one's in charge here", he complained. "Isn't that kind of the point?" I politely prodded. "Well, when there are no leaders, nothing gets done" he responded. There you have it - the only thing this anarchist movement needs is leaders.


















I asked how long they were preparing to camp in the park; "as long as it takes" was the reply. When I asked if they had ever spent a winter in Ottawa, they said that they were preparing to insulate their tents, and that they would build igloos once the snow was deep enough. "When change comes and the system crashes, we want people to have a place where they can come when it happens." Transportation Guy said that he figured the police would kick them out by Winterlude, the winter carnival that happens in Ottawa in February, since they usually put the ice sculptures in the park. They were negotiating with the local Algonquin natives for permission to camp since "they basically own all the land around here anyway". If the police kick them out for Winterlude, they're planning to move to Parliament Hill.

Later that afternoon we were walking through the Byward Market. Capitalism seems alive and well there - the place was thronged with people buying stuff and enjoying the weather in the sidewalk cafes. Business seems to be good; a far cry from the sad atmosphere up at Confederation Park.

















In the middle of our stroll, we crossed paths with Ottawa's Hallowe'en Zombie Walk. Hundreds of people dressed as zombies were lurching down Dalhousie Street moaning "brains". There was even an appearance by the late Colonel Gaddafi. The zombies outnumbered the protesters at least ten to one, proving that in the historic contest between anarchy and the market, the market usually wins.


























































Later that night on the way back from the concert, we heard music coming from Confederation Park. It was Open Mic Night at Occupy Ottawa, and a kid not much older than twenty was singing half-heartedly to a crowd of about fifty people, while bourgeois corporate types like me watched on in amusement. He was singing Bob Dylan's "The times they are a'changin' " and Neil Young's "After the gold rush" while clouds of pot smoke drifted through the park. That's the image I'll remember of Occupy Ottawa - kids too young to remember the actual sixties trying in vain to recreate them while members of the generation that lived through them look on bemusedly on their way to and from their jobs. This movement is based on hot air, nostalgia and ennui - they'll be out of the park by the time the snow falls.