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.