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)

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Canadian navel gazing at its most petty

Canadians have an annoying tendency to smugly flaunt their self-perceived superiority in situations where it isn't warranted, especially when compared to the US. We get snooty about our superior beer, our world-class health-care system or our proud peace-keeping heritage in spite of the fact that Coors Light is the top brand in Canada, sick people wait years for treatment and our soldiers fly helicopters that are literally falling out of the sky.

So it came as no surprise to read in this story that Canadian limestone is apparently far superior to American limestone, and that people are shocked - shocked! - to learn that contractors are using stone from (gasp) Indiana to complete a renovation project on a heritage building in Ottawa:
The federal government plans to use cheaper American stone to clad an addition to the Sir John A. Macdonald building instead of the original Canadian stone recommended by a foremost heritage expert.
Indiana limestone has been chosen for the extension to the former Bank of Montreal building at 144 Wellington St., opposite West Block on Parliament Hill.
However, Julian Smith, a conservation architect with extensive experience in the parliamentary precinct, says Queenston limestone from Niagara-on-the-Lake is the “obvious choice” based on heritage conservation principles and Canada’s tradition of showcasing its building materials.
“For buildings in the public domain it’s always preferable to use Canadian stone rather than American stone, as long as the Canadian stone is of equal or better quality,” says Smith, who was responsible for restoration of the Vimy Memorial in France. He is also director of the Willowbank School of Restoration Arts in Queenston, Ont.
“Part of how we reflect our Canadian identity is in the use of building stone,” he says. “This principle goes back to the original construction of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa. We have great building stone in Canada.”
Oh for crying out loud - "part of how we reflect our Canadian identity is in the use of building stone". Really? I know that I, for one, feel a deep sense of self-loathing when I walk by a building made of foreign stone. It just sticks in my craw that a building directly across the street from Parliament Hill has American limestone in it, especially when we're celebrating the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 when we whupped those Yankee bastards at Queenston Heights. And guess where the quarry that supplied the stone for the original building is located? You guessed it - Queenston, Ontario - in the shadow of Isaac Brock's monument. Does Stephen Harper have no shame?
Two years ago, when Smith was consulted on the project by the federal Department of Public Works, he recommended stone from the recently reactivated Queenston quarry.
“Whenever work is done on culturally significant properties the effort always has to be made to use stone from the original quarry,” says Smith. “That applies to both restoration work and to additions and alterations.
So why would the restoration contractors commit such a heinous cultural crime? For one, the Indiana limestone is considerably cheaper.
The price difference between it and the Indiana limestone has not been disclosed, but one estimate suggests it is in the neighbourhood of $300,000.

Lucie Brosseau, a spokeswoman for Public Works, said Queenston stone salvaged during demolition will be used to repair the exterior of the original building. However there is no “heritage conservation requirement” to source original stone for new structures adjacent to heritage buildings, she said.
The decision to use Indiana stone was made by the masonry subcontractor, Gem Campbell, she said. The project architects had identified suitable suppliers, which were approved by the department’s heritage conservation directorate. Firms bidding on the job were free to select from a pre-approved list, which included stone from France in addition to that from Indiana and Queenston.

“For the construction of the new annex, a contract for the exterior masonry of the building was awarded by (general contractor) EllisDon Inc. to the most competitive and compliant masonry bid,” Brosseau wrote in an email.
Gem Campbell’s operations manager Marc Langlois said they chose Indiana stone based on price and convenience; they had concerns about Queenston’s ability to supply on time. “It’s honestly just to simplify it.”
Oh, the horror. The contractor is saving the taxpayers some money by using a product that is practically indistinguishable from the more expensive alternative, on a brand-new addition to the building that is not part of the original heritage structure.

Petty nitpicking about Canadian vs American building stone is a symptom of a deep-seated national insecurity, and our cultural elites love to pick at it like a scab. We're better than this.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

I just got back from Diana Krall's concert at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa - all I can say is wow. She's so much more than the sultry balladeer of the "Peel Me A Grape" days - I couldn't believe it was the same artist. She covered songs ranging from Fats Waller and Nat King Cole to Bob Dylan and Tom Waits. Her version of Waits' Temptation, backed by her amazing band, almost blew the roof off the place. Being married to Elvis Costello has obviously worked out well for her - she was amazing.

Here's a live version of  Krall performing Doc Pomus' song Lonely Avenue, which was a hit for Ray Charles in 1956. She sang it in her concert tonight.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Literally ...

From an article on adults with autism in today's Ottawa Citizen :
The transition from youth to adulthood is the weakest link in the country’s already fractured approach to caring for children on the spectrum, critics charge.
And the situation only gets worse once they become adults.
“People are literally falling off the edge of a cliff trying to make it over to the adult side,” says Kevin Stoddart, a clinical psychologist.
Wow - they should put up a guard rail or something.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Learn How To Love, by the Tedeschi Trucks Band:

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Time for torches and pitchforks in Ottawa

In an apocryphal (and probably false) story attributed to Voltaire, France's Queen Marie Antoinette asked her advisors why the peasants were rioting in Paris. According to the story, she was told "It is because they have no bread, Madam." She replied "Well, let them eat cake!" The story is told to illustrate how rulers become arrogant and out of touch when they're isolated from the people in their gated palaces. It seems a similarly clueless grandee at Ottawa's National Capital Commission can't figure out why the rural peasants surrounding the nation's capital aren't too pleased with plans to expand the greenbelt around the city into privately-owned land. Why don't those hicks understand that the NCC is doing this with the best intentions?
The National Capital Commission is looking at scrapping a proposed expansion of the Greenbelt after landowners at a consultation meeting reacted with a level of opposition which, according to NCC CEO Jean-François Trépanier, caught the federal agency by surprise.
“They started in this with all the good intentions,” Trépanier said of NCC staff. “And we may have created more anxiety than we should have. I recognize that.”
The meeting in question, held last Wednesday night at St. John’s Anglican Church in Kanata, was an open house with residents in the Shirleys Bay area who own land just outside the Greenbelt. The NCC invited them there to discuss the idea of extending the Greenbelt to include these private properties.
The NCC isn’t looking to buy the land ­— they have been up front about not having the money for large-scale land acquisitions anymore — but just to extend the Greenbelt designation to cover the land while it stays in private hands.
The purpose of the proposal, which would also include lands in the Mer Bleue, airport and Carlsbad Springs areas, is to conserve ecological areas and create more extensive natural habitats.
So what's the problem? The NCC isn't expropriating the land, and the residents retain ownership of their property, don't they?
The landowners came out in force, most of them to say they would in no way welcome the federal government’s protective designation becoming attached to their land. For those interested in developing their land in the future, or in selling it to someone who might, it’s one thing to try to change a municipal zoning designation; dealing with a Greenbelt stamp on the deed is quite another.
“Who wants to buy land if they can’t do anything with it,” said Ed Warnock, one of the landowners at the meeting who was convinced that a Greenbelt designation would effectively freeze the zoning forever.
Another landowner, Mary Kennedy, whose property is just off Highway 417, said she had just about completed the sale of her land when the buyer found out about the NCC proposal and backed out of the deal.
The problem is that greenbelt designation effectively changes the future value of the land, despite promises of tax rebates for affected landowners. Understandably the owners aren't too pleased that their investments are about to be downgraded.

Mr. Trépanier expressed surprise that the NCC's coercive action was not well received:
Should the NCC have been surprised that land owners would want to understand the issue in terms of rights and legal powers?
“In retrospect, it’s easy to say ‘No,’ ” said Trépanier, adding that it was “probably an oversight” not to have been prepared for such a line of questioning.
Trépanier said the agency approached the discussion with the landowners in a sincere attempt to find willing partners in the conservation effort. In fact, coercion was so far from their minds, he said, that they never thought to ready themselves for the legal questions.
“You see, we never looked at it that way.”
Of course he didn't - people like him never do. Social planning true believers have always had an uncomfortable relationship with the concept of private property; it is merely an inconvenience on the road to Utopia. If the rights of a few greedy landowners have to be sacrificed "to create a more extensive natural habitat" and it's all for the greater good, then so be it. If it saves one turtle, it's worth it.

If the NCC wants to preserve the land in question, they should buy it outright and compensate the owners for the true value of their property.  Encumbering the land in a web of red tape and zoning regulations is the worst kind of abuse of government power - it's done by distant bureaucrats at no expense or inconvenience to themselves, all for the vague and fuzzy goals of enriching the "community".

In the old movie cliché the peasants took up their torches and pitchforks and marched to the manor house when something like this happened. Today I'm glad to see that the landowners are forcefully expressing their displeasure at public forums that may in fact derail this bone-headed proposal.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Aretha Franklin sings Today I Sing The Blues: