Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Culture: The Busiest Time of the Year

TORONTO, ONTARIO - At midnight, the eleventh month of the year comes to an end and the twelfth begins. That's my way of avoiding saying that there are barely over three weeks to a certain major winter holiday that tends to involve a lot of shopping. I wasn't trying to avoid writing "Christmas," but when one grows up in secular greater Seattle, one by necessity learns the multitude of ways to avoid making any references that could be construed as religious.

Just because there are only "giving" and "holiday" and not "Christmas" trees around Seattle (at least if taxpayer money is in any way involved) doesn't mean that people take the winter holiday any less seriously. The "shopping season" begins abruptly the day after US Thanksgiving with stores opening--well, in recent years 5 am has seemed late with some opening at midnight for overnight bargain hunters. Holiday cultural events, office parties, and other time sinks make it difficult to work in all the shopping and preparation right through to the family vacations at the end of the month.

Once upon a time--when I was an undergraduate--my routine was to start on holiday cards the Saturday after Thanksgiving by writing up a letter, and getting them all mailed by the middle of the following week, the first weekend of December at the very latest. That was quite a bit easier when my address book was smaller.

By those standards, I'm already behind. I haven't mailed a single card. I just received my custom-made order today, and even if I had them earlier, I'm not prepared with a letter or even finished e-mailing people for address changes. My European friends are just going to have to live with late cards.

I'm not going to catch up. There's too much to do--special events to attend and cover on this blog, parties to attend, and shopping to do, never mind that normal life activities don't stop for the month of December. Most years this blog has to go silent for a few days while I try to catch up in mailing cards. This year will likely be no different.

Some people send new year's cards instead of Christmas cards. I can respect that, but on the other hand I rather like being done with the process before the celebrations for the same reason that I preferred academic schedules with finals before the holidays to the Harvard-style schedule with finals in January. A busy December is a great excuse for relaxation during the last week of the year and, for that matter, well into January.

In the end, it's that tradition of trying to do everything in December and doing almost nothing in January, not any particular religious, spiritual, or other cultural tradition, which I observe and intend to keep respecting for the foreseeable future.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Holiday: Cavalcade of Lights

Red and green fireworks lit up City Hall in Toronto, Ontario during the Cavalcade of Lights fireworks on 27-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Traditionally, the Cavalcade of Lights here has been a nearly season-long event, with part of the idea of the festival being that there would be happenings at Nathan Philips Square on a number of evenings to draw people to the holiday-related businesses downtown. However, this year, with the area under construction, it was decided to run the event for just a single night. I wasn't sure what that would mean for attendance--would it be like any other single night of past cavalcades, or would it attract a season's worth of attendees?

The balcony above Nathan Philips Square was nearly as stuffed with people as the ground level during the Cavalcade of Lights in Toronto, Ontario on 27-November-2010

The truth turned out to be much closer to the latter. In comparatively mild weather (especially compared with the wind and snow that had started the day), Nathan Philips Square was stuffed with people--it was difficult to walk around the skating surface, and perhaps even more surprising, people were coming down from the balcony level because there weren't any good viewpoints left there. Estimates in the media stated only "hundreds" of people, but it seemed to me there had to be more than a thousand.

Toronto's official Christmas tree had just been lit when this photograph was taken on 27-November-2010

Because of the construction, the Christmas tree (and yes, it is officially a Christmas tree, not a Holiday tree) was not in its normal location near the northeast corner of the square; instead, it magically appeared with the flick of a switch in the northwest corner not long after the event started at 7 pm.

Divine Brown performed during the Cavalcade of Lights in Toronto, Ontario on 27-November-2010

The hosts for the evening were from CHUM-FM, a hit music station, and the three Canadian artists to perform three songs each were all straight off that radio station's playlist, Sarah Slean, Shawn Desman, and Divine Brown. None seemed to especially move the audience, who became increasingly impatient for the fireworks.

Haut-Vol from Levis, Quebec performed acrobatic acts during the Cavalcade of Lights in Toronto, Ontario on 27-November-2010

What did capture the crowd's attention was Hault-Vol, an acrobatic troupe from Levis, Quebec that went up and down a large structure to the right of the main stage. This was a different and very interesting attraction that the portion of my crowd probably would have been happy to watch for much longer than five minutes.

Red fireworks exploded around Toronto's City Hall during the Cavalcade of Lights on 27-November-2010

What we came for, though, were the fireworks. With only one display this year, it seemed like the whole season's worth of displays had been packed into this one evening. It seemed much longer than the eight minutes that it actually lasted, a very satisfying cap on the evening for those of not choosing to remain around and ice skate into the night.

More pictures from the Cavalcade of Lights will be featured in a future update to my photo site

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Photos: Top Holiday Photos

The Canadian Pacific Holiday Train stopped in the background behind the Holiday Tree in the Distillery District of Toronto, Ontario on 3-December-2007

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's update to my photo site features a retrospective. Coverage of the holiday season begins with the best of my holiday photographs from the digital era, covering the holiday seasons from 2005 to 2009. Displays, lights, parades, events, and trains from across North America are included.

Margin Notes: Grey 3D Calvacade of Public Radio

Fireworks lit up Toronto, Ontario's City Hall during the Cavalcade of Lights on 27-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The Christmas (er, Holiday) tree in Toronto, Ontario was lit last night during the Cavalcade of Lights in Nathan Philips Square. Because of construction, the tree is in a new location on the eastern side of the space, near Bay Street. The real highlight of the event, though, was the fireworks display around City Hall. Traditionally a multi-night event, this year the fireworks were last night only, and as a result the display was rather extended and spectacular; there will be more coverage of this event in a future blog post.

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If one prefers holiday atmosphere in one's own home instead of from a special event, there's always the Yule Log Channel. While WPIX in New York, New York has been running a two-hour show of only a Yule Log and holiday music since 1967, usually on Christmas eve, it took the digital era to introduce an entire Yule Log channel to bring the fireplace into one's home whenever it was desired. For Comcast, even that was not enough--this year, The Yule Log Channel is going 3D. At some level, I understand the Yule Log Channel as background--but 3D programming is, by its very nature, designed to be engaging. How long can one actively watch a Yule Log?

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Some would say background programs are more appropriate on the radio than in 3D, and in the realm of radio holiday traditions, the Poultry Slam on This American Life has to be one of the strangest ones. This week, the program replayed perhaps the best of its Poultry Slam programs, the 2003 Poultry Slam. For those not acquainted with this tradition, listening to "Fish," old episodes of "Chicken Man," and an account of photographing chickens may be the only way to figure it out.

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This American Life has become such an iconic public radio program in the United States that it is not surprising that cultural references to the medium now inevitably feature it in some way. This month, a rap about public radio by a fan in Corvallis, Oregon has gone viral on YouTube, and besides programs like All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and Fresh Air, it features This American Life. Conspicuously absent, though are references to On Point, Diane Rehm, or the CBC, so only those in the United States or United Kingdom will appreciate it, not those of us in Canada.

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Festivities surrounding the Grey Cup had taken over the area around the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario including Roundhouse Park as seen on 25-November-2007

As I type this, most Canadians are likely watching the Grey Cup, the championship game of the Canadian Football League, this year in Edmonton, Alberta between the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Rough Riders. The event is quintessentially Canadian--fans from all the teams, not just those playing, show up and actually interact with each other in surprisingly friendly fashion in the week before the game. I experienced the phenomenon three years ago first-hand when the game was played in Toronto--several interactions that might have led to a fight outside the Superbowl in the United States resulted in nothing more than a bit of verbal sparring here. This week's Cross Country Checkup on the CBC explored the topic of Grey Cup culture and taught me something I didn't show--the Atlantic Schooners are the only CFL team with a perfect record--they've never lost a game because they never actually played a game before folding.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Radio Pick: Upcycling

This week's radio pick comes from To The Best of Our Knowledge. Despite having lived in areas with radically different recycling policies, I'd never thought of recycling as something distinct from upcycling and downcycling, nor had I realized that most of what North America views as recycling is really downcycling. These concepts were explored in the depth that only public radio tends to provide in a 53-minute program from Wisconsin Public Radio.

Listen to To The Best of Our Knowledge "Upcycling"

Friday, November 26, 2010

Radio: Review of Day 6

TORONTO, ONTARIO - It's been some time since I've reviewed a radio show on this blog, and I don't normally wait several months after the start of a new program to subject it to such a treatment. However, it's probably time to weigh in about CBC Radio One's new Saturday morning program, Day 6.

Essentially replacing the former "GO!" variety program (to which I almost never listened), host Brent Bambury has carried over from the previous show and continues to provide a lot of energy to the new broadcast. While focused on popular "cultural touchstones" as opposed to hard news, Day 6 is in a very real sense a "heavier" program than its predecessor. The Issues of the Day are discussed, often comically, between Bambury and a string of guests, even if those issues are anti-Muslim preachers and whether Craigslist runs adult-oriented material and not timelines for leaving Afghanistan, health care reform, or whether the Canadian senate is functioning properly. The production values, as we come to expect from the CBC, are second-to-none.

What was striking from the first show, though, was the sheer amount of material from the United States being presented. While in some sense this is recognition that events in pop culture in the United States drive much of pop culture in Canada, it is a little jarring to see a Canadian-produced program focusing on events in the US. Not only have movements like Islamophobia and the TEA Party been explored, but in one early show, the trivia question for the day was about the event when President Obama's seal fell off a podium where he was giving a speech.

I may have found that notable from the first show, but it didn't really strike me as going too far until The Big 6 contest was announced last week. Listeners are being asked to vote on which stories they think best represent six categories, Newsmaker of the Year, Trend of the Year, Flameout of the Year, Feel Good Story of the Year, Comeback Story of the Year, and Feel Good Story of the Year. The show presented one suggestion for each category. Of those six suggestions, only one--Justin Bieber for Trend of the Year--was Canadian, while three--the TEA Party, Conan O'Brien, and Jersey Shore--were American. For a show on a network chartered to showcase Canadian culture, this seemed a major failing.

Perhaps the CBC is minimizing the Canadian content in Day 6 in an attempt to make it palatable for syndication in the United States. Yet, there's already an overload in Saturday morning public radio programming to run after Weekend Edition in the United States--with Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me, Car Talk, Whad'Ya Know, This American Life, West Coast Live, and Bob Edwards Weekend just to name some obvious options. Good production values are not going to be enough to give Day 6 a slot in many, if any, markets.

I don't see Day 6 living on in its current incarnation. Perhaps with more emphasis on Canadian content, it can continue with a similar format for some time in the future.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Transport: The Loss of the Lacey V. Murrow

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, but twenty years ago, 25-November fell on a Sunday, and it was quite an interesting day. From my 25-November-1990 Highlight report:
When it was opened in 1940, the Lacey V. Murrow floating bridge was the longest floating bridge in the world. It served well as US 10 and temporary I-90 until the new, third Lake Washington floating bridge opened parallel to the old bridge last year. The classic old span began to be renovated, with some of the work, including the eastern approach and part of the decking completed by the beginning of the Thanksgiving work break.

However, when workers arrived to check on the bridge this morning, they found one of the middle pontoons rapidly taking on water and sinking. They immediately went to shore for safety, and as they called in help, a loud cracking noise was heard. The bridge broke in two, with a middle pontoon immediately sinking. The western section broke away from the approach and began drifting southward. The eastern section remained attached to shore, but continued to take on water.

By this time, the local media had arrived on the scene, and live coverage of the disaster soon reached the airwaves. Another pontoon began to lean downward and bubble. Water come over the roadway, and then the section tipped downward, causing a construction crane to topple into Lake Washington. The pontoon soon followed in turning over and sinking, sending up circular bubbles on the way down.

A few more pontoons went down in such dramatic fashion before the remainder of the bridge stabilized. A tugboat was called to drag the drifting section and hold it against the shore. At the end of the eastern section, the last pontoon hung facing downward, threatening to break off and sink.

Meanwhile, the new bridge was shut down as a precautionary measure and it will remain closed tomorrow morning which will certainly cause a traffic jam the likes of which have never been seen in the Seattle area. Once the new bridge is confirmed safe, the investigation into what happened to the old bridge this morning can begin.
It turned out that the sinking pontoons had snapped some of the cables attaching the new bridge to its southern anchors, meaning that there was stress on the bridge from the still-tensioned northern anchors, threatening to break that bridge apart as well, though it was not in danger of sinking. A fleet of tugboats and other heavy watercraft were recruited to pull on the old bridge until new anchors could be attached.

The old bridge had been undergoing hydro-demolition, the process of using pressurized water to break apart the concrete surfaces that were to be removed. If that doesn't sound ill-advised enough on a floating bridge, the waste water from the process was being stored inside the pontoons, and some of the water-tight barriers had been removed to facilitate this practice. The significant storm that hit around the Thanksgiving holiday was enough to combine with these factors to sink the fifty year-old bridge.

As the parallel Homer M. Hadley Bridge had just been recently designed and completed, it was a comparatively simple process to adapt the plans for that five-lane bridge to the replacement three-lane Lacey V. Murrow Bridge, which was constructed on a somewhat expedited schedule and opened in 1993--with the insurance company of the contractor on the original bridge's refurbishing paying a good portion of the bill.

Now, the 1990's-era bridges are a fixture between Seattle and Mercer Island, and the only controversy surrounds whether to install light rail tracks on the Homer M. Hadley Bridge.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Politics: Greenwald Portends the Right

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On the busiest travel day of the year, pretty much every program that I listen to, short form or long form, news, talk, or entertainment, American, Canadian or British, brings up the topic of the new invasive security procedures at airports in the United States. If I hear one more comment using the word "junk" I think I will go crazier than those personally assaulted by the procedures.

The media boom surrounding this story is remarkable. At the beginning of the month, right after the election, Salon.com's Glenn Greenwald seemed like a lone voice on the topic. In a speech in Madison, Wisconsin (available on-line), Greenwald framed the civil liberties debate somewhat differently than I had heard before. He made the case that civil liberties were a well-defined thing that it doesn't take a lawyer to explain. On the other hand, terrorism is fundamentally an undefinable thing to the point that just about anyone can be considered a terrorist from some warped frame of mind, and pretty much any terrorist could be considered a patriot from a different warped perspective. Greenwald's point was that it is insane to give up a definable quantity, civil liberties, in order to prevent an undefinable quantity, terrorism.

While that expression of the idea resonated with me, it didn't attract much media attention--a friend who reads the on-line magazine had to point me to Greenwald's speech. Instead, what resonated with the media was the video taken of a libertarian's encounter with the Transportation Security Administration in San Diego, in which he ends up accusing them of sexually assaulting him. Everybody has seen that now, along with even more offensive tales of stripped seven year-olds, punctured urine bags, and removed prosthetic breasts.

All of the sudden, instead of the far-left like Greenwald talking about the topic, the same anger that fueled the fiscal-oriented TEA parties is leading the charge from the right. Dave Ross of CBS has even suggested that TEA now stands for "Touched Enough Already" instead of "Taxed Enough Already." The rational amongst us are asking why Israeli-style security has not been implemented, and the irrational are calling for protests to slow down security lines.

Sometimes, the far left and far right both go so far that they meet. In this case, though, the discontent is pretty much universal across the political spectrum. It's only a matter of time before these security measures are dropped, or the Obama administration can forget about ever being re-elected.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Culture: Fumbling Happiness

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In his best-seller, Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert makes the case that the main reason people are not as happy as they could be is that they don't believe the examples they see around them. Rather than evaluating what would make the "average person" happy and following that path, they consider themselves as too different from the average person and come up with reasons why that wouldn't work for them, and instead stay within their less satisfactory comfort zones or otherwise undermine their own happiness.

I actually have a slightly different take on the human tendency to not accurately foresee what will make oneself happy. While I probably have a better case to make about being far from average than most, I can accept that my tendency to be happy in a given situation is at least reasonably similar to people from the "spiritual" world of personalities, which if we believe Bob Cooley represent about a quarter of the population. I've always watched how other people, whether "spiritual" or not, react to situations and tried not to personally repeat their mistakes, marveling at other people that had to actually try everything themselves and experience exactly what others had already gone through.

Yet, I still think Gilbert's advice is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to follow. It's not because I don't believe that I won't react to things the way other people will, but because my circumstances are not similar enough to those that other people have faced. On truly generic matters, like reaction to switching between the eastern and western coast of the United States, or moving far away from family, I can believe that I would react like an average person. But, when facing nuanced decisions between alternate paths that really matter in life, the details matter, and finding situations with comparable details is almost impossible.

For example, I've heard about a number of people who chose between living where they wanted to live and taking a job that would have been much better. There is data to use in evaluating that decision. Yet, couldn't it make a difference if that better job actually involves a team of people that one not only has worked with before, but strongly trust? How many people do you know that had that element in such a choice? There are plenty of situations in which someone made significant career or personal sacrifices for the sake of a romantic relationship. But, don't the qualities and longevity of that relationship make a difference, as well as the absoluteness of the sacrifices? How does one find a similar enough relationship, with the sacrifices coming at a similar point in that relationship, to use as a guide?

Gilbert can argue that statistics can be our best friend, that the average reaction of a large group of people is most likely to be our own reaction in similar circumstances. Yet, if one can't amass enough valid statistics because it's hard to find someone else with such a unique background that might impact on the success of one's own decision as the person actually involved in one's life, then it's hard to garner a large enough sample for statistical validity.

Anyway, that's my excuse if I make a decision that doesn't make me happy.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday: Santa Claus Parade 2010

WestJet has at least one aircraft that isn't a 737--this balloon was part of the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, Ontario on 21-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In the lead-up to the Santa Claus Parade this year, I commented to a friend that snow seems to magically occur more often than not during the event which marks the beginning of the holiday season in Toronto. While the forecast early in the week called for sun, it gradually changed over the course of the week to clouds to rain showers to show showers, and sure enough, snowflakes were seen yesterday morning before the parade. While the crowds gathered and remained for the procession itself, though, it was simply a cold late fall day.

A Canada Post worker collected a letter for Santa Claus from the crowd at the Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, Ontario on 21-November-2010

The parade traditionally opens with a group of Canada Post letter carriers collecting letters for Santa Claus, and tradition was honored this year. Following closely behind the walking postal boxes were the first set of clowns, throwing candy so often into my section of the crowd that even I ended up with my first candy cane of the season despite giving at least five away to children behind me and some late-arriving spectators.

A clown threw candy to rain on the crowds at the corner of Bloor and Avenue Road in Toronto, Ontario during the Santa Claus Parade on 21-November-2010

In recent years, I had found the parade somewhat disappointing, with few new and creative floats and the main attraction being the traditions from the beginning of the event to the end. This year marked a distinct shift. Organizers claimed it was the largest parade in event history, with thirty-one floats, many of them new, unlike the twenty-six mostly repeats in 2009. The parade went on for over two hours at my location, though it was stretched out by the 35 minute break between the first set of clowns and mayor-elect Rob Ford. As a result, it almost seemed too long. The number of people that left after an hour or so was much larger than I remember in previous years.

The Yogi Bear "Jellystone Park" float, to promote the new 3D Yogi Bear movie premiering soon, was one of the new floats in the 2010 Santa Claus Parade on 21-November-2010

Some of the new floats were quite interesting. A Sears float featured a snow blower at its front end, the Swarovsky swan fit in to the winter theme quite nicely, and the Eaton Centre float looked rather plain, but shot simulated snow in the form of streamers into the air, sometimes being picked up by the wind and delivered blocks away, just like real snow. As always, many of the new floats celebrated entertainment products being launched this year, from the Yogi Bear 3D movie to a Barbie float that some around me mistook for Prince William and Kate Middleton until they realized the woman on the float was blonde.

A group of skunks in the parade played dead in the middle of Queen's Park Crescent in Toronto, Ontario on 21-November-2010

The costumed groups of individuals are also a highlight of the parade. I always scratch my head a bit about the bears carrying fish, but the highlight this year may have been the skunks that periodically played dead in the middle of the road--I have to wonder what the kids were thinking each time they did that.

Santa Claus made his way down Bloor Street in Toronto, Ontario to end the Santa Claus Parade on 21-November-2010

Of course, what kids come for is the end of the parade--the reindeer, the sleigh, and Santa Claus bellowing out "Merry Christmas" to the thousands of people crowding every inch of the six kilometer route. Nobody leaves this parade unhappy.

Many more pictures from the Santa Claus Parade will be included in a future update to my photo site.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Photos: Autumn Wrap-Up

The leaves were falling from the trees in Trinity-Bellwoods Park in Toronto, Ontario when viewed on 28-October-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's update to my photo site features a round-up of fall scenes in the Greater Toronto Area in 2010. Included are foliage scenes, the Harvest Festival in High Park, special White Coat, Black Art and Quirks and Quarks events at the CBC, evening meetings with politicians and historical societies, a trip out to Hamilton, Ontario to view the Hunter Street Station historical display, and more.

Margin Notes: Parade, Ford, Survey, Chetzy

The Swarovsky swan was one of the new floats this year in the annual Santa Claus Parade in Toronto, Ontario, seen in front of the "Crystal" at the Royal Ontario Museum on 21-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The holiday season has officially started in the Greater Toronto Area, as Santa Claus arrived on the streets of Toronto in the annual Santa Claus Parade. While snow showers were noted earlier in the day, spectators stayed dry if more than a little cold as more than 30 floats, quite a few of them new, graced the route ahead of Santa Claus himself. More coverage will be forthcoming on this blog and my photo site.

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Toronto mayor-elect Rob Ford appeared to be at least as large as the elephant walking beside him in the Santa Claus Parade on 21-November-2010

Mayor-elect Rob Ford walked in the Santa Claus Parade today. I was planning to be easy on him, at least for the beginning of his administration, but today he opened himself up to such easy shots that it is difficult not to take them. For someone trying not to emphasize his weight, was it really wise to walk the parade route next to an elephant that had a smaller torso than the mayor-elect? And for someone who many fear will create gridlock in the city council, was it really wise to delay the parade by 35 minutes, the gap created between the group ahead of him and the slow-moving, shaking-every-hand politician? I thought about yelling out to Ford that he should apologize to the children for delaying Santa Claus, but then decided that wouldn't be Canadian.

* * * * * *

Pollster Angus Reid offered some insight into what it is to be a Canadian this week. When asked to choose what would be most important to them, 47% of Canadians chose being healthy, 13% of them selected being rich, and just 9% of them selected being successful. I have a feeling the results from our southern cousins would not match those figures.

* * * * * *

On the other hand, in the Pacific Northwest, those in British Columbia are somewhat envious that those in Washington state have a new ferry. The 64-car Chetzemoka entered service last Monday on the Port Townsend-Keystone (er, Coupeville) route after ceremonies on Sunday, the first of three planned Kwa-di Tabil class vessels. So far, reaction to the vessel seems to be positive--though I note that it has already had runs canceled because of a storm and tides, and its elevator is already out of service. (The elevators are also not working on the Hyak and Issaquah at last report, but they aren't new ferries.) "Eileen" (nicknamed for its list when unloaded) may have a good career ahead of it yet.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Radio Pick: Proxy Weddings

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This was a good week for seeing unusual impacts of technology, and the Marketplace Tech Report (the new name for Future Tense) was all over it, from Google Maps prompting a Nicuraguan military action to the Lose It weight loss app. Host John Moe delivered some of the best five-minute features I've heard in a long time all week, but the clear highlight was the description of how same-sex couples are pushing the envelope in proxy weddings, with potential implications for everyone, the radio pick of the week.

Listen to MP3 of Marketplace Tech Report "Texas Couple Gets Married Via Skype"

Friday, November 19, 2010

Media: The End of God Talk?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - About a week ago, word leaked that the radio station recognized by many as the premier commercial talk radio station in the English-speaking world, KGO Newstalk 810 in San Francisco, California, was making its first schedule change since the resignation of long-time General Manager Mickey Luckoff. While most attention focused on the end of the live broadcast of Dr. Dean Edell, the doctor whose medical advice show has aired in the afternoons on KGO since 1978, the most devastating change is the cancellation of the Sunday morning God Talk show.

Dr. Dean Edell is not being canceled. Instead, his live show will no longer air on KGO weekdays at 1 pm, but instead on tape delay from 1-4 pm on Saturdays (a slot which has been filled by rotating guest hosts since Bob Brinker quit broadcasting on Saturday), and from 6-8 am on Sunday. The Noon News, which has come and gone over the years, will return to the schedule, and legal talk show host Len Tillem moves into's Edell's current slot. In addition, Brian Copeland's "haiku of talk radio," currently airing from 9-11 am on Sundays, would be extended to 8-11 am, the standard show length on KGO. That leaves no room for the current occupant of the 6-9 am Sunday morning slot, God Talk.

That show also has a long history on KGO, having been on the air since 1979 with only three regular hosts. I discovered the show in the mid-1990's while living in the Bay Area when it was hosted by its second host, the now-infamous Bernie Ward; I never had the pleasure of hearing original host Tom Hunter, who passed away in 2008. While it might have been on Sunday morning and called "God Talk," it was nothing like other religious programming I had heard. Nobody quoted scripture; it was perhaps best characterized as a newstalk show focusing on ethics and values. Host Ward was willing to take on hypocrisy in any religious institution, including his own Catholic church. He was one of the most outspoken voices against the priest child abuse scandal as it first broke. More than anything else, though, the early hours of the show gave it a very intimate feeling and it spawned a community of generally ecumenical people that wanted to bring out the best in religion. Anyone that listened in that era looked forward to hearing from Susan Prather of Fresh Start, Stan from Oakland, and Steven from Santa Rosa--not to mention the theme of "Amazing Grace" played on bagpipes.

That community was badly strained after Ward was taken off the air in December 2007 and ultimately jailed for trafficking in child pornography; not long afterward, Stan from Oakland and Prather both passed away. Interim host Ravi Peruman, a KGO reporter active in interfaith circles, did a yeoman's job of trying to hold it together until a permanent host was named--and what a pick it was.

Brent Walters, owner of a 25,000 book library and professor at San Jose State University, took over the show in spring 2008 and took it to a new level almost unprecedented in commercial talk radio. He began exploring various religious topics by putting them in a detailed historical context, which often revealed amazing chasms between those times and modern practices. The information content of the show became like that of a college class, but the inclusion of callers kept the emphasis on community. KGO had often been called the "college education of the airwaves," but it had never been so true as when Brent Walters was on the air. Not a polished broadcaster at first, he rapidly learned the medium, choosing the new themes, Linus of Hollywood's "Sunday Morning" and Scouting for Girls' "I Need A Holiday" to wonderfully set the mood for each show.

In announcing the cancellation of the show last Sunday, Walters stated that the decision was final and no amount of public outcry was going to save it. However, in his newsletter this week, he stated that the response to the announcement had been loud enough that the station was considering an abbreviated show or "guaranteed weekly podcast." It seems there is room to contact KGO Program Director Jack Swanson, General Manager Diedra Lieberman, and even Citadel Broadcasting President Farid Suleman--who is rumored to be the driving force behind the schedule change--to try to save the show.

For those (like me) concerned about the future of KGO, the very fact that Walters was given two weeks notice demonstrates that the classiness of the station has not yet disappeared, something many credit to Swanson, who has been in his role continuously since 1994 as well as from 1982 to 1990. Will Brent Walters join the likes of David Brudnoy (in 1990), Bernie Ward (in 1997), and Steve LeVeille (in 2009) as hosts saved on the air by their listeners? Only time will tell, but if he is not, the quality of my Sundays will decline considerably.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Culture: Why Not Market to Potential Terrorists?

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This blog has spent a rather substantial number of electrons contemplating the "emotional world" nature of culture in the United States, including the primacy of marketing in that culture. The country has favored VHS over Beta, extreme politicians over centrists, Windows over OS/2 or MacOS, and brand names over generics not because they were better products, but because their marketing was more aggressive or simply more effective.

Yet, when it comes to the task of selling the culture itself as something to be respected or at least left alone, instead of an object for destruction, marketing suddenly takes a back seat. Military action (and the threat thereof) has been the preferred mode for defending the country against mostly Islamist extremists who profess the desire to destroy the United States and have been identified by most analysts as the greatest threat to the country's future.

Marketing to Osama Bin Laden and committed members of Al Qaeda is likely fruitless, but at some level they're not the long-term problem. The real problems are young potential recruits for Al Qaeda and similar groups who need to choose whether to devote their lives to an organization dedicated to destruction, or live their lives as most of the rest of the world does, without a focus on violence. If nobody wants to give up their lives for Al Qaeda, then it won't have enough people to pose a long-term existential threat to the United States.

By choosing military action as the principal means of containing terrorist organizations, the United States has taken actions that have included substantial collateral damage, making the victims of that damage more amenable to becoming terrorists. The more known enemies have been eliminated, the more potential enemies have been created, in too many cases.

The best marketing minds in the world operate in the United States. They should be enlisted to come up with campaigns to present how Muslims are integrated into American society, how Islam and the US Constitution are aligned, and how the United States is not a threat to a young man in a place like Yemen or Afghanistan. It should go beyond rhetoric. There ought to be viral marketing campaigns, "astroturfing," "walking around money" and other more covert and subtle techniques used.

American marketing firms can sell tap water for $3 a bottle even if they can't quite sell ice to the Eskimos. It seems hard for me to believe that they cannot be a much stronger component of efforts to contain terrorism by convincing young people that it isn't in their interest.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Economics: Even Smith Knew...

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Those on the political left often decry the consumer culture of North America (and, for that matter, most of the world). They point out that wealth--at least above a certain threshold associated with rising out of poverty--does not correlate with happiness. Capitalism, they argue, does not serve to foster human happiness.

What I somehow missed in my education is that the oracle of capitalism, Adam Smith himself, actually acknowledged that free market economics does not lead to happiness. I only learned that from reading Daniel Gilbert's "Stumbling on Happiness." Granted, Smith's analysis of happiness was not in "Wealth of Nations" but in "The Theory of Moral Sentiments," a document I had never read. However, it is pretty stunning prose:
In what constitutes the real happiness of human life [the poor] are in no respect inferior to those who would seem so much above them. In ease of body and peace of mind, all the different ranks of life are nearly upon a level, and the beggar, who suns himself by the side of the highway, possesses that security which kings are fighting for.
Not only did Smith recognize that happiness was not correlated with wealth, but he actually believed that people needed to be deceived into consumerism in order to create a sustainable economy.
The pleasures of wealth and greatness... strike the imagination as something grand and beautiful and noble, of which the attainment is well worth all the toil and anxiety which we are so apt to bestow upon it... It is this deception which rouses and keeps in continual motion the industry mankind. It is this which first prompted them to cultivate the ground, to build houses, to found cities and commonwealths, and to invent and improve all the sciences and arts, which ennoble and embellish human life...
Contrary to what some on the left might prefer, I don't see this as hypocrisy or as an argument to do away with free market economics. Instead, it demonstrates to me that Adam Smith was an even wiser individual than I already believed, and more important to me, a very human one with more than a reductionist view of human behavior. It doesn't diminish his economic theories, but rather puts them in the appropriate context of advancing technology and standards of living, rather than as an end to happiness.

Rather than indicting Smith, I see these statements as indicting those who take a fundamentalist stance on Smith's theories. Smith understood that free markets were not the most efficient way to happiness--just the theoretically most efficient way to organize an advancing economy. Realizing this leaves room for society to value something besides that advancing economy while still pursuing that growth. Market fundamentalists can't seem to countenance that there is anything other free market principles that might matter. Everyone should learn Adam Smith's economic theories--and learn that he understood they weren't linked directly to happiness, and then reach their own conclusions about how they want to see that reflected in their own lives and in society around them.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Transport: Never Mind Rail...

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This blog has been relatively cynical about the $8 billion that was to be devoted to "high speed rail" projects from the Recovery Act in the United States, as announced in January. While calling it all "high speed rail" was an almost-pathological overstatement of the projects that were funded, it looked like some serious improvement to rail infrastructure was going to take place in a number of states, and California and Florida, at least, would actually be able to start building true dedicated right-of-way, 200+ mile per hour lines that most of the world would view as high speed rail.

One election later, that's apparently not the case. Most dramatically, almost immediately after the election, Wisconsin stopped all work on a project that would have created a high-speed passenger rail corridor between Madison and Milwaukee. Governor-elect Scott Walker had promised during the campaign that he would kill the project to save money, re-iterated after the election that he would keep this promise, and as a result sitting governor Jim Doyle, a rail supporter, immediately halted all work so as to avoid throwing money away on a project that would be stopped just months later. Assuming that nothing changes, Wisconsin will forfeit the $823 million in Federal funds it had been awarded for the project--and it isn't especially clear how much money it will actually save the state, as the federal money was going to fund essentially the complete project, assuming no cost over-runs.

The same thing has happened in Ohio. Newly elected Governor John Kasich also campaigned against the creation of a rail corridor in his state. As a result, work is being stopped on the "3C" line connecting Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland, and as a result $400 million will be returned to Washington D.C. The situation in Florida may prove similar--Rick Scott campaigned against the Orlando to Tampa true high speed line because it was expected to cost the state about $280 million, but seems to be doing a reasoned analysis now, rather than simply rejecting $2 billion in federal money that most expect to grow to about $2.3 billion if the project proceeds. It remains to be seen if Florida will really leave $2 billion or more on the table.

Adding to the anti-rail environment while not part of the Recovery Act situation, New Jersey governor Chris Christie has also killed a $8.7 billion project to create an additional rail tunnel under the Hudson River. Of all the projects mentioned here, this one did stand on the most dubious financial ground--New Jersey could have been on the hook for substantial potential cost overruns--and the political history of the project could be characterized as sketchy. Still, it fit the pattern of a Republican governor killing a rail infrastructure project.

With the money to be refunded to the Federal government only available for rail projects by law, some of the states whose projects were underfunded or not funded at all may yet end up getting funds. Many pundits, however, believe that the returned money will end up going to California, which still seems to be serious about building its high speed line despite its overall financial situation--and it is possible that new legislation may be passed that will simply eliminate the funds and put them toward debt reduction.

What Walker, Christie, Kasich, and (at least during the campaign) Scott all have in common, besides being Republicans, is the claim that their states could not afford rail infrastructure, that it was not an appropriate thing for the state to be spending money on, and that the projects would be a waste of money as not all state citizens would use the systems. The logic really doesn't hold up--taxes go to everything from public schools to air traffic control that not everyone uses, and rail infrastructure is no different conceptually from road infrastructure that seems to draw no complaints when it is funded by stimulus funds.

The truly amazing claim is the first one, that the rail infrastructure cannot be afforded. People from the same party that constantly claim that the United States is exceptional and does not need to look to foreign models are basically admitting that we do not have the money to spend on infrastructure that China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy, and even Turkey do have. When the United States wakes up and discovers that it is in the in a second tier of nations, one thing it will be able to look back on is the mass cancellation of rail infrastructure projects in 2010.

{And it's hard to ignore the Onion's take on the situation.}

Monday, November 15, 2010

Culture: Freedom and Fear

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Nobel laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi's sentence of house arrest in Burma, also known as Myanmar, ended on Saturday. She was allowed to leave her residence for the first time in more than seven years. In some of her early statements, she noted that she had actually been more free than many others in her country while under house arrest, as she had little to fear. This view of the concept of freedom is one that I believe to be more meaningful than others I have encountered.

The linking of freedom and fear is hardly a new idea from Aung Sang Suu Kyi. Arguably her most famous speech is the "Freedom From Fear" speech from two decades ago, in which she goes on at length about the power of fearlessness. Yet, the concept of being free while under house arrest, while others that were not legally restricted were fearful and thus not truly free, is a further extension of that famous speech and even harder to grasp for most westerners.

In the west, the dictionary definition of freedom is usually something to the effect of "the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint." That's normally taken to mean having no government restriction on speech and activities. If there's no legal restrictions on one activities, then one is free. I've long thought the concept has become especially contorted in the United States, where freedom has been equated with the ability to spend money, as if money were a direct proxy for ideas, and people seem very willing to give up legal freedoms in order to feel safer through things like the Patriot Act.

Yet, the words of the definition fit Aung San Suu Kyi's viewpoint. If one is in fear, then there is a hindrance and a restraint on their lives, and thus there is not freedom. What doesn't seem to be accounted for in North America is that there are potential sources of fear besides the government. Ask a homosexual individual in many (but not all) societal contexts, and they'll say that they do fear violence by bigoted individuals, and thus temper their behavior--their behavior is restrained, and thus they are not truly free. Minorities of all kinds, based on skin color, education, or even interest in targeted activities like protesting or photography, feel like they have to restrain their behavior, not going certain places for fear of their own safety. They are not truly free.

People in the United States seem obsessed with the idea that they need to protect their freedoms from a socialist government like that found in Western Europe or Canada. Yet, I personally feel less restrained in my behavior walking the streets of Zurich, Switzerland or even Montreal, Quebec than in Boston, Massachusetts or Sacramento, California because it seems to me there is less to fear in terms of random crime and being questioned or persecuted about one's activities or demeanor. If I were a visible minority, it would probably be an even more profound difference.

Anyone that has had similar feelings likely understands what Aung Sang Suu Kyi was saying. Nobody should need to be under house arrest to reduce their fearfulness, but pretending that money is freedom is not a superior illusion. No society I have encountered lacks issues to work on, but those that have gone farther in reducing the reasons for all their residents to be fearful have gone farther in promoting freedom than those that simply minimize symbolic intrusions.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Photos: TRHA's First Season, Part II

Mike Salisbury ran steam locomotive #3 past a "Pumpkin Post" at the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre on 31-October-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week's coverage of the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre's first season on my photo site focuses on special events, both planned and unplanned. These ranged from decorations for Canada Day on 1-July-2010 to the special Halloween night run on 31-October-2010, with many special trains, photo shoots, book signings, and visitors in between.

Margin Notes: Holidays, Crate, KGO, Rankings

A wreath was prepared at the TD Canada Trust branch at Bay and Wellington in Toronto, Ontario on 13-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Whether we like it or not, the holiday season is upon us. The decorations are going up all over Toronto; in addition to the wreaths and other holiday displays being erected at the TD headquarters downtown shown above, I noticed that the tree structure has been placed over the Alex Ling Fountain in my neighbourhood, seemingly the same as last year's edition, though its lights have yet to be turned on. eBay is kind enough to remind us that there are only 41 more days until Christmas.

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The iconic holiday tree to many is the Douglas Fir, native to the Pacific Northwest. I did not learn until this week, from a segment on KUOW's The Conversation with Ross Reynolds, that the tree was named for Scottish explorer and botanist David Douglas, who explored the region in the 1820's and 1830's. Why didn't I learn that in Washington State History class?

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An interesting advertising campaign featuring a crate was noted above a bus stop at Front and Bay in Toronto, Ontario on 13-November-2010

I have yet to see a Douglas fir decorated around Toronto, but what is apparently a clever marketing campaign has appeared a bus stop at the northeast corner of Front and Bay in Toronto. A crate, with the markings "Destination: Haiti" has been mounted above the bus shelter. The crate is rather neurotic, if we read its web site at whatsupwiththecrate.ca. (I note that this domain was not even registered until 1-November.) Presumably, there will be some sort of announcement about this crate and two others tomorrow, involving Haitian aid.

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No official announcement has been forthcoming from station management, but changes are afoot at KGO radio in San Francisco. It has leaked to the ba.broadcast newsgroup that Dr. Dean Edell's syndicated show, for which KGO was the flagship, will be moved from its live weekday 1 pm slot to tape-delayed (apparently) on Saturdays, with radio lawyer Len Tillem moved into Edell's time slot and the Noon News returning to what is now Tillem's slot. Meanwhile, on his show today, God Talk host Brent Walters announced that the 30 year run of that unique institution will end this month; the replacement is not yet known. Want to know what the death of a great radio station looks like? These are some of the first steps.

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Those changes will likely have an impact on KGO's rankings amongst radio stations, but it was college football rankings that surprised me this week. I haven't watched a single game of NCAA football this season, so it came as quite a shock to me to find that my alma mater, the Stanford Cardinal (yes, that's singular and represents a color, not a bird) are 9-1, losing only to #1-ranked Oregon, and in the top 10 in all the major polls. We all thought Jim Harbaugh was going to be a good coach and that the team would make some bowl games, but nationally ranked? The Big Game next Saturday--against California in Berkeley--will really mean something for a change.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Radio Pick: My Oh My!

TORONTO, ONTARIO - There's no question what the radio pick should be this week. While it takes listening to entire games to appreciate Dave Niehaus' story-telling abilities, the current Seattle Mariners flagship station (710 ESPN) has released a three-and-a-half minute tribute of his calls from significant franchise moments that will bring back memories for anyone that lived in that region from the formation of the team in 1977 until Niehaus died this week at the age of 75.

Listen to MP3 of "My Oh My - A Tribute to Dave Niehaus"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Media: Remembering Dave Niehaus

TORONTO, ONTARIO - With the exception of a scant few seasons, the Seattle Mariners have never been much of a baseball team. Yet, their popularity throughout the Pacific Northwest grew to remarkable levels and has endured in large part thanks to the effort of one man to build interest--their lead radio broadcaster, Dave Niehaus. Neihaus was the voice of the team right from its inception in 1977 until his voice was silenced on Wednesday from a heart attack. He was 75.

Whether on KVI, KIRO, or KOMO, Dave Niehaus' distinct voice immediately let you know that the Mariners were playing. Since 1983, he has been paired with Rick Rizzs (except for a time in the early 1990's when Rizzs went to Detroit), and the two have combined to narrate the summers of anyone that cared about baseball with story-telling skills that would impress the Greek epic poets. Growing up in the area, I took them for granted until I lived somewhere else--the broadcasters working the Oakland A's simply could not stack up, and if I wanted to listen to baseball, I would tune in Eugene's KPNW 1120 AM--a Mariners affiliate in that era that came in quite clearly in the Bay Area at night. Niehaus would be there to keep me interested.

Niehaus probably made a greater impact on the vocabulary of the Pacific Northwest than anyone else, certainly more profound than Howard Schultz teaching us Italian names for drink sizes. I considered any well-lit ball to be "belted," since Niehaus always used the phrase "swung on and belted deep to {whatever} field"--in Boston, the verb drew strange looks. If a Mariner hit the ball over the fences, he would continue, "and it will fly away, MY OH MY!" What he really thrived on was coming up with nicknames. Niehaus might not have been the first one to codify Ken Griffey Jr. as "The Kid," Alex Rodriguez as "A-Rod," or Jay Buhner as "Bone," but he was the one to introduce me to those short-hands. Once he started using them, the whole Pacific Northwest started using them, and at least in the case of "A-Rod," the entire world followed.

I've actually encountered a small minority of people over the years that didn't like Niehaus as a broadcaster. Uniformly, they all considered him too much of a "homer," or always focusing on the Mariners at the expense of the other team. They missed the point. That was his job--he was paid to make people interested in the Mariners, and he did this better than anyone else ever will.

This talent was so widely recognized throughout the sport and the industry that Niehaus was the second person to be inducted in the Mariners' Hall of Fame and he earned the Ford C. Frick Award in 2008, the sport's top honor for broadcasters. After his death, even my local morning show here in Toronto played a clip of Neihaus' famous call of the Mariners victory in the 1995 American League division series. I can't think of another local Seattle figure ever even mentioned on that show before.

There are no "happy totals" (as his partner Rizzs would say) right now, but Niehaus broadcast 5,284 Mariner games, nearly all of the 5,385 games so far played by the franchise. That's well over 10,000 hours of live entertainment. Mariner fans have gone through Neihaus withdrawal before, as previous heart problems had taken him off the air for limited periods, but we always knew he would be back. It's hard to imagine that the era is really over now. Niehaus would find a way to turn our attention to the future and create excitement, but it is probably a good thing the only thing in season is the Hot Stove League. It will take until the spring to face a Mariners future without Dave Niehaus.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Culture: Make It a Statutory Holiday

TORONTO, ONTARIO - North American society spends a lot of time lamenting the commercialization of our holiday traditions. While Christmas and Valentine's Day are the most extreme examples, any barbecue salesman knows the sales peak that occurs around Independence (or Canada) Day and any clothing retailer knows how to make money from Presidents' Day (or Family Day) sales in February. One of the reasons that the latter marketing campaign works so well is that there is really nothing specific or traditional to do on a February holiday.

Veteran's Day (or Remembrance Day) is not like that. While the observances may be somewhat more ritualized in Canada, ceremonies to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month take place at memorials and other gathering places all over the continent. It's very clear what there is to do on 11-November--and it occurs right at mid-day.

Furthermore, remembering veterans is something that everyone should take more time to do. Those that know my attitude about the use of force and war know that I stand somewhere between Madeleine Albright and Colin Powell, but once a conflict has started, it seems to me that a nation owes those that served in its armed forces a huge debt. It is inexplicable to me how a nation can cut the funding of its veterans' hospitals or breach the privacy of the records of its veterans. Someone that spent time away from his or her family to defend everyone else's right to live their normal lives without interruption deserves first-class treatment.

To me, it's highly symbolic that November 11th is not a statutory holiday for everyone in either Canada or the United States. We're not serious about providing services to veterans in either country, and so why would we want the whole population to spend 0.27% of the days of the year thinking about what veterans have done for the country? It's much better to let people "trade" Veteran's Day for the Friday after Thanksgiving, or Remembrance Day for the August Civil Holiday.

It may be a symbolic gesture, but I think it's time, while we have recent veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq on our minds, to make November 11th a statutory holiday and encourage people to attend ceremonies. Maybe then, we'll meet a few veterans and hear their stories. Maybe then, the public pressure to treat veterans with the respect they used to receive will grow and governments will be shamed into actually funding services. It's worth trying.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Personality: Evolution of Personality

TORONTO, ONTARIO - When discussing the meridian personality classification system, called the Genetic Personality Types (GPT) by their discoverer, Bob Cooley, the subject of which of the sixteen personality types or four worlds amongst them is the most "advanced" sometimes comes up. Anyone asking this question has really missed the point. One of the most appealing aspects of the theory is that each of the sixteen types brings its own geniuses to the human race, that everyone can access them whether they naturally exhibit them or not, and that human interactions depend on the presence of all types. In a very real sense, all sixteen types are not only on an equal footing, they all represent the advancement of the human race.

Yet, few people would argue that all animals, or even other mammals, exhibit the sixteen types. Ever heard of an appendix-type cat that seems to have a natural sense of acupuncture points on its siblings? Or a kidney-type dog that amuses itself and those around it by imitating its human owner? I sure haven't. It's easy to see that domesticated animals, especially, have individual and greatly diverging personalities, but mapping those personalities to the human GPT classifications doesn't seem straight-forward.

So how did the GPT personalities evolve? We may never know the answer to that question, but psychologists may have come across a clue. Daniel Gilbert, in his best-selling book "Stumbling on Happiness," makes the case that it was the development of the frontal lobe that made us human. What goes on in the frontal lobe? The ability to conceptualize about the future. Gilbert puts it bluntly: "The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future."

In the GPT theory, orientation to the future is a characteristic of the types in the "Thinking" or "Analytical" world. The development of the "Thinking" world may be what caused the species to move from ape to human. Yet, it is not clear what existed previously. Did the "Emotional" world and its ability to draw so profoundly on the past exist in apes in the same way as it does in humans? Or did apes, like other animals, have only a rudimentary sense of the past, the same way that a squirrel could bury an acorn before the winter but not really have the ability to contemplate its future? Since the "Thinking" and "Emotional" worlds balance one another, it might make some sense that the greatest evolutionary advantage would be in their evolving simultaneously, rather than one after the other, but one could also have developed in response to the other.

The focus on the "Thinking" world as being the key evolutionary step as embodied in the frontal lobe also seems rather counter to the traditional way of differentiating humans from animals, which is in terms of spirituality. Religious doctrine only put words on a sense that seems to be quite common in this species that we are the only ones with "souls," not other creatures. This is generally linked to the "energy" sensitivity of the "Spiritual" world. And, by the same argument that there is an evolutionary advantage to balancing worlds, one might imagine that the "Spiritual" world developed to balance the present-focused "Physical" world that seems the most instinctual and animal-like.

Yet, I'm quite convinced that this rather belittling view of the "Physical" world is unfounded. The "Physical" world may be focused on the present, but is that present the same as the animal's present any more than the human's view of the past is the same as the animal's view of the past? Are there skin-type animals convincing other individuals to do what they want? Are there lung-type animals taking the kind of leadership in groups that humans do? I hardly find the alpha male gorilla to be analogous to a lung-type human leading a construction or research crew. (Of course, as a spiritual type, I would have a hard time belittling the "Physical" world.)

The bottom line may be that the human brain fundamentally views time differently, no matter what GPT world it emphasizes. If it is the sense of time in all its categories, not just the future, that is indeed defining, and that ability came from the development of the frontal lobe, then all four worlds may have been developed roughly simultaneously in evolutionary terms. That would certainly be a more satisfying conclusion for those that want to believe in the equality of the sixteen geniuses.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Heritage: Architecture in the "Flowery Suburb"

Architectural historian and Heritage Toronto board member Marta O'Brien introduced her topic while waiting for a projector to be fixed on 8-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - Heritage Toronto generally doesn't put on a lot of lectures. The bulk of its activities are walks or dedications, usually outside. So, perhaps it should not have been surprising that an illustrated lecture entitled "Parkdale: The 'Flowery Suburb'" drew a standing-room-only crowd to the Community Room at the recently rehabilitated Bloor-Gladstone Library in Toronto, Ontario last evening.

The talk was given by Architectural historian and Heritage Toronto board member Marta O'Brien, who had clearly enjoyed her exploration of what is now a somewhat neglected neighbourhood on the western side of town. O'Brien noted that Parkdale had been incorporated as a village in 1874 with a population of just 875; by 1886, it had become a town with four wards, and it was absorbed into Toronto in 1889. I loved the quote from 1881 that only two policemen "one for night, one for day [were] sufficient for public order."

The talk weaved the history of Parkdale with pictures of its architectural landmarks, some of which survive to this day, but others do not. I was struck by one of those losses, Elm Grove constructed in 1836, as it was a regency-style building designed by John Howard that bore a strong resemblance to other Howard buildings in Toronto, including Howard's own surviving home, Colbourne Lodge in High Park, with its large veranda.

The yellow tones of the projected images were only a minor distraction to the talk on Parkdale's architectural history by Marta O'Brien on 8-November-2010

While projector issues delayed the start of the talk and caused a colour shift in the images, this was only a minor distraction to a knowledgeable audience. The Scholes Hotel, built in 1884, was recognizable as being at King at Roncesvalles. The house at 63 O'Hara is a rare wood structure dating from before 1884. Amongst the classic Victorian and Queen Anne homes along King, the 1890-era building at 200 Dunn featured a monogrammed roof which I had never noticed before.

In its earliest days, as its name implied, Parkdale was trying to be a cleaner, healthier alternative to Toronto and some of its other suburbs, as pushed by (amongst others) a man named William Irvin Mackenzie, who became known as the "father of Parkdale" in the 1870's. Thus, there was a certain irony that row houses he opposed, including the 1883 Trenton Terrace and 1889-91 Melbourne Place, both planned by Alway Beecroft, have survived to this day. Perhaps the biggest irony, though, surrounds 103-105 West Lodge. The 1965 structure has become symbolic of the poor landlords in high-rises along Jameson in southern Parkdale and is largely reviled today--yet it won an architectural award prior to its opening.

O'Brien's presentation made me want to go look at many of the surviving structures in Parkdale--but the schedule for Heritage Toronto walks, undoubtedly including the neighbourhood, won't be released until spring.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Culture: Ode to a Pair of Shoes

My last pair of walking shoes were photographed shortly before their retirement on 2-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - I'm not especially proud of my shoe-buying record. Over the years, I have tended to purchase Chinese-manufactured shoes from discount retailers like Payless Shoe Source (or of late, at Sears Canada). I keep coming back to this practice because the shoes I purchase there consistently provide good value--especially when on sale, they are as cheap as any I can find and they last much longer than any other shoes I can find.

A clear case in point are the pair of shoes pictured above that I finally disposed of last week after the soles started to come unglued. I purchased them in early 2009 and started wearing them essentially daily in June 2009--whenever I wasn't wearing steel-toed shoes or dress shoes for an interview, I was wearing that pair right up until recent weeks. In that kind of situation, I would be happy with shoes that would last through six months of daily use; in fact, if they were as cheap as these were ($30), I wouldn't complain if they lasted only four months of heavy use. These shoes lasted almost sixteen months.

Furthermore, they didn't receive light usage. These shoes went hundreds of miles, walking significant distances in places like Seattle, Washington; Sacramento, California; Portland, Oregon; Owosso, Michigan; and Windsor, Ontario. Here in Toronto, Ontario, they could easily see twenty-five miles a week or more, as I might do two roundtrips to downtown Toronto (six miles each way) in that time, not to mention more routine trips around my neighbourhood. Even if a very conservative estimate of 10 miles per week is used, these shoes did more than six hundred miles--I'm pretty sure the real figure was closer to one thousand.

I purchased their successors--a very similar design from the same off-brand--when the front of this pair started to fray in spring 2010, but they seemed to be completely repaired with a bit of glue and served on for another half-year, with a break only on a June trip when I decided not to trust them in favor of the new pair. It's really hard to argue with this performance. If the pair I'm wearing now lasts as long, I might be wearing them when the next US Federal election occurs in 2012, if I ultimately wear dress shoes instead of walking shoes to a job on weekdays.

I was briefly excited that the Dakota-brand work shoes that I bought at Mark's Work Wearhouse and still wear on average one day a week have lasted since spring 2008, but then I realized that they are made in China, too. Whatever else we think of that country, China knows how to make durable shoes.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Photos: TRHA's First Season of Operations

Mike Salisbury ran steam locomotive #3 with a train load of visitors through the Toronto Railway Heritage Centre in Toronto, Ontario and underneath the Pyke rail crane on 19-September-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The Toronto Railway Heritage Centre closed for the season after a night run on Halloween. A look back at first summer of operations will appear in two parts on my photo site. This week, the pictures are from the exhibits, routine operations including the miniature railway, and work projects from July through October 2010.

Margin Notes: Veteran's Week, Quarters, HAL

An example of a 2008 "Remembrance Day 90th Anniversary" Canadian quarter was photographed on 7-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In the United States, Veteran's Day is this coming Thursday (in Canada, it's called Remembrance Day), but I don't recall hearing the phrase "Veteran's Week" until this year, referring to the week before 11-November. Here in Toronto, everyone is wearing poppies in support of veterans, so it seemed entirely appropriate that I would stumble upon a quarter with a poppy on it (pictured above) at the beginning of Veteran's Week. Canada issued 11 million such coins in 2008 in honor of the 90th anniversary of Remembrance Day, and it was a essentially a re-issue of a 2004 coin that had been the first colored coin placed in circulation in the world.

* * * * * *

My poppy has been pinned on my winter jacket, which I started wearing as a result of the snowfall last Sunday. It occurred to me that I've never put a poppy on anything other than a winter jacket--the fact that I didn't wear one until nearly November was the strange thing this year.

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As the month turned to November, the picture on my Swansea Historical Society calendar changed to one showing construction on the old streetcar loop near Bloor and Jane here in Toronto--ironic, considering that Bloor street is currently torn up in the same location for re-construction. Sometimes history just repeats itself. The 2011 Swansea Historical Society calendar is now available at Swansea Town Hall and other neighborhood locations for just $8.00, featuring photos of such lost locations in the area as Harvey's Pond and the Minnies.

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That calendar was produced with the help of a computer. I only learned this week from an article in an alumni magazine that the most famous of movie computers, the HAL 9000 from "2001" was named after IBM. Move each letter of IBM back one in the alphabet, and it becomes HAL. As my Bellevue High School math club predecessor Jim Ferry once put it, "It's obvious if you think about it."

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Radio Pick: Political Satire

TORONTO, ONTARIO - There was entirely too much political coverage in both the United States and Canada this week, and while some of it was excellent, I was more interested in making fun of it. Surprisingly, this did not mean the Capitol Steps became my weekly radio pick. Instead, Harry Shearer's LeShow received the nod. An amusing episode of "Clintonsomething" and the inclusion of "Yes We Can But" by Will.i.never were amongst the highlights of his 59-minute Halloween broadcast.

Listen to LeShow "Pre-Election Show"

Heritage: Films from the Archives of Ontario

Stewart Boden (right) of the Archives of Ontario received recognition from the West Toronto Junction Historical Society after a presentation in Toronto, Ontario on 4-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In April 2009, the Archives of Ontario moved to a new location on the Keele campus of York University. As the new purpose-built facility is less accessible to many than the previous location in the core of Toronto, the archives have tried to do more outreach, and Stewart Boden of the archives provided one such experience with a talk at the West Toronto Junction Historical Society on Thursday night.

The presentation focused on some of the films from the archives, and they were quite a cultural tour. The first clip came from an early provincial production called "Her Own Fault" which showed two independent women, one of which was a very proper and good employee with hygienic habits and the other who did everything wrong. The latter ended up with tuberculosis (though was well cared for by the provincial health care system, of course)--can one imagine such a message being delivered by the government even a generation ago?

Probably my favorite public health clip from the presentation, though, featured a borrowed character. Apparently "Murphy the Molar" was the mascot of the Ontario Dental Association, and the province adopted him for a series of spots on dental hygiene. A particularly amusing example showed Murphy recommending the use of a mask when playing hockey, complete with music from the famous Canadian folk group The Travellers.

Another great set of ads, somewhat more modern in origin, warned motorists to respect snow plows that moved slowly with their blue beacon lights on while removing snow. While the sample shown on Thursday was rather amusing, featuring a sports car snow plow, there was apparently a spot produced that featured a snow plow that fired upon any cars approaching too close. That one apparently didn't last very long on the air.

Of course, no summary of Ontario government-produced films could be complete without the only one that actually won an Academy Award. I had heard many things about "A Place to Stand," used as a promotional film by the province at Expo '67 in Montreal, Quebec (a short clip is here). However, I had never actually seen more than a brief snippet of the film with its famous lyrics, "A Place to Stand, A Place to Grow, Ontari-ari-ari-o" and then-innovative split-screen visuals. That wasn't the case for the rest of the audience on Thursday. Once it started, everyone else started to sing along.

I can't think of a reason why I will need to go to the Archives of Ontario in the future, but with 15,000 feet of year of new documents being added, maybe someday I will. After the presentation on Thursday, I certainly view it as more than a repository of genealogical information for the province of Ontari-ari-air-o.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Media: Goodbye Hot Talk, Hello Greatest Hits

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This week, Fisher Broadcasting in Seattle, Washington announced that it would be changing the format of one of its radio stations. KVI at 570 AM will no longer have the conservative talk radio format that it has aired since 1993 and instead will become a full service (yes, that means news breaks) station airing oldies music, not entirely dissimilar to the format that aired on the station before it became a talk station in 1992.

KVI is not just any radio station in Seattle. With roots dating back to 1926, the station has competed for top ratings in the market in several eras, most notably the 1970's and mid 1990's. It was once part of Gene Autry's radio holdings. The Seattle Mariners baseball team was broadcast on the station from their first season in 1977 to 1984--somewhere in my possession I have an old Mariners cap with a KVI logo on it.

My first memories of KVI were in its oldies era, when it went by the slogan "Solid Gold Rock'n'Roll, KVI." It had lost the Mariners to KIRO by then, but it ran the Unlimited Radio Network with unlimited hydroplane coverage, which was still reasonably popular in Seattle at the time (though those races would spend some years on KIXI and even KWYZ out of Everett before returning to KVI), so that drew me to the station.

Then, in 1992, the station went all-talk. Rush Limbaugh was aired live 9-noon, the first time the already-famous conservative talker aired on a significant Seattle signal (Seattle listeners had previously been best off listening to him on a midnight replay on KNBR out of San Francisco). I started listening to the weekend re-runs of Limbaugh's programs. Initially, there was some political balance to the station, but then, in 1993, KVI went to all conservative talk. It became the first major-market all-conservative talk station in the entire country. Now there are too many to count.

Despite the liberal nature of the Seattle area, KVI thrived, competing with KIRO and FM music stations KMPS and KUBE for top ratings in the market. Much of the competition centered around the 9-noon slot, where KIRO tried various local hosts to try to go head-to-head with Limbaugh, removing Jim French from his long-standing slot in favor of San Francisco transplant Lee Rodgers (from KGO, who would later return to KSFO) and eventually settling on their own homegrown talent in Dave Ross. KVI was so successful that it attracted copycats; at one point, KTTH "The Truth", KKOL 1300 AM, and KVI were all running exclusively conservative talk.

In 1994, KVI and KPLZ-FM were sold to Fisher Broadcasting, which already owned KOMO-AM. As time went on, KVI received less and less attention from its new owners. KTTH stole Limbaugh away, leaving KVI with Tony Snow in the morning. Ratings started to decline. Meanwhile, it also had fewer and fewer local hosts. KOMO increasingly received the best talent, with a final straw earlier this year being the move of "The Commentators" (Ken Schram and John Carlson), then airing on KVI, along with Carlson's former afternoon drive show, to KOMO. That left morning drive host Bryan Suits as the last remaining local talent. With syndicated programming repeating during the day, it was clear something would need to change before KVI was left with no listeners and advertising revenue.

On Monday, the change will occur with the beginning of the oldies format, this time not as "Solid Gold" but as "Seattle's Greatest Hits." Fisher is actually bringing back DJ's identified with the 60's and 70's music, with Tom Hutyler (KJR/KOMO, as well as the PA voice of the Mariners and a KVI news voice) and Marina Rockinger (KBSG and KOMO) in the mornings, Mark Christopher (KBSG) in the afternoons, and Ric Hansen (KJR) at night. The prospects of an AM oldies station garnering an audience in a market with an FM oldies station (albeit a rim-shotter, KMCQ from Covington at 104.5 FM) seems remote.

Still, I've been an advocate of full-service stations, and perhaps the element of adding news to the music will allow the new KVI to find a niche. Fisher was one of the last owners to re-format a full-service station in a major market (KOMO in 1995), and now it is the first to bring back a full-service station. It's certainly an interesting experiment.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Heritage: Toronto the Warrior City

Paul Federico, an expert on military history and artifacts, spoke to the Swansea Historical Society in Toronto, Ontario on 3-November-2010

TORONTO, ONTARIO - In the modern era, thinking of Toronto (or even Canada as a whole) as a place of warriors seems rather bizarre. However, in his presentation to the monthly meeting of the Swansea Historical Society last night, Paul Federico made the case that Toronto has long been a city of warriors, dating back to pre-Colombian times.

Uniforms including silver leaf were amongst the artifacts brought by Paul Federico to Swansea Town Hall in Toronto, Ontario on 3-November-2010

That thesis might be a bit of a stretch even in Federico's eyes, but there are definitely some great stories in Toronto military history, and he told quite a number I had never heard before. The term "sedentary militia," for example, refers to those in the era of the war of 1812 that were assigned to stay and defend their local communities instead of being commanded on a campaign. He pointed out some of the ridiculous uniforms worn in that era as well, with ornamentation that actually made it easier for the other side to take aim. He also mentioned that during the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, the "English" troops actually included 1,500 Scots and 900 Irish amongst 4,800 total--and that John Graves Simcoe had been designated to lead the fight against Napoleon until he died prior to taking command. Imagine how that might have changed history, or at least the perception of Ontario's (er, Upper Canada's) first Lieutenant Governor.

Paul Federico held up material used by British troops to make socks in the nineteenth century while speaking to the Swansea Historical Society in Toronto, Ontario on 3-November-2010

Another interesting anecdote was that 350 local Mohawks had been sent to paddle up the Nile during the Mahdist Revolt of 1884, since they knew how to handle themselves on Ontario waterways--but they did not arrive in time to save Charles George Gordon. Probably my favorite story from Federico related to the blue laws that once so defined Toronto. As troops were not allowed to purchase alcohol in the city, they came up with the idea of sending out a dog with a money pouch, who was trained to go a specific store, where he would be outfitted with two kegs of ale and would then return to Fort York. The practice proved controversial, but was ultimately ruled legal since dogs had the "freedom of the city" and were allowed to carry alcohol, and certainly the practice improved troop morale.

Some stories went beyond the troops. After the United States captured Toronto in the War of 1812, they made the captured troops sign a parole document saying they would not fight for the next year before they were released. There were only 300 troops at Fort York at the time--yet 1300 people signed parole documents. It seems potential draftees from all around Toronto came into town to sign the documents in order to avoid being called up to military service for the next year.

A variety of World War I through 1990's artifacts and accouterments provided by Paul Federico were found in Swansea Town Hall on 3-November-2010

The future for military artifacts in Toronto may be quite bright. Currently, there are quite a number of things preserved, but they are located in scattered locations, mostly active or retiree posts of various kinds. However, the Stanley Barracks from "New Fort York," which has most recently been a vacant building on the Canadian National Exhibition grounds, is slated to become a military museum under the care of the 32nd regiment as part of the construction of a new hotel. When that opens, it won't be necessary to find Paul Federico to learn about Toronto as a warrior city.