Friday, June 29, 2007

The Supposed 'Mysteries' Shrink

Lovely story on E. Coli.
Even better, P. Z. Myers makes this point.

Another Masterwork from Hans Rosling


And yes, inequality still exists. Major suprise.

Best Sentence I Have Read Today so far

From Oliver Kamm, on the good professor Chomsky:

Recalling this episode, I read with complacence an accusation from the same Noam Chomsky, a quarter-century later, concerning my "standard reaction of tacit acquiescence to horrendous crimes". The stars will burn out and the heavens implode before I manage to match the Professor's own accomplishments in that field.


Don't Worry - the Country is Still Silly

That completely illegal activities just get ignored is so characteristic of our useless governments.

This is pathetic:

Brant said his protesters are ready to keep up their blockades until midnight Friday and have stockpiled food and water, and have trucks, tree trunks and wooden pallets ready to build more barricades.

"We've made no secret that we have guns within this camp," Brant told the Canadian Press.

"It's our intent to go out and ensure a safe day. Unfortunately, previous incidents have shown that aggressive tactics by the police need to be met with equal resistance by the people they're bringing those against."

Brant cited the 1995 death of protester Dudley George in Ipperwash Provincial Park as one tragic example where police and aboriginal protesters clashed.

The saddest is that some inquiry recently whitewashed the utter illegality of the Ipperwash occupation mentioned above. As a result, we have invited more of this nonsense. Of course as the idiots running this protest escalate their behaviours we will hit a day where the govermnent must finally respond. But by waiting we are just making that response much more costly.

Sure, but I will take Prague too

GrrlScientist points me to another poll:

You Should Learn French

C'est super! You appreciate the finer things in life... wine, art, cheese, love affairs.

You are definitely a Parisian at heart. You just need your tongue to catch up...

What Language Should You Learn?

Am I Bovvered?

GrrlScientist continues to amaze me; with my jet-lagged sleeping patterns I find I have hours to fill, and she has directed me into an apparently bottomless pool of great humour. (How to follow my path - enjoy the mildly amusing Hillary video, but follow the link in the third comment that mentions Tony Blair, and find yourself in the amazing world of Catherine Tate).

How can I have spent so much time in England (and watching TV) over the last many years and never have encountered Catherine Tate's Lauren?

I started here, and it makes it clear Blair has career options. As skeptical as I am about his current assignment, he is the best person for that job, but I can see him acting, too!

"Are you disrespecting me?" is such a lovely moment in this wacko performance.

She captures utterly brilliantly the deep concern about respect that does come from all the inequalities life creates. She has played brilliantly in many of the YouTube videos with the teacher-student inequality, and also rank (see both above).

You have to have watched a few of her sessions to enjoy "Je ne suis pas bovvered?" and her following questions in the French Oral sequence.

This is not Lauren but it is also brilliant. I especially loved "As I look quite a lot like her ..." and her treatment of the stuffed bear at the end.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Czechs and Shoes

Canada is acutely aware of the Bata shoe brand. I had no idea when I was in Prague that this litigation was going on and that the 92-year-old Thomas Bata, Jr. had travelled to defend his ancestor's reputation!

For the last decade his descendants, led by the sprightly 92-year-old Tomas Bata junior, son of the company's founder, have fought to clear his name. They say far from being a collaborator, Jan Antonin Bata financed the Czechoslovak government-in-exile to the tune of a quarter of million dollars in anonymous gifts.
A former Jewish employee also testified that he helped her and up to 80 Jewish families escape from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. All of these facts, say his family, were ignored by the court in 1947. They say the post-war Czechoslovak state, buckling under Communist pressure, was primarily interested in seizing the Bata empire and its assets.
Tomas Bata junior travelled from Canada to attend Monday's court hearing. He repeated that his uncle was innocent, and that the whole episode had been a Communist plot to blacken the family's name. The Czech authorities must now decide whether to reopen the case so Jan Antonin Bata's name can be cleared for good.

The Czechs have been in the centre of so much of the 20th century's history, and we continue to work on it.


My first reading of this sign in Prague baffled me, as I wondered why anyone would go into the shop and buy the wine. And later it hit me that maybe there is another way to read it (but not much more convincing).

A Fab Walk

Maybe not the fab you would imagine at the start, but rather a fab in this sense.
With many colleagues, I had the great privilege during my time in Dresden to be treated to a tour of the AMD Fab site in Dresden.
Seeing something like this for a technologist, in a somewhat less advanced area, is humbling. The work requires staggering precision over an amazing scale. Analysis must be done at the atomic level to improve processes and understand what is going wrong when it does. At the level of the whole site, the challenges of serving the cleanroom processes with exact temperatures, ultra-pure water, a blinding variety of gasses and chemicals (and never having any of this service interrupted), are extremely daunting. The whole site has basic services that would make most cities jealous (independent electricity production, water cleaning, assuring relatively fail-safe delivery). The site tour gave me an amazing sense of how high the barriers of entry are into this industry.
But the Dresden fab site plays yet another role. Everyone who presented to us was projecting great delight at being part of this. Part of it is surely the history before 'the Change' (a phrase used during the tour), and the relief at coming out of it so much better than much of the former East Germany. There were lovely stories of the development of local attitudes, starting with fear, and growing to pride in what has been achieved, and a focus on making sure the new generation gets itself educated into playing a role in AMD or similar companies.
My time here has been an utter delight so far, but much of it has been spent on a University campus, where one gets to feel the hopes for tomorrow. AMD has helped create some of those (you will see more of how in a later post).
Which is why an article like this, while speculative, makes me worry for some of the people I have spent the week with.

William Hutt, R. I. P.

The first news I saw on the LCD screens in the baggage retrieval area at Toronto Airport yesterday were reports of the death of William Hutt, described as one of Canada's primary "Shakespearean" actors.
I managed to live many years in Canada without ever seeing him in a Shakespeare play. But I did see him in a Soulpepper production of "Waiting for Godot", which he and Jordan Pettle gave the humour and crazy joy that is in Beckett, distinguishing that production from all the other, far more tedious, ones I had ever seen.
For this alone, William Hutt deserves great thanks. It is sad to think there are no further plays he can salvage for me.

The Lives of Others

On my flight to Europe this last trip, I tried to watch "The Lives of Others", but fell asleep on the flight (such flights run overnight). Flying back, I tried again - Air Canada insisted on re-booting the entertainment system on the flight (who would have thought this could take a half-hour?) but I still managed to stay gripped by it. I am not sure it is as great as some of the reviews I have seen suggest (it is quite a soap opera, though that is not a serious criticism), but it is chilling to see how ruthlessly it portrays the monstrosities of Communist states, monstrosities that once in my life I was prepared to belittle, so as to maintain a fashionable anti-establishment posture here in the West.
But a short time behind the old Iron Curtain was enough to make my embarrassment at those days complete.
One anecdote: a Czech tour guide told me how her father escaped after the Russian invasion in the Prague Spring - to Cuba (as she joked, "He was enough of a Communist to get received there"), then Halifax, Canada, then Toronto, then Venezuela. She, his teenaged daughter, never saw him again. As for her, as his daughter, it was guaranteed that she could never go to a good school (a similar threat is uttered in "The Lives of Others"). As for a career, she ended up as a translator, forbidden to work as an interpreter because that would involve meeting foreigners - she laughed a little ruefully when I suggested that this might have an impact on the quality of the translations. But she was amazing - she was managing simultaneously tour groups in Spanish, Italian, French, and English. She recalls 1989 as utterly exhilarating (and that year is far from nobody's mind in the Czech Republic who is older than, say, 35 - the young 'uns there seem just like ours in their lack of concern for these issues, a lack I am delighted they can indulge!). And this despite some embarrassment at not having participated in the protests in Wenceslas Square after the beating of the students (concerned, very sensibly, about her own children). Naturally there is this other sense, a disappointment that this great change from 1989 seems to have led to a government riding a dead horse (see this post) but the hatred of the Communist past is palpable, and entirely understandable.
It struck me only today that this was my first trip behind the old Iron Curtain; an education it surely was, in the intensity of how wrong I could be about the costs to human lives of the Communism of the preceding 50 years.
In Prague there is a very nice memorial I stumbled on accidentally, a sculpture with this dedication:

The sculpture that accompanies it, not given justice by my photo (had the wrong lens on the camera for that walk, and did not want to disrupt the skateboarders who were using the area for practice), is a staircase with people, the one in front somewhat whole, and the ones behind progressively missing parts of their bodies, precisely as the Communist states stole away such large parts of potential lives of its victims. Very moving and utterly to the point.

It was a privilege to be able to be among those who paid for so long for the flippant and casual support of monsters that so many of us in the West so casually offered. I actually regarded Reagan as totally over the top when he said, "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall". It is painful to recognize in hindsight who had the moral clarity and the right values on that day. And, sadly, it is not as if we are not continuing to support monsters elsewhere now.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

No Angelina Sighting

Well I am back home now and I never did get the desired sighting. This does not mean I did not see her, or possibly brush elbows, but I certainly never knew it if I did.

Czech Puckishness

One thing I love about the Czechs, at least according to my impressions so far in life, deepened a bit by the last few days in Prague, is their puckishness; especially for people who have been through such a variety of bits of hell in the last generations, they maintain an entertaining sense of humour.
One piece of this was exposed during one of the walking tours I took while there; the guide had personal connections to an artist named David Cerny, and she took us from the statue at the head of Wenceslas Square of Wenceslas on his horse, looking quite the knight, to the version of this statue created by Cerny that hangs in the Lucerna arcade off the square. Here it is:

Wenceslas looks much as he does out on the square, but his horse is having problems! And Cerny apparently claims this captures some of the sense he has of how Czech society is now going.
I had to work very hard to track down another Cerny sculpture, in the gardens of the German embassy (getting a look at it required some rather curious trip around the back of the embassy site - thanks to the embassy official who told me how to do it). The story here is of the East Germans camping on the embassy grounds in the fall of 1989 looking for exit visas, and Hans-Dietrich Genscher's speech to them on September 30, announcing that they would get the exit visas they wanted. This was a key moment in the events leading to the collapse of the communist tyrannies.
How did Cerny mark this event - well, here is my shot of the sculpture that now stands in the gardens of the embassy.

I find this funny and very touching at the same time. It really does capture much of what was happening. (The car, by the way, is a Trabant.)
For more on David Cerny, and there is a lot more, try this site.

More Czech puckishness in later posts.


Richard Landes has been very active lately, rightly stimulated by world events. He complements Christopher Hitchens nicely in this post. After reading that post, read many more over there. He is one of those excellent obsessives who documents major foolishness in our world.

I do fear for our resolve. Hmmm, what do you mean by 'we', Tonto? Exactly my point.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Simple Pleasures

I felt annoyed having to leave Toronto last week because the Lindens on the neighbouring blocks were in bloom - there are few more sensuous pleasures.
But in Dresden (talk about a green city!) all week last week my daily walks between accomodation and workplace passed stands of Linden in full bloom, so I got my dose.
And yesterday's tour guide was very proud, rightly, of the density of the local Lindens. I am still sniffing.
Is there a better tree to have growing nearby?

TU Dresden - Party Campus!

Last week I was in meetings at the Technical University of Dresden, meetings booked before the hosts knew there was to be a giant student party on campus that week, in fact on the Wednesday.
The party was to start at 5:30 and our meetings were to end at 5, so this seemed no issue, even as the stage was being set up near our meeting rooms. What we had not taken into account were the sound checks, which started around 1 pm. Normally sound checks are horrible experiences, with someone behind the microphone making "One, Two, Three, ..." sounds in some awful breathy way.
We in the meeting were torn between the need to keep windows open in warm weather and the need to maintain some quiet. In the end we kept the windows open, and let the sound in, partly because the sound check featured some bands actually playing their stuff. Very unusual, and I really liked one of the bands (as did everyone else).
I have since learned it was "Juli", and that bit of education told me this was quite the student party - they are a leading German band (and as I listened I could hear why, and I am still looking in Prague for some CDs of theirs), and apparently were sharing the stage with others at the same level (whom I cared less for).
I went around as we headed off for our evening exploring the party site before the party started, wondering how it would compare with a similar event at a Canadian campus.
I think I found some differences.
Note that a primary sponsor is AMD Saxony, with the slogan "AMD : Clearly The Smarter Choice" (I am not sure what choice is at issue).

Now these students need beer (Radeberger is the big brewery just outside Dresden):

and apparently they need Jaegermeister!

More entertainingly, there was a small army of people outfitted like these guys (pardon the blurry shot) - they are selling cigarettes! They were doing pretty good business as I watched long before the show started - and those flags make them easy to find.

My favourite scene was the following, with this team knowing it has a lot of work to come, so it is time to rest!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

No Angie Yet

I have been here almost two days, and still have not seen Angelina Jolie, as far as I can tell. (I bet she can hide when she wants to.)

On the other hand, I did make a devotional trip at least to see this great symbol of Czech resistance. From the excellent semantic attack on the Hapsburgs after the various failed 1848 rebellions, renaming it after Wenceslas, right up to 1989, it should be a beacon to all of those who care about decent freedoms for people.

Hooray for Wenceslas Square!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Prague? Even Better!

Surprisingly to me, I find CNN International rebroadcasts The Daily Show over here in Dresden. The show they just broadcast featured Angelina Jolie promoting 'A Mighty Heart', and as the interview ended Stewart asked her where she was going. Guess where! Prague! So am I. Hmmmmmmm.
Meanwhile, she seems to have trouble feeling any confidence she can just tell a reporter "None of your business". Silly.
Still, as I walk the streets of Prague over the next few days, this budding paparazzo will keep his camera close at hand.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

More on a Dog's Life

More later on the heights over the Elbe (stunning) but I was pleased to see thie devotion to canines up in the hills.

A further joy from Frankfurt Airport

How can I have forgotten this nice aspect of my forced time at Frankfurt airport?
I wandered up to the bar to get a beer, and three girls appeared behind me in the queue, chattering back and forth in a mix of English and French, trying to read the menus posted. So I began translating, and they became very flirtatious as they communicated among themselves and me (don't worry - they were not serious). They were all about twenty, and dressed just this side of somewhat provocatively. In the end, what I told them clearly made them decide to find somewhere else to eat.
As they left, I asked them why they were talking back and forth in a mix of French and English. Almost as a unit, they responded, "We're Tunisian".
I love being surprised!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Occasional Joys of Business Travel

Some trips are better than others. A failed connection for me on Sunday meant that I missed a planned visit to the Dresden Frauenkirche later that day, but it also meant that I meant Suresh and Brad over a couple of beers waiting in Frankfurt airport for my next flight. Suresh is a Bay Area small venture capital fund manager on his way to Bangalore to check on some of the fund's investments and seek others - and utterly fascinating discussion. Brad was a freshly minted engineering graduate heading for Egypt for a couple of months with no knowledge whatever of the country. But even more, Brad is an engineering graduate from Virgina Tech, who says he thanks his clock radio's snooze button many times a day. On the morning of the shootings he used it a few times, and as a result delayed his planned arrival at Norris Hall long enough to avoid being in the middle of the action. He had close friends who leapt from windows, and one that was slightly wounded.
As for missing the Frauenkirche, I got to tonight's Orgelvespern, and followed it with a lovely walk around the Altstadt, including a stretch along the Terrace above the Elbe, from which I caught this glimpse of the Frauenkirche's dome.

The top of the dome features a cross donated by England for the reconstruction of the church (I think the guy said by the congregation at Coventry, which was fitting). It is sadly telling that the church lay in ruins until German reunification, and that almost immediately thereafter, the rebuilding project started.

Monday, June 18, 2007

That is one old gerbil!

From my mail today:

I was looking through theb web few waeeks ago and found
your profile. Now Ia decided to email you to get to know
you better. I am coming to your country in few weeks
and thought may be we can meet each other. I am pretty
looking girbl. I am 25.

Wow - I thought my cat making it to 21 was impressive. None of the gerbils I ever kept lasted more than a couple of years.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Dog Days

In the same week as the nanny-state money-grabbing Toronto Council begin considering the idea of extracting money from dog-walkers, I go for a walk on the grounds of the Technical University of Dresden, and stumble, to my utter shock, upon this excellent device.

Life continues to surprise.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Department of Utterly Amazing

The Panda's Thumb links to evidence that some plants know their kin. Wow. I am not sure I even recognize mine, and less sure I would cooperate with them if stuck in a pot together.


From grrlscientist, Knut and his adopted father.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Morning Lakeside Walk (and Swan Update)

The weather here is so unbelievably great; one cannot resist a lakeside walk each morning. And it lets me check up on the swans.
Before finding the swans, I had a great moment of catching the Black-Crowned Night Heron enjoying the morning; the picture is lousy, like earlier swan shots, but the bird is there! Check this out!

That form in the middle is the little heron.
As for the swans, well before I found them, I sucked in the nice skyline. Normally I post more rustic pictures, but this really is nice.

So where were the swans and was there any news more enocuraging than yesterday's? I found the swans but do not think the news was good. The two were paddling in the distance in the outer bay, and now for the first time I expose the Ashbridge's Bay Water Treatment Plant - not the prettiest sight but the two swans seemed to like it.
One stands out in the foreground of this picture:

Another can be seen, singled out here by an arrow.

No cygnets in sight - it has been three days. I am losing hope, though I do not know how these guys live.


Norm profiles Megan

Two of my regular reads meet! This week's normblog profile is of Megan McArdle of Asymmetrical Information.

Not surprisingly, I find her responses extremely sympatico. Just a few. To start, as I have already mentioned, when I had my cat euthanized, I thought of her recent experience:

What has been your worst blogging experience? > Having commenters tell me to get over it when my dog died. On the other hand, that generated an outpouring of support from friends online and off, so it redeemed itself.

And a nice subtle answer I really liked:

Who are your political heroes? > My only political heroes are dead: that way they can't embarrass me by going wrong. First, George Washington, who was no policy genius, but whose boundless personal integrity established the character of the American presidency without turning into either a king or a figurehead. And second, Abraham Lincoln, who did the right thing for the wrong reasons to the very best of his ability.

And this, which has just the right emphases:

Do you think the world (human civilization) has already passed its best point, or is that yet to come? > Mathematically, it is likely that we are near the peak of human population. On the other hand, I'm encouraged by the incredibly rapid economic change going on now. I think that getting richer has made us more moral - more careful about human life and suffering. So if we keep getting richer, I expect that we will also get better, with more morality, more art and culture, and more of almost every other good thing.


Do you think you could ever be married to, or in a long-term relationship with, someone with radically different political views from your own? > As long as their views had a coherent intellectual and moral foundation, absolutely; I'm not that convinced I'm right. But I couldn't live with anyone whose political views are an excuse not to think.

Thanks, Norm. Thanks, Megan.


I feel so sorry for the silenced majority

Which I am sure exists. There surely are people who want to go to their jobs, get their kids educated, and participate in a reasonable universe. Unfortunately the West has been supporting structures that stand utterly in the way of it.

This defines the problem nicely.

"Putting the 'mental' in fundamentalism" gets it just right.

P.S. Our backing the other thugs does not make me feel a LOT better.


Updating my Books List - Eva Menasse version

Oliver Kamm induced me to buy and read Eva Menasse's 'Vienna'. I am glad I decided to read it in translation, as I doubt the original German was simple enough for me to always identify the tone of what I would have been reading.
For someone who has spent many summer vacations in Austria, it was a very interesting multi-generational portrait of a slightly fictionalized Austria, centred on a family which was largely mixed through Jewish-Christian intermarriage. 'Interesting' is an understatement to describe the life trajectories involved.
I am not sure how interesting the book would be to those not connected in some personal way to Austrian modern history, but I found it fascinating and touching in places. (I have two independent personal connections.)
Also, a small point, it seemed to me that Menasse's observations touching on the Waldheim period, paint a picture more in accordance with my sister's slightly intemperate characterization, and one saw a similar reaction when the FPOe where invited into a coalition government. The distinction between the German and Austrian handling, in their intellectual milieu and popular conception, of the Nazi years is very visible.
I finished reading it long ago so it will now disappear from my sidebar.
Billy Wilder (a truly great Austrian) joked that the Austrians tried to convince the world that Beethoven was Austrian and Hitler German, which captures a piece of it well.
Of course I have sat among Norwegians outraged at proposed controls on whaling, Maritimers shocked at proposed controls on seal hunting. But in the end we pick our tribes and should worry about what they attach us to emotionally.
Back to Menasse's book - I think very interesting particularly for non-Austrians with personal connections to Austria.


There I Did it Again

A colleague of mine was in town this week for meetings, and after some discussion we decided to go to watch Soulpepper's "Our Town" last night. This is, for those counting, my third time at this production, all in under two weeks. (By comparison, my colleague had seen no professional productions of the play, but had seen three amateur ones, on consecutive nights!)
Reflecting on the three, I think the tears were deepest in the middle viewing (which came shortly after I had my cat euthanized).
It is lovely to revisit the texture of Wilder's delicious writing, which gently draws a line from the particularities of the simplest everyday life, to the whole theme of human existence, and more broadly, the development of the whole universe. His set pieces, "This is the way we were, in our living and our dying" (roughly) (to the chorale in the background), the wedding ("Isn't it a lovely wedding" - deeply ironic), and moments in the third act, the beautiful interplay between Mrs Gibbs and Simon Stimpson, and the "Wasn't life awful - and wonderful" line, with the push form the stage manager back to universality in the closing words, set me off emotionally in each viewing.
My wife joked that at my age I should have seen this play three times by now. And I agree - actually think 10-15 is a better number - I hope I have time and opportunity to work on it. Of course I did not expect to get from zero to three in two weeks, but then my colleague likely at some point did not expect to get from zero to three in three days.
The funniest thing in a way is that without my doing anything more, I wound up sitting with my colleague in the same seats my wife and I had been in a few days before.


Averted Eyes

Andy Barrie revived this one on his show recently (he is a halfway intelligent radio morning host in Toronto, but far too ready to follow his own hobby horses). In some interview I can not really recall he conjured up his notion that people in Toronto are unresponsive to eye contact, and respond immediately with 'the averted eye'. He cited the performer Nancy White as another expert on this subject.

Well, I don't know. I was at a Nancy White concert some years ago when she made this assertion and I found it bizarre. Made me wonder whose eyes were averting, as I have never noticed this in Toronto (but sure have in Paris - go check posts from a year ago).

So I was headed for a morning walk around the waterfront that morning and decided it was time to collect data. On my walk I confronted 35 individuals coming the other way, stared into their eyes as they approached me, and said "Good morning". 34 responded with the same greeting. One pretended not to notice me.

My guess is what we are hearing from Andy Barrie and Nancy White is their own self-projections (which is really weird, as White is a Maritimer, and they are normally friendly).

It still baffles me they let this stuff get broadcast on the CBC every morning. As the think tank said, a country sinking in mediocrity. But of course Barrie's show has never been concerned with facts, just attitude.

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

My wife and I have been enjoying pastoral idylls in my tiny east end Toronto backyard lately. The squirrels collect peanuts tossed to them, donated by a friend, and the sparrows visit the trees, and both are very chatty. Sparrows seem particularly wild in their vocal self-presentation - which likely led to this poem. We get visits from butterflies, occasional bluejays, etc. I have given up on the hummingbird feeder, having seen one hummingbird in ten years.
Today I went out back to do some weeding and one of the squirrels dropped something as it reacted to my sudden appearance. What it had dropped was the corpse of a sparrow. Does change a bit of the image of life in the backyard. The squirrel looked pretty guilty as it lurked nearby and awaited my return into the house. I think it thought its image was better in my eyes if I thought it a vegetarian.


Street View and Privacy - a Sweet Perspective

A few years ago it was inconceivable to me I would put my picture or hints of my address up on the Web; this would simply invite criminal intrusion into my life and a violation of privacy. It is interesting to see the goalposts shift.
One of my sisters has now persuaded me to sign up on Facebook. My guess is this will have interesting networking effects over several months, that may link with blogging.
Google's Street View has created many new concerns, but I have been leading here to Stephen Dubner's lovely post on the other side of these privacy concerns. Of course this is not Street View, and the issues are different, but I found his story utterly charming.
I'd also suggest looking at Comment 10. I too grew up in a very small town, and this may make me less concerned about the degrees of anonymity one can feel one has in a large city. A little 'Our Town', not far from my mind these days.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Bees, the Bees

Like most of you, I imagine, I have received numerous communications on the 'disappearing bees', and on 'colony collapse syndrome', and suggestions that I ought to post on this. Well, there is not much point posting on media articles of questionable quality - one ends up doing the 'nevermind' post later (which I do when it makes sense). Some of these communications included a dubious quotation from Albert Einstein - I could imagine he was an enthusiast of bees, but the quotation seemed unlikely from anyone with any degree of scientific skepticism.

Another one was even more dubious with claims that the problem was cellphone technology, and that now the problem was spreading to Europe. Come on! Europe has been so far ahead of North America in cellphone technology implementation for years, so the spread would have to be the other way if this goofy argument made any sense.

I decided at least to wait and see what happened to my backyard apple tree. It bloomed wonderfully, and for a few days seemed unnoticed by pollinators (though it may be that the wind handles nicely any needed interactions, as there is another similar tree in my neighbour's yard about 10 metres away). Then bumblebees came. Well they are not honeybees, so one could continue to panic.

A day later the tree was full of honeybees. So one colony had not yet collapsed. And the tree is as rich in apples as it ever has been (though the squirrels are clipping the fruits off at a good clip).

So I suppose right at the start I could simply have gone to Wikipedia. In any case this post from Straight Dope tells the story.

Anyway, I am relaxing. Will try to find a real thing to be concerned about!

Swan Update

I noticed that mama swan was off the nest yesterday but saw no signs of any swans anywhere. This morning the scene below greeted me.

The two of them, with no cygnets in site, were engaged in synchronized and apparently suggestive neck movements. I am not sure what that says about the results of the nesting.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Someone Thought This was 'News'?

Hot off the press:

Canada is sinking in a pool of mediocrity

And it is not even only about the CBC!

Pacifist Teachers?

Shuggy's Blog is one I follow daily - an interesting perspective.

This post has a very nice reflection, as Shuggy confronts an assertion that most teachers are pacifists:

Those of us who are history teachers find the whole pacifism thing breaks down a bit when you're covering Appeasement, WWII, stuff like that.

His post, on a slightly different topic, also contains this wonderful notion, that I do fear escapes a lot of teachers:

it isn't our job to make the pupils replicas of ourselves.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Mama Swan on the Nest

She does not welcome picture-taking and values her privacy. She is the white patch in the middle.


A week later

A week has passed, and it does not take much to continue to elicit tears.

This, for example. (h/t Rondi.)


Monday, June 11, 2007

Soulpepper's Our Town, Part II

Part I is here.
My wife missed it so I forced her to come see it while I saw it again. We sat in the balcony; in my previous experience we sat slightly below the stage. It made a big difference. The lighting was far more effective from above. Interesting - maybe I have to buy several nights of tickets in different seats to future shows.
But mostly things were as they were. I was no less tearful in Act 3. Martha McIsaac delivers that key line (something like "I can't see you hard enough!") just perfectly, and it explains the terrible break as she decides she must return to her grave quietly.
Albert Schultz seemed a lot more relaxed as well in the odd role he has as stage manager, responding to what is going on in the audience.
Still, an utterly great show.
I won't likely go back soon. Well, maybe unless they re-mount it next year.


Entirely without any planning I did, I had the opportunity to see Elementarteilchen last night.

I am not sure how many in the audience had read Houellebecq's original book. I had and figured that it would be impossible to make a reasonable movie out of it.

I should have phrased the challenge differently. The book is utterly unreasonable, completely extreme in its humour and grimness. And what happens is that Oskar Roehler catches the main themes of the book and makes a movie with characters one might actually care about. The laughter is never so extreme as when one reads the book, nor is the agony so awful. After all, one can put the book down and come back later, but it is tricky, even with a DVD, simply to walk away, and then return later.

The movie is quite surprising in my view. It captures what is human and interesting about human life and the sadness created by the sixties that Houellebecq wanted to document, and one actually cares enormously much more about all the characters than I ever cared about those as I read the book (this is again an element of the form - I can put the book down - I expect to live continuously for a couple of hours with these people).

More surprising, and greatly to my relief, the movie transplants the book to Germany - who would have thought this could work? But it does, and spares us what might well have been taking the original too seriously.

So now we have a lovely story of two half-brothers, each screwed up, trying to figure out what to do with his life, one a brilliant scientist, one a writer addicted to sex desperately trying to find love. Moritz Bleibtreu was utterly superb as the tamed (compared to Houellebecq's) Bruno, and Christian Ulmer was a lovely and touching Michael (which again blunted the Houellebecq's character's determination to wean humankind off sex - he did not make that credible at all but one liked him more for it). Martina Gedeck's Christiane was utterly heartbreaking, which is roughly right - she is the test of Bruno's capability to love and he fails in the film too.

Roehler created at least one scene that made me, a geek of long standing, squirm horribly, as the teen Michael uses his mathematical analyses to avoid confronting the stunning Annabelle, and the challenge he thinks she creates for him, which we learn was NO challenge at all. Houellebecq, make no mistake, got a ton right in that crazy book, and Roehler has done a lovely job of distilling what the book might have been.

There is a stunning collection of German actors and actresses in this (actually a complaint in one comment at IMDB), but then what could one want?

I was slightly reluctant to attend this. Now I hope we get a North American DVD soon! What a wonderful film! Thanks, Oskar Roehler, for finding in Michel Houellebecq's book, the movie that was in there, about people one could care about. The closing sequences were lovely, and not how I remember closing the book.


Great reports on their numbers all over the north!

More exciting - one visited my milkweeds (this is their third year and they are spreading and I noticed no visits in the first years). We think we have an egg!

Again, I fear I will miss its development. And I hope it does not get eaten.

Ashbridge's Bay - Avian Report

I try to report normally more often than I have this year.

Swans: Mama swan was still on the nest yesterday; normally there is at least one other swan paddling nearby, though I have occasionally seen a pair of them paddling in support. I am not sure who the second swan is.

The upsetting fact is I fear I will miss yet again the emergence of the newborns.

Black-Crowned Night Herons: There was no sign of them this year until yesterday, as my wife and I were walking around the inner bay and one of the them flew across and parked himself for viewing. So I hope it is as usual couple down here.

All the others: all looking good - Mallards, Canada Geese, Gulls, Terns, Swallows (rather few this year), Kinglets, Red-Wings, Robins (more than I Can ever recall this year), Cormorants (busily flying around to find the right fishing grounds).

And many unnamed.

Next time I will grab a camera and we will have pictures. The great news is that the bird life is still rich on our waterfront.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Pets Passing Away

In the middle of last month, after a blog post telling us about some health problems her dog was suffering, Megan McArdle put up this beautiful post. (UPDATE - this link seems not to work now - sad - she quoted Auden's great 'Funeral Blues', only to have some commenters abuse her for taking her pet seriously as a loved one.)

As a regular reader of her blog, I knew the moment I saw it what she was telling us. It shocks me going through the comments that there is such a variety of response to it. Her blog explores this later in more detail. The comment trail is at best mixed and does not make me feel great about my species.

As already reported here, (and I do thank you, Rondi, as your post triggered messages I appreciated) the last of our three cats died this week. Worse, he died in my hands, as I asked a veterinarian to end his life. I do not know whether this was right or wrong - on the day of my decision, he had only one consistently working limb left, seemed to have minimal interest in food, and was making silent calls to me.

Because of the way my wife and I have constructed our lives (one element - working in different cities), Oliver has been my most consistent companion for the last 10-15 years. Very weird decisions have been made as his health deteriorated in the last years (for example, he was exiled to the basement for lack of control of peeing, and then within a day I joined him there, for almost the last year - I can still control my peeing).

And now it is hard to accustom myself to typing on my laptop on my lap without the obstruction of the effort he consistently and determinedly applied to participate in my typing. It is hard now to fall asleep without the small bulk of his emaciated body settling on my chest. And the brain plays more tricks; I roll over now back in my normal bed wondering why he is not there on the neighbouring pillow as he always was before the exile to the basement. Many other daily routines are now simplified, but in ways that always surprise me with sadness. Even now, recognizing that I no longer have any need of the Potassium and Psyllium stored by the kitchen sink, I collapse into tears. Perhaps funnier in a way, I will come into the kitchen and check the rugs there for signs of outlaw urination ; of course that is no longer a concern, but my reaction is still not the relieved happy one it ought to be instrumentally. My heart wants the outlaw to be able to continue peeing there.
All of this should be easier because it has been known for years that he had only three months to live, three months that extended through three years, and at the end of which he could so happily doze in the sun on the deck we had built during those years, revelling in the warmth. He made a final almost-summer, and that means so much to me. But of course this cannot be easy. And is not.

I have experienced the company of three cats as a child, and three on my own as whatever sort of adult I might be considered. Of all those cats, Oliver had the loveliest disposition, though he was somewhat choosy about with whom he would socialize. He was the nicest cat I have ever seen or known about.

I have been without him only a couple of days. It will get easier. But even writing this self-indulgent post produces tears and awfully fond memories.

(And in the end major thanks to Candice van Duyse for keeping him going all these last years!)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Jobs and Gates

A lovely description of a session involving two great leaders in my industry.

h/t Paul Kedrosky, who also live-blogged it.

Soulpepper's 'Our Town'

Somehow I have eluded this play for my many years; I initially dodged it by my choice of high school and years of attendance there (surely one of the only ones then that did not stage it - had they I would have been needed for some role), and probably avoided it through much of my life because I had decided from what snatches I saw was that it is a sappy portrayal of small-town New England life at the turn of the century.
Soulpepper mounted a production last year that earned remarkable critical reviews, and it also featured Martha MacIsaac, whom I really loved as Hedwig in their previous 'Wild Duck'. And it also featured many other company members who have performed superbly in their previous productions. But schedules were cruel and I did not see it in 2006.
Kindly, the company re-mounted the production this year!
Let me start by saying this play is not at all what I expected. The first act draws one into the notion of the small-town idyll, but little barbs keep coming up; the paperboy has an illustrious youth and ends up killed in France some years later (yes there is very much playing with time), the Polish immigrants who moved to the town are featured in the discussion of town life by their exclusion from most of town life (except giving birth!), we are told that Mrs Gibbs will die early of pneumonia, and especially for me, the 'sweet' young girl Emily who is the centre of the play is portrayed as having what could only be described as a completely instrumental interest in how pretty she is, a funny edge that hangs through a nice scene in which she asks her mother about her attractiveness, and her mother's. And she clearly sees herself as Queen Bee of her school. So on the surface it could seem a sort of Norman Rockwell scene, there are odd portents, and small things that do not quite fit. (To be fair to Norman Rockwell, he got that sort of stuff in too.)
In the end the first act gives us a sort of odd portrait of daily life in this small town of 2500 people or so; I enjoyed that portrait, having grown up in a town of around 1000 (not in New England). What Wilder conveys so beautifully is how much everyone knows about everyone, and the arbitrary ways in which they intervene at times, and also stand back from interference. He is right about how much work the mothers do, and this was still largely true in my childhood. And Dr. Gibbs is a pretty good 'Father Knows Best' father, but it is clear Wilder is not suggesting this is typical. And maybe Emily's self-conception reflects a bit the pressure in small communities to have everyone nicely categorized.
The second act focuses on marriage. This was fascinating; Wilder does not even let us extrapolate form what might have seemed idyllic in the first act to letting us view this act as an idyll. If anything it is like watching an insect-eating plant close on its two protagonists, George and Emily, and it spreads the agony around, allowing most of the parents of the bride and groom to express their pain. And yet, and yet. The text asks us to realize that there is a reason for all this. It was delightfully ambiguous.
This was all lovely. But that third act! I cannot recall its like. I pretty much had no idea where it was going, from when it started with the dead seated on stage, right through to Emily returning to her birthday party, and the at first surprising horror she experiences in the process. But in the end it was a brilliant and heart-rending way to say one of the key things he wanted to say; appreciate the opportunity to live! And try to appreciate it deeply.
I was exhausted when I went into the theatre and worried about staying awake. Remaining alert was no problem. The staging was also a great tool for keeping interest alive. It is clear from the opening line that Wilder intended to break the standard suspension of disbelief right away, of course restoring it at will as things went on. I do not know what stage directions are in his text, but this production certainly chose a fairly abstract way to present action on the stage; at least one line of text in the play suggested strongly this made a lot of sense. I very much liked it.
As for the acting; nobody felt wrong to me (this is so typical with Soulpepper). I'd readily single out Albert Schultz, who appeared to be having a lot of fun playing the stage manager, and newly svelte after his recent appearances on TV as Conrad Black, and on stage as Mack the Knife as Conrad Black. Nancy Palk and Jane Spidell were excellent as the mothers, and Oliver Dennis and John Jarvis as the fathers. And I quite liked Jeff Lillico, but I will confess, that in much the way she carried 'The Wild Duck', with a rather goofy, open-eyed innocence, Martha MacIsaac contributed so much to the play with ability to sell that innocence, and of course in the end to have it compromised. IMDB tells me she is 22 now, but the friends I attended with and I all thought she looked about 12 when she came on stage, not so far off, actually, for her job in this role. She kept me spellbound.
I am planning to see this production again very soon; how can one reach my age and have seen it only once? And I want to hear more of what I know Wilder has in there; I had no idea where he was heading, so in the scenes where characters talk about their small and great pleasures, the smell of the heliotropes, how the moon looks, I did not know which strings in me where being played. I want to experience it once more. And now have a plan in place to do so.
What a dummy! Not to have seen this play before. I will chase every future opportunity.
And it is worse. I read 'The Bridge of San Luis Rey' when I was young and recall nothing of it at all. Obviously too dumb and young to hear him. The local public library is getting a bunch of Thornton Wilder requests!
Thanks again Soulpepper, for making me see this. And thanks to Thornton WIlder - if he is sitting among the dead in the third act, I can only say I will try to be less blind.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Looking for my Chinese Landscape Painting

I love this.