A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for October 2008

[MUSIC] Róisín Murphy, “Movie Star”

I first came across Irish/British singer-songwriter and music producer Róisín Murphy through Wikipedia, and have become a fan. Once a member of the duo Moloko, Murphy is in the process of forming a niche for her particular brand of 21st century disco. Overpowered, her most recent album and the one I own, is rather fun.

My second-favourite single off of the album, “You Know Me Better”, has a video that channels the quiet domestic horrors of Cindy Shermam. My favourte song off of Overpowered, “Movie Star”, has a video that–appropriately enough for this season–explores the realm of explores the realm of the horrific as filtered past John Waters‘ sensitivities.

Go, see and listen.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2008 at 8:35 pm

[LINK] “Immigrants sought to fill vacancies in food industry”

In Alberta during the recent economic boom, Tim Horton’s coffee shops offered signing bonuses in the form of scholarships to new workers, in a desperate attempt to secure a workforce. This attitude, The Toronto Star reports, is soon to hit Ontario with interesting results.

Frantic over looming Alberta-like labour shortages in Ontario, particularly at places such as Tim Hortons, the food industry has been lobbying Ottawa hard to let it bring in more immigrants on work permits.

It has been working, says Justin Taylor, vice-president for labour and taxation at the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association.

By 2015, the food service industry will need 181,000 more workers at the same time that demographics are taking away their prime labour pool–teenagers and young adults, who make up 44 per cent of their workforce.

Immigrants brought in on short-term work permits have plugged many of the gaps in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan already.

In Alberta alone, the number of temporary foreign workers, to fill such jobs as construction work, fast food counter help and hotel maids, has already zoomed past the number of immigrants brought in as permanent residents.

“We need to stop saying all we need is engineers and doctors” who’ve been through the points system screening, said Taylor. “We don’t need doctors working in quick-service restaurants.”

The crunch is just creeping into Ontario, said Taylor; 38 per cent of restaurants and fast-food places told the association this summer that they couldn’t fill one or two positions.

The only thing that he anticipates an economic slowdown doing is taking their minds off the shortage, briefly.

[. . .]

“All industries will suffer from this labour shortage, but the outlook for the food service industry is particularly grim,” she said.

“More than 483,000 of our employees are 15 to 24 years of age. Projections suggest that by the year 2025 the population of 15- to 24-year-olds in Canada will actually decline by 345,500.”

Nothing can go wrong with guest worker schemes, I guess.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 30, 2008 at 10:55 pm

[LINK] “Zombies!”

drood writes about how he and some others decided to enliven their World of Warcraft game.

A group of thirty of us gathered up, opened up boxes and breathed in deep lungfuls of infected grain, and then evaded helpful healer-types and took flights to the coastal town of Southshore, reassembling in an empty field. When we all suddenly succumbed to the disease and died at once, we rose up from the remains of our bodies and began marching to the Horde town of Tarren Mill.

Now, zombies had very limited abilities. We could move. We could bitch-slap stuff. We could temporarily ‘lurch,’ which would make our group move twice as quickly as the slow plod that is the zombie’s normal pace. And we could also ‘retch’–I know, quite lovely–which would make us spew a pool of green vomit that would slow down the living and, if we stood in it, heal ourselves. So as a group we lurched and retched our way around the quaint town of Tarren Mill, turning everything within it into zombies that shambled around with us. Then, just to prove we were equal opportunity zombies, we turned around and lurched over to the Alliance town of Southshore, munching on every brain we saw.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 30, 2008 at 2:37 pm

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[LINK] On gender and Canadian governance

james-nicoll makes an interesting observation: “Since Confederation, Canada has had 96 years with a female head of state and 45 years with a male head of state. Although the men had 1/3rd the time to screw things up, the time spent under male heads of state was notable for two world wars and a great depression, events not suffered under the female heads of state.”

Does this mean, he asks in his post’s associated poll, that Canadians should prefer female heads of state whenever possible?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 30, 2008 at 2:26 pm

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[LINK] “Geoff Ryman Interview”

james-nicoll links to an interview with British/Canadian writer Geoff Ryman. I’m a fan of very long standing–I came across, and loved, his science fiction novel The Child Garden at a very early date.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 29, 2008 at 10:55 am

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[LINK] “Nothing certain in Quebec politics”

Chantal Hébert lets us know that the same dynamics that produced–and seem set to produce–perpetual minority governments in Canada at large also exist in Québec provincial politics.

Time will quickly tell whether Quebec Premier Jean Charest is acting on a political death wish as he sets in motion a plan to rush a reluctant electorate to the polls.

By all indications, the premier is so determined to seek a third mandate before the end of the year that he is about to overrule some of his most trusted advisers on the way to a Dec. 8 vote.

Even as neither of the opposition parties in the National Assembly is standing in the way of his agenda, Charest is poised to spend the next six weeks arguing that, with the economy in turmoil, a minority government is just another luxury Quebecers can no longer afford.

Interestingly enough, it is a case that the premier pointedly failed to make as Prime Minister Stephen Harper was campaigning for re-election earlier this month.

[. . .]

Francophone Quebec is one of the most volatile political scenes in the country these days but, as Harper’s mediocre score demonstrated, the fact that federalist parties rarely have the wind at their backs remains a constant.

Charest’s relationship with francophone voters is ultimately no less fragile than Harper’s. According to two polls published yesterday, his lead in voting intentions obscures a much tighter race in francophone Quebec where his Liberals are, at best, dead even with the Parti Québécois.

Pauline Marois will be the untested quantity of the next Quebec campaign. Her beginnings as PQ leader have been unremarkable, but in a debate over the economy, she holds the ace of leading the party that actually brought Quebec into the club of balanced budgets.

Besides, since the last election, Charest has been on a one-man mission to destroy the Action démocratique du Québec party. It is a poorly kept secret that he dreams of pushing party leader Mario Dumont back to third place – to the point last week of wooing two nondescript ADQ defectors and praising them as if they heralded a Liberal Second Coming.

The polls tell a different story. They show that lingering support for the declining ADQ has actually been holding back the PQ. Charest’s visceral attacks on Dumont could end up creating the conditions for a surge in Parti Québécois support, along the lines of the boost that gave Gilles Duceppe 49 of the 75 Quebec seats earlier this month.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 29, 2008 at 10:51 am

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[LINK] Two responses to the Liberal Party of Canada’s post-election anomie

Norman Spector, writing in The Globe and Mail, argues that the Liberal Party should unite with the Green Party and the NDP under a competent Stephen Harper- or Jean Chrétien-like leader for the Canadian centre-left to profitably challenge the Conservative Party.

[I]f I were Elizabeth May, I’d be having problems looking at myself in the mirror after contributing to the demise of the greenest Liberal leader in history. And, I’d be giving serious thought to David Suzuki’s warning that the Green Party marginalizes the environment as a political issue. I’d also be looking closely at what David Anderson accomplished for the environment as a Liberal cabinet minister.

Jack Layton, too, should be doing some serious soul-searching. To the surprise of no one (including himself, I’d wager), his application for the job of prime minister was turned down. Nor will he be serving as leader of the Official Opposition, despite having run an excellent campaign against a weak leader who arguably turned in the worst performance in Liberal history. Perhaps Mr. Layton – a man whose family has a long tradition of government service – should explain to New Democrats that their electoral success is greatest in provinces that have two-party systems.

In other words, if he can’t beat them, he should join them, particularly now that Liberals must be fearing Mr. Harper’s minority status will reinforce a centrist approach to governing. Moreover, the Conservatives are expanding their pool of voters among various ethnic groups, their areas of regional strength have a growing population, and a redistribution of seats in the Commons will bring the Conservatives closer to majority territory.

[. . .]

Uniting with the Greens and NDP would give the Liberals a core of principled supporters to match the Conservatives’ base. And, though neither of the smaller parties wants to sacrifice its principles, politics is about fighting for your position and then agreeing to compromise. The difference between uniting parties before an election, and forging a coalition after – be it under our electoral system or proportional representation – is mainly about where, when and how compromises are made.

Moreover, let’s face reality: Strategic voting will not defeat Mr. Harper. Few voters have the requisite information on local races. And no party leader is eager to recommend another party during a campaign, lest it taint their brand in the eyes of their own voters.

I’m reluctant to put it this way to my leftie friends, but sooner or later they’ll have to find their own Stephen Harper. The arguments against uniting the centre-left are no better than they were a decade ago when fragmentation of the centre-right allowed Jean Chrétien to cruise to victory. The key to political success is to give voters one alternative when a government has worn out its welcome.

Lysiane Gagnon disagrees somewhat, at least from the Québécois perspective.

During the election campaign, many wondered how the Liberal Party would have fared if it had been led by Michael Ignatieff. My guess — and everybody else’s — is the party would have been a formidable rival to the Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois. It is not a coincidence that the vast majority of Quebec delegates at the 2006 leadership convention were supporters of Mr. Ignatieff.

[. . .]

Mr. Ignatieff, on the other hand, has many assets when it comes to winning Quebec voters: flawless, elegant French, and dark, intense good looks that somewhat resemble those of Lucien Bouchard, the beloved icon of the 1990s. Mr. Ignatieff is a public intellectual rather than a straightforward academic, and Quebeckers love public intellectuals — people who are cultured, at ease with ideas and can philosophize on various themes.

More important, Mr. Ignatieff is popular among the nationalists because he was the first to embrace the notion of Quebec as a nation. This was a skewed view — there’s certainly a French-Canadian nation, but Quebec as a province is not a nation — but it worked, and now that the idea has been co-opted by Stephen Harper and accepted by large segments of the political class, Mr. Ignatieff can look like a precursor.

By the time the Liberals choose a new leader, Mr. Ignatieff’s initial stand in favour of the war in Iraq will have been forgotten and forgiven, especially if Barack Obama is elected president.

The Obama factor might play in the Liberal leadership race. Even though Mr. Ignatieff is 14 years older than Mr. Obama, he’s the only Liberal contender (so far) who can generate a bit of excitement: He, too, comes from outside the box, and he’s not a typical politician.

I wonder: Could Michael Ignatieff be the sort of person Spector would consider a centre-left Stephen Harper?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 28, 2008 at 12:19 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] On Battle Royale

I’ve just watched Battle Royale for the first time and the film is, as a friend would say, “beyond.” The novel (perhaps a bit too dry) and the graphc novel (likely too many abnormally enlarged secondary sexual characteristics) didn’t quite prepare me the actual sight of the bizarre eruption of violence into normalcy.

My most recurring thought was that of concern about the ambient mental climate of our world: Why does the plot of my generation’s version of The Lord of the Flies pivot upon our elders’ desire to put the one against the other in the name of ultraviolent character-building? At least The Lord of the Flies‘ chaos had the virtue of being Cold War-driven and self-generating. Millennial paranoia, I assume.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2008 at 11:31 pm

[LINK] “Sarah Palin’s War on Science”

Christopher Hitchens is a personality I find tolerable only in small, carefully-vetted portions. Even so, what he wrote at Slate, about Sarah Palin’s hostility towards science and the fact that this and her worrying religious background should have but didn’t remove her from the prospect of a vice-presidential candidacy, convinces me. I’m even willing to adopt his conclusion wholesale.

This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just “people of faith” but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2008 at 6:57 pm

[LINK] “Historicist: Andrew Carnegie’s Toronto Legacy”

Over at Torontoist, Kevin Plummer writes about how Toronto acquired a host of Carnegie libraries early in the 20th century.

Late in life, steel magnate Andrew Carnegie—who, according to his detractors, was no friend of working men—embarked on a quest to cement his legacy and life’s work. Upon his retirement in 1901, when he sold Carnegie Steel Company to J.P. Morgan for the astronomical sum of $500,000,000, Carnegie launched himself into the philanthropic disposal of his wealth as a full-time occupation. In addition to the hospital wings and university buildings that bear his name, his ideal philanthropic project was the construction of a free library as an educational and community institution. Carnegie donated $56,162,622.97, according to figures in Margaret Beckman, Stephen Langmead, and John Black’s The Best Gift: A Record of the Carnegie Libraries in Ontario (Dundurn, 1984), to local communities across the world—including $2,556,660 for 125 projects in Canada—for the construction of free-lending libraries. Toronto enjoyed a number of Carnegie-funded libraries: Yorkville (1907); Queen and Lisgar (1909); the Central Reference Library (1909); Riverdale (1910); Wychwood (1916); High Park (1916); Beaches (1916). Three more—Western Branch/Annette Street (1909), Weston (1914), and Mimico (1914)—would be absorbed into the Toronto Public Library system as the city amalgamated nearby communities. Victoria College (1910) also received a library grant.

These buildings, Beaux Arts jewels though many of them might have been, weren’t built without a fair amount of resistance by Torontonian workers who felt sympathy with their fellows.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2008 at 6:47 pm