A Class Divided – A Truly Exceptional Frontline Documentary

Ok, so for whatever reason, PBS’ embed code doesn’t seem to be working, so I’ll try to get an actual video link for this article in a few days. Until then, you can scope out the Frontline doc A Class Divided here.

I share the opinion of the teacher who created this experiment – hopefully, one day it will be a thoroughly useless experiment, as the dangers of discrimination are understood as a fundamental evil in our society. Until that day, I would hope that every parent and teacher out there watches this and uses it to rid our world of this unimaginable evil.

As I said to my 8th great physical sciences teacher, a bit of a cranky old guy from St. Lucia, way back in the day – our blood is the same colour. All of humanity’s differences are merely skin deep, and we are but one people living on a small planet hurtling through space at the edge of our galaxy.

There may be as many as 500 million potentially habitable planets – another 500 million Earths, within our galaxy alone.

If we don’t figure out how to live together soon, we have no hope of ever establishing contact with those who assuredly live beyond the Sun. This is an evolutionary step, and we cannot afford to miss it.


Using Socialism to Finance a Transportation Revolution in Canada

Our last attempt at high-speed transport in Canada: the Turbo Train, 1973 - not the work of the author.

The People have a right to move.

So too, does the State – it’s vital that the State have the ability to move large amounts of people and materiel to support the People, really, whenever the People call for it. And the People and the State are one – given that the State would not exist without the People. I find it odd that I would have to go through this diatribe, but given the state of political discourse in this country, this world, it is vital too that the people recognize the State – in a democracy – must work in the service of the collective. Yes, our society is based on Socialist principles.

A populist appeal, a vision for strategic State economic-planning and the real threat of losing our national sovereignty compelled John A. Macdonald, our beloved drunken-buffoon of a first Prime Minister, to work towards completing Canada’s first transcontinental rail link. It was done as a means to encourage British Columbia to join Confederation, not to mention that a transcontinental link was necessary for continued economic expansion and would further solidify the foundation of the fragile young state. Despite a near chronic lack of funding and the Pacific Scandal, the link was completed by the mid-1880s, and Canada was bound in a railway. Canada today has not one, but two major international rail carriers; they are in fact among the largest transportation companies and networks in the entire world.

But when it comes to moving people in Canada, well, we’re coming up short. That’s being overly polite – we’ve shat the bed. Canada, once a world leader in railway design and associated technologies & services, is today considerably behind the times. We have no high-speed link – none – nowhere in Canada do trains travel in excess of 200km/hour. In fact, most don’t go faster than 150km/hour, and that’s painfully slow given that speed of modern trains. Compared to a growing list of nations, such as France, the UK, Germany, Japan and China, Canada lags behind without something largely becoming vital to a first world transportation system – a high-speed electric train. What’s worse is that we have the technology and the industry – least to mention the wide-open expanses – to build a system that could link the nation in incomparable ways. And it would make sense that we ought to have one too – except that time and time again, the Canadian People choose the path of least resistance, and choose the party that looks best on camera. This party, whether wearing Grit Red or Tory Blue, has no real plans for high-speed rail in Canada because they exist in a state of perpetual TV-readiness; prepared to argue, never to act.

It would seem that the Canadian People, much like our American cousins, have lost sight that they have a responsibility to demand progressive action from their elected representatives. Whom they elect, they elect to fight to build what is missing, provide what is lacking – instead, our political battles aren’t over projects anymore, they’re over nuances in policy, in personal attacks and the promotion of an endless cavalcade of wars on apparent immoralities. Who has time to build a world-class high-speed train network when you’re caught up fighting for abstinence-only sex education in some rural backwater middle school, right?

There was once a time when the Prime Minister felt a personal responsibility to build a transcontinental rail link – as a means to connect the whole country though also to propel the development of smaller provincial and city networks as well – so that all Canadians could easily move around our great nation. Today, trying to do the same on VIA – if you want a berth that is – will cost you thousands of dollars and take several days. The only people who seem to be able to afford the privilege of crossing our country by rail are retired middle-class types who think it might be romantic. Good lord! Are you telling me there’s no practical need?

I think it’s obvious our country has to invest in affordable high-speed rail transit, and provide all Canadians a quick and efficient means to get across this vast nation. I think it’s a right shared by all of us, and the State has a responsibility to provide it to us. But we’re clearly going to have to make it a priority for them. Once again, the State works towards the benefit of the People – always.

Consider what your life would be like if you could hop on a regularly scheduled bullet train from Montréal to Toronto and the trip took less than three hours, was perfectly comfortable, and cost a fraction of a current regular fare ticket. A high-speed line serving the Windsor-Québec City corridor would attract large numbers of riders based on novelty and geography alone – and in so doing, just such a system could potentially move massive quantities of people throughout this region each day. If the distance from Montréal to Toronto is about 600km, and some French and Japanese bullet train models currently travel in excess of 350km/hour, then it is foreseeable that a future high-speed network in Canada may reach even higher speeds. Imagine a ten-hour trip to Vancouver from Montréal? It’s technically possible now, and the sheer volume of people that could be moved by just such a system would allow significant savings for travelers, which in turn would pay back the initial investment. What’s more, a high-speed link connecting major cities across the country could itself spur the development of new provincial systems to allow even greater rail coverage.

Rail seems to me to be an inherently socially conscious means of transit. It’s big, it’s fast, it can move a lot of people, who in turn share the limited space within. Most importantly, it can be ecologically and economically sustainable, and was initially instituted in this nation because our elected leaders felt they owed it to the People to link up as many small towns and big cities to the same, shared network.

There’s no reason not to invest in rail. We need to establish a far better degree of inter-connectivity in Canada, and should further encourage people to abandon more polluting technologies in favour of the State-sponsored socially conscious alternative. We need to make it easy for people to get out and visit the country – we don’t do this nearly enough, and it isn’t getting any easier. Canadians need to realize that their nation is massive and diverse, and if it was cheap to get around I’m certain many more of us would jump at the opportunity to get out and explore it. But it will take the will of the People to elect a State that seeks to invest in itself, as that is the best method to encourage new growth and a stronger economy. We need a transportation revolution in Canada to improve all our lives, but we must also be willing to pay for it, and recognize that strategic planning does not bestow much instantaneous gratification. And perhaps this is why so few of our politicians promote it – they likely won’t be around to reap the benefits of their petitioning as their political career is a mere stepping stone into the world of corporate governance.

And that is the great sad truth of our era, and something I hope we’ll one day do without, because I’m getting sick and tired spending seven-ten hours traveling to Toronto on the Megabus. Seriously, what’s up with that twenty minute mad-dash at the Kingston Bus Terminal Tim Horton’s anyways?

This article was originally published on Forget the Box.

Destroying the Old Port – Historical Perspectives

Knocking down the Old Port - late 1970s, not the work of the author.

If you haven’t already, I strongly recommend spending some time in the Old Port this Summer, and specifically a walk along Rue de la Commune. Enjoy a nice meal on an outdoor terrace, walk along the Harbourfront Park and take in the wide variety of activities available in Montréal’s Old Port during the peak Summer tourism months.

And remind yourself as you look out over the water towards Ile-Ste-Helene, the Casino, Habitat 67 or the Jacques-Cartier Bridge that once upon a time – not too long ago in fact – you couldn’t see any of it, because the Port of Montréal was still fully operational in the sector currently known as Vieux-Montréal.

As the photos here demonstrate, the Old Port was once the port, and the area currently occupied with restaurants, boutique hotels and galleries was once highly industrial/commercial. All those sweet lofts you now covet were once working-class housing, and the port had a bit of a reputation for being a seedy, run-down part of an old city falling apart at the seams. Consider the size of Grain Elevator No.5, and imagine three elevators of a similar size, not to mention cold-storage warehouses and functioning piers and all associated logistical equipment, ripped out from their moorings and cleared away. Though this was doubtless a smart move for the city (as more modern port facilities were constructed further East and the area once occupied by the port was turned into one of the classiest neighbourhoods in the city), it nonetheless had a deep impact on the psyche of local inhabitants.

Approaching Montreal's port - late-1960s, early 1970s; not the work of the author.

Here’s where dates are key. The renovation of Montreal’s Old Port and the relocation of the commercial seaport took place in the late 1970s. It involved cooperation between three levels of government with the Fed leading, as the Port of Montréal is a crown asset. At the same time – the same year in fact – the much dreaded economic reaction to the election of the PQ in 1976 was beginning to manifest itself. The Péquistes were talking Bill 101 and an eventual Referendum, and some major corporations once headquartered here pulled up their roots and shipped off to Toronto (In 1978 it was the Sun Life Insurance Company, once a major white-collar employer). The near simultaneous destruction of much of the industrial component of the Old Port signified, for many, an irreversible turn of fortune – a Montréal equivalent to Cleveland’s infamous Cuyahoga River Fire.

Cold Storage warehouse and other port facilities - 1958; not the work of the author.

FYI – if you want a local blues-rocker’s take on this era in city history, check out Walter Rossi’s “Down by the Waterfront”; off of 1980’s ‘Diamonds for the Kid’ – scroll over to read the lyrics. I can’t say for certain it’s about life on our particular waterfront, but from what I’ve heard and read, life was a bit different back when the Port actually emptied directly onto de la Commune. Consider that Montréal’s role as a major transit point in international smuggling operations has pretty much maintained itself since before the War – it’s just that back before the mid-1980s, most of that smuggling was going on where currently American tourists go to get a taste of Europe on the cheap. Dig?

Moving the port facilities further East was obviously a wise decision, as the expansion allowed the Port of Montréal to develop into North America’s premiere inland port. In fact, I’d even go so far to say it made the Saint Lawrence Seaway somewhat obsolete, as ocean-going vessels can now easily dock in Montréal and transfer their cargo directly onto waiting trains, access the oil terminals and have access to larger spaces and more modern equipment to unload cargo containers. Moreover, by moving the port to a more or less dedicated industrial area, away from the city and next to a major military base, cut off from residential area by better zoning, rail lines and Boul. Notre-Dame Est probably did quite a bit to remove, if not eliminate some the seedier elements associated with major port cities from the picturesque Old Quarter.

Old Port Police HQ - demolished in the early 2000s; pic from late 1970s, not the work of the author.

I think one of the biggest problems we had with regards to our Old Port redevelopment (read this neat 1979 Montreal Gazette article about planning for the new Montréal Harbourfront), was that there was a lull period throughout most of the 1980s as the old was removed, the ground de-contaminated, the area re-designed etc. It seems as if the Drapeau & Doré administrations didn’t adequately communicate the Old Port redesign scheme as a major investment with guaranteed returns, at least not well enough to counter the growing perception that Montréal was becoming a washed-up second city.

Part of the problem may have had to do with the fact that ‘harbourfront/dockside/portlands’ renovations were a kind of weird 80s and 90s urban-planning technique designed to ‘re-invigorate’ failing American rust-belt cities, most of which kind of came up flat. I think Montréal succeeded wildly, though it shows – when you walk around the Old Port ask yourself who works there in the off-season. It still has a viable economy besides tourism, and has been re-integrated into the urban fabric, quite expertly in fact. Consider the types of services, spaces, places and institutions in the Old Port – this is now a place to live, work and play. Few other cities have been able to rehabilitate such a large area on such a grand scale; how much money has been invested into the Old Port and Old Quarter since the mid-1980s? I can bet you it probably dwarfs what was spent on the Olympics.

It’s unfortunate that, as a result of our extremely successful port renovation scheme, we lost this:

Market scene from Place Jacques-Cartier; 50s or 60s? not the work of the author.

And it’s also kind of amazing that we did, given that so many other cities went with conversions of old port-side warehouses and storehouses into international markets – think South Street Seaport in NYC, or Faneuil Hall in Boston. And given how successful other markets have become in Montréal, you’d figure there would be an effort made to rekindle a bustling Old Port market. I’d love to see small motor boats coming in from up and downriver with fresh produce. Actually, I’d get a huge kick out of it. Imagine the people watching you could do! Imagine how much more life it would breathe into the port, and how many more Montrealers may go there – tourists be damned.

On a final note – there are two elements of port life I would like to see reintegrated into the Old Port, and I can imagine it would allow for an interesting and distinct character. For as nice as it is, the Old Port still seems a little too dependent on tourist dollars to keep going – at certain times of the year, let’s face it, the Old Port can be anything but hospitable, with much of Rue de la Commune boarded up until the Spring. I’d like to see actual sailors, people from all over the world, enjoying the Old Port and utilizing it as anyone may use a city, but there is a lack of affordable hotels in the area, as pretty much everything is geared towards wealthy American and European tourists. If this was altered slightly, and additional services for sailors were located in the Old Port, it would add a degree of authenticity (which can’t hurt) that may translate into additional sources of steady income for the Old Port as a neighbourhood and community.

As it stands right now, the Old Port is a bit of an oddity in Montréal. It’s gorgeous, it’s antique, it’s wealthy and fun. But there are parts which still seem a bit off – is it weird to have a playground in your front yard? The fact that there is no so little actual port activity in the Old Port gives it a Disney World pseudo-realistic feeling. What if a ferry terminal and a dedicated cruise-ship pier were built, and the Old Port reprized its role as a major transit point? I can imagine the Old Port would acquire a degree of cachet heretofore unknown, one it could potentially bank on. Not to mention that there is a potential gold mine in opening up the Old Port, with its remaining facilities, as a new passenger transit hub. Today there are no ferries between Montréal and say, the South Shore, or West Island, or anywhere else accessible by water. There are very few cruise ships, and a lack of investment in new facilities will prevent Montréal from becoming a major cruise ship tourist destination (and if you’ve ever been up or down the Saint Lawrence, you know why that’s kind of ridiculous).

I mean who wouldn’t want to sail into this:

The view from 1994. Pretty much the same as it is today; not the work of the author.

Democracy Crumbling, Justice Fading – Quartzsite Arizona & Casey Anthony

The video above is pretty straightforward. It’s a town hall meeting, open to the public, in a small town of 3,600 people near the California border – Quartzsite Arizona. The woman who will be arrested in this video, Jennifer Jones, was informing the town council that they had violated Arizona’s open-meeting laws. Doing so irked some members of council, who demanded the local Police Chief, Jeff Gilbert, to arrest Ms. Jones. The Mayor of the community, one Ed Foster, can be heard in the video telling the council it is out of order, and further instructing the Police Chief to back off, as he is infringing on Ms. Jones’ first amendment rights. The Chief carries on anyway, and Ms. Jones is arrested and led out of the meeting. Towards the end you can hear a resident say ‘it’s the same thing every time.’

It turns out that the Mayor is correct, as is Ms. Jones. Mayor Foster was elected on a campaign promise to rid City Hall of its corruption. Foster has proof of financial mismanagement and impropriety, which likely would include council members and Police Chief Gilbert.

Today the town is under a kind of martial law, with the corrupt Police Chief in charge and the duly elected Mayor ousted.

The United States of America is no longer a protector nor promoter of democracy or progressive values. It was one thing to see the Tea Party’s ugly head as a protest movement, but a perverse ideology has developed over the past few years – stemming from this resurgent delusional idiocracy, and its allowing people to get away with massive, heinous crimes against the People. Now, a citizen who discovers proof of fraud – and a fraud which may have cost the residents of this community millions and millions of dollars is herself arrested, instead of those responsible. What an indignity to anyone who has ever championed the democratic ideal.

The Tea Party mentality has infected all strata of the American political system, and it is a disease, a vicious and tenacious cancer. From the lunacy of the RNC nomination process to the regular royal fuck-ups pertaining to basic American history and law by their star candidates, the GOP has become the party of the damned, the fools, the wicked. Who in their right mind would ever have anything to do with the Republitards in times like these?

And why are they constantly getting away with bullshit designed to prevent democracy?
Why are the people of the United States allowing them to get away with destroying their nation?
How is it that the Republican Governor of Wisconsin can take away state worker’s collective bargaining rights, set the police on their own people – the people they’re supposed to help and lead, and then stoop so low as to run fake democratic candidates to give the unpopular Republican incumbents another month to practice?

Remember Alvin Greene?

You thought that was bad – no one has ever taken of these people to task for their fraud, their deception, their lies and treason.

And as long as people keep looking towards the United States as the supposed defender of the democratic way, and this shit goes unchecked, the very notion of democracy may be lost forever, as it will have to leading light, no bulwark. It seems to have already succumbed to the inertia typical of the American mentality – the Dutch have even coined a term, roughly translated to ‘American Conditions’ to describe the progressive decline of a Western Power, and the subsequent destruction of its society and civilization, through excess and ignorance.

And now we come to Casey Anthony. I’ll let Bill do most of the talking here; he always manages to cut through the horseshit as far as I’m concerned.

Admittedly, I did not follow this case to the same degree as most of the daytime cable news hosts, and it took me a while to catch up with what this case was all about. After looking it over, the only thing I can think of is that, if this Casey Anthony woman was named Monique Washington and she came from Baltimore, I don’t think she would have even gotten a trial – least not a fair one. She’d a been tried in the public’s eye and put away. But the Anthony case reminds me that deep down, regardless of guilt, the World of American TV has its own rules it needs to follow. The World American TV lives and operates in is not the same as the one our laws belong to. There’s no democracy on TV, unless someone’s dying for it. And in this world someone so clearly responsible for the death of her infant can be ‘reformed’ through the endless excruciatingly close focus on every aspect of her life. In the process, it turned her from a celebrity prisoner to a celebrity murderer. Her family was represented by an entertainment lawyer. She’s been offered a contract to star in porn. Some people say ‘she’s suffered enough’. She’s a star now, and something tells me that’s all she wanted. Haven’t we all seen those Facebook photos?

At the end of the day we don’t want to pay attention to all that’s fucked up about the real world we live in – its too hard and we’re too lazy. But the world we invented for ourselves? The world where whatever fiction we can think of convinces us of its veracity? That world that plays by TV rules, and its the only rules we seem to be following anymore. We’ve created a fiction where philosophy, politics, rhetoric and reason are rated based on the graphics and sound-bytes that go with them.

Heaven help us – who knew it would be so easy to destroy.

Montreal Close Encounter July 10 2011 – Verified with Reddit!

This is a CBC file photo of a mysterious aerial phenomenon which occurred in Newfoundland in January of 2010. It kinda looks like contrails to me.

So yesterday about an hour before midnight I was on the back terrace doing what I enjoy doing, looking up at the stars. It was partially cloudy last night, which made the stars slightly more visible – if you could catch them between the clouds that is. I could spy Cassiopeia between the clouds just over the roof of the small condo behind my apartment, which is to say I was looking Northeast. My apartment is in Westmount, near Mount Pleasant and Sherbrooke, and I was looking up into the night sky when I noticed an orange flash overhead, moving ‘Montréal West’, as if it was following the outline of Sherbrooke at that long straight stretch near Dawson. It happened very quickly, but what I saw wasn’t that different what the picture above, aside from being at night and with clouds overhead – there was a big enough break in the cloud cover to see whatever it was unhindered, brief though it was.

Today on Reddit/Montreal, I find this:

Anyone see an orange thing flying in the sky around 11ish last night?

Here’s the r/montreal self-reddit plenty more fascinating details in the comments section; apparently, at least four other people saw something similar last night.

I really want to know – did anyone else see something? Ask around, maybe someone you know saw it as well. If so, add a comment to this post, and hopefully we’ll bump it up to the top of the page. How much you want to bet we could create a delayed-reaction slow-news-day report?

*Incidentally – I’m not making a claim as to what it was. It was weird, but I’m sure it has a logical explanation. Or maybe it doesn’t – who the fuck knows right? Either way I can guarantee you that I’ll continue, as always, to look up.

Why Trams Work in the 5-1-4, No.2 – Historical Perspectives

Place d'Armes in the 40s or 50s, back when it was a major transit hub. Not the work of the author.

At left is a neat picture I found recently depicting Place d’Armes before the Métro, back when it was a vital link to the city’s public transit infrastructure for trams and buses. Today there’s so little traffic in this sector the city can afford to close down streets to allow for a major renovation of the Square, something I doubt could have been done when this picture was taken. I could do without the overhead wires personally, and the trees look sickly, but I do love the dynamic nature of this street-scene.

Consider as well that the trams are operating on congested, narrow, Old Port streets and doing so with a fair number of cars and pedestrians. Horse-drawn carts would have been considerably more common back then as well, and we managed pretty well.

Mount Royal tram tunnel, 40s or 50s - not the work of the author.

I both love and hate this picture as well. Here’s the hate: Drapeau built a trans-mountain parkway in the late-1950s and named it after his former political adversary Camillien Houde. Houde, incidentally, had been against a proposed parkway over the mountain for years, and Drapeau named it after him posthumously as a kind of sick joke. What a character!

The Parkway is useful and has become a practical method of quickly getting across the city. Apparently it’s useful to ambulances, hacks and the fuzz as well. Moreover, I gotta say – crossing the Parkway with a jazzed-up young cabbie blasting Dire Straights in the middle of a storm a few years back was thrilling. That said, I don’t think the total traffic usage has ever really justified the Parkway’s existence, and there aren’t nearly enough tourists going up the mountain for the ‘bus-access’ argument to be fully justifiable either.

Consider as well the total surface area atop the mountain currently used for parking purposes. It’s a significant waste of space, and worst of all, the park is disconnected from the cemetery and the lands behind the Université de Montréal.

This leads me to why I love this picture. As we can see above, before the Parkway, the route was used by a tramway. Moreover, the city was conscious not to disrupt the ‘natural flow’ of the park – as we can see, there’s a guy walking along a trail above the Tram Tunnel. The tunnel was located close to the Eastern Lookout – you can see where they blasted out the rock. This means that back in the day, the total green space of Mount Royal Park was considerably higher than it is today and further, that this space was a continuous green zone. I can imagine that this would have provided additional space for local wildlife, as there is a somewhat large sector of green space in Outremont, behind the university and adjacent to the cemetery which is still quite ‘raw’ and somewhat difficult to get to. I look at a picture like this and it makes me think of those ‘green crossings’ they build over highways in rural area to allow animals continuous access to green spaces.

As you can probably imagine, I’d vote for tearing out the parkway and replacing it with a tram line, and then building a new tunnel so as to accomplish the ‘continuous green access’ we had back when the picture was taken. This would mean that the parking lots would be disconnected, and that would be great too – more park land. I’d keep the road access to the Western-most parking lot (near Beaver Lake) and by extension access to Cote-des-Neiges with the tram line merging onto CdN Boulevard – ideally the new ‘No.11 Tram’ would link Guy and Mount-Royal Métro stations.

In any event – all this to show that we once used trams effectively herein Montréal, and further, that Trams may be a legitimate traffic-congestion solution on Montréal city streets. Our city is very particular, and I can’t imagine a well-designed public transit infrastructure would actually be feasible if we only ever focus on specific transit types. We need multiple types, and should look to see which routes might be better served by different technologies. The Old Port and the Mountain seem like two areas where vehicular traffic is too problematic and destructive/disruptive, but that may nonetheless potentially draw more people if access to cars were limited and replaced with excellent tram service. The call to make more of the Old Port ‘restricted access’ is a strong one – but in order to accomplish this goal, something needs to be brought in to help move the large quantities of people who live, work and play there.

Food for thought – let me know what you think about all this, and the pics too!