Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Department of Friggin' Amateurs in Training

It seems to me that DFAIT needs a new department name to accurately reflect the quality of work being done by the political leadership there. In short order, we have managed to piss off both the Chinese and the EU due to a complete lack of understanding of the nature of diplomacy.

In the very same issue of the Globe and Mail, China has very publicly 'snubbed' the Harper government. To anyone remotely familar to the Chinese culture of 'face' this is firstly, expected, and secondly, quite a rebuke. It's been known for a while that Harper has let dangle some of the relationships and talks the Liberals had established to this point.

Regardless of how you may feel about Tibet, or human-rights in China, the art of diplomacy is keeping channels of communciation open, and subtly influencing rather than preaching a position.

This is also true for the EU, where Harper has skipped an EU summit in order to avoid direct criticism over reneging on our Kyoto commitments. Now EU leaders are calling for Canada to suffer sanctions over those very same actions. Again, this was a case where subtlety was called for. Being perfectly frank, *most* countries are not going to meet their Kyoto committments, but actively pulling out served no purpose, save perhaps the ability to tell the US that they aren't the only jerkoffs out there on the international climate change scene.

Regardless of Liberal domestic policy, they always held to what I call 'the backpack test' meaning simply, will these actions make me proud and unafraid to wear the maple leaf on my backpack when travelling. I think most Canadians of my generation are familiar with this concept and can agree that was something of an unspoken but powerful agenda.

Complete disengagement and 'preaching' leads to situations like North Korea and Iran where rhetoric and sabre-rattling prevails, but cordial relations and trading, even with people whose viewpoints you disagree with leads to more openness in the end. It's clear to me that our right-wing government, like the one to the south is incapable of the levels of nuance needed to properly handle international relations.

In the case of China, they have always been able to take the 'long view' and when Harper is gone soon enough, this will be but a blip, but the EU will not soon forget.

I think it's clear that amateur hour was fun, but we need the professionals back running things.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate

Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate

I'm back in Chicago for a few days and I revisited the Anish Kapoor sculpture Cloud gate, affectionaly known as 'The Bean'

It's quite a brilliant bit of scuplture, a flawless fluid form of reflective steel.

Rockefeller Center in New York will be getting their own scupture called Sky Mirror. I'm not sure the placement will do it justice, as it will take away from the flow of Rockefeller center, while crowding an already very busy part of Fifth Ave. I think there are plenty of other locations that would perhaps serve as a better location. UPDATE: My good friend Andrzej has taken a pic of Sky mirror.

In comparison, Cloud Gate in Chicago is perfectly placed to relfect and distort the skyscrapers on two sides and attract quite a large crowd with plenty of room to give the piece its due.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Going through the archives

Art Institute of Chicago

It's always fun to go through old photographs. I find it's great for rediscovering old gems that you've forgotten.

Recently, I created a new Flickr set called the Museum::People project to showcase people interacting with art in various museums around the world and I had a few photos that I forgot to upload, so they are now up.

I've been using Adobe Lightroom to quickly go through my photos, and have found a way to upload directly to Flickr from it. The beta is free, so I highly recommend it.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Flickr Maps

Recently, Flickr incorporated Geotagging into their website. Previously, Geotagging was a mash-up using the Google Maps API. This is a much improved system, where you can drag and drop photos onto the map. I've tagged nearly 250 photos already.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

More on softwood lumber...

This just gets weirder and weirder... apparently one of the provisos of the softwood deal is that $450 million gets redirected to the Bush White House for use in *whatever the fuck he wants* - likely a giant slush fund for the November mid-terms. Think of the entire Republican propaganda machine war chest - this will nearly triple it. The Toronto Star has the article (along with The Tyee - an excellent BC online newspaper).

I hope this news gets to all the major papers on both sides of the border and blows both right-wing administrations right out of the water. None of this is above board. This is not what democracy is supposed to be.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Post to the Globe and Mail today

The Globe and Mail had an article on the softwood issue: Softwood deal to move forward, and I thought I'd contribute my $0.02. Specifically I took issue with Stephen Harper's claim that there was a “clear majority” in the country that now supports the government's softwood lumber agreement with the United States.

I'm honestly wondering who this "clear majority" is. The last time I checked a week ago it looked like this deal was going to fall apart, and without any significant announcement of changes, all of a sudden we're all on board? "Mr. Harper did not say what percentage of Canada's softwood lumber producers signalled their support for the deal" so for all we know, support could be at the very same level. Sounds a lot like perception management, instead of actual results to me.

For what it's worth, I think we should get out of NAFTA entirely, as the US has shown total disregard for its agreements and procedures. As should be totally clear by now, the US is pro Free Trade so long as it only benefits them.

Having a mugger steal from you and return 80% of the haul with conditions like "don't go to the cops" and "I reserve the right to mug you again real soon" isn't a deal in any sense of the word I know - it's capitulation.

The rest of the comments seem to back me up on this one as well.

For those of you who would prefer to watch video - Rick Mercer has a very funny explanation.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Morning Funny.

For a blog posting
Originally uploaded by m.d..

I was walking to get a coffee this morning and saw this shirt, and had to write about it. I'm a sucker for a clever tee.

In the UK they have a version; 'George Bush & Son Family Butchers, by Royal Appointment'

Friday, August 11, 2006

It all makes sense now...

Looks like Air Canada was doing it's best to squeeze very last red cent out of us to look good for its upcoming IPO*.

Oh, it would be fun to short those cheap bastards before the market realizes that they have scared away their best and most profitable customers with ruthless efficiency in the last year.

*Confused by the fact that Air Canada is already listed on the TSX? That company is actually ACE Aviation Holdings which owns Air Canada, Jazz, Aeroplan other related businesses.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

A (hopeful) return to form...

Ships off Vancouver
Originally uploaded by m.d..

Expect more photos from Vancouver - after months of being too tired or unmotivated to shoot anything more than postcard shots, I think I have found some inspiration again.

I'm waiting for my tripod, Hassy and other equipment to show up, but I've got plenty of inspiration in my new home.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Air Canada doesn't give a damn - I, too, will fly WestJet.

Lately, the shared animosity between Air Canada and myself has finally come to a head. I say 'shared' because as of a few years ago, I think Air Canada set out to intentionally start to piss me off, and hasn't let up since. At first it was small things, but the cumulative experience of Air Canada treating me as a sucker has finally gotten to me.

And it's not just me. The very level-headed Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson has written an article entitled 'Air Canada doesn't give a damn. I'll fly WestJet'. In the interest of fairness, Montie Brewer the CEO of Air Canada wrote a response, entitled 'Air Canada does give a damn' but, of course he would.

(Note, if you're not a Globe and Mail subscriber - use this link to Google News to view the articles)

A little bit of background is in order. Before very recently taking a new job, I used to travel most of the time for work. I've visited more than a dozen countries and at least twice as many US states while traveling for the company. I know more than any sane man should about airlines, airports, and hotels. Walter Kirn's novel 'Up in the Air' reads more like a biography than a novel to me.

Now, Air Canada is no better and no worse than most North American airlines when it comes to general customer service/delays etc. However, given that I have accumulated in the multiple hundreds of thousands of Aeroplan miles over the years - their active distaste for customer loyalty and service is appalling. Every Canadian has experienced the wrath of their old and bitter, seniority-entrenched workforce. In five years, I have only once experienced truly excellent service from them, and unfortunately that's balanced against dozens of negative experiences.

Lately trying to use Aeroplan points has become a Kafka-esque exercise in frustration. Trying to use points at the cheapest level becomes a 3 or 4 layover sojourn across the country which surely uses more fuel than actual face value of the ticket, but is designed to make you give up and spend more points to only have to stop over once or twice (for a destination that is served by 4+ direct flights/day). For my last flight I used points to fly Executive class, and even then I had a layover in both directions.

My biggest complaint is 'upgrade certificates'. Air Canada sent me a thick stack of these for 'making status', then promptly told me to go f*** myself anytime I tried to actually use one. Seems my company has a policy of always flying on the cheapest flight, and these are ineligible for using certificates. Helpfully, the last time I tried to use one, the agent also told me that those cheaper flights (you may know them as 'Tango') don't even collect Aeroplan points, nor can you get food on the plane. So it turns out that this new policy pretty much means that I won't make 'status' next year because of this. So despite my very prolific flying with them over more than half a decade, Air Canada now feels I'm not good enough to garner any return incentive without paying at least double for my flights. Even colleagues at 'Elite' levels still have the same issue.

However, the last straw came this morning. I had booked a flight to Vancouver, and the Air Canada website popped up 'for an extra $30 you can upgrade to Tango Plus' which includes such benefits as 'upgrade to Executive Class with certificate'. Fantastic, I thought - I've got a book full of the damned things, I'll pay the extra money and finally get a chance to use one of them.

I called Air Canada, and guess what - I can't use my certificates.

You need to use Special System Wide Upgrade Certificates, the agent said. No problem - I've got some of those. No, you've got System Wide Upgrade Certificates - you need a Special System Wide Upgrade Certificate. Well, pardon me for confusing the two. Your website should've made clear that I need to use the aeronautical equivalent of Willy Wonka's golden ticket, instead of just saying 'you can use upgrade certificates' when you got me to shell out that extra money.

There is a word for that tactic - it's called 'bait and switch'. Enjoy that extra $30 bucks, you cheap bastards, because it will be your last. I'll be flying to Europe a few times on my points (it's hard to make you do multiple layovers over the Atlantic), then we're through.

WestJet - you've gained a new customer.

Monday, May 29, 2006

What's Interestingness worth?

This morning I checked my Flickr feed to discover that all of a sudden one of my photos received 12 'Favourites' in a mere few hours. I've since discovered that it is the "Most Interesting" photo for May 29th, 2005 - which is pretty amazing. Interestingness is a Flickr algorithm to determine not a photos pure popularity, but also the number of comments and other things (it's a secret) to determine 'interestingness'.

In addition to the obvious ego benefit, this has given me a chance to examine the statistics at the end of the day, and discover - what exactly is interestingness worth? How many views, how many favourites, how many new contacts?

This has also led me to the Flickr toy Scout. I can now see where my photos are on the 'Interestingness' ladder for various days. It's amazing to see that (with one single exception) photos Flickr considers 'interesting' are also photos I have chosen by hand to be part of my selection of prints for sale.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

How excellent is 'The Hour'?

I can't say enough good things about The Hour on CBC.

As someone who regularly reads such diverse stuff as The Onion to the Economist, I think 'The Hour' perfectly covers my demographic, from pretty deep analysis about important issues that most media is ignoring (i.e. Darfur) to a light-hearted discussion of the word 'Fuck'. The host, George Stroumboulopoulos came from the fast-paced media background of Moses Znaimer's ChumCity empire at MuchMusic and it shows. The show is fast, slick and excellently produced. What's completely unexpected is that it combines the curiousity and depth of traditionally more conservative magazines such at the Atlantic and the Economist. Aside from 60 minutes, I can't think of a traditional news program that shows the same level of commitment to the material. They even have a nice ironic staid name like 'The Hour' to sucker you in.

The other things they are doing 100% right is providing all of their material online (and some that doesn't make the show).

For an example, see this clip on the Iraq war propaganda.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Santiago Calatrava

Milwaukee Art Museum

While I was at the Met recently, they had an exhibition of Santiago Calatrava. I was first introduced to his works when I was in Bilbao - actually to be accurate, I got the introduction just as I was arriving because the Bilbao airport is one of his works. He is also responsible for a footbridge just downstream from the infamous Bilbao Guggenhiem.

When I was in Chicago, I took a trip up to Milwaukee to take a look at his addition to the Mikwaukee Art Museum. It was well worth it, as it's quite an amazing bit of architecture. The 'wings' on the building, called the Burke Brise Soleil close each day at noon.

Calatrava is also responsible for the new PATH station at the site of the to be re-built World Trade Center in New York. His work lends itself to transportation, as it invokes speed, weightlessness and an ability to defy gravity and physics in the same way that our airplanes and cars seem to do today. Most of his works are bridges, stations and airports - but recently he has expanded to towers, and perhaps like Renzo Piano, this will move him towards the architecture A-list. His 80th South Street tower, located near the heavily-touristed area of South Street Seaport will surely bring mainstream recognition for such a bold project.

Both of Calatrava's (only) New York works are still in planning or construction, but you can expect a fair bit of attention and revisiting of his past works when they are complete.

Of course, to Canadians, Calatrava is best known for Toronto's BCE Place which is rightfully considered an architectural landmark, despite it's lack of marquee purpose (it is a public galleria, and not a museum or other high-profile building)

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Mark Rothko

In the interest of making semi-regular and smaller updates to my blog, as opposed to writing essay-length entries bi-monthly, here is a quick contribution.

In two weeks, it is the anniversary of the death of Mark Rothko. Most people will generally recognize Rothko as the abstract expressionist responsible - along with the likes of Barnett Newman - with the popularization of "colour fields". Personally I've always liked his works, despite what I feel is a lack of underlying talent in their making - however in discussing Rothko fully, I could easily go down the rabbit hole of the interpretations of art (a la Duchamp), and I will defer simply to the fact that I would hang a Rothko on my wall because I think they are nice to look at.

The Guardian Arts section has a fantastic article on Rothko's biggest commission, his subsequent rejection of the money and donation of the completed works to the Tate, which added a complexity to the man and his works I hitherto was unaware of.

To commemorate, my Flickr icon has been changed to a Rothko painting for the next two weeks.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

New website in progress

Just a quick FYI to everyone, I'm in the process of redesigning my personal website to be entirely driven by the Flickr API (so I don't need to update two sites with my photos)

Also, I am going to start selling some of my prints, framed and unframed. The list is up at Flickr.

The new site (splash page) template is up. It's running on my mac mini - so if it's down, don't be overly annoyed.

Meet the new boss...

Well, it certainly didn't take long for Stephen Harpers cloak of 'principles' to get cast off now that it's no longer needed. I always assumed that Harpers biggest problem would be keeping the crazies of the party in check long enough for the Canadian people to 'really get the know' the new party, now we know that his biggest problem is that he is full of shit - his second biggest problem will be keeping the crazies in check.

Allow me to run down a quick list of our new Prime Ministers first acts in office;

1) Appointing David Emerson as a cabinet minister only days after Emerson was elected as a Liberal. How long was this little deal in the works? Days? Before the election? Emerson must be feeling rather smug, knowing that he had a plum post regardless of whom was elected to the party in power.

Crossing party lines is an accepted fact of life - however the brazen act of doing it mere days after the election is an entirely new level of cynical. The Liberal riding association for Vancouver Kingsway has already asked for his $100,000 in campaign funds to be returned. They have every civil right to ask for this, and if there is any evidence that Emerson had contact or dealings with Harper before the election, I figure they have a criminal case as well. Gomery is about done with his current investigations, perhaps it would be fun (and by fun, I mean ironic) to sic him on this one.

2) Appointing Michael Fortier to be in charge of Public Works and Government services. Hey remember PWGSC? The department that is responsible for the oversight of government contracts? You know, the area that was lax in the Adscam affair? Oh yeah, we're going to appoint an unelected person to be in charge of that. And oh yes, Mr. Fortier is also going to be a Senator, despite the fact that the Conservative party campaigned on the idea on an elected Senate. Fortier hasn't been elected to fuck all and already he's got his fingers pretty deep into the workings of power.

3) Appointing Gord O'Conner as Defence Minister. I suppose this shouldn't come as a surprise, given that he was a General in the Canadian Forces - however the fact that he was a lobbyist for years afterwards taints him in a very, how shall I put this - "American" way? I think the revolving door of lobbyists and government is one of the biggest threats to democracy south of the border, and now we have it at home. Yippee.

Interestingly, Hill and Knowlton - the lobbying firm O'Conner worked for is quite upbeat about the prospects of a new government: "Canada has a new federal government! While we are still facing a minority Parliament, the Tories, under Stephen Harper, will drive a new agenda. Do you need help understanding it all and its impact on your business?" 'Cause we got an in! Give us some cash and Mr. Harper and company will roll over and let you rub their belly. You know Cheney and Halliburton - that us now! Ain't it great!

Stand up for Canada? More like 'Meet the new boss, same as the old boss'. Thank god the Canadian electorate saw fit to give Harper a short leash to work with because I think the government will fall even quicker than I predicted, if that is even possible. Most people gave Harper a chance to prove that he is different than the Liberals, while not being as scary as they portray him to be. In his first day, he has proven to be no different - and it will only be a matter of time before his facade of being a centrist falls to pieces as well. Rick Mercer, our favourite political comedian has a nice little article on the nutcase element of the party which I'm sure we'll be seeing more of.