Thursday, August 10, 2006

Letter published in The Toronto Star August 9
It is a sad reality in Toronto that cyclists are so often the victim of opportunistic thieves. I've heard it mentioned countless times that Toronto is the bike-theft capital of North America and, havingbeen a victim three times over the past twenty-five years, I have learned to take additional precautions: use a minimum of two locks ofdifferent types (cable, chain, u-lock) and if you can carry three, then do so; lock to multiple parts of the bike and lock-up stand; park in a high-visibility, high-traffic area.
While those precautions haveserved me well, it is disturbing to think that high-visibility, high-traffic areas such as in front of police HQ and King & Yonge wereno deterent to the scum that stole the bikes mentioned in the story and, even more disturbingly, that the ring-post lockups were so easily defeated.
With over 900,000 cyclists in this city, the police, the mayors office and the Toronto Bicycling Committee should be so alarmed that immediate solutions be investigated. Unfortunately, the police have nothing but contempt and hostility for cyclists and the allegedly pro-bicycle Mayor's office and Toronto Bike Committee are so short-sighted, inept and ineffective, cyclists should expect no discernible reaction whatsoever.
My first published feature article in Toronto's The Downtown Grapevine, June Issue
Everyone has heard of ‘Nessie,’ the elusive sea serpent of northern Scotland, but Toronto actually has its own Nessie and we don’t have to rely on a grainy picture for proof of its existence. While it has already been sighted at various events during the past year or so, you’ll be able to experience and interact with it freely at Grange Park during various upcoming events.

University of Toronto professor and inventor, Steve Mann, developed Nessie with designer, Chris Aimone, as one of several models of a musical water sculpture he calls the Hydraulophone. There are several versions of his designs; some are circular, others suggest the shape of a treble-clef and still others resemble the grand organs found in cathedrals, but unlike most instruments, Mann’s version is intended for water and community parks as well as public spaces like HTO on Toronto’s waterfront.

The Hydraulophone could best be described as a water-organ or a water-flute, using water instead of air to generate the mellow and appealing sound Mann calls ‘harmelody.’ Each of the designs requires a power-source to pressurize the water, like a hand-pump, elevated reservoir, marine or solar-powered pump, or even a simple garden hose.

“Water creates sound with enough musically expressive control to play overlapping harmony and melody,” he says, placing his fingers over the gentle jets of water to demonstrate. With a soulful rendition of ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ a stirring ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘Amazing Grace,’ his digits restrict, dampen and bend the flow of water arching from the keyboard-arranged, recorder-like holes. The tone is reminiscent of other instruments, but unlike anything else you’ve ever heard.

“Nessie presents itself with the same vocal quality as humans,” Mann observes. As a result, Nessie’s personality is contagious. No matter what style of music is being played, novices and experienced musicians alike can’t help but want to test it out. It’s not an intimidating instrument. “It isn’t as formal or serious as a piano or violin and it has an expressivity that encourages interaction.” Mann explains, as one of his co-creators, Ryan Janzen, joins him on a version of ‘Summertime’. The sound reverberates as cleanly as any modern keyboard, but has its own full-bodied character.

Nessie is more fun to play than other instruments too. You can’t exactly jump in the public pool with a piano or flute, but that’s where Nessie performs best. The ‘FUNtain’ inspires “awe and wonder in the way that it connects to the basic element of water.” It stimulates the player on multiple levels: aurally, of course, as well as through motion and touch. “The sculpture has a seductive and teasing quality that tends to draw people toward it, to touch it.”

Professor Mann recently demonstrated Nessie at the Ontario Science Centre where he was invited to join a jazz band for a performance. “I haven’t had any formal musical training at all,” he admits, but that doesn’t seem be an obstacle for the talented and versatile Mann, perhaps buoyed by a number of jazz musicians and composers who have embraced the Hydraulophone. His ‘FUNtain’ or ‘Poseidophone,’ as he sometimes refers to it, is particularly suitable for acoustic folk music, given its natural sound. It would compliment Uilleann bagpipes and tin-whistle perfectly, and perhaps even make a great choral accompaniment.

Originally inspired twenty five years ago, the ‘waterwind’ was invented as a means of amusing his two year-old daughter, Christina. It has since evolved into the Nessie that delights children and adults everywhere. Even musical therapists have discovered its potential for healing and are working with Mann to develop the unique instrument for rehabilitation purposes.
Unlike her namesake in Scotland, Nessie is a welcome sight in wading pools, on beaches and hot-tubs and doesn’t make her appearances nearly as rare or photographically challenging.
Letter published in the Toronto Star July 10
My son was born almost thirteen years ago and looks caucasian in spite of his mixed heritage. During that time I have watched the reactions of many people who were genuinely surprised to discover he has a Chinese mother. Some were clearly taken aback, many more others merely shrugged. His bi-racial profile has not been the concern his mother and I feared it might; perhaps because he does not look mixed, but also because there are so many others like him. Two summers ago,I recall how startling it was to see him playing with his two best friends and realizing they were each mixed: one Italian-Caribbean, the other Irish-Jamaican and my son of French-Canadian/Irish/Scottish-Chinese parentage. They neither noticed nor cared. They simply enjoyed being with one another. Not only do I believe that, eventually, the lines of race will be blurred and blended, but that it is necessary before we can truly bring everyone together in peace as a world-community. Far too much irrational and illogical discrimination, intolerance, hate and violence is commited in the name of race and ethnicity, but if we can't distinguish one anothers' lineage, how can we hate it? I am immensely proud of the qualities of each of my own cultural components and instill in my son pride and value for all of his racial dimensions while, at the same time, recognizing the less-complimentary aspects and rejecting them. And when others ask him what he is, other than reply with a humorous 'confused,' he simply replies, 'I am Canadian.'
If the government was serious about reducing or eliminating street-racing and any and all other high-speed accidents, they would legislate that all cars in Ontario must have restrictor plates, the same kind used on school buses and other trucks, or other similar technology installed to prevent cars from exceeding the speed limit. It would be even better if the federal government made them mandatory across Canada to avoid buyers picking up cars from other provinces that don't have speed-reduction devices on vehicles sold there. Cars are intended to be transportation, not racers, but our various levels of governments make so much money from the sale of high-end performance vehicles, after-market products, tickets, accidents and even the fatalities these vehicles cause, they are willing to do nothing more than assign speed limits, but never really limit the speed.
It has been long been a distressing truth to the almost one million cyclists in Toronto that the police arbitrarily ignore, dismiss and otherwise disrespect the rights, safety and value of cyclists on Toronto streets. Such an attitude is perfectly illustrated in the quoted officer's remark "We really ought to get all those bikes off of Toronto's streets." Does the officer hold that same contempt for his brothers in blue on bicycles, I wonder. Such ignorance perpetuate the myth that cyclists impede traffic, rather than understand that bicycles ARE traffic. They perpetuate the misguided notion that roads are made for cars when, in fact, roads are public spaces, free for pedestrians, cyclists and other modes of transportation and, because motorists require licenses, they are guests upon the public roads. I have seen police observe serious infractions commited by motorists against cyclists and simply turn a blind eye rather than recognize the danger and potential calamity that occured and acted appropriately. By the same token, equal attention must be applied to cyclists who ignore stop-signs and red-lights and commit other dangerous and reckless acts. The legend on the side of police cruisers states 'Toserve and protect,' but who are they serving and protecting? Certainly not cyclists. They need to be held accountable for their negligence and they need to know we are not only not going to go away, but we're getting bigger.
In response to a letter by Mr. Craig in the Toronto Star
I certainly hope Mr. Craig and others who laud the decision to further restrict smoking---it has already been banned in restaurants for years, after all---don't drive to the restaurant of their choiceto enjoy a stink-free atmosphere. They might have wanted to look in their rear-view mirror and watched all the pedestrians and cyclists behind them gagging, coughing and choking on their stinky exhaust before expounding on about their innocence. One has to be careful when being self-absorbed and righteous that they are not an offender as well.
Re: Canada not in the World Cup
It is a shame and a tragedy that our federal government fails to provide the funding necessary for Canada to develop a competitive national soccer (football) program. There is not one reason why this country could not produce a team that could compete on the world stageother than the fact that other nations invest in their teams andCanada does not. There is certainly both the talent and the interest in the game here and if there's any doubt, just head out to any pitch on any night of the week or visit a pub during the next month. It is a poor reflection on Canada, internationally, that we are not represented in the world's largest sporting event and I, for one, am disappointed, but will proudly hold my Canada flag up high while chanting 'We're 83rd! We're 83rd!'
Re: The Unbearable Frightfulness of Biking
As a 43 year-old daily bicycle commuter for more than thirty years, I have tried to wear a helmet regularly many times, but always abandoned them, in spite of acknowledging they may prevent a serious injury should I be struck. Some people, such as myself, sweat heavily from the brow and require cool air blowing across the head to regulate temperature. Even with vents and light-weight material construction of helmets, they have always proven so uncomfortable that took away the enjoyment of riding for me.
But the point is not comfort: it's safety, as the article points out. And the article skipped right over the real issue: European cyclists rarely wear helmets because motorists in Europe are bicycle-conscious, unlike North American motorists. The danger here comes from motorists, in other words: for it is most often their actions that cause accidents involving cyclists: failing to respect a cyclists space and rights, failing to provide cyclists with the entire right lane, improper and unsafe lane changes and turns, impatience and over-aggression, etc.
What needs to happen is to remind motorists that they are, in fact, guests upon public roads that are natural to pedestrians and cyclists, bicycles are not childish, recreational toys: they are vehicles and that offences against cyclists will have serious repercussions. Politicians and police need to view cyclists as positive users of the road who do not cause daily deaths, carnage and damage nor pollution nor obtrusive noise nor all the other risks, hazards and destructions motorists do. They need to enact and enforce legislation against motorists who disrespect and endanger cyclists and educate motorists much like European motorists are educated.
I've not had an accident in more than twenty-five years because experience has taught me how and where to ride, but I resent the implication and accusation that the onus is on me to protect myself from inattentive, aggressive, careless and reckless motorists. They can simply jump in their bloated SUV's with no protection and become lethal weapons while escaping any responsibility for their conduct? Why shouldn't motorists all wear three-pont harnesses and helmets? Why not limit the speed that motorists can travel at with mechanical restrictors like buses, trucks and race-cars have? Why not equip cars and trucks with external airbags? In other words, target the offenders, not the victims
Letter in re: to a previous letter writer criticising and deriding smokers.
Mr. Bonitatibus is remarkably presumputous, myopic and lacking infacts. The vast majority of smokers already observe every restriction put upon them: no smoking in bars, restaurants, workplaces, subways,etc. Those regulations have been in place for years, long before the new restrictions. Their smoking has very little impact on non-smokers unless non-smokers are voluntarily in the company of smokers. The fact is, smokers also already pay out of their own pocket for healthcare as approx 90% of the cost of cigarettes are taxes that go to health care, among other government programs and that is more than non-smokers pay. It is also a fact that smokers are not an undue strain on health care because they tend to die earlier. Non-smokers, studies have shown, with longer lives tend to use health care facilities considerably more. I would hope that Mr. Bonitatibus doe snot drive a motor vehicle while he espousing his sanctimonious self-righteousness: the pollutants in the exhaust spewing from a tail-pipe in only 60 minutes of driving far exceed what a smoker emits in a lifetime of smoking and are, in fact, deadlier. The past three days of poor air quality in Hamilton and elsewhere were not caused by smokers, after all, and caused more people to seek medical help than smokers did. Perhaps Mr. Bonitatibus should scrub the soot off his halo before proclaiming facts that are not true.
Whining, stinking killers

Re "Speakeasies? Nah, smoke-easies" (Joe Warmington, May 25): A true Canadian heroine just died of lung disease caused by passive smoking. Less than a week after her death and five days before the law she fought for to spare others the same fate, Warmington wasn't satisfied to not mention Heather Crowe's name, but highlighted the whining, self-absorbed, ignorant, selfish, thoughtless brayings of the type of people who murdered her — and would gladly kill anyone else who got in the way of their precious stinking smoke. Pathetic. Shame on you. Sera Kirk North Vancouver, B.C.
In response to the above letter, I have a question or two for the self-righteous, superioristic Sera Kirk: do you drive a car? Do you drive alone? Do you drive to places you could have ridden a bike to, taken a bus or train to? Do you have any idea how many deaths your car has contributed to? The exhaust emitted out of your car for a mere minute is more noxious and contaminating than what any smoker could produce in five years! Be careful when you call others whining, stinking killers, you just might be a worse offender yourself.
Let's get serious. Archaic, elitist attitudes like those owned by Case Ootes are unproductive, unimaginative and dangerous: they reinforce the false impression that motor-vehicles are inherently superior to bicycles and attempting to change the habits of the populace are unrealistic and impossible. Ten years ago, that's what we thought about smoking. No way could smoking be eliminated from bars, restaurants and public spaces. Guess what? It happened. The facts are that most people drive their cars needlessly, they could take a bike, bus or train, but out of convenience, laziness and the mistaken belief that a car is faster, they elect not to; they are often alone in their vehicles and not carrying cargo; they pollute the air without a moments' thought, contribute to traffic congestion, road damage and are the chief cause of these wonderful smog days we are enjoying. So, why not take cycling seriously in Toronto? Why not discourage unnecesssary driving by reducing parking spaces and lanes, providing more lanes for bicycles and enacting a committed plan like many European cities where there are right-of-ways at intersections, connected surface routes and other incentives? What would be the harm? What would be the benefit? All it requires is a serious, concerted effort by city council, commitment to an ambitious plan and real desire to make Toronto a truly livablecity.
Letter to the Editor Toronto Star May 28. Not published
As of June 1, Ontario will be smoke-free, but there are those that will be victims of discrimination as of that date. As a smoker who CHOOSES to ride a bicycle as my primary mode of transportation and who has VOLUNTARILY not driven a car in more than two years, I am offended that motorists are free to drive whenever and whereever they like, sometimes in public spaces with impugnity in spite of the fact that their exhaust accounted for more than 40 smog-days last year (not smokers), caused an estimated twenty thousand people to be hospitalized due to respiratory diseases and contributed to the death of thousands. Motorists who most often use their vehicles needlessly, simply because it's convenient, are not required to take responsibility for their lethal actions nor encouraged to reduce or quit driving or change to hybrid or electric vehicles. But smokers are encouraged to change their habits. Most of those motorists will now drive to the bars and restaurants and public spaces where they can enjoy a smoke-free experience after causing countless people to hack and cough and gag along the way in complete ignorance. And all those people on the nightly newscasts and who write in to the editor proclaiming their support for the new law are hypocrites if they CHOOSE to drive alone in their vehicles when they could take a bike, a bus or a train, but CHOOSE not to. Their opinions and smug self-righteousness are as meaningless and irrelevant as the anti-smoking law is.
Re: TTC Operator Assaults
Having been employed in front-line customer relations for more than twenty years, I can offer an observation regarding the TTC unions concerns about confrontations with the public: it takes two to escalate an issue, in almost every case, and the answer is not avoiding confrontation and refusing to request fares or installing protective barriers or cameras; that is treating the symptoms, not curing the disease. The answer is training in how to interact effectively. If operators thought of themselves not simply as 'drivers' or 'operators' but as customer-relations specialists, because that is what they are, in fact, and were courteous, polite and respectful to all passengers; valuing them and appreciating them for their patronage, there would not be a hostile environment. If they approached non-paying riders with respect, courtesy and a smile, they would avoid verbal or physical altercations in most cases. Tone of voice is key. It must be authoritative and firm while being friendly and unaccusing. It takes training. I have observed conflicts between riders and driverson a number of occassions, in almost every case, the driver was loud, aggressive and indignant, taking the non-payment personally. Better use of language and tone would have de-escalated the issue in almost every instance, but were never employed and both parties were left stressed, angry, resentful and bitter. It doesn't have to be that way. The union and management need to come together and embark on a program that teaches value for their customers, just like every other business has realized over the past decade.
Letter sent to The Toronto Star May 9. Not published
We can take a hint. We don't need to be hit over the head with atwo-by-four. If Harper wants to openly disrespect Canada's mostpopulous and wealthiest province, the financial and political heart ofthe nation, we get the message. He thinks he can establish a majoritygovernment without Ontario's support (in spite of the large number ofConservative voters in Ontario in the last election). No problem.Let him. We're used to be taken advantage of, taken for granted andtaken for a ride anyway. So, maybe it's time that Ontario separated.We'll take our resources, our money---our proverbial ball, so tospeak---and go home. We know when we're not wanted.
Letter sent to The Toronto Sun May 9
Re: Harper snubbing Ontario
Harper, evidently, feels that by presenting a feel-good budget that delivers on a few of his promises, but suggests that a 'real' budget is to follow once he has secured a majority government--- one he is almost assured to establish within two years--that he can do it without Ontario's support. It makes me wonder who the real have-not province is. We have had Quebec-based PM's and were shunned, we have had Ontario-based PM's and were taken for granted. Now we have an Alberta-based PM and we're shunned and taken for granted again. Seems Ontario is always giving and never taking (in spite ofthe fact that Ontario swung many many votes to the Conservatives). So, why don't we consider separating? I wonder what Harper's reaction would be when a groundswell of support builds for Ontario becoming entirely independant. Just a thought.
Letter set to The Toronto Star May 4. Not published
Re: Attacks on Cabbies
While it is tragic and reprehensible that hard-working taxi drivers---fathers and husbands---have recently been assaulted and murdered, and my sincere condolences are extended, I find it curious that the same respect for life that many taxi drivers demanded in themedia is not offered by those same taxi drivers when they are driving. The taxi-driver yesterday, for instance, on St. Clair Ave W who purposefully and consciously passed within inches and then cut me off on my bicycle because I had taken a third of the lane, as is my right and was necessary due to road damage, carelessly and recklessly devalued my life---also the life of a hard-working father and husband---because I dared inconvenience and delay him for a second or two. It very nearly caused me a crash that could have seriously injured or killed me. The two matters are related only in the abstract but that does not diminish the importance of being both responsible and non-hypocritical.
Letter sent to the Toronto Sun May 2. Not published
Re: Illegal immigrant task force targeting Portuguese
Much of the press recently has focused on the unconventional methods Canada Immigration is using to apprehend illegal immigrants with emphasis on how it affects the illegal immigrants themselves. I'm sorry, I'm finding it hard to be sympathetic. If they feel like they're being hunted down like criminals, I might remind them that illelegal immigrants are...well...illegal and that makes them criminals! Authorities should use whatever means necessary, in my opinion, to collect them. Certainly, illegal aliens use whatever methods they can think of to enter and stay in Canada. I'm tired of Canada being regarded as an easy place to enter and remain in. I'm tired of our policies, laws and standards being disrespected and if a few people are frightened or feeling victimized, etc., they need to take a look at the fact that Canada has been victimized by them and others like them for too long.
George W Bush apparently thinks the national anthem ought to be sung in English only. Presumably, his reasoning is that the song was written in English and has always been sung in English. But it is a song, nothing more, and songs have been translated since songs were first sung. However, if traditionalism means so much to the President, should he not be reading his bible in Hebrew or, perhaps, Latin?
If Harper hadn't demonstrated his affection and admiration for Bush Administration-style politics before, he certainly made it clear with his blatant, unethical and perhaps unconstitutional media ban covering our brave fallen soldiers returning home. What's next? Canadian Homeland Security? A Canadian Patriot Act? Will black-suited RCMP officers be knocking at citizens doors at 3 in the morning because someone muttered something negative about Emperor Harper in the lineup at Tim Horton's? Lamely explaining and reasoning the imposition of censorship on the media to weaken and deflect criticism of his military assertiveness by using the families is crass, pathetic and offensive. Canadiams need to see now, before it's too late, that Harper is following in Bush's footsteps and that's not a safe place to be...for any of us.
It was refreshing to see that Mr. Waite noticed one of the many many cyclists, like myself, who operate their vehicle responsibly, predictably and safely. In spite of the veiled sarcasm, Mr. Waite's letter illustrates that many motorists only see the cyclists who seemingly behave erratically on the road and never those who respect their privelege to be sharing the road. I am curious if Mr. Waite also notices and comments on an intersection when one two or three cars don't race through the red light.
Question for the Chief of Police when he co-hosted the City-tv program: The Chief

It's a sunny and warm March 28 and the seasonal cyclists are out to join the near 90,000 year-round cyclists. Soon, there will be an estimated 900,000 cyclists on the roads in the GTA. Why is it that Metro Police, even with cycling officers, maintains such utter contempt and disregard for the safety, well-being and legal status of cyclists in this city? I know there are many cyclists who violate traffic rules like stop-signs and proper lighting, etc., but a large percentage of us don't, yet we still have no protection against cars parked or stopped in bike lanes (5 of them this morning alone on my commute) or against vehicles that endanger our lives, often right in front of a police cruiser that refuses to take action against the motorist. And this happens thousands of times per day. Please explain why officers simply will not target vehicles nor attempt to educate motorists and, quite frankly, sometimes don't even know the basic rules of the road, as they apply to bicycles. Do they only investigate when one of us dies?
So, let me get this straight: the provincial government hands the TTC a big fat wad of cash in last weeks' budget and the TTC still insists it must punish transit users by saddling them with a now unnecessary fare increase? The city nor the commission didn't exactly go out of their way to explore alternative means of revenue-generating, like increasing public parking and meter-parking rates and injecting those funds directly into the TTC, but instead jumped right to the fare increase option. Now when they should rescind the increase and reward TTC riders, the city and Moscoe decide to keep their hands stuffed in the pockets of the common man and woman. For shame. Don't besurprised to see even more cyclists and scooter riders this year. There are alternatives to the TTC, after all, and they better realize they have competition.
Car culture and the reliance on motor vehicles most people feel is indispensible in their lives accounts for the congestion on our roads. It is undeniable that many suburban public transit systems are neither extensive enough nor as convenient as it is to drive. But, that is simply an irrational excuse for not pursuing alternative means of travelling into the city. There really is no reason why most 905 commuters could not park at a subway station or GO station parking lot and proceed downtown by public transit other than the perception that their car is faster and, of course, plain lazinessand convenience. The environmental and financial impact and the danger are conveniently ignored. Not one of those people who consciously choose to drive downtown, most often alone, and contribute to the congestion on the roads can, in fact, claim to have concern for our environment whatsoever. They have no credibility. Nor should my tax dollars be spent to add or widen more routes for lazy people to come in and pollute my downtown neighbourhood. Perhaps our various levels of government need to implement aggressive incentive programs to encourage 905-ers to get out of their cars and use public transit or bicycles. Or maybe the costs need to be increased so much it discourages motorists from needlessly driving into the city. The financial and environmental costs don't seem to have any effect on commuters who are far too comfortable inching downtown every morning sipping their coffee from Timmy's and munching on egg McMuffins.
One observation of this issue I find compelling is that many of those who complain about cyclists, both justifiably and otherwise, are frequently from the 905 area or Toronto: suburbs like North York, Etobicoke and Scarborough where bicycles are considered toys or amusing secondary vehicles. But many, if not most, downtowners regard bicycles as a primary, viable and vital form of transportation in an environment where motor vehicles make little sense to own or use regularly. The curious thing is that it is the 905-ers and car-culture suburbanites commuting into the cyclists neighbourhood and ranting and raving about their bicycle culture. That's like visiting China and complaining that everyone speaks China. Perhaps the visitors who don't like the road-conditions downtown ought to consider parking their vehicles at a suburban subway station and using our superb public transit system. Cyclists would be oflittle concern to them then. Of course, that's impossible: those who believe they have an inherent right to the road and regard themselves as superior to all other users of the road are not only sadly mistaken, but immovable when it comes to accepting other cultures.
This contentious debate has many complicated and valid elements on both sides, but it is more than just a motorist vs cyclist issue. It is more than just 'cyclists are all reckless because they're neither licensed nor ticketed.' It is more than just 'motorists all drive too fast and too aggressively and they are killing cyclists.' It is aclear and visible example of the erosion of common decency in our society, hostile disregard and disrespect to everyone, selfish and self-absorbed attitudes by one and all, the dissentegration of conscientiousness and consideration toward strangers and the complete unwillingness to take responsibility for ones' self. Too often, our society focuses on blame and meting out retribution, justifying over-reaction rather than seeing how a situation could be resolved effectively and peacefully. Seeing someone go through a red-light, whether it's a cyclist or a motorist, for example (because they both do it) riles the observer and makes him or her feel that any reaction, reasonable or otherwise, is merited because that person committed a 'wrong.' We have to get our heads on straight again folks and until we do, divisions will continue to get deeper, violence will continue to escalate and people will continue to die needlessly.
Before the debate gets out of hand, allow me, as both a cyclist and (former) motorist to offer this observation. I agree that most of my fellow cyclists dismiss or ignore certain rules of the road, sometimes in a reckless and dangerous manner, but sometimes in a calculated and purposeful manner for safety and survival. Motorists often don't understand the danger that cyclists contend with. There are a large number of responsible cyclists who resent the wild riders as well. Perhaps the conscientious riders are not seen by the letter-writers because they are not driving erratically. Not all of us are so thoughtless or inconsiderate as the careless riders, however, and just as motorists are not all painted with one brush, neither should cyclists be. Consider the comment from an earlier letter complaining about cyclists squeezing between vehicles and the curb. The fact is, most vehicles don't recognize the space the cyclist is entitled to and squeeze him in between the vehicle and the curb while moving and the cyclist, while moving to the front and getting in the motorists' way, as the letter-writer further stated, is doing so to ensure he is seen and is not the victim when the vehicles suddenly turn right at the intersection without looking in their right-view mirror or even out the window and, of course, not signaling. If the cyclist had stayed back, he'd be injured or killed at almost every intersection. We all need to see why people do certain things and understand that, often, there are reasonable justifications. Some of the rules of the road actually create dangerous situations for cyclists, but pose no threat to motorists. Some road conditions are positively treacherous for cyclists, but motorists can dismiss potholes, cracks, debris and uneven surfaces. As has been stated, there is no denying that there are infuriating cyclists out there, but chances are, they are only going to hurt themselves. There are, sadly, more and more and more,motorists who are ignoring and flagrantly violating those same rules and they are killing people. Cyclists' aren't. I mean you've never heard of a cyclist killing a motorist in an accident, have you? Let's try to respect one another and be considerate of one another. We're both entitled to the privilege of operating on the road, let's both try to earn that privilege.
Copy of letter published in The Toronto Sun, Mar 15
I know the CBC took a big hit with poor ratings during the Olympics, but that has to be expected when the results are announced hours before the evening telecasts and when they bounce from one event to another or edit hockey games to the point of missing half the game. But the shame is that the Paralympics aren't being broadcast at all. At least, I haven't found any coverage. I was anticipating watching sports one doesn't normally get to watch and cheering on our Canadian Paralympic athletes, but have been rather disappointed with how they are being ignored by broadcasters, relegated to the back pages of the sports sections in the dailies and not given their moment on the front page like our other athletes were. Perhaps broadcasters---especially public broadcasters---need to be reminded that we can't get interested in a sport if we never see the sport.
What if Canadian troops never accepted the role they are playing in Afghanistan? What if they stayed home from Afghanistan, Haiti and every other foreign nation where our soldiers are at risk? What if we and our other western NATO allies simply left those countries to sort themselves out, only getting involved if and when our sovereignty was directly threatened? What if we, as a country and a people, avoided being a target of terrorists because of the fact that we weren't interfering in their internal struggles? What if we could ignore the human tragedies, but were secure in our conviction that countries need to thrive or crumble on their own? What if?
Copy of letter sent to the Toronto Star, March 7. Not published

I'm encouraged by the anticipated announcement by the Finance Minister that 1.5 billion will be directed toward the TTC for expansion of the subway system through to York University. It's a great start that will, hopefully, encourage, greater use of public transportation and less reliance on motor vehicles. What remains a mystery is why theTTC continues to remain so staunchly conservative and myopic in its' plans for the future. I recently sent a letter to a number of TTC and city officials, suggesting they hire an innovative marketing team that would re-design and modernize existing subway stations, create products for consumers to purchase, perhaps through the Gateway kiosks located in most stations, urge local government to apply a street parking tax increase and funnel the revenue directly into the TTC among other proposals. Unfortunately, fixing ones' own problems by considering such ideas appears to be dismissed in favour of appealing to governments for funding. So much more could be done.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Fair Ball!

When your Rogers cell phone bill contains an error, who do you blame? That son-of-a-gun Ted Rogers. When your Rogers cable bill has gone up, who do you blame? That son-of-a-gun Ted Rogers. When you can only download at reduced speed from the internet, who do you blame? That son-of-a-gun Ted Rogers. When negative billing forces you to call and cancel a service or you’ll continue to be charged for it, who do you blame? That industry-magnate, Forest-hill living, multi-millionaire son-of-a-gun Ted Rogers! Yeah, We’re pretty quick to criticize and condemn when we feel we’ve been victimized or suspect that others are getting rich and not giving back, but damn, are we slow to praise and congratulate when its due.

Case in point is Rogers Centre and the Toronto Blue Jays. Ted dropped $25+ million per season over each of the next five seasons for his baseball club, something its’ previous owners, Belgian-based brewery Interbrew SA, never did, and that has resulted in the acquisition of some major players, instantly making the Jays contenders again. Eight players in total, in fact and at least one of the new players even waived his no-trade to the Blue Jays clause because he liked the talent Ted paid good money to get. So, for thirteen years, the Jays were perennial third-place finishers, but maybe not this year, thanks to Ted’s willingness to invest in the team. But is anyone thanking that son-of-a-gun, Ted Rogers?

Ted changed the name of Skydome a year or so ago, to a chorus of disdain by detractors, but spent millions in upgrades, including new turf and state-of-the-art video wall last year. He hardly heard a word of acknowledgement from those same detractors for the improvements. This year, he took out seats (seats represent revenue, folks) and widened the concourses on the 100 level, put in better lighting as well as flat-screen television screens throughout the facility. On the 2nd level he installed kid-friendly zones featuring a jungle-gym and other play equipment, video games and even a kids concession area with juice and milk-boxes as well as grilled cheese sandwiches. There are newly refurbished and renamed concession stands, giving a more cozy, local flavour to the cavernous dome. A concierge, new restaurant with upgraded menu choices and an impressive (and expensive) wine list and new bar on the second-floor caters to the upscale seasons ticket holders. The 4th floor has a monster private suite for groups as large as 350 or divided into smaller units. Is anyone toasting Ted Rogers? I doubt it.

So, where are the accolades? Where are the public pronouncements lauding that true, patriotic Canadian who rescued the city’s baseball team---nay, the COUNTRY’s baseball team---and put it back in Canadian hands, poured the necessary money in to get the talent that might return them to the glory years of ’92 and ’93 and reinvented the concrete cavern that we used to call Skydome? It might be Paul Godfrey’s name in the paper and his mug in front of the cameras as he points out all the changes, but it was Ted’s money. The Jays sure weren’t making the kind of money it took to make those kinds of renovations, so it had to come from somewhere. The public has demanded for years that the Jays need to spend in order to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, and now they have. Critics have squawked that Skydome had become the most unfriendly stadium in the league after a short honeymoon as its’ jewel, and listed all the changes that needed to be made to make it fan-friendly. They were made.

So, how come I’m not seeing any of those same people who bitched and complained, turn around and thank the man who responded and then some? If you’re going to bash a guy over the head when you think he deserves it, you better pat him on the back when he deserves that too. Come on folks, swallow your pride and give the man an ovation. He’s earned it. Fair’s fair, after all

Friday, February 17, 2006

It's remarkable just how short-sighted and even myopic city council can be, particularly when it is stocked with so many NDP-ers. They allow the increase in fares for the TTC, thereby punishing commuters who CHOOSE not to contribute to traffic congestion or smog, but refuse to raise parking rates and discourage downtown driving. The hypocrisy is astounding. It's as if city council not only has no interest in the air-quality of downtown Toronto, in spite of 2005's record-settingnumber of air-advisories, but actually wants to encourage more fat, lazy, inconsiderate polluters to drive their vehicles. It simply doesn't make any sense. The city should have increased rates for fat, lazy, inconsiderate polluters and even applied an additional tax to all downtown parking lots, private and public, now that they have the authority to do so, and channeled every penny of those taxes into the TTC. But no, the city goes after the poorest and the most environmentally-conscious. Perhaps the NDP needs to review the party membership of city council members, not Buzz Hargrove.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Okay, I know it has taken me a while to address a few issues that have been on my mind, but I have been busy, what with winning the Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament at my regular watering hole last week and playing in some other tourneys as well as organizing the next tournament at my local bar.
So here we go.
I am not a coward. I respect the right to freedom of speech. So, I will say what's on my mind without fear or embarassment. Unlike several Canadian media outlets, nervous about offending the large local Muslim community, I'll address the controversy regarding the cartoons that appeared in the Danish newspapers back in September and subsequently on the internet and several other newspapers over the past few weeks.
It's important to keep in mind that the cartoons, while not particularly clever or poignant, still express an honest and sincere sentiment of certain segments of Danish society as well as our own and others throughout the world. Right or wrong, they accurately reflect opinions and feelings of genuine people. It is also worth noting that not all the cartoons being circulated can be attributed to the original artist. Some were created by or ordered by the senior Islamic leaders from Denmark for the sole purpose of provoking reactions while they travelled to the mid-east to gather support for their cause, after their gentle protests with the newspaper were respectfully acknowledged, but politely disagreed with. Those particular drawings they accused the cartoonist of creating were among the most offensive to the Muslim masses. That was a deliberate act of inciting racial and culural warfare, in my opinion, and those clerics should be held accountable---not by us, but by fellow-Muslims. How pious and devoted to Islam could they be if they manufactured such hatred and violence---and death? They are traitors to Islam.
As an atheist, I observe with curious fascination the reaction of the radical Muslims and shake my head that so many can be so easily influenced, manipulated and ignorant, not to mention hypocritical. Tirades and assaults, verbal, written and graphic, appear almost daily, I am told, in various publications throughout the middle east---on Christians and Jews, with the full support of the Muslim populations. Yet, when the tables are turned, however, they scream and rage that any depiction of Mohammed is cause for violent protest, mass hysteria and annhilation for anyone even remotely connected. And this is Islam? This is a religion that purports to be peaceful and respectful? The moderates and intelligent Muslim community should be disgusted and furious, not with westerners who, allegedly, don't understand the complexities of their religion, but with the fools who desecrate and pervert their revered religion far worse than any westerner could. Why won't they expel, banish, shun or otherwise dismiss these fools with the same vehemence they save to denounce Christians and Jews? Hypocrites? Makes you wonder, doesn't it.
They have set religious rules for their own conduct, but that does not give them the right to impose those restrictions upon anyone else, as much as they might want to. No-one has to respect their religion or culture, as good as it would be if they did. But then, folks get their back up when they are told they must respect something or apply the same levity to the Muslim religion as Muslims do. I, for one, will resist someone---anyone---telling me what I must believe, respect or even acknowledge. I make those decisions for myself, thank you very much.
What really makes me wonder is why many Muslims get so bent out of shape anyway. Freaking out and causing the deaths of other Muslims simply demonstrates the insecurity they must feel about the faith they have chosen to observe. I mean, it's one thing to be exasperated with the perceived ignorance non-Muslims have about their oh-so-complicated and complex religion, it's another to consistently allow it to be portrayed in the poorest of light, to consistently fail to present the positive and admirable qualities of their faith. Why is it always everyone else who must understand them, who must repect them, who must follow their rules? Where is their understanding? Where is their tolerance? Where is their appreciation for the fact that there will be people who will disagree with and oppose their views and customs? They seem to demand that from everyone else but never extend it themselves. Hypocrites.
There are a million insults heaped upon Christian God, Jesus, the Pope and prominent Christian figures every day, from South Park and Family Guy to Monty Python's 'Life of Brian,' and while there are protests sometimes and letter-writing campaigns and debate and shouting, there are no calls for anyone to be beheaded or the burning of embassies or embargos on Dutch cheese. What makes Islam so special, so gosh-darn superior to every other iconoclastic religion, that the followers are compelled to riot in the streets, kill, burn and destroy everything? Could it be simple arrogance and elitism or is it something more, like perhaps that they recognize the inconsistencies, falsehoods and hypocrisies of Islam they would rather not be reminded of and printing an article or a drawing that focuses attention on their fragile religion might expose it and them for what they are? Get a back-bone folks. Take it like a man. If your faith is so strong, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks or says. You are above that. Unless of course, you're not.
And that brings us to consider what is truly a peaceful countenance: atheism. Atheists have not invoked any jihads, infatada's, holy wars, crusades or massacred, enslaved or persecuted other cultures. So, who has more respect for what really matters: life and the advancement of our species? The answer is clear to me.
Copy of letter published February 14 2006, Toronto Sun
It's a shame and an insult to our Canadian female athletes that theWomen's hockey team is being criticized for scoring goals. We demandexcellence from our athletes and when they deliver, they are cricizedfor it? Ludicrous. Goal differential plays a pivotal role in theround robin of the Olympics, so every goal counts, especially when theAmericans are vying for top spot. It would be an insult to the otherteams if Canada did not play their very best. It would disrespectthem. Besides, the other teams are not so deluded to believe thatthey had a realistic shot at beating the Canadian squads. The coachof the Italian team even stated on Saturday that he hoped to keep thegoals against on his team below 20. I say 'Go Girls!' Show the otherteams the respect you have for them by scoring every goal you can.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

In response to being advised by a professional Oyster-harvester that he had to pick out the best ones from their haul, Rick Mercer said on last nights Rick Mercer Report 'but they're all slimy, spineless bottomfeeders. I guess this is what Stephen Harper had to go through picking his cabinet.'

Monday, February 06, 2006

This is a copy of a submission I sent to the Toronto Sun Sports section as a feature item or Letter to the Editor following the Toronto Maple Leafs loss to the lowly Washington Capitals:
Obituary:

It is with great sadness and sorrow that the Toronto Maple Leafs announce the passing of their once optimistic and promising Season at approximately 9:40pm, February 3rd 2006 after a relatively short, yet still agonizing battle with Inconsistency, Acute Defense Deficiency, Depth Deprivation and Unabletoscoreatosis. Friends and family mourn the loss of the Season, particularly when the end came so early and without the prolonged disappointment they are accustomed to. Yet, regretfully, they acknowledge that the incompetence and failure of so many vital organs had to result in the untimely death: there was no hope, in the end. The Season is survived by GM John Ferguson Jr., who apparently is unwell and in danger of following the Season into the great unknown beyond; Head Coach Pat Quinn, who, while under considerable stress and pressure, has managed to demonstrate his resilience and tenacity and is expected to survive, according to the attending physicians who warn, however, that the Season’s severe illness may be communicable and Quinn could well face the same fate as the Season; and a legion of faithful, yet profoundly dejected fans that are the envy of almost every other sports franchise in the world. They did not deserve such a cruel fate. Perhaps more than any other team, they are best able to withstand such devastation, though, and rebound when the Next Season arrives. The Leafs have asked that, in lieu of flowers, those that cared for the Season continue to support them by donating generously by purchasing any and all merchandise and tickets at the grossly inflated prices currently being charged. The service is being held at almost all private homes in the GTA and southern Ontario as well as local pubs, bars, taverns and inns. The Leafs’ younger brother, The Marlies, in spite of feeling depleted and ignored, will deliver the eulogy. The Season’s sad, tragic and bitterly short life was, perhaps, doomed from the start, following a prolonged and painful birth and its’ absence of preparation to face the world it was born into. We can only hope that the next Season will be a strong, forceful and contending Season with several new components that will ensure it does not meet a similar fate as the Season we are mourning. Goodbye Season.
It looks as if a running tally of lies, broken promises and hypocrisies will need to be kept for our new Conservative government. Moments after becoming Canada's newest Prime Minister, Harper immediately began showing his true nature, a lying, cheating chameleon:
1. Harper had protested vociferously when former-Conservative Belinda Stronach crossed the floor to join the Liberals and accept a cabinet position, stating that those who did so, under a Conservative government, would have to resign and win a by-election. But, before he could enact such legislation, he reached out to Vancouver Liberal MP David Emerson and gave him a cabinet position in exchange for crossing over to the Conservatives. Hypocrisy # 1.
2. Harper had voiced his objection to the Liberal-stacked senate and had proposed that Senators should be voted in, not appointed. BUT, before he could enact such legislation, he took advantage of the current rules and APPOINTED Fortier. Both moves were made so that his government could have recognition in Montreal and Vancouver, two of the three cities where the Conservatives had been unable to win a single seat. Does that mean not one Liberal or NDP MP would roll-over like Emerson did? Hypocrisy #2. It seems that Harper would rather not blame the message, but the messenger as he fired his public relations man yesterday, as if to suggest that it was his fault for the bad press Harper received in the first two weeks of his reign. He is proving as dense, inexperienced and naive as his idol south of the border. We'll keep a running tab and I am sure this will become one of the longest blogs ever.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Copy of Letter sent to Now Magazine Jan 3, 2006

Edited version published Jan 5

So, you're wondering who to vote for. You want to vote for the NDP and you're even considering the Green Party, but you don't want to throw your vote away. You want it to count. So, you consider strategic voting. Sure, the Liberals seem to have been far too liberal with public funds, as it were, and appear to treat the treasury as their own private piggy-bank. You don't want to reward them with your vote. Sure, the Conservatives are scary and it would feel like voting for Bush if you sent your vote over to Harper's camp. You're still suspicious of them and don't want to give them your vote either. So, what do you do? I'll tell you what you do: you actually vote for the NDP or the Green Party, just like your conscience is telling you to. Want to know why? Because throwing your vote to Harper or Martin artificially inflates their actual popularity and doesn't give credit where credit is due. That is throwing your vote away. The Bloc's strength will prevent any party from achieving a majority government anyway, so it doesn't really matter if the Liberals or Conservatives head a minority government. It will be a very short-lived government in any event. What will matter is who is in a position to align with them on key issues and influence both policy and legislation. Even that is relatively unimportant in comparison to the fact that if the NDP scores five or six more seats in the House, they will wield a great deal more power and be able to gain ground in the next election. They'll be able to build from a position of strength. And if the Green Party swings a few seats,they might just provide the swing vote on important issues. In the end, the government will fall in a year or so regardless of who is PM, considering that four parties will share significant power-bases, and judging by the strength of their current seats, their potential to gain even more, the NDP could well rise to power or achieve official opposition status in the subsequent election. That is what is truly important. It's a rare moment in Canadian politics when voters can and should vote for the NDP or Green Party, because it gives them a better position in the election after this one. So, vote honestly. Vote with your conscience and your heart. Strategic voting is a waste and steals votes away from the party that deserves them.