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Monday, September 29, 2014

More U.S. madness - Seattle METRO bus cutbacks

Seattle is a tough city to get around in. Water is everywhere and you mainly have to drive around it to get where you want to. There are always a lot of cars on the road. Commutes can be a nightmare, The current drive times during rush hours from Everett to Seattle (28.3 miles) can average over 2-hours. You would think the city would embrace mass transit.


Seattleites don't want to lose their cars and they don't want to pay for mass transit either. When they don't vote to fund these initiatives, the powers that be take things away. This week, they eliminated 28 bus routes. It's one thing if the routes were unused, but METRO, in what can only be seen as a vengeance ploy, eliminated routes in Seattle's busy and densely populated Capitol Hill neighbourhood.

Meanwhile, I personally witnessed four idle articulated coaches in a holding pattern in SW Seattle; part of a "Rapid Ride" system METRO built on top of their core transit system. The build out included a fleet of specially branded coaches and new, premium bus stops. So METRO can't cover the routes they already have, but they can launch an entirely other service?

The citizens of Seattle see this mismanagement and refuse to vote tax dollars to support it, Who can blame them? The bus and train services they do get don't run all the time and the coverage is spotty - maybe that's why ridership isn't as high as it could be.

But it's madness that a city in perpetual gridlock doesn't deal with this priority effectively. They don't. They never did when I lived here, and it's more of a mess than ever.

Oh, and then today METRO decided some of the cuts to service they had announced wouldn't be necessary after all. You can trust them on that.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Back in the U.S. - Fall 2014 edition

It started on the flight from Buffalo to Chicago. The American sitting next to me was on her way to Paris. "This is my last international flight." she told me. "With those bombings today and the terror alerts, it's just not safe..." What bombings? I asked myself. Terror alerts?

When I landed in Chicago, the TV monitors turned onto CNN told me that the bombings she was talking about had been carried out by the U.S. in Syria. WE had bombed THEM. The terror alerts? Well, when you bomb someone, they tend to get a little upset about it.

Then I listen to the news commentary, and a word has entered the vocabulary of the press that to me is a little disturbing - a little Orwellian.

The U.S. press has followed the government lead like good little propagandists and now refers to the U.S. as "The Homeland". When I hear this term, all that comes to mind is Hitler on a podium, spewing about "der faderland". Protect The Homeland: Threats to The Homeland... Am I the only one who is bothered by this?

So here I am, a few hours into my U.S. visit, and I am not only in another country; I am literally in another world. The U.S., as I see it, is a country living in a perpetual state of fear, involved in a never-ending state of war on an enemy that is not a nation, but instead a political philosophy. And this fear, and this war, keeps the population from noticing how everything that should matter to their own well being is being stripped from them.

And the population drinks the Kool Aid of distraction. They will debate for hours about al-Qaeda (sorry, I meant ISIS), and Ferguson, and the latest mass shooting...all while they go without healthcare, millions live in poverty, bankers get richer after breaking the law, and since 2002, the United States has had the highest incarceration rate in the world.

I thank God every day that I am only visiting the country. I will never live here again.

You people are crazy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Violence in Toronto - it's personal

All in all, Toronto is a very safe city. I can't really say that there are neighborhoods that I avoid or fear to be in at any hour of the day. In my three years here, "random" acts of violence seem to be very rare.

There is a particular form of violence that was new to me, however. Stabbings. Because of two conditions, it seems stabbings happen almost as frequently as shootings. I think the two reasons are: Gun control in Canada is pretty rigorous and violence is personal.

It's hard to get a gun in Canada in general. Handguns in particular (the favourite guns of the U.S.) are hard to come by legally, which makes them extremely expensive illegally. There aren't many around, so they aren't the weapon of choice. As I noted before, violence is less random here, and more about one person's direct conflict with another. It's personal. And stabbing someone is a very personal act. You can't stab someone from 20-yards; you have to get right up on them to accomplish it.

So while you do hear about shootings here, there really aren't many (and for the population in city of around 2.1 million, there are only around 140-170 incidents each year, 20 of which resulting in death). The total number of stabbings in Toronto each year isn't publicly noted, but deaths from stabbings take 40-60% of the same number of lives as shootings when all is said and done.

So Canada has its share of violence. And in general, it's personal. While no violence is something I'm sure we'd all be happier with, knowing that the random violence of the U.S. just isn't prevalent here does make this country a safer one to live in, and another reason I am thankful to live in Canada.    

Friday, September 12, 2014

A sense of home

In Seattle, where I come from, "home" was the house I shared with my brother and our dogs. I felt at home when I was there. The neighbourhood, the city, Seattle, was "the city". Home city, but not "home"

Here in my new Canadian life, Toronto - the whole city, feels like home to me. I was wondering why this was. As I was walking this morning in the College Park neighbourhood, then later in the St. Lawrence Market/Old Town neighbourhood where I live I think I figured it out.

In the U.S. I drove everywhere. If something I needed was more than a few blocks away - and I mean two blocks away, I'd hop in the car to go there. It's a very American way to get around. We love our cars. But getting in a car isolates you from everyone and everything. You forget what the area just a few blocks away looks like or smells like, or what's on this corner and who lives on that corner...

In Toronto, we don't have a car. We walk or take transit (primarily the subway) everywhere. I am in connection with the city everywhere I go. I have to pay attention. I see it at walking speed, not in the blur of driving speed. I think because I experience Toronto in this way, the whole city feels like home to me - my connection to it is as broad as my walks - and in the city, a 45-minute walk to get somewhere is not all that exceptional. I would never walk 45-minutes to somewhere in the U.S. Don't ask me why, but it just doesn't make sense.

I love this broader sense of where "home" is. I love being in Canada and with my love in Toronto. 

Monday, September 08, 2014

This is how we keep families apart - "dependent" children redefined by Tories

A remnant of the Kenney years passed as a regulatory amendment to the Immigration Act now lowers the age under which dependent children can apply for Canadian immigration under their parent's application.

The cutoff age for dependent children used to be 21 - a not uncommon benchmark worldwide for adulthood, but Kenney, despite objections for immigration experts (and especially those dealing with refugee and humanitarian issues) decided in his omniscient wisdom to lower the bar to 18. Why?

Money. The logic is that those who are over 21 likely have finished their schooling, and government studies (don't get me started on how this government uses so-called "research") imply that those individuals who don't get a Canadian education don't have the best "economic outcomes" compared to those who do. This is despite the fact that with waiting times the way they still are, an 18 year-old has a slim chance of getting any Canadian education either before they are an "adult".

Regardless - are future (and unknown) "economic outcomes" really that a good reason to tear families apart when their children are at the cusp of adulthood?

Canada's own census found that 40% of young Canadian adults lived at home with their parents. What does that tell you about "dependency" in the modern age? That it's real. That we continue to rely on family ties long after some arbitrary age limit. And if you were to set a real age point when children become fully independent, it's more like 25.

I'm hoping that Canadian citizens who were once immigrants themselves will support a new government that encourages family reunification - one of the bedrocks of our immigration programs - and stop supporting the Tories who are literally tearing families apart at our borders. 

Thursday, September 04, 2014

TIFF begins!

The Toronto International Film Festival starts tonight. Each year, over 400 films play for a two week period on screens across the city, including many world premiers. For years, the film voted "Fan Favourite" at TIFF has gone on to win the best picture Oscar. Not a bad record.

Stargazing is a big part of TIFF for city residents. Last year I saw Dustin Hoffman on the streets (he's taller in person), and more ambitious sorts will camp out at bars and restaurants where they think they'll find the A-listers.

The best thing about TIFF is that you can get a few months worth of movie picks lined up for when they officially hit cinemas. Single tickets for movies during the festival have gone from $17 back in the day to around $75 this year. Not for the faint of wallet.

I'd write more, but I have a movie to watch!   

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

First day of school

Labour Day is past. The CNE is closed. Thunderstorms have returned. It must be the first day of school.

This morning CP24 (a local tv station) had parents send in pictures of their kids in their back-to-school outfits and it was just classic. Some excited girls, showing off their new fashions with big smiles on their faces. And then there were the boys who looked put together, but who's eyes betrayed an "are you kidding? Summer's over?" sentiment.

A teacher friend of mine told me how other teachers were calling and texting each other yesterday, asking, "are you ready for this?" Their 9-month countdown begins today.

Construction workers are racing to get those tasks that the coming cold wont bear out of the way too - though there isn't a lot they can't do in even the bitterest of cold.

So happy first day of school from Toronto. How did you spend yours?