Wednesday, August 31, 2011


A bit of chest-thumping from a Canadian magazine. Obviously, life is more complicated than just rankings but overall, Canada is the best country in the world... or maybe it's  Denmark for this year... or were they #1 last year? It's one or the other year in, year out.
Maclean's Magazine, the Canada Day Issue, July 1, 2011.

Article Review: "Apocalypse: What Disasters Reveal" by Junot Diaz in the Boston Review

Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz, in the May-June 2011 Boston Review writes on his take on "natural disaster", a viewpoint that I believe many of us will intuitively understand.
"Natural disasters" are natural occurrences that become societal disasters. Geographer Neil smith writes that "there's no such thing as a natural disaster" and reminds us that "the difference between who lives and who dies is to greater or lesser extent a social calculus". The magnitude of a disaster (not the magnitude of  say an earthquake, because an earthquake without fatalities is not a diasater) is determined "by a series of often-invisible societal choices that implicate more than just those being drowned or buried in rubble".
The 2004 Asian tsunamis were so lethal because the mangrove swamps that are natural barriers (best tsunami protectors) were previously dynamited to facilitate shipping esp. Nagapattinam in India where hotel construction and shrimp farming devastated the swamps.
Hurricane Katrina was a social disaster not only in the ruthless marginalization of the  African-American community but also in their abandonment. Before the hurricane, "the Bush administration had sold off hundreds of square miles of wetlands to developers, as well as gutted the New Orleans Corps of engineers by 80%"
Haiti, of course, is a prime example of a social disaster waiting to happen. A century and a half of abuse,  neglect and exploitation by colonial powers left it vulnerable to the slightest tremor, never mind a magnitude of 7.
Haiti is our canary in the mine shaft, a nasty harbinger of things to come. Our collective rape of our environment ( ), the ever widening chasm between the haves and have-nots, around the world and even within our local community, is leaving us vulnerable to one of many natural occurences. The whole world is, piece by piece, becoming a Haiti and the speed of decline of any one place is a function of it's wealth. Earthquakes, hurricanes, and tsunamis take away the thin top soil of civilized society and reveal the underlying political structures: the injustices, the corruption, and the inequalities. Money and wealth buy some time for some people.
(I think of the countless towns and cities in the Philippines with inadequate everything: improper sanitation, inadequate to non-existent medical facitlities, lax building code enforcement, lack of emergency protocols, etc. etc.).
And yet, Diaz  holds out hope in the resiliency of the human spirit. But is it enough? Do we have time?
Against my optimistic persuasion, I conclude that there are no acts of a god... there are only stupid indifferent people who manage governments, run our religions, and man our institutions, abetted by an indifferent populace ignorant of history.

iPhone Diaries #411: "Who needs chicos..."

when you can have fresh, in-season, Ontario grown Bartlett pears"?
Known in the Philippines as chicos, or scientifically, Manilkara zapota, chicos is a fruit native to the tropical Americas and is grown in its native source as well as in Hawaii, southern Florida, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. It looks like the brown-skinned kiwi fruit. I really miss this fruit but Bartlett Pears, eaten at just the right time tastes similar and just as delicious!
Aug 31st.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

iPhone Diaries #407: "storm clouds?"

While Hurricane Irene batters the U.S. East Coast, it has been very placid here in Southern Ontario. Could these clouds be a portent of things to come? Guelph. Aug 27th. 7:45 pm.

iPhone Diaries #406: "Guelph Stone"

Guelph is famous for its buildings made with stone from the local quarries. Wyndham Street. Aug 27th.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

iPhone Diaries #405: "A human pen"

The Bay Street Terminal at 5 pm. Not unlike an indoor cattle pen, and just as smelly; diesel instead of manure. Aug 24th.

iPhone Diaries #404: "Uninspired"

Easily the most boring, unoriginal, newly-built building that I know of, IMHO. Uninspired. Oh, no, wait... it is inspired by Soviet-era tenements, albeit, this time, it adds a touch of whimsy with "colouring-within-the-lines-using blue". I didn't realize blue comes in two shades of boring. This building is dated before its move-in date. Elizabeth and Elm Streets. Aug 23rd. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton: He will be MISSED!

He was like a close friend you could trust. He will live on in the inspiring and worthy example that he set on how to live your life in service to your family and your community. He was the quintessential  Canadian.
His personality defines all of us Canadians, regardless of our differences in personal, political and regional persuasions. WE are not Americans, we are not British. WE ARE CANADIANS!

Friday, August 19, 2011

iPhone Diaries #401 and Movie Review: "Surrogates"

Borrowed this movie from the library for an evening of mindless pseudo-entertainment but I was disappointed. True, Bruce Willis sleepwalks through the movie, being typecast as the Bruce Willis in the Die Hard series: a police officer who is shocked into doing the right thing when the powers that be harm his family. This film could almost be a straight-to-DVD movie.
The movie's premise is simple: in the not-too-distant future, people live their lives through perfect surrogates (robots): forever young, always healthy, perfectly coiffed, and in a word: perfect. The surrogates are manufactured, maintained, and powered by a single, monolithic, corporation.
The original intent of the surrogate technology was to enable the disabled and the handicapped, as well as anybody with a perceived (or imagined) weakness, to function as well as everyone else. In actuality, everyone has a surrogate for the same reason people take drugs or have cosmetic surgery done. It's  gratification without the effort: it's instant. It's also addictive.

Thinking along these lines, human nature being what it is, i.e., taking the path of least resistance, taking the cheapest, laziest route, less obvious parallels emerge. Here's a few:
- buying that $19.95 espresso machine from Ikea. The manufacture of this item ( in China, most likely) involves exporting pollution and the disposal of this item (guaranteed to break down in a few months) adds clutter to our environment. Question is, does one really need this machine? Does one really need to fly somewhere for a "holiday", with the attendant aircraft-air pollution, just because one can afford it?
- patronizing the popular coffee franchise with its cheap (and tasteless) product instead of spending a few more cents for fair-trade coffee, just because the franchise coffee is cheap?
- using pharmaceuticals to deal with symptoms instead of recognizing and treating the underlying physical and mental issues, just because popping a pill takes seconds as opposed to the alternative of working towards a solution?
- putting processed food in the microwave instead of cooking from scratch, day in and day out, just because it's convenient?
- depending on, and misplacing our  faith in governments and religious institutions to do what's right... taxes and tithes aren't always spent properly, just because we're too lazy and too "busy" to monitor it
- depending on a handful of cereals for the world's supply of food, forgetting the lessons learned from the Irish potato famine... just because the rice variety we have now is cheap to grow.
- depending on  networks of computers, on cloud computing, on overseas servers for information management, just because its convenient and "efficient". The art of the long division is being lost to the dollar-store calculator.
- maintaining one's silence when the world is full of inequalities. Silence is tantamount to guilt, just because silence is easy.

So back to the movie. 
Forgetting for a moment the error in the concept of surrogacy, the problem with this  surrogate network was it's monolithic, centralized structure, unaccountable to the elected government and prone to being hijacked for other purposes. Which is exactly what happens.
It's a Hollywood movie so Bruce Willis regains his family (at least his wife). But real life is adifferent matter.
An hour or so of mindless, stupid  entertainment ends up  a sobering exercise in blogging a rant!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

iPhone Diaries #400: "Oriental Splendour, sumptuous silks from Nepal and Tibet"

Walked into Chada's with Mary and Liam and this is the view looking out on to Baldwin Street.
This subject is a natural for a "Polaroid". Aug 12th.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

iPhone Diaries #392: "Stakeholders' Meeting"

Aug 5th.

iPhone Diaries #391: "Photography at Panorama"

On the way up to Panorama at the top (51st floor) of the ManuLife Centre to shoot a pre-wedding party for Boston Images. July 29th.

iPhone Diaries - a description

A back-to-basics, less-is-more, photographic project. As photographers, we are inundated (and jaded) by the plethora of digital devices, the latest ones promising (but not delivering the goods) more megapixels and the latest super-ultra-extreme-XLT processor to (potentially) allow everyone to be the best photographer that they could be.

The most popular camera used by Flickr uploaders is the cameraphone (the Canon Rebel Series comes in second). For me, using my cameraphone is an exercise in purging the mind of clutter, as well as in actually shooting on a regular basis, as opposed to "binge" shooting (1600+ clicks on a typical wedding). The limitations imposed by the cameraphone (low resolution, fixed lens, severely reduced dynamic range) forces me to work within these parameters. For example, I have to use my feet to compose the image; I don't have a zoom lens. I am now a slave to how the camera thinks; I can't adjust the exposure to suit my needs. This is the digital Polaroid.

The best camera in the world is the camera that you have with you and that you actually use. The best advise for the "artist" is to practice their craft on a consistent basis. Sketch if you're a painter, sculpt if you're a sculptor, shoot if you're a photographer.

So I leave the 21MP FF Canon with the L lenses at home; I use my iPhone whenever I can.

iPhone Diaries #390 and Book Review: "Murder Without Borders", by Terry Gould

This is more of a chapter review than a book review; specifically, the 2nd chapter on the murder of the Filipino journalist, Marlene Garcia-Esperat.
The central thesis of Terry Gould's investigative reporting comes as no surprise to me; the concept of a systemic corruption in the Philippines is, while shocking to the Western reader,  not a revelation to me. What I do appreciate is Gould's investigation of a specific a-to-z connection from the foot soldiers to the highest rung in the political hierarchy; an investigation that involves the viewpoints of the families, the lovers, the colleagues, and even the accused murderers of Marlene.
Gould is truly impressed by Marlene Garcia-Esperat: a hauntingly beautiful, intelligent mother of four, a bright agricultural chemist who was drawn in to investigative reporting after a short seasonal stint as an assistant to the Prosecutor of the Municipal Court revealed to her the endemic, systemic corruption in the system.
Before her assassination in 2005 at the age of 45, and as a result of it, Marlene uncovered the theft and misuse of public funds dedicated for the agricultural sector. Worst of all, this corruption was allowed to, and was abetted by, junior and senior members of the government. She was dubbed the "Erin Brockovitch of the Philippines - a reference to the sexy and unstoppable legal crusader made famous by the Hollywood film". Unlike Brockovitch, Marlene died for her efforts. Along the way, throughout her crusade, her family and friends suffered as well.
This chapter on Marlene Garcia-Esperat is as much a glowing tribute and memorial to her as it is an indictment of a very corrupt system. Gould paints a backdrop of a culture of "metastatic corruption", with its roots dating back to pre-colonial times (Spain occupied the Philippines in 1521).
At the time of Marlene's murder, "Transparency International listed the Philippines as more corrupt than war-torn Afghanistan; the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported that as much as a half of the country's taxes were lost to corrupt officials". Furthermore, "thirty percent of the nation's 85 million citizens survive on less than a dollar a day..." "Each day, 2500 hundred Filipinos joined  12 million of their countrymen" who have left the Philippines to be guest workers overseas. "(Filipinos) get out of the country and wire money directly to relatives, which would at least keep their earnings out of the clutches of a national conspiracy of organized theft". 
Based on just this one chapter, I'd say this book is a must-read for anybody who has a connection with the Philippines: the ex-pat, the spouse and children of the ex-pat, the tourist, or the business investor. I bought this book in the discounted section at Chapters-Indigo for $5.99 (reg. $34.95). That's less than half the price of a movie.

iPhone Diaries #389: "Dragonfly"

On the road this morning, Aug 5th.

iPhone Diaries #388 and Book Review: "You Are Here" by Thomas Kostigen

Subtitled: Exposing the Vital Link Between what We Do and What That Does to our Planet.
The first thing that comes to mind after reading this book is this: this book should be required reading in every Public School. As a matter of fact, courses on this subject (let's give it a name with more immediacy like "Saving our Planet" to differentiate it from, let's say, "Environmental Studies") should be mandatory from Grade Six and onward. Heck, if History is offered, why not this. After all, there may not be anybody left to study history.
The Foreword by Kevin Bacon, of six-degrees-of-separation-kevin-bacon fame, is quite appropriate in that our  actions on one side of the world are only a few degrees (less than six, for sure) separated from the effect on the other side of the world.
You Are Here illustrates the Butterfly Effect (the flapping of the wings of a butterfly has an effect on the strength of a tornado) to a much more significant degree! Our planet has crossed the threshold of global warming and into climate change. The "direct relationship between our actions and the earth is too often ignored" and the "seemingly insignificant things we do every day have the power to literally alter the landscape of our planet". Through ignorance, naivety, and outright denial, we (and our children, because the point of no return is only 3-5 generations away) are doomed if we don't incorporate into our daily routine the "eco-measures" that alleviate the pressures on our planet.
Kostigen writes of ten "living narratives", ten places around the world that illustrate the cause-and-effect of our actions: Jerusalem, Mumbai, Borneo, Linfen City (China), Shismaref Village (Alaska), the Amazon Jungle, New York, The Eastern Garbage Patch (Pacific Ocean), The Great Lakes (Duluth, Minnesota), and Santa Monica, California. 
It's been a few decades since pictures were taken of the Earth from outer space. Those pictures show our blue planet looking lonely in the inky black vastness of the universe. More than anything else, it shows that there is nothing beyond the razor-thin layer of atmosphere that supports our life. We need to  be reminded, no, make that shaken and jarred out of, of our genetically-embedded selfish natures to think beyond our average 50-80 years on this planet, to do the right thing.
But Kostigen is not all doom-and-gloom; he presents us with "opportunities for change and shows us how to take action on the spot, wherever we are". Kostigen fervently believes in knowledge to set us on the right path; given the right knowledge, people will do the right thing.
I bought this book in the discounted section at Chapters-Indigo for $5.99 (reg. $27.95). That's less than half the price of a movie. This book will increase your awareness of our plight and should prod you in the right direction. We shouldn't wait for governments and special interest groups to do it for us. You, we, can get on with it!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

iPhone Diaries #387: "wabi-sabi ying-yang in red"

Cherry tomatoes from the backyard. Aug 4th.

iPhone Diaries #386: "Bright green"

While out for a walk this morning, I noticed these bright, fluorescent green thingies feeding off of a dead leaf. Recycling, rebirth, reincarnation, whatever one may call it, it's a hopeful thing. Aug 4th.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011