2015/08/25

Getting the government you want

Stop me if you've heard this one.

I'm a member of the Liberal Party of Canada, but I'm not voting for Justin Trudeau. Nor Thomas Mulcair, nor Elizabeth May. And not for Gilles Duceppe, and certainly not for the other non-francophone guy, the one with his own hair stylist to keep his helmet in place. That's not how things work here. Nor does it matter what national poll numbers say, or even provincial poll numbers. The only thing that counts for any individual voter is the riding (electoral district) in which they live and vote.

Each of us has one vote to cast for a Member of Parliament to represent our riding. The candidate who garners the most votes, even if less than a majority, becomes the MP for that riding. If that winning candidate is a member of one of the major political parties (as is most likely), the seat is added to the total count for that party. The leader of the party with the most seats in the (now) 338-member House of Commons will almost certainly ask the Governor General to form the next government, and that leader will then become Prime Minister.

We don't vote for Prime Minister. We don't even truly vote for a government. We only vote for one MP from one party and hope the result is what we want.

I wrote once that in a race with more than two candidates, which is true in pretty much every riding in Canada (unlike in the United States), it's possible and even probable for a candidate to win with less than a majority. In a three-way race, a candidate needs only 33 1/3 per cent plus one of the vote. In a four-way race, the minimum would be 25 per cent plus one

Ah, first past the post. Officially called single-member plurality, because you elect one candidate from each riding, and all a candidate needs is a plurality of votes to win. In so many ridings, Not-the-Winner actually gets the most votes. The trouble is that Not-the-Winner is more than one person. And that's how a party can win a majority of seats with only a plurality of total votes. Riding by riding.

There have been calls for electoral reform before, and this time around they are part of the platforms three of the major parties. The New Democratic Party favours a system called mixed-member proportional, in which MPs are still elected by riding but there would also be a party list of candidates, with seats awarded based on total percentage of the vote. The Green Party also supports a proportional system. The Liberal Party favours a preferential ballot (there are several forms) in which voters rank candidates in order of preference, and then a mathematical formula (which can get complicated) is used to determine which candidate has the most support if no candidate gets a majority. Either system would be preferable to the current one, which unsurprisingly is favoured by the ruling Conservative Party.

My riding is a new one, the result of the redrawing of electoral boundaries earlier this year, but it mostly overlaps with the old one. So the NDP candidate is virtually an incumbent. He is a prominent, high-visibility MP, and he's quite popular in a city which has tended historically to vote labour-left. The chances of any other candidate prevailing on election day are slim to none (and, as the saying goes, Slim just left town). Under MMP, my vote would at least count toward some number of seats from the Liberal list. Under a preferential ballot system, I could mark the Liberal candidate as my number-one choice, rank the rest of the candidates (probably Green then NDP, or vice versa, with the Conservative candidate ranked dead last). The result would almost certainly be the same, but at least my vote wouldn't feel so wasted. And with preferential voting, if the first place vote is scattered but one candidate is the second or even third choice of a lot of voters, that might make a difference in the outcome.

Since we're stuck with first past the post for this election, what are voters to do? They can vote their conscience, mark an X next to the candidate they want to win (either for personal or party reasons), and hope the national outcome is what they want. But if they've had it with the Conservative government and want to make sure the Conservatives are is held to no more than a minority if not turfed outright, they can vote strategically. That means to vote for the candidate in their riding who is most likely to defeat the Conservative candidate. In a riding like mine, the choice is easy. I could probably even vote for the Liberal candidate without hurting the chances of the NDP candidate. In some ridings, the decision is more difficult, because two or more non-Conservative candidates might have a good chance of winning. That's where things get sticky, and where vote-splitting among the non-Conservative candidates can allow the Conservative candidate to come up the middle.

I realize that a lot of people disdain strategic voting. It feels dishonest. We might have to hold our noses and vote for a candidate we might not prefer just because they're not the Conservative candidate. We have to let go of any illusion that our preferred party is competitive in every riding, because that's just not so. In your heart of hearts, you know it's not so.

I hate strategic voting too. But under the current electoral system, since I want to ensure that a moving van pulls up at 24 Sussex after the election, I see no other choice. I have to play according to the rules of an unfair system, and that means I have to game those rules as much as possible, and encourage other like-minded souls to do the same. Within the unfair framework, that's both fair and legal. And, I daresay for any who also want that moving van to pull up, necessary. If we can gang up on the Conservatives and give one or the other major party enough seats to form government, separately or in cooperation, then we can have electoral reform, among other good things. And from then on we will be able to vote as we really feel without the distorted outcome we get now.

I assume that Conservative supporters, if I have any among my readers, stopped reading at the beginning. For the rest, I hope you consider carefully before you vote, think of the desired outcome, and put partisanship aside if necessary.

2015/08/05

The sound of music

I'm old enough to have grown up listening to AM radio. As a kid I listened to Top 40 music (and short wave broadcasts) on an old tube radio that sat on my desk. Later, I got a really nice transistor radio that actually had an FM band. But even with FM sound quality, we're still talking tiny transistor radio speaker. The fidelity of my parents' stereo in the den was better, but even that was far from audiophile quality.

I grew up appreciating music more than sound quality.

Later, when I was at university, I had roommates and friends who owned nicer stereo systems. I also worked at a stereo store, absorbing the prejudices of audiophile salespeople. The self-titled Fleetwood Mac album, the first with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, was so well recorded that we used it for speaker demos. John McFee's bass! Mick Fleetwood's drums! The crispness of the cymbals and fullness of the voices! (Fleetwood Mac were early users of the aural exciter.) We had a jazz record that had been recorded directly to disc, played back on some of the finest equipment then available. Vibration-damping wooden tonearms! Multiradial styli! Speakers with nearly flat response from 20 to 20,000 Hz!

I definitely got spoiled working there. And fortunately I was able to buy some pretty decent equipment at employee rates, below cost. Even then I couldn't afford the high-end stuff, but my system was pretty good for the price. I kept it long enough for it to become an antique. The was always the first thing you set up when you moved into a new place. It provided the soundtrack for the move.

Sadly, I no longer have that system. It was not really that good by modern standards, and I thought I was going to get some newer, better equipment. I have yet to do that.

Instead, what do I do? Listen to MP3s on my computer while I work. Listen to what I have stored on my phone via Bluetooth in my car or through earbuds when I'm on a plane and occasionally while riding transit (although there I'm more likely to read a book). Occasionally pop a CD into the car player. But nothing like the old days of indulging in substances while the Skull and Roses album was blasting through speakers, or lying on the floor with awesome headphones on while "Revolution 9" made your head explode.

So I'm basically almost back to AM radio. Okay, not nearly that bad, despite Neil Young's fulminations. MP3s provide reasonable fidelity. But they do provide much less audio information than a CD or vinyl record can convey. The sound truly is degraded. But how much does that matter? Even though I still appreciate good sound quality, not much. I'm mostly concerned with hearing a variety of music, new music, old music, rock, blues, jazz, whatever. The music. Not so much the sound quality.

This was true even when I had a good stereo. I still listened to music on cassette. I still had my Sony Walkman in my bag. I still heard songs on my none-too-fancy FM car radio.

Have you ever listened to field recordings, the kind that Alan and John Lomax made in the early part of the 20th century? They were lugging around the best reel-to-reel recorder they had, using the best microphones they could, but you're still hearing very degraded sound, full of hiss and scratches. And if that's too distracting, then it is. I have known people who could not have got past the poor sound. But if you can focus instead on the music itself, as degraded as the sound quality is, you hear real people playing real songs and singing with voices that shoot electricity up your spine. High fidelity is great, and it's best to be able to reproduce a performance as faithfully as possible. But in the end, it's the music that matters most. At least to me.

I still want to get a new stereo setup. For one thing, I want to listen to some records that I haven't heard in years or even decades. And I wouldn't mind getting back into collecting classical and jazz recordings and playing them on some good equipment. But no doubt I will continue to buy music in MP3 format, or whatever improvement comes along next. I won't give a shit about Young's Pono system. I won't use up tons of hard drive space with FLAC files.

I can hear the difference between my band's recordings in lossless WAV format (as originally recorded) and in compressed, degraded MP3 format, even on my inexpensive Sennheiser computer headset. I will always want to put the best sound on CD or, with enough money, vinyl. But I will always be more concerned with the music itself than with sound reproduction. Anyone who grew up with inferior sound quality is pretty skilled at filling in what they can't hear.

2015/07/25

Elected dictator

The Nazis came to power in Germany by winning the most seats in an election. The Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt by winning the most seats in an election.

Okay, the Conservative Party of Canada is not the Brotherhood, and Stephen Harper is not Hitler. I've dropped the name, and according to Godwin's Law this blog post should already be over. But I shall soldier on because I have a serious question. What happens if someone who is fundamentally opposed to the system in which they live manages to win an election within that system?

I dislike when political opponents become "the enemy." That's Nixonian—and Harperian. But I'm afraid Steve has brought it upon himself by making himself an enemy, of the Constitution, of our parliamentary democracy, and of Canada.

Stephen Harper flouts the Constitution. At present, he is refusing to appoint senators. Whatever you think of the Senate (and I imagine that's "not much" at best), unless the Constitution is amended the Senate has to be functional enough to pass legislation. Our system requires it, however undemocratic you might think that is. At this point, the Senate is barely functional. Starving the Senate of funds and members is not the way to deal with the Constitution and in fact could lead to a constitutional crisis.

He also flouts the Constitution repeatedly by passing legislation that he knows is unconstitutional. Time and again, his laws have lost court challenges. No matter how much he has tried to stack the judiciary in his favour, it has continued to do its job. Yet he continues to push through legislation that causes damage until it is tested in the courts and rejected.

Harper despises the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and has no respect for human or civil rights in general. He is one of those who wishes we did not have a Charter so that Parliament could pass laws without regard to our pesky rights. More than once he has played the security card to chip away at those rights. Bill C-51 is only the latest foray in a war that only terrorists and Stephen Harper win.

Harper has no respect for the Westminster System, Parliament, or parliamentary procedures and traditions. He has instructed committees to obstruct any legislation that he cannot simply ram through. He has turned Question Period into a bad joke. He would like nothing better than not to have to deal with the House of Commons at all. He makes a mockery of a system that has served us well for almost 150 years.

Harper does not believe in Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, He doesn't like any opposition, either outside or within his own party and caucus. He has a personal vendetta against the Liberal Party of Canada. His stated intention is to destroy it. Especially now that the New Democratic Party is looking like a reasonable bet to win a plurality of seats in the House of Commons, I imagine he would like to destroy the NDP as well.

He despises free and fair elections. He manipulates the system as much as he can get away with it. His minions have been charged with and sometimes convicted of electoral fraud. He has made it more difficult for many people to vote, most of whom would probably not be voting Conservative.

Harper despises facts that don't support his ideology. He has muzzled scientists, destroyed the ability of Statistics Canada to do its job, and eschewed any kind of evidence-based policy. He has certainly shown himself to be a proponent of the Big Lie—something repeated loudly until people (who should know better) start to believe it.

The media rarely do their job of holding the government to account, but then Harper almost never talks to them anymore, and only delivers scripted messages and photo ops in tightly controlled situations. He has gutted the CBC and would like it to disappear.

Finally, Harper despises Canada. He has stated publicly that we will not recognize the country once he is finished. We have witnessed the Americanization of our politics, the poisoning of the political process, the fundamental disrespect for Canadians who do not toe his line. He wishes aboriginal people would just disappear.

Preston Manning, the founder of the Reform Party (which the Conservative Party is, despite the pretense of having merged with the Progressive Conservative Party), favoured drastic changes to the system yet understood how it worked. Stephen Harper is much more about scorched earth. We are already paying the price for this, and will continue to pay the price as long as he lives at 24 Sussex.

Is it even proper to allow non-democrats to run in democratic elections? Is every vote for the Conservatives really a vote to help undermine our democracy, rights, and freedoms? Do we have to wait for our own Enabling Act before we realize that we should not elect dictators?

2015/06/22

Seattle shines

It's not that the shine went off Seattle. It's only that ever since we started making the longer drive to Portland, we have tended to head back there more often than to our much closer neighbour. But our last two quick trips to Seattle made us realize how much we missed the city. So when I discovered that PINS, a band from Manchester, England, that I love, would be touring only as far as Seattle and not to Vancouver, I proposed a long weekend to Sweetie. I did not have to twist her arm.

We made one disconcerting discovery right away. It used to be possible to book decent Seattle hotels for a reasonable amount of money. No longer. The cost of nice places where we have stayed have suddenly leaped to several hundred dollars a night. Even hotels we know are decent at best have gone out of reach. We thought we might have to make this a trip where we drove down and back in one night. Thankfully, Airbnb came to our rescue. We found ourselves a lovely place on Capitol Hill for two nights for an amount we were willing to pay.

The nice apartment was also in a particularly good part of Capitol Hill, on the slope that leads to downtown. Lots of stuff nearby, and lots more not far away. One thing not far away is Sitka & Spruce, a fantastic farm-to-table restaurant in a little complex of shops (bottle, meat, sandwich, and more) owned by the same company. We've been to plenty of "fresh, local, seasonal" restaurants in Vancouver. They are among our favourites. But I think the chefs and owners might want to pay a visit to Sitka & Spruce. They're doing some really innovative, flavourful things. Morels on a big chunk of grilled sourdough bread with sherry cream and an egg yolk on top! That was just one of the fantastic dishes we had.

Dinner was early and the show we were going to wasn't until later, so we walked up to Broadway to check out Sweetie's old 'hood (when she was in grad school at U Dub). Some things are the same as we remembered—Annapurna Indian Restaurant, the Rite Aid drug store (the one with the old movie theatre marquee), the QFC supermarket, but so much else has changed. We have since learned that the huge construction project east of Broadway just south of E. John St. will be a light rail station connecting to the U District, Downtown, and SeaTac Airport. And there are many empty storefronts on Broadway. We walked by a restaurant and said aloud, "Is that where Minnie's used to be?" A couple eating outside said, "You're the third people walking by who've said that." We got a good laugh out of that.

Later it was time to head to the SoDo Lounge to see PINS. That was a bit of an adventure. The SoDo Lounge is south of Safeco Field, where the Mariners play. Sound Transit got us to a point east of the stadium, maybe a mile from the club. We wended our way through a mostly empty land of bus and train stations and huge highway overpasses, skirted past the stadium (where there was a game on), and finally made it to our destination.

The SoDo is a newish room, a bit sterile but with clean bathrooms (an advantage of new, sterile clubs) and overpriced drinks. It's a good-sized room, and sadly only a few dozen people made it for the show. Shades of the Electric Owl last fall. I'm beginning to think I'm a jinx for this band! But just as then, PINS played a great show, and the people there were enthusiastic. After the show we chatted with guitarist Lois (whom I had met in Vancouver), drummer Sophie, and bass player Anna. They are the nicest people! I feel bad that I was drunk when I had intended only to get a buzz on. I probably did not give the best impression. I'm sure they put up with drunken fans, but I don't want to be that fangirl.

I felt much worse the next day. You know how we say, "I can't drink like I used to"? That's a real thing. This was way beyond a hangover. Nasty headache, unrelenting nausea, and a lethargy that kept me from moving very far from the bed. A stupidly wasted day. I finally asked Sweetie to Google "alcohol poisoning." It wasn't that, of course, but she found "alcohol intolerance"—the kind of thing that is often genetic but that also sometimes develops when you get...old. Ugh. But the best thing was that she found a remedy—chicken soup. Seriously! I needed to get myself up and out, so I slowly wandered to a convenience store and got a Cup o' Noodles. The combination of ramen and chicken-flavoured broth (and seemingly not too much MSG) was magic.

Later, with me cured, we headed out to the Egyptian Theater, now run by the Seattle International Film Festival. We saw The Wolfpack, a great documentary. Check it out. We then did a kind of Broadway nostalgia tour and ended up at Pagliacci Pizza for slices and salad. Not quite the dinner at Altura that we had had to cancel due to my idiocy, but still fun.

We finished our weekend on Sunday morning with a great breakfast at Glo's Cafe. The place is tiny, and even fairly early there was a wait (it was Father's Day after all), but the food was worth the wait. I had an eggs benedict variant with bacon, spinach, and grilled tomato that was very satisfying. The hollandaise was outstanding! And they were generous with the hash browns. We also discovered a great habañero sauce (for the hash browns) called Secret Aardvark, which is apparently from Portland. We bought a bottle to take home.

We were sad to leave, but we have already booked the same Airbnb for early fall. The owner gets two thumbs up from us! We will still be back in Portland, of course, but it was nice to get reacquainted with Seattle and with the changing Capitol Hill neighbourhood. And next time we will make it to Altura and the Seattle Aquarium!

2015/06/11

Farewell, my lovelies

I have a choir-shaped hole in my heart. This has been a difficult entry to write.

This past weekend, Femme City Choir put on two fantastic shows at the York Theatre in East Vancouver. I think we did our best shows to this point. I loved the repertoire, and we used more arrangements created by our musical director, who is a brilliant arranger. The band and the singers worked very well together. The solos were great! I got to sing a duet on the first verse of "Dreams So Real" by Metric (I love Metric) which then turned into a sextet to finish the song. It was glorious.

The Saturday show was also my last official show with the choir.

It was a difficult decision to leave. In many ways, I really did not want to. Choir has been both enjoyable and useful for me. I love the people involved in it. I love how much we have improved in less than two years and through growth from about 15 to more than 40 members. Choir has been very good for my singing voice and my breath control. And every Thursday evening, choir practice was an excuse to wear something nice. It's femme choir, right?

If time were infinite, or at least more plentiful, I probably would not have left. But at some point during the last couple of weeks, I realized that I had not touched my guitar for longer than I could remember. I had scribbled some lyrics and actually finished a couple of songs, but they were almost flukes, because I hadn't really been working on them. I had barely practised with my drummer and partner in V+T, our duo.

I am also now involved in another volunteer activity that it important to me, and that takes time and focus as well. And I have new plantings to tend. And cooking to get better at. And books to read. Something had to give.

It's sad for me no longer to be a part of the choir for musical reasons, but at least as much because of people. Being the social critter that I am, I fear losing connections. I won't be at practice every week. I won't automatically see a lot of these lovely people. I only hope that the connections I have formed will endure. There are definitely people I don't want to lose touch with. Farewell ("fare thee well") but not goodbye, I hope.

I also have to make sure not to get lazy. When you're part of something like the choir—someone else's band, in a way—you're like an employee. You show up. You participate. You do your job, and you make a contribution. But you're not the boss, and it's not your responsibility to run. Now I'm back to being more like a freelancer. I have to hustle. I have to be disciplined. I've never been as good at either of those as I need to be. But now is the time for me to step up. Among other reasons, I said I was leaving choir to make music, and by George I had better have something to show for it soon!

I love my band most, but I'm having fun writing and playing solo songs as well. Catch me at the open mic night at the Heartwood Cafe on June 24th?

2015/05/21

Life after life

So I was going to write about how all the critics were wrong in saying that Don Draper in the Mad Men finale was actually dreaming up the iconic "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing" Coke ad while he was seemingly blissing out in California. I was sure that was wrong because the origin of that ad is well known and documented, and series creator Matthew Weiner had not previously done that much fictionalization of history.

But apparently that was exactly what Weiner had in mind. He thinks the Coke commercial is the greatest ad ever, and so of course Don was behind it. Which makes zero sense to me. But Don is Weiner's character, and if Weiner thinks the height of enlightenment is an ad that co-opted the idealism of the 1960s to sell caffeinated sugar water, well, that's his prerogative. And it's mine as a loyal viewer who thought the show pretty much rocked to think that he's a bloody idiot for having Don's journey finish that way. To borrow a '60s phrase, it feels like a cop-out.

Anyway, since Mad Men is done, and done in such a way that makes me care less about it (at least Peggy and Joan's stories came out okay), I'll move on to something else.

A little over a lunar cycle ago, on the day of the new moon, I made a sacrifice to my goddess. Really, an actual sacrifice, in more ways than one. I hope she appreciated it. I had already been making changes in my life. On that new moon, I resolved to make more changes, including some important ones.

The first two weeks were a bit rough. Good days, bad days, bad hours within good days and vice versa. Going cold turkey off something that has been integral to your life is not for the faint of heart. But as I relearned how to love my real life, there were good things that helped me along. Saw an excellent local production of My Fair Lady. Saw a very good documentary about clothing production called Traceable and got to catch up with two of my favourite local fashion people. Had a great dinner at Fable that was part of Eat Vancouver and met two lovely guys who later invited Sweetie and me over for dinner at their house. Enjoyed some Doxa (documentary festival) films and the excellent documentary about Kurt Cobain, Montage of Heck. Saw a great show by Sleater-Kinney at the Commodore. Had more dinners with more friends. And drank too much only a couple of times.

I hope my friends know how much I appreciate their love and support through all of this. They mean the world to me—people I've been able to spend time with as well as people whom I would like to see but for various reasons (including distance) have not been able to see. I received a beautiful note from someone far away who is very dear to me. I have been touched many times by small acts of generosity and kindness. And through it all, my beloved Sweetie has been there with her strength and love.

I'm also grateful for other things that have kept me out of trouble and helped me rebuild. Femme City Choir has a pair of shows coming up very soon—June 5 and 6! (Hint: buy tickets.) Songs and choreography don't learn themselves. I volunteer for Out On Screen, the organization that produces the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, and it's one of the most fulfilling and enjoyable things I do. Tomorrow, I will take delivery of a whole lot of new native plants for my garden, which I will place according to a plan drawn up by an excellent landscaper who really knows his BC native plants.

I'm still a work in progress. The quest for balance and harmony are constant. How could I ever have thought otherwise? I suppose some people reach a point where they settle into comfortable complacency. Sometimes I want to be one of them. Fortunately, my goddess won't let me. Even though I get weary sometimes, I appreciate the nudges and sometimes kicks. If I stopped moving, stopped trying, stopped caring, I'd be dead, right? Not ready for that yet.

2015/05/19

Répétez, s'il vous plaît

C'est un mystère et boule de gomme.

Je ne sais pas pourquoi, mais récemment, je me trouve avec un désir fort de parler français. Dans la voiture, souvent j'écoute Radio-Canada, quelquefois CBUX (classique, jazz), quelquefois CBUF (comme Radio One en français). J'essais à écouter bien pour comprendre l'animateur et les autres parleurs.

Vous voyez, ça c'est ma faiblesse. Je peux lire un texte en français sans trop de difficulté. Je peux écrire en français, lentement et pas sans fautes mais pas mal. Je peux parler aussi pas mal, avec un bon accent. Mais quand quelqu'un me répond?

Souvent, je ne comprend rien.

Oui, ça me fait hônteuse. Les gens me disent, "Your name is so French! Do you speak it?" et il me faut répondre avec "un peu." Un peu—une expression terrible. "Un peu" veut dire "pas vraiment."

Ce n'est pas de ma faute que mes parents ont parlé français rarement chez nous. Ce n'est pas de ma faute que dans tous les cours de français—à l'école primaire, à l'école secondaire, même à l'université—j'ai appris comment réussir aux examins et c'est tout. Et c'était bon que, après trop d'années, j'ai enfin participé à un cours d'immersion, à Jonquière (Saguenay), où presque personne ne parle anglais. Mais après ces trois semaines, rien. J'ai perdu tant que j'avais appris.

Ma vie est bien chargée. Je ne fais pas le temps de trouver un groupe de conversation. Je ne cherche pas des autres avec qui je pouvais parler français. Mais maintenant, ai-je un désir assez fort?