Sunday, 29 May 2011

OECD Better Life Initiative

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD is an institution that originated in 1948 as the Organization for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), a body intended to foster economic growth for Europe in the aftermath of World War II and changed to its current title in 1961.  For more information about the history of the organization check here. Presently comprised of representatives from 34 states, it collects data from the member countries and analyzes the information in order to give guidance for economic policy and international trade. Its headquarters are at the Château de la Muette in Paris, France and the 2011 budget is 340 Euros. From the OECD website:

“Discussions at OECD committee-level sometimes evolve into negotiations where OECD countries agree on rules of the game for international co-operation. They can culminate in formal agreements by countries, for example on combating bribery, on arrangements for export credits, or on the treatment of capital movements. They may produce standards and models, for example in the application of bilateral treaties on taxation, or recommendations, for example on cross-border co-operation in enforcing laws against spam. They may also result in guidelines, for example on corporate governance or environmental practices.”

On May 24th, 2011, the OECD launched an interactive index on its website that allows viewers to measure and compare citizens’ lives in its 34 member states based on 11 dimensions – “housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, governance, health, life satisfaction, safety, work-life balance -- giving their own weight to each of the dimensions.”  They call this the Better Life Index.

See if the conclusions based on your personal component weighing compare to your life experiences.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Restaurant Review: Frank

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I thought that I would do a restaurant review about the Frank restaurant which is attached to the Art Gallery of Ontario and is named after Frank Gehry who designed the new addition to the art gallery and is also the architect who designed the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain. I took two of my daughters to see a temporary art exhibit of Black Ice: David Blackwood – Prints of Newfoundland.

After the exhibit, we went into the Frank restaurant and were seated near the open kitchen which is near the rear of the establishment. Its casual, chic décor includes modern Danish furnishings and a contemporary installation of Frank Stella's sculpture work plus photographs by Edward Burtynsky and Candida Höfer.

Towards the front of the restaurant from our table

The open kitchen from our table

I had the honey glazed Forelle pear, with Okanagan tiger blue cheese, purple watercress and cider vinaigrette for my appetizer while the girls had the maple roasted butternut squash and royal gala apple with 4 year-old cheddar, candied walnuts on a salad of baby red romaine, apple cider vinaigrette.

honey glazed Forelle pear appetizer

Girls' appetizer

For my main course, I ate the crisp skinned steel head trout fillet with roasted fingerling potatoes, Brussels sprouts and baby spinach with lemon aioli while my youngest daughter had the grilled cheese and spiced apple-cranberry chutney sandwich on raisin egg bread served with frites and lemon mayonnaise and my oldest daughter had the soufflé special.

Soufflé special

 Grilled cheese and spiced apple-cranberry chutney sandwich

Steel head trout fillet

For desert, I had the rhubarb milles feuille, a rubarb vanilla compote with creme moussilline in puff pastry while the girls had the lemon tartlet with a blueberry coulis and vanilla whipped cream.

Lemon tartlet

 Rhubarb milles feuille

The total cost for three diners including mixed drinks was $155 plus tip and taxes. I thought that the meal was excellent and might be described as upscale comfort food made with local seasonal produce. Executive Chef, Anne Yarymowich and Pastry Chef,Van Vi Lam are to be commended. The exclusively Ontario wine at $12 for a 5 oz. glass was overpriced but to be expected at a restaurant connected to a tourist attraction. It was very clean and the service was exceptional. As you can see from the pictures, the portions were adequate but not for someone looking to fill themselves. Lunch is served between 11:30 am and 2:30 pm while dinner is served between 5:30 pm and 1030 pm. The address is 317 Dundas Street West Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 1G4 and you can make online reservations.

No comment

Dove has a new ad which appears to imply that its soap will lighten your skin and make you thinner. The primary message is better skin texture but was there a subliminal cultural context?  You can read an analysis on this by Saki Knafo at

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Are you being watched?

On a Security Cam stakeout at Dundas Square with two U. of Toronto researchers last Sunday

(Un)Lawful Access? Cyber-surveillance, Security & Civil Liberties:

Experts & Advocates Speak Out


Jacob Appelbaum (Tor) Lisa Austin (Faculty of Law, U of T), David Lyon (Surveillance Studies Centre, Queen's U), Dave McMahon (Bell Canada) Chris Prince (Office of the Privacy Commissioner) & Micheal Vonn (BC Civil Liberties Assoc.)


5-7PM, FREE!

Munk School of Global Affairs

University of Toronto

I Devonshire Place

Followed by wine & cheese reception.

Join moderator Dr. Ron Deibert for an insightful and lively discussion into some of the most pressing social issues surrounding our rights and freedoms as cyber-surveillance becomes an ubiquitous part of

our lives, on-line and off.

Digitally mediated surveillance is an increasingly prevalent, but still largely invisible, aspect of everyday life. As we work, play and negotiate public spaces on-line and in familiar physical places, we produce a growing stream of personal digital data of interest to unseen others. CCTV cameras hosted by private and public actors survey and record our movements in public space, as well as in the workplace. Corporate interests track our behaviour as we navigate both social and transactional cyberspaces, data mining our digital doubles and packaging users as commodities for sale to the highest bidder. Governments continue to collect personal information on-line with unclear guidelines for retention and use, while law enforcement increasingly use internet technology to monitor not only criminals but activists and political dissidents as well, with worrisome implications for democracy. Panelists will address the practical outcomes of theses issues, including pending policy matters such as lawful access legislation, the proposed Canada-US security perimeter and the security legacy of mega-events like the G20. They will address the tension between the clamour for security and the sanctity of civil liberties, questioning the benefits of trading one for the other. Panelists include:

Jacob Appelbaum is an independent computer security researcher, a core member of the Tor project and a Staff Research Scientist at the University of Washington. He is known for representing Wikileaks at the 2010 HOPE hacker conference, and his subsequent repeated targeted by US law enforcement agencies, who obtained a court order for his Twitter account data. Appelbaum has been an active member of the Cult of the Dead Cow hacker collective since 2008 and is co-founder of the San Francisco hackerspace Noisebridge.

Lisa Austin is an Associate Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. She is an expert in privacy law, focusing on challenges to privacy rights and interests presented by state information-sharing practices. She writes about traditional privacy paradigms that focus on direct state surveillance or the protection of secrecy and how they intersect with “digital dossiers” and emergent forms of “dataveillence.”

Ron Deibert is a leading cyber-security researcher who received international renown by helping uncover a global cyber-espionage network. He is Director of the Canada Centre for Global Security Studies at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global  Affairs. He is co-founder of Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary research and development hothouse working at the intersection of the Internet, global security and human rights. He is also co-founder and a principal investigator of the OpenNet Initiative and Information Warfare Monitor projects.

David Lyon is the principal investigator for The New Transparency Project and director of Queen's University Surveillance Studies Centre. He is a pioneer in surveillance studies, which he has been researching since the 1980s. He is the author of many books, including his latest, Identifying Citizens: ID Cards as Surveillance (Polity 2009), and a founding editor of the e-journal Surveillance & Society. He is a leading researcher in national ID cards, aviation security, and surveillance ethics as well as in promoting the cross-disciplinary and international study of surveillance.

David MacMahon is a Senior Engineer with the Complex Security Program at Bell Canada. He has an honours degree in computer engineering from the Royal Military College of Canada and has spent the last 25 years with the military, intelligence and security community both in the public and private sectors. Dave has been engaged in the spectrum of operations from special-forces, drug interdiction, counter-terrorism, information warfare, counter-espionage, and foreign intelligence. He evangelizes proactive cyber defence, universal systems theory for risk management, national estimates on the cyber threat and culture jamming of traditional secure networks.

Christopher Prince is an analyst with the Legal, Policy and Parliamentary Affairs branch of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. His focus has been national security programs and governance, surveillance technologies and international laws around interception of private communications. He received his Master’s from McGill’s School of Information Studies in 2001.

Micheal Vonn is Policy Director for the BC Civil Liberties Association, where she has worked since 2004, shortly after being called to the B.C. bar. Prior to law, she worked in education and policy for AIDS Vancouver. Vonn is a sought-after speaker in the area of privacy and access to information. She is an Advisory Board Member of Privacy International, has been an Adjunct Professor of Law at the University of British Columbia and is currently an Adjunct Professor at the UBC School of Library, Archival and Information Studies.

(Un)Lawful Access: Cyber-surveillance, Security and Civil Liberties is part of Cyber-surveillance in Everyday Life: An International Workshop. The event and the workshop are part The New Transparency: Surveillance and Social Sorting, a research project funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.

For information contact Kate Milberry: or visit

(Media Release)

Monday, 9 May 2011

Class Act

  On Saturday, I went to the Ontario College of Art & Design graduation exhibition. The OCAD building is next door to the Ontario Art Gallery and is world renown for the quality of its graduates.  They have departments in Integrated media, Material art& design, Printmaking, Photography, Sculpture, Illustration, Industrial design, Drawing & painting, and Graphic design. Each year I go to experience the character and inclinations of the artists as expressed in their works. This year the gestalt appears to be ironic religious iconography and orientalism.

Last Rites

  Any reader of my posts recognizes that I’m pretty tough on religious institutions which don’t practice what they preach but a sculpture of John Paul II being hanged in effigy one week after his beatification in Rome is over the top for me. It would be interesting to have a discussion with the artist as to his intent. I felt a subliminal aura of anti-clericalism among some of the exhibits and would like to explore its source.

Great Work

  The other trend is orientalism.  I think that this has a lot to do with the number of Chinese students. Toronto has the second largest community of Chinese in North America after Vancouver and this is reflected in the student body of the college. Even with exhibits which didn’t have obvious oriental characteristics such as Chinese ideograms I sensed a certain use of space and technique reflective of that culture.

  As usual there was the underlying sexual tension of many of the exhibits which I experience every year with nude well endowed women depicted in paintings and sculptures. I don’t know if this is due to the predominantly female student body or some other reason. It was also interesting observing the fashion sense of the students. One group appeared to be gothic Big Bird, Sesame Street meets True Blood. Another group was a Russian peasant girl/ Oriental chic fusion. And of course the perennial intense, artistic Jewish girl in high heels who looks like she just got back from a shiva.

Convergent Evolution

Trillium grandiflorium

  Its springtime today and I went on a walk to a local park overlooking the Scarborough bluffs. One definite sign is the Trilliums blooming in the shades of the trees. The Trillium grandiflorium is the emblem of Ontario and has a form of symbiosis with ants where the seeds have an edible component known as an elaiosome. The ants remove the seeds from the ovary of the plant and transport them to their nest where they eat the elaiosomes and put the remainder in their garbage. The seeds are effectively planted in a rich growing media by the ants and subsequently germinate. This type of seed dispersal is termed myrmecochry from the Greek "ant" (myrmex) and "dispersal" (kore) and is used by many species of flora so it’s a form of convergent evolution in flowering plants.

Spring carpet of Trilliums

  Another form of convergent evolution is the development by a number of manufacturers of mine detectors from their war time origins to the current treasure hunting usage. When I was walking today, I met a local treasure hunter searching for buried items. Sorry for the picture quality but I was using my cell phone camera.
Local treasure hunter

He was using a Minelab X-TERRA 705 with an iron metal mask, preset detecting patterns, automatic ground balancing, two pinpoint modes and a depth indicator. After he found a target, he also had a narrow point detector for the final recovery of the item. He likes to hunt in the spring because the soil is wet and easier to dig. I also found out about such recommendations as searching near trees for lost coins. He said that last week he found an old silver coin worth approximately $170 dollars in a local ravine.
Retrieving target with narrow detector (top)

My oldest daughter who is studying to be an archaeologist considers them to be looters. It’s not a problem in North America but Americans go on organized treasure hunts to Europe and the Middle East. They may consider it profitable fun but the hobby can wreck havoc with local archaeological sites. Here’s a video made by a prominent treasurer hunter, Chicago Ron and his band of Yankee collectors in merry old England.

Mother’s Day

My mother and my three daughters

I took my mother out for Mother’s Day yesterday. The occasion was originally Mothering Sunday where you went to the Mother church or cathedral of your diocese instead of  the local parish but during the twentieth century it became more commercialized and secularized so that you took her out for a meal at a restaurant. Aristotle said that “Mothers are fonder than fathers of their children because they are more certain they are their own” but I put aside such cynicism and enjoyed the moment.  We went to Mother Tucker’s restaurant which had a buffet including roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. My mother is from Yorkshire so it had to serve the pudding. The strange thing is that Yorkshire pudding is a meat extender and if you had a good side of beef in England it wouldn’t be served.

Place setting at my mother's 90th birthday

This is a recipe from Wikipedia to make four Yorkshire puddings:


  • 4 oz (110g) plain flour

  • 1 large egg

  • 1/2 British pint (10 fl oz = 284 ml) milk

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

  • dripping from roast meat or sunflower oils

  • bun or large muffin tin


Sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Mix the egg into the milk, then add this mix piecewise to the flour, beating with a balloon whisk until all the milk is added and the mixture is well beaten. For best results refrigerate the batter for 1 hour.

Place a little of the dripping or oil into each division of the tin and place the tin in the oven to heat (usually the roast joint will still be in the oven), but if cooking separately heat the oven to 200 to 220 degrees Centigrade / Gas mark 7. Once the tin is smoking hot, fill each division with the batter and return to the oven. Remove and serve when risen, firm and brown.

Note: If your egg is small use two eggs and less milk otherwise the pudding will not rise.

Tea and Watercrest sandwiches

It was hard to find a card which didn’t have those florid and wordy lines supposedly written for inarticulate males - the type who eats Yorkie bars. I like the following minimalist wording:

Always there for me
Loving, caring, listening
Knows everything                     (Mother’s Day haiku by Shannon)

My oldest daughter with more tea

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Not for girls

Sexist Chocolate bar

I was shopping today at Mrs. Bridges British bakery. This is one of my favourite stores because I can buy food items which aren’t generally available in North American such as Melton Mowbray pie, Branson pickles, Haggis, black pudding and Yorkshire tea. This is the result of spending part of my childhood on my uncle’s farm in the Yorkshire dales not far from Haworth where the Bronte parsonage is located. I was browsing around the store and noticed some chocolate bars with the phrase “not for girls” printed on the side so I took a picture with my cell phone camera. This raised two questions. The first was what property distinguished this chocolate bar from your normal bar and the second was why a marketing strategy which eliminates half of your potential customers. When I arrived back at home, I decided to explore the Internet in the hope of resolving these questions.

I checked the percentage fat content, sugar content and total caloric content among other things. As far as I can determine the “macho” image is solely due to the chunky shape of the bar. In England they had a slogan “where the men are hunky and the chocolate is chunky.” The British Ministry of Defence uses the bars in its ration packs. My daughters would be offended and if you would like to see a really sexist commercial then check out the video.  For a feminist angle on this marketing strategy, check here.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011


The Bixi bike

   I haven’t spend much time on this blog talking about la belle province so for all you francophones “Bonjour.”Today in Toronto they introduced BIXI which is a public bike system that had its start in Montréal.The components are manufactured in Quebec. After the recent federal election on Monday where almost all of the ridings in the province elected NDP candidates some Ontario folks said that the bikes are painted in red and tend to swerve to the left. This is definitely not true.

  BIXI est conçu pour les courts déplacements. La tarification encourage une utilisation fréquente et de courte durée. Il faut d'abord s'abonner ou prendre un accès 24 ou 72 heures pour utiliser le service. Reprenez un vélo autant de fois que vous le voulez pour 45 minutes ou moins, des frais s'appliquent pour les trajets plus longs. (BIXI is designed for short trips. Pricing encourages frequent use and short duration. You must first subscribe or pay for access to 24 or 72 hours to use the service. Take a bicycle as many times as you want for 45 minutes or less, fees apply for longer trips.) Today Montreal has 5,000 bikes and 400 stations where you can rent a bike.There is a $78 per year in Montréal and a $95 per year in Toronto subscription fee (taxes included) or $5 for access to a bike for 24 hours.
  The bikes are hybrid with a single aluminum frame construction, heavy duty tires and LED lights built into the frame. They are based on the Vélib’ pubic bike system in Paris but are more sophisticated. The cables, derailleur, chain protector, brakes and light system are built into the frame for durability and low maintenance. It also has an adjustable seat. Montréal has 500 km of bike paths and trails. Toronto has 160 km of bike paths as well as 250 km of bike lanes on streets but hopes to increase the number of bike paths dramatically. They are building a new set of paths near my home and I’m waiting for them to complete them so I’ll have more off road places to ride my bike. Green power!Here’s a video of the Montreal BIXI system.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Canadian Academics Anti- American

Nest of Socialists

A cable from a US embassy official to his superiors in Washington released last week by Wiki leaks contained remarks demonstrating that Canadian academics show a persistent anti-American bias according to an article in National Post.

“Apart from surges of solidarity after 9/11 and after President Obama’s election and — even more so, his February 19 visit (to Canada) — many Canadian politicians, pundits, and, most of all, academics at traditionally liberal universities have resorted too easily, to a shallow anti-Americanism. The war in Iraq and the detentions at Guantanamo Bay further added fuel to this fire, which is at distinct odds from the overwhelmingly friendly partnership between our nations and people,” the cable reads. (National Post)
This particular official was studying at the University of Ottawa which is well known for its left wing commie faculty. Now that Harper has a majority government we can expect a purge of this Havana U. of the north. This same institution cancelled a lecture by main stream commentator, Ann Coulter, after she told a Muslim student at the University of London Ontario to take a camel for transportation. Ms. Coulter later called the University of Ottawa bush league and I don’t think that she was referring to George Bush.

Monday, 2 May 2011

NDP comrades

Now that the NDP is the official opposition party in Canada, you’re probably going to hear a lot of B.S. in the media about the Canadian commie party especially in America. My mother thinks that they’re all mainland China and East European immigrants but I told her that those folks probably voted Conservative. The current electoral map in the Toronto area seems to bear this out. They really hold the traditional Canadian center which was the territory of the Liberal party until they decided that the electorate had shifted right so they made a strategic decision to become the soft right. They learned this election that when folks want to vote right they’re going to vote for the real Conservatives.

The socialist movement in Canada is really an American import. Between 1890 and the start of WW1, about a million American farmers immigrated from the American heartland to the Canadian prairies and they brought their populist ideology with them.  The following is a video about this story.  

Canadian Election results

Canadian 2011 political compass

  I’m glad that I bought that bottle of wine. I’m going to need it. The basic themes of the election results are a Conservative majority, the obliteration of the BQ in Quebec, the destruction of the Liberal party and the rise of the NDP. This election is the death knell of the arrogance of the Liberal Party as the natural governing party of Canada. They waited one election too many to grow out of their denial and tried to portray themselves as a center right party. If people want to vote Conservative then they’ll vote for the real Conservatives. The NDP is now in the part of the political spectrum where the Liberals used to be and folks voted for them. It’s also a bad day for immigrants, women and anyone who believes in social justice. I’ll have to take some time to analysis the election before I write any sort of serious post.
  There are a few points that I feel confident in writing. If Canadians feel it’s alright to re-elect a party that has no respect for parliamentary traditions or the democratic process then they deserve what they’re going to get. I had higher expectations. The second point is the shift of the recent immigrant vote from the Liberals to the Conservatives who, to give one example, shut down the English as a Second Language centers. This I don’t understand.  The third point is a concept derived from the book by Michael Adams titled “American backlash” which was published in 2005. Michael Adams is a Canadian social scientist who analyzes social and political trends in both Canada and the United States. I have found his work in retrospect to be very accurate. His thesis is that Canada is getting more like the States but the States is getting less like Canada faster than this country is becoming more like America. This Canadian election implies that the right wing crazies are going to take over America in 2012. If Obama tries to triangulate himself into the so called center he’s going to get creamed like the Liberals did here. I need to meet some nice Scandinavian woman and immigrate before it’s too late. The election results as of midnight are:
Conservatives      elected in 161 and leading in 5
Liberals                 elected in   31 and leading in 3
NDP                       elected in 98 and leading in 5
Bloc Q.                  elected in   3
Green                    elected in 1

Election Day

Today is Election Day in Canada. It’s illegal to sell alcohol today because of laws dating back to the nineteenth century so I bought a bottle of wine yesterday to either console myself or celebrate in the unlikely situation of a Conservative loss – a late harvest Vidal wine from the Niagara region of Ontario. It’s not a bad wine but not the greatest. I’m also cautious about what I can write because of broadcast laws which date to 1938 and were later revised to include the Internet.

Section 329: "No person shall transmit the result or purported result of the vote in an electoral district to the public in another electoral district before the close of all of the polling stations in that other electoral district."

Section 495 (4)(d): "Every person is guilty of an offence who… wilfully contravenes section 329."

Section 500 (4): "Every person who is guilty of an offence under subsection 495(4) is liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $25,000."

I think that it safe to say that there are three possible outcomes for the election – a Conservative majority, a Conservative minority or an opposition coalition government. The Liberals still consider themselves to be the natural governing party of Canada and have stated that they would never join a coalition to form a government although they have done poorly with a declining trend in electoral support during the last couple of elections. The question is how they would argue that a government which they brought down on a vote of contempt of parliament is preferable to an opposition coalition. Speaker of the house, Peter Milliken, made a ruling on contempt of parliament. This is the first time in Canadian history that a government has fallen due to a non confidence vote on this topic as well as in the 54 countries of the Commonwealth. The wording is as follows:

That this House denounce the conduct of the government, its disregard for democracy and its determination to go to any lengths to advance its partisan interests and impose its regressive ideology, as it did by justifying the Conservative Party's circumvention of the rules on election spending in the 2005-2006 election campaign, when the Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism used public funds to solicit donations to the Conservative Party, when the Party used taxpayers’ money to finance a pre-election campaign under the guise of promoting Canada’s Economic Action Plan, when it changed the wording in government communications to promote itself, when it showed that it is acceptable for a minister to alter a document and make misleading statements to the House, when it refused to provide a parliamentary committee with the costs of its proposals, and when it improperly prorogued Parliament.

I’ll have more to say after the election results have been tabulated.

Freudian slip

Fox news, the number one news channel in the States and bastion of fact based, accurate reporting, had a text bar on its news report last night which stated Obama bin Laden had been killed. I suppose that the text was wishful thinking on its part.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Last Rites

I was trying to get my mind off the Canadian general election tomorrow so I started to peruse some of the blogs on which I keep track from time to time. I recently posted on the foreign language educational cuts in Louisiana where I queried the motives of the administration so I checked on a blog from a Spanish professor in the state. This person’s posts from the last few days have been some of the most depressing that I’ve read in a long time.

”My larger point is this — am I the only one who thinks of academic atmospheres as violent, punitive ones, riddled with instability, menaces, and threats? I do not have this impression in R-1 environments but everywhere else the smell of danger is so rank that I have very serious trouble concentrating. Is it just me, or do you, too, find these things destructive?”

Speaking as someone who had been married to a person who at one point in her career suffered from suicidal ideation, I find these comments disturbing to say the least. It’s tough being a brilliant, feminist pioneer like my Ex – first priest in the history of the diocese to take maternity leave. My eldest two daughters were in utero when she was made priest. The joke at the time in the diocese was when the bishop was talking about the three in one (pun on the Trinity- Father, Son and the Holy Ghost) he wasn’t kidding. She did her graduate degree in what McLean magazine refers to as the top college in the country and ploughed her way into the most conservative, patriarchal organization that you can imagine.

Why do women blame themselves about situations which are the consequence of external factors? I’ve have been in some difficult situations but I never blamed myself. I accurately pointed the causative factors at the people who were responsible. A certain type of brilliant introspective woman seems to want to hole themselves up like Julian of Norwich (c. 1342 – c. 1416) - a sort of southern anchoress who acts like a hermit and engages in a form of electronic contemplative prayer. She says that even her suicide antidote, her cat, has disappeared.

Am I acting like a white sexist male? How do you say anything without sounding like a presumptuous male rescuer?