Friday, 24 August 2012

Restaurant review: Cellars (Elora)

This is a review based on two visits this month to this pricey but charming river side gastro pub in the former mill town of Elora, Ontario which is about three miles west of Fergus where my mother is staying in a nursing home. Elora is about a hundred kilometres North East of  Toronto and in the middle of Wellington county. The pub is on the north side of the Grand River that flows westerly through the center of both Fergus and Elora. You can see a photo of the river taken from the middle of the Elora bridge below with the restaurant just through the trees on the left.

The town of Elora was founded in 1832 by a Captain William Gilkinson and the name came from the Ellora caves near Aurangabad in India where the name of  the Captain's brother's ship originated. The river has a well known waterfall called the Tooth of Time just east of the restaurant. In order to reach the back patio by the river, you have to walk down a brick path on the west side of the building and pass some very attractive flower arrangements.

On my first visit, I had as an appetizer the Baked Goat Cheese which was baked in a phyllo pastry with mango beet chutney. Very good. Tasted like more.

And for the entre, fresh salmon on a spinach salad with poached pear and tossed in a raspberry vinaigrette topped with spicy walnuts and blue cheese. The wine was a Niagara region vidal.  Also very good. Portion controlled.

 On my second visit this month, I had the Grilled Calamari which was tossed in a tomato vinaigrette served on a warm bed of greens, peanuts and craisins ( dried cranberries), and topped with a balsamic vinaigrette.  Excellent and the calamari wasn't chewy which is the sign of a properly prepared dish and not over cooked like a lot of restaurants. The pink colour comes from the sun shining through the red umbrella which you can't see in the picture. Good presentation. The wine was an Argentine shiraz.

For desert, I had the lime cheese cake with fresh coffee. Acceptable. Could put more lime in the recipe.

The service was slow but then I find that most of the restaurants in the country have slow service. The view was certainly entertaining while I was waiting for the food to arrive.

I would have to say that the wine was moderately priced but the selection was mediocre for the quality of the food. I only tried the lunch menu.  Overall quite good and right in the middle of town on the south side of Mill Street. Within a short walking distance of most downtown stores.

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Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Plantation Nation: Guns

Time magazine has a cover story this week entitled “How Guns Won” by Joe Klein about the end of the argument in the States about gun control with the NRA side winning.  While homicides have declined over the last twenty years so has opposition to guns and the current discussions aren’t over gun control but the limits on the types of weapons that can be purchased. This has lead to an arms race between the citizenry and law enforcement. The article was a response to the mass shooting at the theatre in Aurora, Colorado. The activity graph (the red line represents the word "mass shooting`` and the blue line "gun control") below demonstrates the lag phase between the shooting and discussions about gun control. The quick reduction in volume is due to the decoupling of the immediate event from more general considerations by media’s discourse boundaries on this subject.

If this wasn’t bad enough then TIME had a side bar piece, “The case for gun control” which was written by well known CNN host, Fareed Zakaria, who in the text plagiarised a story by another writer. He was then suspended for one month for breaching TIME’s standards (?). I’ll wait for another time to discuss mass media’s cut and paste journalism as well as the use of unpaid interns to do the heavy lifting at news organizations. Fareed’s faux pas revealed the magazine’s casual disregard for a balanced viewpoint and its interest in a superficial ``on the other hand`` rebuttal. On August 10, 2012, he made the following statement:
Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my TIME column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 22nd issue of The New Yorker. They are right. I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at TIME, and to my readers."
The core argument of Lepore’s essay was in this paragraph:
The assertion that the Second Amendment protects a person’s right to own and carry a gun for self-defense, rather than the people’s right to form militias for the common defense, first became a feature of American political and legal discourse in the wake of the Gun Control Act of 1968, and only gained prominence in the nineteen-seventies.
The debate over gun control in the States involved special interest groups lobbying politicians with money and contesting legal interpretations of the second amendment but in fact the foundation of the effort was fear of the “other”. This has been traditionally the territory of the Appalachian Scots Irish isolationists but with the rise of the Plantation Nation, their concerns have become aligned with the Deep South mentality of needing personal protection from anticipated slave rebellions which has moved the center of the debate towards their end of the discourse spectrum and involves the total freedom to carry all the firepower you want. These others could be those of a different race or socio-economic background and is particularly in force when travelling in foreign countries. The pictorial below is a common American perception of Mexico in America which is projected by the mass media.
Actually there were only 120 American deaths in Mexico last year and this is equivalent to the number of murders in some small US cities not to mention the fifteen thousand total murders in the US last year but perception is strong when people are uninformed. This was true in the case of Walter Wawra, a Kalamazoo Michigan police officer on vacation in Calgary, Alberta last week who perceived the actions of two youths in Nose Hill Park to be threatening after they asked him if he had been to the stampede which is the annual Calgary Rodeo. Unfortunately, he didn’t have his usual concealed weapon with him due to Canadian gun laws. He later wrote a letter to the Calgary Herald newspaper complaining about the national gun laws and his right to react to any perceived threatening situation with lethal force.  His home town with a population of seventy five thousand had 9 murders last year so maybe he transferred his anxiety to dangerous hosers in the north, no telling what those socialist thugs strung out on raw maple syrup could do. You can watch the video below to see the response by the social media in Canada. As of the present moment, this story has not been reported in US mass media so the American echo chamber of false information continues.

The worship of lethal force continues with debut of NBC’s new reality show tonight – Stars earn Stripes. Just watched the first episode where the basic theme is laid out. A celebrity from TV land and a real life military operative are paired in a competition between teams to win points termed stripes. Each stripe is worth money to a charity designated by the celebrities.
There are eight teams where the military operatives belong to such groups as the Green Berets, Navy Seals, Army, Delta force etc. They use live ammunition, use the latest in military hardware and are billeted in military training centers for realistic encounters. They are observed by former NATO Supreme Allied Commander General Wesley Clark in a high tech observation center with all the fancy tech toys such as point of view personal cams or remote sensing and given their instructions by Dancing with the stars co-host Samantha Harris: gun porn with attractive mostly white good guys taking out brown people or their constructed representations with the latest automatic weapons including machine guns and grenade launchers. Diplomacy and negotiation have no place in this TV world where it’s kill or be killed. At the end of each episode, the teams are evaluated by the retired General in an after action review or as they say in the show’s parlance, an AAR. Speed and body count are important. Finally a stripe is given out to the winner and the winner’s designated charity receives a donation. This is war for couch potatoes where the subliminal message is permanent war and lethal response.

The show which has as celebrities such notables as Todd Palin who is Sarah Palin’s husband, Terri Crews - a former NFL footplayer and actor in several action movies, Picabo Street - a former alpine skier and Gold Medallist at the Olympics, Nick Lachey - a former singer and reality TV participant, Laila Ali – a professional boxer and daughter of Mohammed Ali, Eva Torres - American dancer, model, professional wrestler and actress, Dolverr Quince who was a trainer on the TV show “The Biggest Loser” and Dean Cain - actor, has already been criticized in an open letter to the NBC chairman by Nobel Peace Laureates including President Oscar Sanchez and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in which they state that the reality show glorifies war and sanitizes conflict by treating it like an athletic competition. The real world isn’t binary. There are usually multiplicities of options and life isn’t a zero sum game for the majority of folks in most developed countries. All of the previous instances treat realities as a series of win/lose scenarios involving the use of deadly force and this is being propagated in society as cultural memes which permeates all areas including education.

In a recent UC Davis newsletter, the following was stated about a speech by the current Chancellor P. B. Katehi on the aftermath, investigations and action plans with respect to the pepper spraying incident last year that saw Lt. Pike’s response to peaceful, sitting protestors go globally viral with the various photos and video clips.
In her speech this week, she said she considers herself accountable “for all the actions that need to be taken to make sure our campus is a safe and welcoming place"

In October, 2010 Chancellor Linda Katehi was appointed to the National Security Higher Education Advisory Board, the primary national nexus between academia and Homeland Security. According to the UC Davis statement, “The board was established in 2005 and includes about 20 presidents and chancellors of major research universities. The chair is Graham Spanier, president of Pennsylvania State University. Because of the nature of some of the material they discuss, board members must hold “secret” security clearances.” Of course, Graham Spanier who initially recruited Katehi, was fired after the systemic cover-up of assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s activities.

UC Davis was in the process of purchasing a Bearcat armoured personal carrier for its campus storm troopers when the decision was discovered by student activities this year. The purchase was not generally known since it was entirely funded by a two hundred thousand dollar Homeland Security grant probably under the $832 Urban Areas Security Grant program which has recently had its allocation profile extended from “high intensity risk areas”(read low income brown people communities) to include educational campuses based on terrorist risk assessment updates. Since there is only one University of California administrator on the primary HDL/Academia consultation committee, it’s not too hard to conjecture who was in a position to expedite the awarding of the grant. I guess that this part of all the actions needed to make the campus a “safe and welcoming place.”
The name BearCat stands for Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck as it is the smaller cousin to the Lenco B.E.A.R.

The Bearcat is based on a Ford F-550 6.0-liter turbo­diesel, four-speed automatic transmission commercial truck chassis. The 1.5-inch-thick steel armored bodywork is completed with ballistic glass capable of multi-hits, blast-resistant floors, specially designed gun ports, roof hatches/turret and agency specific equipment and/or modifications such as lights/sirens/battering ram/winches/thermal cameras and spot lights. (Wikipedia)
Law enforcement likes to refer to the carrier as an armoured rescue vehicle but to understand the true nature of the beast, watch the video below.

This is the future of campus police according to the University of California and coming to a campus near you soon. There is a program to help combat veterans transition to law enforcement officers. Consider coming back from an extended period in a combat zone and being given the same weapons and vehicles in a law enforcement role. Wouldn`t those protesting students start to look like a domestic version of dangerous “rag heads” that needed to be taken out?
This is all being done in secret. With regard to the UC Davis bearcat, the following was stated at the local town council:

Because the vehicle is being purchased by the university, and not a city governed by elected bodies, and because no matching funds were required – which the council would have had to approve – the Berkeley police department was not required to disclose the grant application.

Berkeley citizens found out about it only when the watchdog organisation, Berkeley Copwatch, discovered the project as a result of a Public Records Act request for general information on police equipment, according to Andrea Prichett of Copwatch.

The armoured vehicle has not been publicly discussed in Albany, and no such discussions are scheduled, according to Albany’s city clerk. Occupy Cal activists contacted for these stories were unaware that the university was buying the armoured vehicle.

So much for the new spirit of openness and transparency at the university. Fortunately after this became public knowledge, the purchase was cancelled.

Gun Nations

Friday, 10 August 2012

Men in Black

According to the Ohio dispatch, the quiet and humble Amish are having a population explosion with their numbers doubling every 22 years and expected to reach one million by mid century. This is due to their refusal to use contraception methods, a tradition of large families and a low exodus of children from the communities due to strong social cohesion. Because of the high fertility rate, there is a diminishing supply of land so only 17% of Amish are farmers today versus 75% forty years ago.
Holmes County, in northeastern Ohio, could in the next 20 years become the first county in the United States to have more Amish than English (the common term for their non-Amish neighbors).

"For the past 10 years, I have told myself that they can’t keep growing at the pace they are,”said Joseph Donnermeyer, a rural sociology professor at OSU who led the Amish census project as part of a larger study on religions. “I’ve been wrong every single year.”

There has been a shift in the population in a westerly direction with an increase in Amish sightings in Wyoming and Idaho from spotters bringing back photos of horses and buggies driven by men in black to verify their claims at the local Legion halls.
Amish Population distribution 2012

Maybe Arizona law enforcement will stop them for documentation. The GOP certainly has them in their sights for the current 2012 election cycle with their prevalence in this year`s swing states where even a small movement from the Democrat to Republican ledger could have a significant effect on the national electoral college numbers. Their social conservatism has already brought them to the attention of conservative strategists who have read (some of those right wingers can actually comprehend text with a low Gunning fog index) the paper by  Donald B. Kraybill and Kyle C. Kopko entitled, `` Bush Fever: Amish and Old Order Mennonites in the 2004 Presidential Election, `` which documents the efforts by Republicans to register and encourage Amish to vote in Pennsylvanian during the 2004 election with comparisons to Mennonites.
In a book entitled, `` An Amish Paradox: Diversity and change in the world`s largest Amish community,” the authors, Charles E. Hearst and David L. McConnell referring to the paper by Kraybill and Kopko  state that while 43% of the Amish registered to vote in the 2004 election, only 17% actually voted due to their belief in the separation of the “material and spiritual kingdoms.” Republican voter suppression techniques in the 2012 election cycle involving requiring photo ID for voting have backfired with respect to the Amish since they refuse to have their pictures taken due to biblical injunctions against ”graven images” so some states like Illinois are preparing special no picture voter IDs especially for the Amish.
For the past decade, a member of the Amish community could simply present a letter from his bishop stating that he was in good standing with his church and a non-photo ID would be administered. However, with the new voter identification law, the Amish and other religious groups opposed to posing for photos are required to complete an 18 question open-ended survey with short essay responses. Dr. Donald Kraybill, distinguished college professor and senior fellow at the Young Center for Anabaptist and Pietist Studies, described the questionnaire as “onerous and complicated,” stating: “I myself would not vote if I had to fill out an 18 point survey. It’s just ridiculous.”
Some applications have been denied because the applicants left questions blank. Some questions included: “What is your religion?”; “What are the main beliefs of your religion?”; “How many people are in your congregation?”; and “Do other members of your family share the same beliefs?” “[The survey] was poorly conceived,” Kraybill said.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Romney Girl

You’ve heard of Obama Girl so check out this year’s Romney Girl. According to her website:
Miss Swiss "Bank Account" hails from Ostermundigen, Switzerland and is the proud daughter of a Nestle Chocolate factory worker and a regionally respected Cuckoo clock maker. She worked as a tax consultant for offshore bank accounts at UBS in Geneva, Switzerland from 2008-2010 where she first met Mitt Romney, who would frequently show up to the bank unannounced and throw $100 bills up in the air while shouting, "Thank God for Amnesty!"

In 2010, Miss Swiss left Geneva (after safely depositing all of her own money into a Swiss bank account) and moved to Searchlight, Nevada, where she joined a small Swiss expat community of retired yodelers and milkmaids. It was there she bumped into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid while burning his book “The Good Fight” during a local sheep-shearing festival. Miss Swiss told Senator Reid about Mr. Romney’s tax avoidance “because I thought it was so funny that a Senator would actually think that rich people pay taxes! So silly!” Miss Swiss has not heard from Mr. Romney since he began his Presidential run, but believes he is following her on Twitter @realromneygirl.

In her free time, Miss Swiss, AKA Romney Girl, enjoys watching sitcoms like Fox & Friends, climbing the Swiss Alps, making cheese fondue, and listening to her favorite pop band Aqua.

Romney Girl recently gained public attention for inadvertently informing Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that that Mitt Romney had paid zero taxes in the last ten years.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Canada vs. America

I thought that I would put up this post since this year is the bicentennial of the War of 1812 when the States under the presidency of the Southern aristocratic plantation owner, James Madison, invaded Canada for reasons of honour based on British impressments of American sailors. At the beginning of the war, 90% of Upper Canada`s (Ontario) population had arrived from the thirteen colonies after the end of the American Revolution and the other ten percent were mostly indigenous peoples. This population of immigrants from the republic were divided into the minority of Loyalists who left for political reasons such as support for the crown (like my Ex`s ancestors) and the majority of so called Late Loyalists who left for economic reasons. After the American Revolution, land speculators in the new republic bought huge tracts of land in the new nation and resold it to the farmers at usurious prices. Crony capitalism has been present in the States from the very beginning. The republic which was also almost bankrupt, raised taxes on the settlers to new heights and the British in Upper Canada under the new governor, Lord Simcoe, offered Americans almost free land and taxes one fifth of their prevalent rates which led to the second North American migration to the north after the original Loyalist movement. On the two hundredth anniversary of the war that decided the fate of British North America which group fared best – the ones who stayed in the republic or the ones who moved north?

An article in Time magazine on July 17, 2012 had the following to say:
Watch out, Americans: Your thrifty, socialist neighbors to the north have stealthily become richer than you.
Over the past five years, the average net worth of Canadian households has exceeded that of American households. So for the the first time in history, Canadians are wealthier than Americans — by more than $40,000, on average. In 2011, the average net worth of a Canadian household was $363,202, compared to $319,970 in the U.S., according to Environics Analytics WealthScapes data published in the Globe and Mail. (‘Average net worth’ measures the total combined value of a household’s liquid and real estate assets, minus debt.)

Inequality of wealth is much less in Canada than the States so the bottom 80% of Canadians have been making out like bandits compared to the American bottom 80%. From an investment blog:

The data shows that the median net worth per adult in Canada is $89,014. That means $89,014 represents the perfect cross section of our economy because half of Canada’s society has more, and the other half has less. In the US however, the median net worth per adult is $52,752. So in other words, most Canadians have more money than most Americans.

Of course, wealth is not the true measure of success and social outcomes are often a better indicator.

The G20's Best and Worst Countries for Women

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Downtime: El Almacen

This is the second in a series of my favourite downtime places which I haunt in my R&R hours away from the Fortress of Solitude. This one is a small Yerba Mate Café called El Amacen (= “general store”sp.) which is located on Queen Street West section of downtown Toronto just west of the Little Tibet neighbourhood, West Parkdale and that I discovered on one of my nocturnal walks. I was in the mood best described by the person in Oscar Ruben's lyrics, "Lejos de Buenos Aires."

Con la mueca del pesar,
viejo, triste y sin valor,
lento el paso al caminar
voy cargando mi dolor.
Lejos de la gran ciudad
que me ha visto florecer,
en las calles más extrañas
siento el alma oscurecer.
Nadie observa mi final,
ni le importa mi dolor,
nadie quiere mi amistad,
sólo estoy con mi amargor.
Y así vago sin cesar
desde el día que llegué
cuando en pos de un sueño loco todo,
todo abandoné.

Y andando sin destino de pronto reaccioné
al escuchar de un disco el tango aquel:
“Mozo traiga otra copa,”
que lo cantaba Carlos Gardel.
Y al escucharlo recordé todo el pasado,

los años mozos tan felices que pasé:
mi viejecita, la barra amiga,
la noviecita que abandoné.
Tango, ¡que trae recuerdos!
Mi Buenos Aires, ¡quiero llorar!

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In the last ten years, over three thousand Tibetans have moved to Toronto and over half have settled in this area. They have their own temples, stores and even Saturday morning radio show, Radio Tibet on 101.3 FM so it’s strange to find an Argentinean café outpost in this area of Tibetan prayer wheels and orange clad monks but the Argentine community in Toronto is very diffuse so this became a meeting place after a FIFA world cup series brought various members of the community together and now a visitor can hear the sounds of Castellano, an Italian-accented version of Spanish spoken in the café.

The establishment was named after a Tango dinner theatre in Buenos Aires called Viejo Almacen and every other Saturday they have a Tango and Tea time where you can dance and flirt with Argentinean ladies over mate. There is  a secret code among the clientele during the tango time -  if you offer a sweetened mate, it means you’re interested; a mate with cinnamon means “I’ll wait for you" and a mate with an orange peel means “I’m thinking of you.”

The counter has jars of biscotti and alfajores, soft biscuits laced with jam. Argentine born owner, Silvio Rodriquez and his wife Silvio own the café which specializes in yerba mate, plain or with mint or lemon verbena although they also offer tea and cortado coffee from the silver Elektra espresso machine.

The mate is drunk through a bombilla which is a filter tipped metal straw from a wooden gourd or . They also sell an Argentinian empanadas filled with onions, chile pepper, chopped egg and minced beef which is the way they are prepared in the province of Mendoza where Silvio was born in the town of Godoy Cruz. Yerbe mate (“herb” sp.) is a shrub which is a member of the holly family and is grown in sub tropical South America.  One of the secrets is to not stir the bombilla since it will cause the straw to plug. You can see the gourd below along with a jar of extra mate as well as sugar to sweeten the brew.

The server is called a “cebador” and drinks the first brew which is called the “mate del zonzo” or mate of the fool since it is the strongest and most bitter. The mate is drunk until it’s “lavado” or flat.