Thursday, November 12, 2009

Hearts in the sky over Montreal

Someone with an airplane and skill drew hearts in the sky over Montreal today. Did you see the skywriter too?


a. Here is a professional photo from a Gazette photographer

b. According to this discussion, the hearts and 25 were written for a college student who is ill.


c. The info above about the sick student is false. According to The Gazette, it was done by a local pilot to "show appreciation to people" (read: publicity stunt to promote his business).

Monday, September 07, 2009

Man asks for time in English, bus driver calls police

Maybe the passenger was rude or confrontational and the bus driver feared for her safety.

But most likely the bus driver in the article below acted as any xenophobe would when confronted with an English-speaking (strike 1) brown-person from some other part of the world (strike 2) who makes the mistake asking for the time in English in Montreal (yer' out!).

STM bus driver refuses to speak English, calls police
Passengers kicked off bus after man asks driver for time – in English
By Jason Magder, The Gazette
September 6, 2009

MONTREAL – At least now he knows how to say "Quelle heure est-il?"

Muhammad Ahmad Munir, a master's student from Pakistan studying at McGill University, was kicked off the No. 66 bus at 6:45 Friday morning after he asked the driver what the time was in English.

"I got on the bus and I didn't have a watch, so I asked the driver for the time," he said. "She started talking in French and I didn't understand what she was saying."

The 32-year-old native of Islamabad came to Montreal a few months ago to enroll in a master's degree program in Islamic studies at McGill.

After twice telling the bus driver he didn't understand French, she responded in English, saying: "I don't speak English."

"I then told her that she just showed me that she does speak English, and that's when she really got angry."

Munir said when he insisted on being served in English, the bus driver pressed a button to phone police, and proceeded to tell all the passengers to get off the bus. The bus was stopped at the terminus on Côte St. Luc Rd. at the corner of Walkley Ave. There were about 20 people on board the bus, Munir said.

Constable Yannick Ouimet confirmed the Montreal police received a call from the driver about a passenger who was being aggressive.

Reached Friday afternoon, Société de transport de Montréal spokesperson Isabelle Tremblay said the incident is under investigation.

Notre Dame de Grâce resident Linda Whitehall, who was waiting to get on the bus, said the driver must have phoned her colleague on the next bus because when it came, its driver would not open the doors for anyone waiting at the stop. Whitehall, who works at the Montreal General Hospital, was late as a result of the incident, and was forced to take an alternate bus.

"I was so embarrassed," Whitehall said. "This is the first time I have ever been embarrassed to be a Quebecer. Everyone was outraged over this."

Munir said he was upset about the incident, but it hasn't turned him off Montreal.

"I know for the most part, people are not like this," he said. "I haven't had a problem with anyone else since coming here."

Munir said coming from Pakistan, he understands the need to preserve the French language.

"In Quebec, they really have saved the culture very well," he said. "In Pakistan, we have lost our Urdu language, so on this point, I can appreciate the insistence on language, but there should be more tolerance for others."

Munir, who speaks Punjabi, Urdu, Arabic, and English, said he has tried to speak French, but so far can only manage a few words.

"I can say 'bonjour,' and I even said 'bonjour' to her, but I can't put together a complete sentence," he said.

>> Follow-up article

Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Canon camera user reviews the Panasonic ZS3 digital camera

I am a Canon camera user, having owned the SD230 and the SD1000. I have tried other people's Sony cameras and some lesser brands and have found Canon cameras to be more smartly designed. Better buttons. Better interface. Better connect to computers.

My SD1000 had three spots on the lens that I couldn't remove. Then we lost the camera. So I needed a new one. I wanted my next point-and-shoot camera to have HD video (either 720p or 1080p) so I wouldn't have to buy an HD camcorder and a good zoom (at least 5x or more).

After much research, I decided to buy the Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS3. The starting price (in Canada) was $500 and I waited until the first price drop this week. I bought one on sale for $450 CDN at Future Shop on July 11, 2009.

Here are some comments. Keep in mind, these are comments from a long-time Canon user.

Good stuff
  1. The HD video looks as nice as advertised. Watch a video recorded in AVCHDLite (m2ts) format at a resolution of 1280 x 720. The m2ts file was 106 MB and was uploaded to YouTube. There are some playback issues (see below). But I suspect standalone camcorders cannot produce video that is much better than this camera. UPDATE 2010/09/28: The occasional stuttering of video on Vimeo and YouTube when viewing at HD (720s) resolution is caused by slow computers. Not much you can about this. It's the price of being ahead of the curve on preserving videos in HD.
  2. You can set it up to automatically record a 5-second audio clip after taking each photo. This was a feature I always wanted in my Canon cameras. Some photographers like to make a note about what is in the photo, like: "Here we are at Bob and Mary's 25 anniversary party." While this is not a feature everyone will want or use, it is great news for those who want it. You cannot change the clip to record longer than 5 seconds, at least not in this auto-mode. (I assume you can manually add an audio note of any length by working through the menus.) UPDATE 2010/09/28: I thought I would use this more. I never have.
  3. There is a "wind mic" setting that supposedly helps to minimize the effect of wind noise when recording video/audio outdoors. It seems to reduce the bass and the change in sound is similar to other such wind-reduction techniques. It works pretty well at reducing wind sound, although your audio sounds tinny.
To note
  1. This camera uses the popular SD HC memory card format. No need to buy new ones if switching from a Canon camera, although I did buy a 16GB card as I shoot a lot of 720p video.
  2. The Panasonic ZS3 is bigger than, say, the Canon SD1000, although it is comparable to the similarly-priced Canon and Sony cameras.
  3. The two microphones are on the top of the camera. I guess this is smart as it allows the photographer to narrate. However, this means that this camera is not ideal for any kind of quasi-professional interview that you need to record. Also, I guess this is not a good idea for people who breath heavy while shooting video. UPDATE: When interacting with the person on camera, the shooter sounds much louder. This is kind of annoying. I think the mic should have been on the front.
  4. You'll want to buy an extra battery, but good luck buying one in store. Future Shop does not sell this Panasonic accessory. That is always a consideration when buying non-Canon cameras. It is harder to get extras and harder to get generic versions of the battery (like from Energizer or Duracell). [UPDATE: I bought my camera at the Future Shop at the Marché Centrale big box centre in Montreal. Perhaps other Future Shop locations sell the extra battery. UPDATE 2: I bought a Panasonic DMW-BCG10PP battery at Best Buy for about $79.]
  5. There doesn't appear to be GPS tagging of photos. That is sort of sucky as this isn't a cheap camera.
  1. The USB wire is not the standard one used on Canon cameras. The plug that connects into the camera is thinner. This sucks as it means I need to bring this wire to Canon households if I want to load photos on their computer. UPDATE 2010/09/28: This still annoys me, but I bought an SD card reader for my home PC, so I don't use the USB wire much anymore. And I don't really ever transfer stuff at people's homes. No, this is more or less a non-issue for me now.
  2. No viewfinder.
  3. When the camera connects to the computer, the ZS3 lcd screen does not go black, which wastes the battery. UPDATE 2010/09/28: As I now use the SD card reader, this is a non-issue.
  4. You have to select the correct camera mode (manual, iA, etc.) when transferring photos in playback mode. That is, the camera won't transfer all of the stuff at the same time. UPDATE: I cannot replicate this problem. I must have been drunk. UPDATE 2010/09/28: Someone in the comments suggested this was because I was wearing polarize sun glasses.
  5. As other reviewers have mentioned, the photo button is to the left of the mode select dial. I haven't yet accidentally turned the mode dial, but I did have to search with my finger for the photo button on day 1. UPDATE 2010/09/28: This happens quite frequently. I can't say that I have missed photographing the UFOs landing or something like that. But still something Panasonic should fix in future versions.
  6. When I rotate the camera to portrait, the viewscreen darkens. Will try to figure out why. UPDATE: I was not able to replicate this symptom inside the house. Odd. UPDATE 2010/09/28: Polarized sunglasses.
  7. The video record button is on the back of the camera, causing some jitter when I want to stop recording. I'm not sure why Panasonic didn't make the photo button also the video button. I though perhaps it was done this way so the user could take photos while recording video, but I tested this and discovered one cannot take photos while recording video.
  8. There doesn't appear to be as of July 2009 any video software or add on that can re-encode files in the m2ts video format, which I understand is what is used on Blu-ray discs. (Note: The MainConcept MPEG Pro HD 4 plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 may allow me to edit these files... need to investigate.) Meaning that one either has to convert this 720p file to another HD format before editing or else switch to the other recording format that takes up more space, but is supposedly easier edit later on. I haven't tried this yet, but this program from Panasonic converts m2ts (AVCHD) files to "P2 DVCPRO HD format." I guess the second format is more common than the first. UPDATE 2010/09/28: I use Sony Vegas nowadays as it allows one to edit the more compressed AVCHD-Lite format. Pinnacle Studio 10 didn't permit it. And neither did Adobe Pinnacle, although I think there is supposed to be a plug in.
  9. Transferring videos from the ZS3 camera to your computer. See the next section.
Transferring files from the ZS3 to your Windows computer
My preference for transfer jpg and avi files from my Canon cameras to my Windows XP computer has always been the Windows camera and scanner wizard. I like the flexibility it gives me in naming my photos and my folder.

One of my annoyances with the ZS3 in my first week is the fact I cannot transfer m2ts video files using the Windows camera and scanner wizard. See the details below:
  1. The Windows camera and scanner wizard doesn't copy m2ts video files to computer. Nor does Picasa. This is one of my biggest pet peeves about this camera.
  2. The Windows camera and scanner wizard does successfully copy the MotionJPEG video files (MOV), which is the other, less compressed video format into which that the camera records video. However, Picasa does not.
  3. The only way to transfer all your photos and both video formats from the camera is by using the included PhotoFunStudio HD Edition. However, this is a slow, unwieldy software. I am not happy with the options it gives when naming files during transfer. I guess I will have to live with it for now. (I recommend Better File Rename to batch rename your files.) UPDATE 2010/09/28: The other way to transfer videos is to browse the SD card and locate the MTS video files in the STREAM folder. Copy and drag to your Windows folder. Seems very 1998-ish. But it works.
Playing videos

  1. The AVCHDLite (m2ts) video files play well with the provided PhotoFunStudio HD Edition. But when I play them with the VCL media player 1.0., or Media Player Classic, or Windows Media Player 9, there are weird artifacts in the video image. UPDATE 2010/09/28: This is still a problem. I've come to live with it, as I don't really view the raw videos anyway on their own. My edited version of the videos is all I watch.
  2. The MotionJPEG (mov) video files play well inVCL media player 1.0. But the image doesn't change in Media Player Classic. Weird.
Note: I'm having a problem with Windows Media Player 9 and cannot test these videos there.

Editing videos

If you are reading this, you probably edit your home movies and want to know if it is as easy to do with these two video formats. The short answer is no. Here are details.
  • Pinnacle Studio 12 Ultimate can import but cannot not render (convert) edited AVCHDLite (m2ts) files properly. There are missing frames and weird frame-rate speeds.
  • However, Pinnacle Studio 12 Ultimate can render edited MotionJPEG (mJPEG) files, which is the other way to record at 720p on this camera. There are several HD formats to output to, including mpeg4 at 720p, which means that the quality of the edited video looks as good (to my eyes at least) as the original.
  • Sony Vegas Pro 9.0 can render (convert) edited AVCHDLite (m2ts) files properly. I haven't test MotionJPEG too, but I assume it can render from this source video format too. UPDATE 2010/09/28: Sony Vegas 9 doesn't accept MotionJPEG (mov) files. So, you need to pick your format on the camera and try to stick with it unless you want to change your video editing software (which is something I did). I now shoot in AVCHSLite and edit in Sony Vegas exclusively.
  • Premiere Pro 2.0 does not recognize AVCHDLite (m2ts) or MotionJPEG files when I tried to import them.
  • I assume that I could add the MainConcept MPEG Pro HD 4 plug-in for Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 to help overcome this limitation, but I haven't tried this yet.
Bottom line: Sony Vegas Pro 9.0 seems to be the best choice if you want to edit AVCHDLite (m2ts) files. Unfortunately, I find the Vegas interface not as intuitive as Premiere Pro 2.0 and Pinnacle Studio 12--both of which I have used for years. UPDATE 2010/09/28: I've been using Sony Vegas for a year and have come to accept it. There are some really good features that have allowed me to edit in a much more creative way than with either Pinnacle or Premier.

Posting HD videos online
Although this has nothing to do with the camera, if you are reading this you want to know how to share your 720p HD videos with the world. I use free accounts at Vimeo and Facebook. Both show HD videos, although Vimeo has a paid service that allows one to post more HD videos.

I like Vimeo as it allows me to (1) password protect each individual video while (2) posting these same videos, unprotected, in a "channel", which is just a web page that lists videos you choose to put there. So, people searching videos won't be able to watch my home movies but anyone who has the URL to my channel can watch the videos without being bothered with passwords.

This is the same reason I like Picasaweb for posting photos (and not Flickr). The photos at Picasaweb are put on unlisted directories with long gibberish URLs. So, I can send the URL to family and friends but it's unlikely that anyone else would ever find the URL.

If you don't care about privacy, YouTube hosts 720p HD videos now. And I don't think there is a weekly limit on how many you can post, as their currently is in the free version of Vimeo.

July 24, 2009: I have used the Panosonic ZS3 for two weeks and am happy overall. I love the zoom and am impressed with the 720p video, although I'm sure most 720p cameras produce similar results. The camera is more expensive than the entry-level ones. But in my mind I was saving money by not buying a more $1,000 HD camcorder. So, I am happy with this decision. Portability and the relatively smaller size of camera are very important to me. I wanted one I could bring to friends homes and on vacation. It is bulkier than the Canon Elph cameras, but fits in baggy pant pockets.

UPDATE 2010/09/28: Like all consumer electronics, things get better and cheaper. Other cameras can do what the ZS3 does (except maybe the zoom while video recording). If you want my advice of what model to get, you should consider the ZS3 (or future version). But also look at the comparable Canon. I think Canon still produces warming photos. And while I cannot state any expert opinion on the 720p video of Canon still cameras, I suspect the different (if any) is slight. And remember that no matter what you buy, it will break or get dust on the lens in a year or two and you'll have to do it all over again. Finally, don't forget to back up your videos and images. Buy an external hard drive of 1TB or 2TB and back up you stuff.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Graffiti on Canada Post mail boxes

For the last year, I have waited for Canada Post to clean the graffiti from the grey box in front of my house. I assumed they would eventually clean it as part of their standard operaring procedure. Sadly, all the boxes--red and grey--in the area have been vandalized in the same way.

Today, I sent a complaint to Canada Post asking them to clean the grey box in front of my home. I will update this entry when I get a reply and when Canada Post cleans the box.

To make you own complaint, visit

UPDATE: July 10, 11:08am

Received this confirmation e-mail from Canada Post:

This is to acknowledge receipt of your message to Canada Post. We are currently experiencing a rapid increase in e-mail requests from our customers. This has caused delay in our ability to respond promptly to your request. The average time to respond is now 1-2 business days. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

UPDATE: July 13, 2009, 2:47pm

Received a the following response that Canada Post will look into my complaint. Names blocked to protect the privacy of the Canada Post staff.
Thank you for your message to Canada Post.

I can certainly appreciate your concern and would like to apologize for the inconvenience caused.

I have opened an inquiry, which will be sent to the local depot that is responsible for delivering the mail so that they can look into this concern and take appropriate action. Your customer number is 10708*** and your case number for this inquiry is 7354***.

The depot does not normally follow up with the customer for these types of issues unless they require additional information. Please allow 10 business days for resolution and if you have further concerns, please contact us again. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.


Josée *******
Customer Service
Canada Post
UPDATE: July 15, 2009

I was astonished to discover this morning that there was no grafitti on the grey Canada Post box outside my house. I was not expecting such quick action. Thanks, Canada Post.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The New York Times or The Onion?

Today's Gazette had a reprint of a May 2, 2009 article from the New York Times about what I'll dub the Obama Effect on Race Relations in America. The problem is that some of the article reads like something from The Onion including one laugh-out-loud quotation from some white guy. (See below.)

The New York Times article presents anecdotal evidence to conclude that relations between black people and white people are better. The reporter, Susan Saulny, quotes black people and white people who say they think things have improved. Yet she plays down the most relevant nugget of actual information about the rise in the number of hate groups.

Saulny reports that: "In dozens of interviews in seven states over the last several days, black men and women [...] said they were feeling more optimistic about race relations than even a year ago."

One does get a sense of the optimism from the black people being quoted. But the quotations from some of the white people are unintentionally funny. I wonder whether the person even exists or whether some copy editor had some fun with the article.

Northeast of Los Angeles, M. J. J. Schmidt, 62, a real estate executive who is white, said he also felt something different.

“I go to a gym where there are a number of black people,” Mr. Schmidt said. “We don’t often communicate. They tend to have their own circle of friends. But now, there’s been more communication. Now you have an opener. After the election, I started saying hello. I said, ‘Hey, what do you think of Obama, about our new president?’

So, Mr. Schmidt, who admits that he doesn't usually talk to black people at the gym, walks up one and asks what he thinks about Barack Obama. This reminds of every comedy movie where some non-waspy gal is having dinner with the parents of her new boyfriend and they ask innocently offensive questions (see My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Meet the Fockers, etc.) having to do with her race/religion/national origins. I can imagine some Parti Québécois cabinet minister meeting with ultra-Orthodox Jews and after a moment saying with complete sincerity, "Hey, what do you think of Jerry Seinfeld?"

My point is this: There is more to the black guy at the gym than the fact he is black. Maybe he's an accountant. Or a postman. Or a real estate agent. But asking for his thoughts on Obama is like saying to him, "I only see you in a one-dimensional way so I'm going to ask questions related to that one dimension."

(Schmidt was a in a gym, remember. You can ask someone for a spot or ask their advice on how to do some exercise. There are lots of ways to interact with people without mentioning Barack Obama.)

Perhaps it's a generational thing. I wouldn't call The Gazette to announce that I had spoken with a black guy because it's not really newsworthy. And that's my problem with this New York Times article. It purports to show that things are getting better. But all it says to me is that things must be pretty bad if a reporter thinks that Mr. Schmidt's (unintentionally-offensive but deliciously-humorous) interaction at the gym is an example of positive race relations.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Young communists a hoot

An article in The Gazette (Students push communist agenda, May 1, 2009) about young communists in Quebec has two delicious passages that made me chuckle. Eric and Étienne (no last names are reported) offer up the follow nuggets of wisdom that reveal (1) their powers of exaggeration and (2) insight into how they came to travel with fellows of that type.
"It's hard to be a communist in North America," Étienne said. "But with the current economic crisis, with everyone questioning capitalism, we have a open window."
I have not heard anyone question capitalism as a result of this predictable cyclical economic recession--an amount of people several orders of magnitude less than the "everyone" Comrade Étienne suggests.

So, he exaggerates a bit. But maybe there is something to this. After all his fellow traveller Eric is reported to be a PhD student. However, Comrade Dr. Eric reveals a childlike world view.

"Workers would make the company's decisions, and there would be no boss." (emphasis mine)

Do you get the sense that Eric once worked at a local dépanneur and his boss was an a-hole who made him work a few night shifts and maybe even asked him to re-stock the beer case from time to time? I used to sort mounds of returned sticky beer bottles and in all those hours I never once thought that we should overthrow our capitalist system. (Upon reflection, however, that might be because the store played Cité Rock Détente on its public address system and one can't really muster the will to overthrow the system while listening to cooing sounds of Julie Masse.) My only epiphany was non communist in nature and was when I reflected on whether there were more alcoholics in Quebec than previously thought. We got a lot of beer returns.

While Eric is dreaming of how wonderful the world would be with "no boss" perhaps he could add to his agenda putting Coke in drinking fountains, no school on Fridays and free videogames for everyone. I imagine he could easily be elected grade 8 class president in any school in Montreal.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Worrying signs in our golden age

Compare and contrast the following two stories from February 2009: (1) Re-enactment of the Plains of Abraham battle in Quebec City is canceled, and (2) an anti-Semitic ice sculpture at Quebec City winter carnival is protected.

Exhibit A
In the first case, secessionist groups hinted there might be violence if the National Battlefield Commission did not cancel a re-enactment of the 1759 battle in Quebec City between soldiers from France and Britain. France lost the battle and eventually gave up all of New France to Britain at the end of the Seven Years' War.

By the by, no one protests the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg (not even the Ku Klux Klan). But veiled threats from the brown shirts at Le Réseau de résistance du Québécois helped get the event canceled.

It's debatable whether battle re-enactments circa 1759 depicting Old World soldiers killing each other should offend us today. But the secessionist political parties followed the lead of the Le Réseau de résistance du Québécois and so the organizers cancelled the re-enactment.

Exhibit B
In the second case, the organizers the Quebec City Winter Carnival said on February 18, 2009 they would not remove an ice sculpture depicting a hunched-over, hook-nosed Jewish man holding a bag of money. The sculpture was near the entrance of--wait for it--the Plains of Abraham.

The sculpture, which is called "The Jew" and three others next to it were put on display by the Ukrainian community.
A summary in front of the sculpture explained the work was inspired by the Ukrainian folk tale Den or Vertep, which is told at Christmas time. The summary explained the characters in the piece, the Tsar, the Warrior, the Jew, the Goat, and Death were divided into both "positive and negative characters.
Hmm. I wonder whethere "the Jew" is one of the positive of negative characters in this Ukranian tale.
Olena Zakharova, the press secretary for the Ukrainian Embassy, defended the sculpture. "It was not the intention of the Ukrainian sculptors to offend anyone. Vertep is an ancient Ukrainian tradition." She suggested that whether the Jewish figure is viewed positively or negatively is "a matter of preference."

Source: The Chronicle-Telegraph
The Ukranian embassy certainly has chutzpah. Their defence of the anti-Semitic sculture is that the story to which it makes reference is an ancient Ukranian tradition. Translation: Anti-Semitism is part of our cultural tradition, so what's the big fuss about the sculture?

However my favourite quotation from the article is from the carnival person in charge of the scultures. Audrey Cook examined the art and didn't see any problem with it.
"You have to be well informed about all of the little symbols and what they could signify. I looked at this sculpture from all angles before the complaint and I couldn't see any negative connotations associated with the work," Cook said last Thursday.

Source: The Chronicle-Telegraph

I'm not sure if Cook's cluelessness means that the average person in Quebec is far removed from the typical anti-Jewish imagery of Europe and doesn't recognize it, or that the average person does recognize it but assumes it's a normal depiction of Jews and their money-hording ways so what's the big fuss?

In conclusion
Maybe everyone in these two stories was a little too sensitive. Maybe the outcome of the 1759 battle shouldn't bother Quebecers. Maybe anti-Jewish Ukranian ice scultures shouldn't bother Jews. After all, Quebecers and Jewish Canadians both have it pretty good in 2009.

In fact, we're living in the golden age of liberal democracy. French-speaking Quebecers have successfully protected their lanaguage. Jews are not second-class citizens. A black man is President of the United States. Gay people can get married in Canada (more or less). In short, we're moving the right direction on many fronts.

Which is why it is disconcerting that (1) 'the Jew' sculpture was made, approved and kept in place at the Quebec City festival and (2) a group of misfits can threaten violence to get a battle re-enactment cancelled.

These are worrying signs in our golden age.

* * *

(For the record, here are two articles on these topics.)

Plains of Abraham re-enactment scrubbed
By Ken Meaney, Canwest News Service
February 18, 2009

The National Battlefield Commission bowed to opposition from Quebec sovereigntist groups Tuesday and cancelled plans to re-enact the Battle of the Plains of Abraham at the site of the conflict in Quebec City this summer.

Commission chairman Andre Juneau said Tuesday the re-enactment portion of events planned to mark the battle--a turning point in French-English relations in Canada -- was dropped because the commission couldn't "guarantee the safety of the public."

Juneau said the plan was distorted by opponents and was the subject of "veiled threats of violence."

The re-enactment had been planned as part of the 250th anniversary celebrations--from July 30 to Aug. 1 -- of the pivotal battle in the French-British struggle for North America. But sovereigntist groups, such as Le Reseau de Resistance du Quebecois, led a vocal campaign against it and threatened to bring out hundreds of demonstrators to disrupt the event. Juneau said the re-enactment was wrongly portrayed as a celebration.

"It was never the intention of the commission to recall the events of 1759-60 as a pretext for a party or celebration," Juneau insisted at a Quebec City news conference.

"Is is an extremely painful page in our history,"he said, noting the commission is mounting historic expositions and a book about the war and siege that led to the battle.

The outcry against the re-enactment caught the commission by surprise.

The battle has been re-enacted three times before, most recently in 2004,luring thousands of tourists to the provincial capital.

But it has become a flashpoint in Quebec, where it is seen as the beginning of assimilation into the English majority.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe and Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois supported le Reseau de Resistance in its opposition to the re-enactment, calling it disrespectful.

But federal Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff lamented the debate surrounding the re-enactment of the battle was hijacked by sovereigntists.

"What I don't like, frankly, is that sovereigntists are trying to dominate a free debate. As someone who likes Canada and knows a thing or two about its history, I want to have my say," Ignatieff told reporters at a separate event in Quebec City.

He said he isn't for or against the re-enactment, but stressed any commemoration of this "defeat and tragedy" would need to be dignified.

Controversial snow sculpture gets cold reception
Posted by Scott French
Published: February 18, 2009

A snow sculpture of a Jewish money-lender on display at Quebec City's winter carnival has received a cold reception from members of Quebec's Jewish community and the Canadian Jewish Congress. Although the Carnaval administration has since apologized for the sculpture, which was created by a Ukrainian team, many feel not enough was done to prevent or remedy the work's anti-semitic message.

"We are sorry. It's circumstantial, it was never our intention to shock people. The Carnaval hopes to provide snow sculptures that appeal to everyone," said Jean Pelletier, director general of the Carnaval.

"Shocked" and "disappointed" were the terms Jake Burack and his wife, Tamara Fitch, used to describe how they felt when they came across the sculpture with their children, 8 and 11, near the entrance to the Plains of Abraham two weekends ago.

"It was a caricature of an Eastern European Jew, hunched over with a hooked nose, wearing a skullcap and holding a money bag. Every cliché possible," Burack said. "Our kids could see how upset we were."

A summary in front of the sculpture explained the work was inspired by the Ukrainian folk tale Den or Vertep, which is told at Christmas time. The summary explained the characters in the piece, the Tsar, the Warrior, the Jew, the Goat, and Death were divided into both "positive and negative characters."

An interpreter who was present during the building of the sculpture told the Buracks the Jewish figure "was a man who lent money at high interest." According to Burack, the interpreter did not understand why they were concerned.

The President of the Carnaval's Snow Sculpture International, Audrey Cook, also examined the work and found nothing questionable about it. "You have to be well informed about all of the little symbols and what they could signify. I looked at this sculpture from all angles before the complaint and I couldn't see any negative connotations associated with the work," Cook said last Thursday.

Some passers-by seemed undisturbed by the sculpture as well. Julien Laplante of Quebec City easily identified the Jewish figure. He said those who felt the Jewish figure was portrayed negatively were "projecting" it onto the sculpture.

Another couple who passed by and identified themselves as Polish-Canadians living in Montreal thought the sculpture was "beautiful."

Before Burack could submit his written complaint, the sculpture had been awarded two of the Carnaval's six prizes. Cook said the sculpture was awarded the prizes based "upon the aesthetic beauty and technical merit of the sculpture, not its potential symbolic significance."

When the Carnaval called to apologize to Burack by telephone last Friday, however, a spokesperson suggested the sculpture might be destroyed or its prizes taken away.

Pelletier later said the Carnaval would not take any of these actions, explaining that the prizes were given by a committee of volunteers and should therefore not be removed.

"The essential is that this will not happen again," Pelletier indicated.

Burack said he could not help but feel "very disappointed" by the Carnaval's lack of action.

"The lack of action detracts from any apology and indicates a lack of sincerity and/or understanding of the issue," Burack indicated via email.

The Canadian Jewish Congress agrees. "It's very disappointing that the organizers didn't realize this was grossly offensive," Rabbi Reuben Poupko said on behalf of the organization, adding, "The iconography is from the middle ages."

Simon Jacobs, the general director for Exhibition Shalom Quebec, an exhibition on Quebec City's Jewish heritage, was upset that such symbolism . "Something anti-semitic is going on in [Ukraine] and is acceptable to the point that they thought they could bring it here to Canada."

Olena Zakharova, the press secretary for the Ukrainian Embassy, defended the sculpture. "It was not the intention of the Ukrainian sculptors to offend anyone. Vertep is an ancient Ukrainian tradition." She suggested that whether the Jewish figure is viewed positively or negatively is "a matter of preference."

The Ukrainian team composed of sculptors Orest Dzyndra, Petro Romanyuk and Sergiy Klyapetura left Quebec City following the award ceremony and could not be contacted by the QCT. Neither the Embassy nor the Carnaval was able to reach them by press time.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Quebec skroos little children again

The UNESCO Convention/Recommendation against Discrimination in Education, of which Canada (federal government and provincial governments) are bound, states that in the absence of choice, the establishment or maintenance, for linguistic reasons, of separate educational systems or institutions is discriminatory by definition.

In Quebec, children of French-speaking parents are prohibited from attending English-language schools. English-speaking immigrant children (say, from the US or UK) are forced into French-language schools. The right to attend an English-language public school in Quebec is hereditary, passed from parents to their children.

Quebec is violating the UNESCO Convention/Recommendation against Discrimination in Education because it limits choice.

But being Quebec, the intelligentsia accepts this and doesn't make much fuss. Even the English-speaking community whose school population has atrophied in the last 30 years puts up with it. Occasionally, there are moments of clarity, when the full scope of the absurdity of Quebec restrictions are clear for all to see.

Such a moment happened last week when newspapers reported on an English-speaking Quebec kid who is being forced out of his English-language school, even though his parents were born in Canada and speak English as their first language. His anglophone mother went to French-language school in Quebec when she was a kid, an act which (ironically) has limited options for his son. But as long as the kid can prove his dad went to English-language school anywhere in Canada he'll be okay.

The kid's estranged father was raised in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. He was English-speaking. He went to English-language school his whole life. The grandmother has confirmed this seemingly obvious fact. But not all the records are available for the father. In one case, there was a fire and records were lost. In another, the school board destroys records once the former student is age 30. So, the kid cannot prove his dad went to English-language school in Alberta, Saskatchewan and BC.

Now that this case is in the media, perhaps an exception will be made. How many other stories like this go unreported?

It is 2009. Elsewhere in the universe, a black man was elected president of the United States, Iraq is holding free elections but in Quebec, it's the same old crappola.

'Bureaucratic b.s.' could force Montrealer from English school
By Brenda Branwell
Montreal Gazette
February 2, 2009

MONTREAL - An 11-year-old Montreal boy faces the prospect of being booted out of his English elementary school - all because of “bureaucratic b.s.” and one missing signature, his mother contends.

A Quebec government committee ruled that Kyle Wozniak, who turns 11 Tuesday, isn’t eligible to attend English school.

He started his education in French but in September, switched to Willingdon School in the Montreal community of Notre Dame de Grace.

The government committee explained its decision, citing a lack of proof that Kyle’s parents received the “major part” of primary education in English in Canada. It’s an eligibility requirement for English education under Quebec’s French Language Charter.

Wozniak, who went to French school, insists Kyle’s biological father did all his schooling in English.

But they’ve been estranged since Kyle was an infant and Wozniak says she hasn’t been able to reach him for an affidavit about the boy’s schooling.

With help from his mother Brenda Romanuck in Alberta, the English Montreal School Board nailed down some proof - Kyle’s father attended Grades 3 and 4 in English in Saskatoon as well as English high school.

But the search for records from two other elementary schools the father attended hit a dead end. The board learned there were no school records at a British Columbia school because of a fire in the 1970s. And a school in Stony Plain, Alta., destroys records once a former student reaches the age of 30.

“How much more proof do you need?” an agitated Wozniak said Monday. “Do you need a urine or a stool sample to prove that the guy is English?”

The government committee ruled that Kyle has to attend French school. The English Montreal School Board says it has been instructed by the Education Department to remove Kyle, a Grade 5 student, from their system.

“We hope somebody at the Ministry of Education who handles these cases will do justice by this child,” Angela Mancini, the board’s chair, said in a statement.

Reached Monday in St. Albert, Alta., Romanuck said her son did all his schooling in English. “Yes, absolutely,” she said. Romanuck said it seems no matter how much information they try to provide about her son’s schooling: “It’s just never enough.”

A spokesperson at the Education Department said they do not comment on individual cases for confidentiality reasons.

Wozniak said her son had difficulties in French school but is thriving in his English school. “I don’t care if they call the cops. They’re not going to pull my son out of that school,” she said.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Letter to the mayor of Huntingdon, Quebec

Dear Mayor Gendron,

As your new writing coach, I'd like to help you with all your correspondence to the prime minister of Canada from now on. I think it will help you avoid looking daft and the antonym of erudite.

My dear and loving wife has warned me against this, as she believes the amount of work needed to fix your letters will sap all my strength at a time when it is needed to finish renovations on our home. But I believe my intervention will be worth it.
Dear Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

Considering the vote taken at the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations in Geneva and the position of Canada in regards of the genocide conducted by the Zionist Governement of Israel:
1. The organization is actually called the Human Rights Council, not the Human Rights Committee.

2. Genocide is usually defined in the following way: The systematic and planned extermination of an entire national, racial, political, or ethnic group. Given that Israel warns civilians by telephone and leaflet when they are planning on destroying a building, I think you might agree this is a terrible way to go about exterminating a people.

I'm not sure how you do genocide in Huntingdon, but in the rest of the world when an army wants to kill as many people as possible, they don't give warnings in advance.

3. I suppose you believe it is a clever turn-of-phrase to refer to Israel's government as the Zionist Government of Israel. Many neo-Nazi groups and like thinkers throw around the word "Zionist" as a kind of insult or code for a worldwide conspiracy among Jewish people to control the world. You should know, however, that Zionism is defined as "a modern political movement for reconstituting a Jewish national state." So, to call the government of Israel "Zionist" is actually quite accurate, albeit unnecessary.

4. You should use a spell-checker from now on. Government does not not need an "e" in the middle.

On behalf of my Administration:

You are a shame for Canada;
You are just disgusting;

5. I think there is a logical incongruity here. Is the prime minister "just disgusting" or a "shame for Canada"? The word "just" implies he is only that one thing and nothing else. Perhaps you might have said: "You are a foul man with flat hair and you wear glasses, which makes you a four-eyes."

You have no clue of History and Humanity;

6. I must insist that you refrain from capitalizing words that don't need it. Also, perhaps you might have written: "You don't understand the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict" or something more specific. Because I know for a fact that the prime minister is working on a book about the history of hockey. Do you still let kids play hockey in Huntingdon, or did you ban that activity too?

You are just a band-wagon follower of Israel, its racist Governement, and the dumb president Bush and the Republican Party;

7. I have seen the band-wagon for Israeli supporters and I must confess that it could use a good paint job. I've written letters to the Elders of Zion, but as of yet have not received a positive response on my request for funds.

I just re-read your text and, upon reflection, I don't think you were referring to a literal band wagon. You were using the phrase as a kind of metaphor.
I now fear I have said too much about the inner workings of the Elders of Zion. I would be thankful if you could forget about the last paragraph and keep this between us.

8. It might be going a bit far to refer to the government of Israel as racist. It is a country with two official languages (Hebrew and Arabic) and where is not illegal for a merchant to post a commercial sign in Arabic only (if he so desires). It is also a country where the hospitals treat all citizens of Israel, be they Christian, Jewish or Muslim. They also treat Palestinians who need treatment--even the hospital in Ashkelon that Hamas fires its rockets into.

9. Perhaps at this point it will be evident why you shouldn't refer to other people as dumb. Although it is pretty witty to refer to President Bush that way. I've never heard anyone say that before. You're the first. How clever you are. The people of Huntingdon are surely blessed.

Go and read some history books.

10. I cannot disagree with this. History books are a good way to learn about things. Perhaps next time you can share with the prime minister the names of some of the history books you have enjoyed. Or the names any books you have read. Or even which comic strips you like. (That Dilbert can be a riot sometimes! Why doesn't he just quit his job already! LOL!!!)

Your position do not represent the majority of Canadians and you have no mandate to encourage the criminals of the Government of Israel. You act like Chamberlain dealing with Hitler before World War II. Just a plain blind sinister person - You are.

11. I feel I must warn you against making historical comparisons to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who allowed the Germans to annex Czechoslovakia in a futile effort to achieve a temporary and fleeting peace. History suggests
painfully that it is counter-productive to make territorial concessions to organizations that call for genocide against the Jewish people--which you must have noticed given your interest in genocide, Nazism and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

12. Also, I am a bit freaked out by your sentence structure. Weird bad writing - It is.

The Mayor of Huntingdon (Quebec),

Stephane Gendron
January 12th, 2008

Mayor Gendron, thank you for letting me be your writing coach in your future correspondence to the prime minister. In case it wasn't clear, the underlined text above are "hyperlinks" and allow one to click to get more information on the Internet.

Please be careful, however, as the Internet contains many websites that have white power or Islamist fundamentalist themes that fit in nicely with your view of the conflict.

Should you happen across one of these websites (by accident, let us assume) I trust you will make an effort to critically examine whether, for instance, women should in fact be stoned if they are unlucky enough to be raped and whether commemorating Hitler's birthday is the best use of one's day. (It's April 20, by the by, in case you feel inspired on that day to clear your schedule and write another letter to the prime minister.)

It has been a pleasure writing to you and I wish you a very happy and healthy 2009.