Monthly Archives: October 2007

Can’t we just agree that the Charter amendment is a stupid idea?

Can we stop with the news stories about the moronic idea from the Quebec Council on the Status of Women to ban hijabs and change the Charter to make gender equality rights trump religious belief?

Apparently not, as more politicians with the foresight of moths are actually getting behind it, already coming up with ways of ranking our fundamental rights.

It goes without saying that experts with brains oppose the amendment, for the simple reason that when we start saying some rights are less important than others, we begin de-valuing them. They also point out that religious rights don’t trump those of gender equality, and changing the Charter in such a way would not fix the problem, but likely have tons of other unintended consequences.

And even if that obvious flaw hadn’t been pointed out, it’s not like making the change would suddenly cause devout Muslim women to run out into the streets in bikinis, thanking us for allowing them the privilege of dressing immodestly.

It’s a horrible solution that fails to solve a non-problem. Let’s just agree to that and move on.

Is “fuck” gratuitous?

The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council has ruled that a live TSN interview with junior hockey star Jonathan Toews violated the industry’s voluntary obscenity standards because he uttered the F-bomb moments after his team won the gold medal at the world junior hockey championships.

Specifically, he said (emphasis mine):

Oh, it’s unbelievable. It’s a great feeling. You know, we’ve come, uh, overcome so much and, uh, you know, tonight was a battle from start to finish and we did a fucking great job.

The decision was not unanimous. Two of the seven council members dissented, arguing that TSN should not have reasonably predicted that a hockey player would swear on live television.

TSN won’t be forced to pay any fine, but they do have to broadcast the decision in prime-time.

In general, Canadian television is expected to restrict use of obscene language between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m., when children tend to be watching. But even then there’s some wiggle room. The council also distinguishes between thoughtful use of these words and gratuitous uses.

Which brings me to my question: Is “fuck” gratuitous in this context? Is there another word that would more properly convey his feelings at this point?

I’m always frustrated that professional athletes, even after they win world championships, bite their tongues in front of the cameras. They talk about how great a game their opponents played, how this was a team effort, how the coach helped a lot, how honoured they are. When they’re asked how they feel, the response tends to be a throw-away “oh it’s great”. This problem is likely only to get worse as a result of this decision, which also urges broadcasters to ask athletes to watch their language before live interviews.

Jonathan Toews’s use of the word “fucking” is a breath of fresh air. It’s not gratuitous, it’s insightful. It’s news.

So you think you can produce original programming?

News outlets all over the country are rewriting a CTV press release into news. It’s announcing that the network has secured Canadian rights to the show So You Think You Can Dance, and like Canadian Idol, our version of the show will be in the same format but with different hosts.

Am I the only one getting tired of Canadian networks creating Canadian versions of shows developed in other countries and selling it to the CRTC as original Canadian content? Think of what we’ve done so far:

  1. Are You Smarter Than a Canadian 5th Grader? (Global), adapted from Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? (FOX)
  2. Canada’s Next Top Model (Citytv), adapted from America’s Next Top Model (CW)
  3. Canada’s Worst Driver (Discovery), adapted from Britain’s Worst Driver
  4. Canada’s Worst Handyman (Discovery), adapted from Britain’s Worst DIYer
  5. Canadian Idol (CTV), adapted from American Idol (FOX), which was in turn adapted from Britain’s Pop Idol, all part of Simon Cowell’s empire
  6. Deal or No Deal Canada (Global), adapted from Deal or No Deal (NBC)
  7. Entertainment Tonight Canada (Global), adapted from Entertainment Tonight (Syndicated)
  8. No Opportunity Wasted (CBC), adapted from No Opportunity Wasted (New Zealand)
  9. Project Runway Canada (Slice), adapted from Project Runway (Bravo)
  10. Who Do You Think You Are? (CBC), adapted from Who Do You Think You Are? (BBC)

And that’s the only ones I can find on a quick search.

I’m not the only one who thinks this is a problem. Canadian actors, writers, and other artists are objecting to the trend, demanding the networks invest in Canadian ideas instead of American ones, and stop sending hundreds of millions of dollars down south to license their shows.

What’s wrong? Is it because we don’t have as much money as they do? Is it because our ideas suck? Is it because Canadian viewers are so allergic to home-grown content that we have to be weaned onto it using comfortable American shows?

Or is there nothing wrong? I enjoy Canada’s Worst Driver/Handyman, and I watch American TV a lot during prime time. Is the problem me?

Self-centred drivers have short-sighted views

The Journal has a feature article today about a survey they organized which shows rush-hour drivers want heavy trucks banned from bridges during rush-hour. The article doesn’t include any interviews with truck drivers or transport companies or anyone else who might provide a balanced perspective.

Had they done so, they might have come up with this simple argument: Truck drivers don’t like rush hour any more than office workers do. They try to arrange their schedules, whenever possible, to avoid high-traffic situations which slow them down and eat into their productivity. When they travel during rush-hour it’s because they don’t have a choice.

The survey, with 71% in favour of creating such a restriction, is also misleading. All drivers want less rush hour traffic. If they could, they’d have everyone but them banned from the road. But if you explain the economic consequences of unnecessary regulation of truck traffic (like higher retail prices), you might start seeing those numbers change.

The Mirabel Mega Mall

First announced over two years ago, construction is beginning on the Lac Mirabel Mega Mall. Twice as large as the West Edmonton Mall, the business plan is simple: Spend hundreds of millions of dollars to create a larger version of something that already exists in Montreal, but make it bigger so people will want to travel 40 minutes by car to get there instead. Expect that the sheer bigness of the project will turn it into a tourist destination and kick-start the economy of the entire region which will only get bigger with all the urban sprawl.

In Mirabel. Where no one has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a giant development project only to see it fail.

Well, at least this project is being funded privately by businesses instead of by the government. And it looks like many businesses have already signed up. We’ll see if the project lives up to the hype after it opens in 2009.

The penny isn’t free

You know, I thought our government had some common sense when it came to copyright and intellectual property laws.

BoingBoing and BlogTO point to a complaint from the City of Toronto’s One Cent Now campaign for getting one cent out of the six-cent-per-dollar GST to be given to cities. Apparently the Royal Canadian Mint considers the design of the penny and the words “one cent” to be its property and is charging the campaign over $47,000 for the right to use them on its website.

Because the Mint is a crown corporation and not government directly, it can own intellectual property and charge for its use, even when that property is literally in the hands and pockets of millions of people.

In the U.S. and other countries, they don’t have this problem. Unless an image on a coin was licensed from an artist (say, it was a portrait of Elvis or something), it’s considered public domain and people can use them as they wish (so long as they’re not counterfeiting).

Even if the Mint is right in asserting its control over the image on the penny (and I don’t think it should), its request is ridiculous. No one will mistake the One Cent Now site for that of the Canadian Mint, and they’re not selling T-shirts with the penny on them. It’s political speech, and they’re justified in calling this a slap in the face.

UPDATE (Oct. 9): makes the case that even if the image of the penny was subject to copyright, it expired years ago.

More suggestions for Vlog

After the Domster asked me to hold my judgment about his new show Vlog, I promised to take a look at their second episode and report back.

The second episode was pretty well identical to the first in format and style. Still, I’m noticing more things about the show worthy of improvement.

The show’s format seems to be pretty simple. Borne and Arpin stand in an all-white room with TV screens and a couch, banter among each other like a cheesy infomercial and show clips (between 5 and 15 seconds) of videos that are popular online, including:

  • Corporate “viral” advertising campaigns: The first video that played for more than a few seconds was the latest video of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which features a young girl bombarded by images from the media presenting unrealistic ideas of the ideal female form. Ironically, it was introduced by Geneviève Borne, who while I’m sure isn’t a bimbo in real life, was clearly hired to do this show because she looks like one.
  • Game shows in other countries: This week, it was other-language versions of Deal or No Deal (or Le Banquier, which amazingly enough is a TVA show). There’s also more Japanese game show videos, which look like they’re going to become a weekly feature here.
  • YouTube’s top 10: Clips we’ve seen before but maybe TVA’s grandmother demographic hasn’t, like ol’ Miss U.S. Americans and the Swiss firefighters. The argument, and I suppose it makes sense, is that their target audience isn’t us web geeks but normals who aren’t browsing the YouTube or the blogs. I think that audience will be shrinking.
  • Blatantly transparent cross-promotion: In this case, their “top 3” videos from Occupation Double, the reality show that precedes it (for those unfamiliar, it’s like porn, only the plots aren’t as interesting, the makeup is more caked on and the sex isn’t as graphic). As bad as it is to feature clips from your own network’s show as if they were the most popular videos on YouTube, what’s worse is that the clips are meaningless and entirely uninteresting to people like me who avoid such crap programming.

In the spirit of constructive criticism, allow me to make some additional suggestions on how to improve the show:

  • Kill the silly banter and lame jokes. You’re not actors, and it comes across as fake. It’s bad enough I have to endure that on the local news, but at least they can make the excuse that it’s live TV. (For that matter, why does this show have two hosts anyway?) Dominic, you don’t have to pretend to be hip and cool, because you’re already hip and cool.
  • Find some unsung heroes. Look at videos that haven’t yet become popular and give them some mainstream attention.
  • Forget the Occupation Double videos. Your viewers aren’t idiots, and you’ll lose what little respect you have if you start giving special treatment to everything TVA/Canoe/Quebecor.

I wish I had some more suggestions, but you’re really going through uncharted territory here. In the U.S., ABC’s iCaught seems to focus on interviewing video creators and discussing issues related to online video. I’m not sure if that’s the way to go, but it’s an option. And it feels less weird than just profiting off other people’s creativity.

That said, my criticism’s of the show’s website still stand. It’s nice that it shows the videos you use, but it’s still far too hard to navigate. Fix that and you’ll earn more respect from me.

More overpass inspection news

Another month, another series of bridge inspections. Transport Quebec released their latest list this week, which showed two bridges needing more repair and three getting the all-clear in the Laurentians.

I’ve updated my map of the 135 structures (plus municipal ones and others of interest) to reflect the inspections.

You can see the full list of inspected bridges and overpasses in this MTQ PDF file.

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Concordia’s student media bickering again

At Concordia University, there’s been a rivalry between its student newspapers for more than 20 years now, since The Concordian was launched in 1984 as competition for The Link (both now have RSS feeds, by the way, for those who want alternative local news sources).

This week, The Concordian rekindled some of that rivalry by questioning The Link’s referendum question asking to have their fees applied to graduate students. Currently both papers are funded by fees from undergraduate students only.

The piece goes on in detail about how The Link (a paper I ran three years ago) receives twice as much money from students than The Concordian, for about as much output (one issue a week during the school year). Because of the extra money, The Link can afford new computers, salaries for its editors, better quality printing and a substantial budget surplus.

Let’s go into a bit of background to understand this situation a bit better.

The Link was created in 1980 as the result of a merger of two newspapers: The Georgian, which served Sir George Williams University, and the Loyola News, which served Loyola College. When those two institutions merged in 1974, it was decided that merging the two student newspapers was a logical step.

Efforts to create a second student newspaper at SGWU and Concordia emerged during the 60s and 70s, but none lasted more than a few years. In 1984 a group of renegade Link staffers broke off and formed The Concordian, which was supposed to have a more moderate mainstream editorial stance to balance The Link’s crazy leftism. (An ideological split that amazingly lasts to this day)

Both newspapers were funded in full by the student association, until in 1986 students decided that in order to ensure editorial independence they should get their funding directly from students through a tax on their tuition fees. Since then, both are independent organizations with their own boards of directors.

At the time, The Link was publishing twice a week and The Concordian once, so the fee was established at $0.13 per credit for The Link and $0.07 per credit to The Concordian. In the early 1990s, The Link successfully passed a referendum to increase it to $0.20, and in the late 1990s dropped from 40 issues a year to 30, or once a week. The Concordian got their fee levy increased from $0.07 to $0.10 a few years ago.

So all this to say that The Link publishes 30 issues a year and The Concordian 25, and The Link gets almost twice as much money ($0.19 per credit from all undergrads after yet another referendum to get engineering and business students to join in). The fee difference has always been a pain in the Concordian’s neck.

The criticisms brought up in the piece are for the most part justified. The Link enjoys an accumulated $250,000 surplus while The Concordian barely scrapes by. The old excuse that The Link was simply better has largely fallen by the wayside as the quality of both papers’ editorial content has become more equal.

But there is nothing sinister about The Link’s fee. They have it because they asked students for more money and students said yes. When The Concordian goes to students this fall to ask that their fee be brought in line (something The Link apparently doesn’t support), it’ll be up to those students to decide if their paper is worthy of the extra money.

The Link, which asked graduate students to join them a couple of years ago and lost a referendum on the subject, is certainly motivated more by money than membership in its desire to get fees from graduate students. I wanted membership extended to graduate students because there were some (notably in the journalism department’s graduate diploma program) who wanted to become members of the society. But they said no. To me, that was the end of it. Graduate students are disconnected from student life and don’t spend as much time on campus, so they decided the student paper thing wasn’t for them.

Now they’re trying again, and The Concordian isn’t happy about the idea of the divide between rich and poor getting larger. I can’t say I blame them for their emotional reaction, though they shouldn’t be blaming The Link for their troubles.

We’ll see what happens to both papers’ requests for more student fee money. Will students want to dig into their own pockets to settle the score?

Vlog can get better if they try

Dominic Arpin, whose new TVA show Vlog premiered last week, wants us bloggers to take a chill pill about criticizing the show. He points to posts by me and MédiaBiz’s Michel Dumais which were highly critical.

My regular readers know I’m somewhat … critical of things, especially the mainstream media. But while I make jokes and use sarcasm and I highlight the negatives instead of the positives, I always try to make my criticisms constructive. I don’t say something sucks unless I have a reason to back it up. And when organizations improve, I try to make it a point to highlight that and offer praise.

Just to be clear: I don’t dislike the show. I have no wish to see it cancelled. If anything, I would like Mr. Arpin and the producers of the show (and its website) to read my post and make improvements.

But I’m also not going to hold judgment just because it’s the premiere, as Arpin asks. People watch the premiere, it’s what gives them a first impression. If you don’t put your best foot forward from the get-go, you’ll have a hard time winning back audiences. (Even then, I cut the show some slack for showing old videos, since they haven’t had the chance to talk about them before.)

I stand by what I wrote in the original post: The show is a slightly better version of a similar concept ABC launched this summer called iCaught. And obviously done on a much smaller budget. I think it has the potential to be very good or very bad depending on what habits they settle into. But the website is still atrocious and needs fixing.

Anyway, the show’s first attempt at user-generated content, having people lip-sync to Mes Aieux’s Dégénération, seems to be moderately successful with six videos submitted so far. That, at the very least, shows people are watching and engaged.

Vlog’s second episode airs Sunday at 9:30 on TVA. If they improve on their mistakes, you’ll definitely hear it from me.

Turcot project should please everyone, but doesn’t

This week in St. Henri there was a public consultation meeting for the Ministry of Transport’s Turcot project, which will see the Turcot Interchange (Highways 15, 20 and 720) reconstructed primarily at ground-level (saving money for maintenance, clearing some views and helping easing tensions of driving through an intersection built on decaying stilts).

The project would also see reconstruction of Highway 15/20 through Ville Emard (which would be lowered significantly now that giant ships aren’t passing through the Lachine Canal anymore), and more interestingly Highway 20 through Turcot Yards, which would be moved next to the Falaise St-Jacques along with new train tracks:

Turcot Yards redevelopment

This would free up a giant lot to be developed (though nobody’s come up with a good idea of what to do on it).

Though the MTQ has been holding consultation meetings, there are organized protests against the project, most notably from the Village des Tanneries, a small neighbourhood in western St. Henri whose residents are afraid their homes will be expropriated by the government and they’ll be stuck without fair value for them.

Other concerns include:

  • That the Falaise St-Jacques, a protected eco-territory, will be made inaccessible by putting a highway and railway next to it. (Of course, it’s already inaccessible, mostly because it sits on a cliff.)
  • That residents in neighbouring cities and boroughs (Westmount, NDG, Montreal West, Lachine, Sud-Ouest, Ville-Marie, Verdun, etc.) are not being sufficiently consulted by their municipal and borough governments.
  • That not enough is being done to ease traffic on local streets, especially in Montreal West (where a new highway access from Brock Ave. is being planned), Ville Emard’s Cabot neighbourhood (where accesses are being reworked to the 15/20 at de la Verendrye to simplify access to industrial areas for trucks), and NDG (where the MUHC is being built at the old Glen yard with no apparent direct access to the highway, and where the St-Jacques onramp to Highway 720 East is being made more complicated).

But when it comes down to it, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. A giant space will be made available and nobody will have to cross a highway to get there. The highway will have a natural barrier on one side, eliminating the need to make those ugly artificial sound walls on that side. And it’ll be much cheaper and easier to maintain the highest-trafficked highway interchange in Quebec.

It should be an extremely popular project. Unfortunately, citizens are getting short-changed at public meetings. This is entirely the boroughs’ faults. They’re saying it’s the MTQ’s problem and cutting off debate at council meetings, without mentioning that the MTQ is coming to the boroughs to take the pulse of citizens’ issues.

Let’s not let bureaucracy get in the way of progress, shall we? Let’s work together to make this work and see the creation of a new neighbourhood when this is all done… in 2015. Maybe.

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Kill the penny, but round it up

The issue of eliminating the penny from circulation has come up again, thanks to CanWest getting some Access to Information documents from the Royal Canadian Mint. The documents show the results of a study into the elimination of the penny.

The arguments (summarized in this Wikipedia article about the now-similarly-valued U.S. penny) are as follows:

Keeping the penny (also summarized in this page from Americans for Common Cents):

  • Public support. A majority in the U.S. still support keeping the penny, while Canadians are mostly unsure. I would argue that this is more about resistance to change and emotional attachment to the penny (how will we buy people’s thoughts? Will we have to put our five cents in?) than it is about any economic or practical reason. (The fact that the penny celebrates its 100th birthday next year may also have something to do with it)
  • Ever-so-slightly higher prices. Though this is technically true, it only works if you end up using the pennies you get at the register, either by rolling them up and bringing them to the bank or by giving them to cashiers as much as you get them.
  • Charities take pennies. But even they’re finding pennies tedious. UNICEF stopped distributing those boxes for kids at Halloween because the cost of transporting and counting them took away too much from their face value.
  • Profit for mints. This one is debatable. Both mints in Canada and the U.S. say they make money off pennies, producing them for less than their face value, and selling them at one cent each. But others argue that indirect costs (like transportation) aren’t calculated in this equation, and that they’re actually losing money.

Eliminating the penny:

  • They’re not accepted in vending machines. This is a big one for me, even though I don’t use them much. It’s how a lot of people get rid of their change. If vending machines don’t take them, then they become worthless… which brings me to my next point:
  • They’re worthless. Society has already spoken in its habits on this. Nobody bends over to pick up a penny. Stores have “take a penny leave a penny” trays where people recycle them. Pennies are hoarded with no second thought.
  • They’re a pain. You can’t use them in bulk to make purchases, you can’t use them in vending machines, so the only way to get rid of them is to use up to four at a time when paying cash or roll them up and bring them to the bank (waiting half an hour in line between 10am and 3pm when they’re open). Another increasingly popular method is these new coin-counting machines they’ve installed in grocery stores (the Metro on Queen Mary has one). They automatically sort your change and give you higher denomination currency in exchange for 10% of its worth. (I don’t know about you, but I’m not crazy about giving a machine 10% of my money just to count it)
  • I say so. Dammit.

I won’t get into these multimillion-dollar out-of-their-asses projections by economists on “lost productivity” because of the time it takes to count pennies and such, because they’re absolutely meaningless. The practical reasons above speak for themselves.

But while I’m in favour of eliminating the penny, I’m not crazy about the proposed solution at the cash register: Swedish rounding. It means prices (when paid in cash) will be rounded to the nearest 5-cent value. So $10.01 would be $10, and $10.07 would be $10.10.

My problem is two-fold:

  1. This rounding method presents problems at the midpoint. It’s not an issue with five-cent intervals, but if you have to round to the nearest dime, what do you do with $1.05? The method suggests flipping a coin to decide, which is silly. Others arbitrarily round up, or arbitrarily round down.
  2. Put simply, anything that costs $0.02 is now free. Perhaps it’s just an academic issue since you can’t buy anything for just a penny anymore, but it just kind of bothers me. What if someone just decided to buy a penny of gas at a time? They could go on forever and never have to pay anything. (I’m sure there are laws about this, but it’s just tinkering with a broken system.)

We already round values up to the next penny, when we apply taxes. $0.80 plus tax in Quebec is $0.9116, which is rounded up to $0.92 instead of down. Why not just apply this up to the next level? Yes, you pay more, but it eliminates the problem of being able to pay someone less than what your purchase is worth.

TWIM: Spacing Montreal and Princess Di

This week’s blog is Spacing Montreal, which quietly started this summer and formally launched last month. Since then it has quickly become one of my favourite blogs about the city (even earning a coveted spot on my Montreal blogroll). It has posts in both languages, good stories paired with good photos, and it sticks to its theme. If you haven’t already, you should definitely check it out.

Also this week from me in the paper (but not online) is an explainer on the Princess Di inquiry going on in Britain. You can read all about the circumstances of her death (including two investigations from two different countries both concluding there was no supersecret government conspiracy) in this Wikipedia article. Say what you want about Europe’s better ideas on governing, but at least our inquiries are about government conspiracies that actually happened.

Proposed bike rental system has issues

Stationnement de Montréal is going to spend $15 million to setup a bike rental system downtown similar to the one launched in Paris in July. Except they’ll spend 1/10th the money to have fewer bikes at fewer stations. And they’ll charge 10 times as much. (See correction below)

Whereas in Paris the bikes cost the equivalent of $1.50 a day (plus a $150 refundable deposit), The Gazette reports the Montreal system would cost “as little as $1 per half-hour”.

Perhaps difference in price is meaningless for most people. If it’s necessary to get the system running then I’m all for it.

Then again, as Kate reminds me, there doesn’t appear to be any insurance against bike theft. So if someone makes off with it while you’re doing your shopping, you’re on the hook for that deposit. Enough theft of these easily-identifiable bikes might drive people away.

CORRECTION: I goofed. The Paris system is 1 Euro a day plus the rental fee, at a rate which increases the longer you use it (which to me doesn’t make any sense — it would just encourage people to return a bike and take another one).