Monthly Archives: June 2008

Fireworks season has begun

The yearly summer festival whereby representatives from countries around the world come here and blow stuff up has begun. (I’m resisting the urge to say “with a bang” here)

It continues Saturdays, with Wednesday shows starting July 23, until Aug. 6.

The shows start at 10pm and last until just before 11. Best free place to watch is at the parking lot near Notre Dame and Parthenais (Papineau metro). The Jacques-Cartier bridge is also freed up during the shows, but the pedestrian area is too crowded and the roadway too obscured to be able to really enjoy it from there unless you setup really early.

Be sure to bring a chair, some slightly warmer clothes and a radio, which you can tune to 105.7 FM to listen to the music that accompanies the show (it makes a big difference). If you’re taking public transit (which you should), buy your return tickets in advance, because the lineups after the fireworks are insane.

For more information about them, check out this unofficial enthusiast’s site.

Jim Prentice doesn’t understand his own copyright bill

I’ve been following the brouhaha over the Conservative government’s new copyright bill, C-61, and specifically how the government has been responding to geeks who are finding holes in it and driving public opinion against the bill.

The more I follow it, the more I come to a rather stunning conclusion: Industry Minister Jim Prentice doesn’t understand his own copyright bill.

The big controversy, as the Globe’s Ivor Tossell explains, is over a provision about so-called digital locks (those software hacks they call Digital Rights Management, or DRM, that try to control how you access digital media). It says that users cannot bypass these locks, no matter how flimsy they are, even if what they’re trying to do with it is entirely legal.

The consequence of this is that companies just put digital locks on everything, and through a loophole in the law can claim rights they shouldn’t have in the first place.

In the above video, Prentice and Heritage Minister Josée Verner are asked about this, and you can see them struggle to regurgitate the talking points they’ve been handed about the bill. (In Verner’s case, you might argue that language difficulties combined with an inability to hear the question might be an excuse.)

It’s also apparent in Prentice’s 10-minute interview with CBC’s Search Engine (its most popular podcast, which incidentally has been cancelled). Prentice calls common-sense hypotheticals about the law “arcane,” seems unclear about what would happen in certain cases, and hangs up on the interviewer to escape his questions.

But to me this isn’t just about a minister and a bill. It’s something that’s always bothered me about parliamentary politics: the idea that being an MP is all the expertise needed to run a federal department. You don’t need to be a doctor to manage doctors. You don’t need to have a PhD to manage universities. You don’t need to have a driver’s license to manage the transportation department. And you don’t need to understand computers to be in charge of a new copyright bill.

Of course, in many cases ministers are put in areas they would be more comfortable with. Ken Dryden being minister for sport makes sense. But cabinet shuffles being as routine as they are makes it seem as if running the military isn’t so different from foreign affairs or finance.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe being a minister is more about managing, appointing directors, making budgets, drafting legislation and shaking hands at ceremonial functions than it is about getting into the nitty-gritty.

But Prentice and the copyright bill show a clear problem with that premise.

TWIM: Dion’s carbon tax idea

Somehow, despite working 42 hours this week, I managed to put together another bluffer’s guide, for the Liberal carbon tax plan. Liberal leader Stéphane Dion calls it Green Shift, which I guess is not to be confused with this Green Shift. From the video, it seems to have something to do with stock photos of plants and animals, combined with people in suits clapping awkwardly in a white room.

The 48-page plan (PDF), which ironically wastes quite a bit of space by having blank pages and one-word all-green title pages, explains far more details than non-Liberal politicians would have liked, because now they can’t attack Dion for being unclear.

That doesn’t mean they won’t attack the Liberals though. The Tories have already setup a they-think-it’s-funny website mocking Dion and his plan, saying everyone but the tooth fairy and leprechauns will have to pay more taxes as a result of it.

Basically all you need to know about the plan is this:

  • It would tax polluting fossil fuels and cut income taxes to balance the money difference
  • It exempts gasoline, because politicians are too scared to admit that high gas prices help the environment when suburban soccer moms are griping about how much money it takes to fill up their SUVs. This makes the plan useless for its intended purpose.
  • It’s a Liberal plan, and the Liberals have to become the government and get support from a majority of MPs before they can implement it.

Why I love Quebec

As St. Jean Baptiste approaches, Patrick Lagacé asks us to say why we love Quebec.

Here’s a few of my reasons:

  1. Julie Couillard.
  2. Because politics here is never boring.
  3. Because we have a government that’s progressive yet democratic.
  4. Because we have a population that is actually bilingual, and doesn’t just pretend to be for show.
  5. Because we had a massively controversial independence vote that was decided almost within the margin of error, but it wasn’t followed by a civil war.
  6. Because the single biggest and most violent political crisis in our history produced a single fatality.
  7. Because of Les Francs-Tireurs and Patrick Lagacé’s hair.
  8. Because Québécois French is so funny-sounding.
  9. Because the Canadiens are not so much a hockey team as a shared religion.
  10. Because of all the pretty girls I’m going to see today on the way to work.

UPDATE: I see this has officially reached meme status. Which would make it my first meme. And hopefully my last.

UPDATE (June 24): Lagacé’s column compiles his readers’ responses.

Far from black and white

Richard Martineau goes on one of his usual rants, this time about what he considers racism.

The first part of his rant is against a lame This Hour Has 22 Minutes sketch that makes fun of Quebecers. Since Martin Patriquin already has a response to that one, I won’t bother here.

The second part attacks my newspaper for the most curious of reasons:

On faisait un appel à tous pour savoir si une famille du West Island pouvait accueillir une petite fille de 13 ans un week-end par mois, histoire de laisser sa mère souffler un peu.

«La jeune fille est très active, elle garde sa chambre propre et respecte les règlements de la maison, pouvait-on lire. Idéalement, la famille d’accueil serait noire…»

Imaginez comment The Gazette réagirait si le Journal se mettait à la recherche d’une famille d’accueil BLANCHE pour une jeune fille. On crierait au racisme !

The Gazette has regular columns in its arts and life section which profile kids looking for foster homes and organizations in need of volunteers. It’s about a step and a half below actually rescuing orphans from a burning building.

But Martineau takes issue with the fact that it’s suggested a black kid would ideally (but necessarily) best be placed with a black family.

To answer his straw-man hypothetical, if the Journal was trying more to place troubled children with foster parents, I would certainly welcome it. And if an ad requested white parents, I’d probably be more confused than offended. Statistically there are always more black kids in these situations and fewer black parents in a position to adopt.

But even if I grant that this is racism at its core, is this really the biggest injustice he could find?

The Gazette can be criticized for a lot of things (ask me, I’ll write you up a list), but in 1,000 years this would not have stricken me as one of them.


A group of local Improv-Everywhere-style scene-causers is planning a mock gun fight (Facebook link) on St. Laurent at Prince Arthur at 7pm on Saturday (exact location isn’t being divulged yet because of NARC-ism concerns meeting at Prince Arthur and Coloniale).

The event is purposefully taking place in the middle of the Main Madness street sale. I’m sure no problems will arise from people yelling “bang” and randomly falling down in the middle of a crowded street.

Either way, hopefully it’ll last longer than five seconds.

UPDATE: If you want to make a day of these activities, you can also go to a Capture the Flag game at 2pm at the statue in Mount Royal Park on Park Ave., as well as a Manhunt game at 5pm in Carré Saint-Louis.

Another fire

Just as I was about to hit the hay late in the night, I started smelling some burning paper through my window. I ignored it at first but it began to intensify, so I went out onto my balcony and saw the street was filled with smoke.

I went outside to check out what was going on and I found this:

Fire at 370 Crémazie Blvd. W.

A fire broke out just past 3am at 370 Crémazie Blvd. E., near St. Denis St., in a space shared by Club Magnum downstairs and Studio 88 Swing upstairs.

Fortunately, because of the late hour, the bar was already closed and there was no one inside the building. There’s no word on what started the fire, but firefighters took a good look at the air conditioning system at the back of the building where the fire broke out.

One thing I always find interesting when I stumble upon stuff late at night is the eventual arrival of the newspaper photographer or TV cameraman. In this case we had both:

Some of the larger media outlets still keep people on standby at all hours of the night to take pictures of fires, car crashes and other routine-but-visually-appealing events that happen.

Another blogger war with the Evil MSM

Associated Press, a wire service I have grown to miss ever since my newspaper’s owner cut it off, has gotten into a kerfuffle with bloggers that’s making headlines everywhere.

The issue, simply put, is over how much bloggers can excerpt from an article before the quoting becomes reproducing. It’s an issue a lot of content producers struggle with because there are no hard-and-fast rules for fair use of other people’s content.

The problem, in this case, is that AP went too far, demanding excerpts as short as 35 words be deleted. That’s about two sentences, and just about any reasonable person would judge that to be an excerpt rather than a reproduction of an AP article (unless that article itself was only 35 words, and even then it would be debatable). From a web form that the AP has been using, it seems even five words from them would be considered infringing if not paid for.

Now AP is meeting with some self-appointed blogging representatives to hammer out some guidelines for bloggers. This is a good idea, but it cannot be used to restrict rights already given under fair use law. It can only provide additional rights of reproduction, and make suggestions to stay out of trouble.

But as much as I think AP’s position is silly in all this, the response from blogs like TechCrunch is ridiculous. A complete ban on referencing AP stories? A boycott? Please. Not only does this give AP exactly what it wants, does anyone seriously expect that a wide range of bloggers is going to not talk about a story just because AP broke it?

UPDATE: I have to admit, this is pretty funny.