Canada Day: the good, the bad, and the ugly

Clouds made of smoke.

Canada Day, 2021.

First the good news; one of the missing cats, Hannibal, has returned! I happened to look out the window and there he was sitting on the deck. Appears to be none the worse for his four day adventure, except for an insistence on going out again. That’s not happening, big furry cat.

The bad news; wild fires have broken out all around, thanks to the thunderstorms last night. The air smells of smoke, the sky looks of smoke, and the nearest one is at the next lake over – just five kilometers away.

As seen from above.

This satellite view taken at about 4:30 PM Wednesday off Zoom Earth shows the cloud formations from the two largest fires. The one on the left you can follow the smoke trail down to the Lytton fire, and the one on the right leads down to the Kamloops fire. The shadow on the right is caused be the density of the smoke clouds, and the look white because if reflecting the sun back to the satellite. From beneath they are dark and grey-brown.

Raven lamenting.

The ugly part is that we don’t have much to celebrate in Canada this year. The revelation of the horror that was the residential schools has justifiably put a damper on all the good news, even the advances made against the pandemic. For those who don’t know, these “residential schools” were authorized by the government and operated largely by the Catholic church. For over 100 years, right up into the 1990s, they essentially kidnapped native children and abused them in some delusional effort to integrate them into mainstream society. What they really did was damage and often kill them. Then they tossed them into unmarked graves like so much garbage. The concept alone is appalling and horrific. The way they carried it out is akin to the Holocaust. Really. That this happened under what should have been the watchful eye of a supposed modern-day democracy rather than some ancient civilization or evil dictatorship only emphasizes how horrible it was. I don’t know where we go from here, but the road will be long and difficult.

As always, I concentrate on the little things I have some control over. Slowly work progresses, and I try not to think about the fact it may all burn down soon.

I am tired, I am weary, I am sad.

Water birds

Just when I was thinking I would run out of subjects …

On a necessary trip to the transfer station I passed by the over-flowing Bridge Creek, which was being enjoyed by a few visitors.

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Canadian Geese
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They are exempt from social distancing
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Common Merganser, which is uncommon around here
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Post-shoot zoom-in
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Bufflehead – no, really; that’s what it’s called
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Digital zoom-in

Fortunately I had the Nikon with me as the ‘single bird’ shots are at full focal length – 1440mm. The Canon’s 250mm would not have caught much detail as the birds were a long ways off. That is the one disadvantage of that camera: there is no way to get that kind of focal length without spending huge money and getting a lens normally associated with astronomical research. This is where the ultra-small 1/2.3 sensor shines. (If there had been sun the pictures would have been much better.)

A visit to the Dentist

Doorhandles.

Talk to receptionist about a meter away, neither of us wearing masks. Sit in waiting room with other patients and not even a HEPA filter running, never mind any UVC light. Go in to hygienist’s room with her – no masks.

Now to business. She puts her mask on ’cause now, suddenly, I could potentially have the virus. “Please rinse your mouth with this” because the virus doesn’t live in the mouth and probably wouldn’t be killed by this stuff anyway (although it tastes like it would kill anything, possibly even me).

Scrape, scrape, scrape.

Uh, why aren’t we using the water-pick thing which is faster and more efficient and doesn’t hurt so much when your hand slips? “To prevent aerosolization of the virus”. Uh-huh. Somebody might want to go back to medical school and take the virology course over.

Back to receptionist. Schedule next appointment? “Well … we may have to close entirely. Everything is pretty unstable right now.” Well enjoy this payment; it could be your last.

Come home. Look at news. “Dentists instructed to cease all non-essential services.”

So how serious is it?

They’ve closed the parks. ‘Cause you know parks are a major site for viral transmission.

Honestly the Prime Moron’s conference today amounted to “blah, blah, blah, bleeding obvious, blah, blah, blah” which translates to “we’ve utterly screwed this up and now we have no idea what to do so it’s lip service from here on out”.

Trudeau’s policies can be described as “too little, too late, and too stupid”.

I hate to say “I told you so” but …

Actually I love saying that, and I get to quite often.

What should we be doing now?

Open it all back up again and take our lumps, frankly. None of the measures instituted has any serious effect on slowing down the spread because they are all done too late to be effective. The best you can hope for now is to stop murdering the economy and destroying everyone’s life. But you have to accept that more people will get sick and more people will die.

This is true no matter what is or isn’t done. We can now only mitigate the economic effects by ending the control procedures which won’t work anyway.

This won’t happen. They will continue to play their game of make-believe. It has become not a battle of scientific fact to control a disease outbreak but a game of psychological warfare to convince people something is being done. Never mind that it’s the wrong thing and will not have any positive effect.

Worst of all, this unique opportunity to re-arrange society to something more viable will be lost to rhetoric and inaction. Once the crisis is past we will go right back to doing all the wrong things which made us vulnerable to begin with.

PowerShot in black & white

Our ever-unpredictable weather has made photography a gamble lately. One day we have bright sunshine, the next thick overcast. Temperatures go above freezing in the day, then plummet well below at night. Tuesday a big wind blew in and changed the atmosphere from dry and warm to cold and snow and now the sun is out. It’s ridiculous!

Anyway in the past couple of weeks I have been ‘lugging’ the Canon PowerShot A70 around, set to monochrome, in hopes of trying out its in-camera B&W abilities. I would be trying the other settings, but the indicators on the LCD are so small that I can’t make out what they are. This means setting aperture and/or shutter speed is too difficult for me. So right now it will do colour on “Auto” and B&W on “Program” and at that I’m not sure I know what the ‘fine tuning’ is at; I need reading glasses and a magnifier to see the tiny symbols! There are newer versions of this camera which retain the nifty eye-level optical zoom finder but have a larger LCD for seeing the settings (and images). Maybe one day I’ll come across one. Until then …

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Marley, of course

This is a crop from the full-size image, so it isn’t reduced. Not bad for a 3MP camera, eh? I did have to fix the exposure as the gray day was giving very flat light to work with. Still an acceptable “snap shot quality” image.

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Rounds winding down

Taken in a rare moment of actual sunshine, I was surprised that the camera got the exposure right on this one. Considering the shot consists of bright light and deep shadow, the dynamic range is pretty good with just some washout in the highlights. There’s no editing been done to this, just size adjustment.

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Cloudy

Full image reduced in size. You can see the ‘sensor streak’ at the top, although it is less intrusive in monochrome. This is the kind of sky I was dealing with for most of these shots! Here the contrast has been turned up a little as it was just too flat.

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The Red Coach Inn

Monochrome doing the old building a favour, as it looks far worse in colour. Seriously this historic landmark needs millions in renovation and repair, and it is unlikely to get it. One of the few structures in town that isn’t some pre-fab quick-build utilitarian monster. It still isn’t very interesting.

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O Canada!

This would look better in colour. In fact it would look better in ‘red only’ colour, higher resolution, and closer zoom. This is a segment of the full frame. Quite grainy and gray despite contrast tweaking, looking like some ‘pushed’ Tri-X. I don’t like the effect.

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Raven

Cropped out of a full view, not shrunk. Contrast increased slightly to make up for the flat light. This is at full zoom, panning to follow the bird as it flew because the shutter activation on the A70 is slow. Same ‘feel’ as the flag picture, but perhaps it works better here? Perhaps not. This kind of picture is what the Nikon P610 is for: that camera would not give us fuzzy feathers.

Although the PowerShot A70 is a capable performer for such a cheap camera, I don’t think I’ll be keeping it because it’s difficult for me to use it to its full advantage. This is a fault with eyes in their seventh decade, not the camera. I’ll probably donate it back to the thrift store I bought it from.

The Last Continent

(No, this is not about Terry Pratchett’s wonderfully humorous book.)

I saw a meme at the beginning of the year which went something like this:

January 1, 2020; first day of New Year, so far so good.
January 2, 2020; Australia seems to be on fire.
January 3, 2020; World War Three announced.

It was meant to be funny, but its humour is dark because it’s true.

I don’t actually know anyone in Australia, but I have a lot of friends there. This seeming paradox can be explained by the fact that when British Columbia was burning in 2017 and 2018 dozens of Aussies came to our aid. Right now firefighters from BC & Alberta are down under trying to return the favour.

Their fires are worse than ours. We burned out 2 million acres each year. They have lost 3 times that total so far. The topography is different between our two lands; they don’t have our great mountains which act as both a fire break and a royal pain for fighting the flames. I fear Australia will be devastated irrevocably from this disaster. Whole species unique to the continent may go extinct. Areas of it may become uninhabitable; that’s how bad it is.

We were warned to expect 3-5 years of such fire activity here, and it seems to have declined already as last year was ‘nothing’ compared to the years prior. But the cycle will return and it will lengthen and worsen. The main thing people do not understand about climate change is that the initial effect is greater swings of ever-more extreme weather, such as droughts or hurricanes. I did a brief and overly simplified explanation of how it works here.

Anyway the point is I know about wildfires close up and personal. I’m too old and decrepit to fight them myself now (I got admonished by a doctor for even breathing the air during the fires; I guess I was supposed to go to another country or hold my breath), but I know what they look like up close and personal:

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And I know what it looked like while we were trapped at the cabin in 2017:

While the ash rained down and burned through leaves and I made repeated mad trips to the house in town to try to save whatever I could because the fire was on the hill 3 miles behind it. That’s when the 4Runner broke:

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Oh well at least I’m not having to explain how wildfires are fought and the why of the methods used. I wasted a lot of time trying to enlighten morons about that back when we were burning. People who have never dealt with a problem invariably have an overly simplistic understanding of it. “Just fly the Martin Mars!” was their usual “solution”. Good thing those people weren’t in charge of the actual firefighting efforts!

By the way, there are certain similarities between Mr. Pratchett’s book and the situation in the real Australia now. Although I doubt Rincewind would be of any help to them. He’d doubt it too.

Now, I do have a friend who lives in Puerto Rico. He’s been hammered by hurricanes every year, and this year Earthquakes have hit and once again the island is without power. We have quakes here too; a week or so ago we got nine of them measuring up to 6.3. If they hadn’t told us, we’d not have known. Meanwhile the same size disturbance has turned his island into a disaster area. Again.

Next week our forecast calls for temperatures of -24°C for a high on Tuesday, and similar cold the rest of the week. My wife leaves for England on Monday to deal with her demented sister again. I will be spending the week inside watching movies I guess (certainly not going out to do any photography), but at least I won’t be watching fires or earthquakes bringing my world down around my ears.

And let us not forget it’s the little critters who suffer the most from these disasters. We humans are fairly resilient; wildlife not so much so. Our huge brains give us this advantage. It’s a pity we don’t use them beforehand so that the disasters aren’t so bad. But alas we insist on creating artificial problems of religion and politics and borders because we, for all our immense brain power, can not see the real troubles all around us.

Until it’s too late.

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Flycatcher

 

Putting the case for reform

Warning: boring political talk.

Canada has just held a national election, and the wrong man won. In a clear demonstration that there is something (many things) wrong with our system, Justin Trudeau was returned to the Prime Minister’s office – despite the fact Andrew Sheer won the popular vote. Ironically in the previous election Trudeau had insisted he would instigate election reform for proportional representation. He reneged on that promise. Had he followed through with it he would not have won this time.

Let’s look at the problem by the numbers. Canada’s House of Commons has 338 seats shared among its 10 Provinces and 3 Territories to represent the population of approximately 35 million people. That should be 35 million divided by 338, or roughly one MP for every 103,550 people. Now look at what happens when you go to the actual by-province numbers.

Prince Edward Island, the smallest of the provinces, has 4 seats and a population of about 146,000. That’s one MP per 36,500 people. Meaning its residents count almost 3 times as much as the national average. Let’s look at the more populated provinces.

Quebec has 75 seats for nearly 8 million people, or one MP for every 106,395 people. This is only slightly above the national average. Ontario has 98 seats for its 13 million, or one MP for every 136,459 people. That’s almost 1/4 what PEI has. British Columbia comes in with 28 seats and about 4.5 million people, or one MP for every 163,000 – somewhat less than Ontario. Alberta really gets short-changed, having 21 seats for 3.7 million or one MP per 180,000 people.

If we were to adjust every province to the national average, some would gain MPs and some would lose MPs and the latter group would complain a lot. PEI would have one MP, and Alberta would have thirty-five. British Columbia would have forty-three. Ontario would have one hundred twenty-five. Quebec would have seventy-seven.

On a percentage basis PEI would go from 1% to 0.3%, Quebec would be relatively unchanged, Ontario would shift from 29% to 37%, British Columbia from 8% to 12%, and Alberta from 6% to 10%.

Now here’s the thing: not all provinces have the 103,550 averaged population, but you can’t let them go unrepresented. The lowest populations are in the territories, with Nunavut having a mere 33 thousand. If we adjust all the provinces on a “one-per-thirty-thousand” basis we would need to expand the legislature drastically – to 1,166 seats. Who wants the expense of that? If you propose consolidating population centers – such as merging all three territories so one MP gets to represent them all (113,000 people) and make the rule one per 100k you again will have complaints from all over.

Of course we have complaints from all over now. They’d be different complaints if the House was divided up more fairly, but it would be a more accurate representation of the population.

One of the other representation problems is that the Senate is a bad imitation of England’s House of Lords; every senator being a political appointee representing whatever party put him there and not the area he’s allegedly assigned to. Thus there is no “balancing up” provided by a provincially representative ‘upper house’ as there is in the USA. Further to that, the MPs are strictly party-bound as well. In fact we do not elect representatives of the constituency so much as cheerleaders for our favourite dictator. A ‘free vote’ in the legislature is a rare thing, and perhaps that is the first reform that needs to be made.

If I were to list out the four most important reforms Canada needs they would be these:

1). free vote for all MPs on every issue; 2). more equitable representation of the population by the House of Commons; 3). reformation of the Senate as a by-Province elected body; 4). directly elected Prime Minister instead of party leader dictatorship.

The likelihood of any such change happening is near nil, as the people who would have to vote for the changes are the ones in power and rarely does anyone in a position of power voluntarily abdicate that power in favour of fairness and the risk of losing that power.

But they might want to remember the other method of political reform, which is even less pleasant.