October 25, 2015

Small talk in pubs

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

David Warren admits he’s not welcome at a few local drinking establishments nowadays:

There are at least two tables, within pubs in the Greater Parkdale Area, where, notwithstanding I was once quite welcome, I am not today. Some think this is because of my opinions, which are those of a rightwing fanatic and religious nutjob. But no: it is because I am willing to express them. This is a form of incontinence, one might argue; and like other forms, it may accord with increasing age. Yet I do not think that silence is invariably golden.

To hear me tell it — and whom else were you expecting, gentle reader? — it goes like this. In years past, I would sit quietly and ignore nonsense, especially political nonsense, spoken by my fellow imbibers. I can still do this. Many of the most ludicrous remarks, on any passing issue, are not actually opinions of the speaker. He simply echoes or parrots the views of the media and his own social class. I’ve been absorbing this “background music” for years; why revolt now? The noise is anyway not arguments but gestures.

Say, “Stephen Harper,” and watch the eyeballs roll. Say, “George Bush,” and still, ditto. Say “Richard Nixon,” however, and you don’t get much of a rise any more, for memories out there are short, very short.

(A Czech buddy, in the olden days, once performed this experiment in a pub. “I just love that Richard Nixon!” he declared, in his thick, Slavic accent, loud enough to afflict the Yankee draft-dodgers at the next table, who’d been prattling about Watergate too long. “Gives those liberals heart attacks,” he added. … Some bottle-tossing followed from that, and we were all banned together, so ended up as friends.)

On the other hand say, “Barack Obama,” and they will focus like attentive puppies. Or, “Justin Trudeau” to the ladies, to make them coo.

It is a simple Pavlovian trick, and might be done in reverse in a rightwing bar, except, there are no rightwing bars in big cities.

Yet everyone knows there are rightwing people, even in Greater Parkdale. And they are welcome anywhere they want to buy a pint, the more if they’re buying for the whole table. The one condition is that they must keep their “divisive” opinions to themselves.

October 10, 2015

“We’re very inefficient … and proud of it”

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 3 Oct 2015

Craft Brewery tourism is on the rise. Ontario Craft Breweries are opening throughout the province; eventually there will be one in every community. These breweries are a catalyst for economic growth. They have become sought-after tourist destinations, event venues, culinary centres.

August 14, 2015

Toronto discovers the Streisand Effect

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I was in the break room at work the other day, and happened to see our local 24-hour TV newsfeed was discussing a hateful hate-peddling hate-monger who’d just arrived in Toronto. A shorter blurb was running in the elevator monitor, as I discovered when I went downstairs for lunch. While I’d heard of Roosh V. before, I wasn’t aware that he was so well known to the Toronto media. Richard Anderson explains how Toronto’s media reactions to Daryush Valizadeh have been like a multi-million dollar gift of free advertising:

Rather than being a raving misogynist Valizadeh espouses an odd amalgam of traditional gender roles and casual sex advice. Very little of what he writes would have been considered terribly controversial even twenty years ago. His criticisms of feminism are pretty much standard conservative fare albeit expressed in a more colourful and direct manner. He might not be your cup of tea but he’s hardly the second coming of Caligula.

Displaying the self-righteous puritanism that is characteristic of modern feminism, a petition has been set-up at Change.org, complete with out of context quotes, demanding that Valizadeh be driven from Canada. This is being done on the grounds of our old friend hate speech. Apparently coaching awkward young men on how to pick up women in bars is now a crime in modern Canada.

Some of Valizadeh’s sexual advice is tacky or creepy. It would, however, take a Pollyanna’s understanding of human sexuality to find it either hateful or angry. What we are seeing is not criticism being directed at an individual for espousing somewhat recherché views, it’s an electronic lynch mob attempting to silence dissent from the feminist consensus.

Until this recent controversy Valizadeh was an obscure figure outside of Manosphere. Now thanks to these tin eared feminist campaigners he has been given millions of dollars in free publicity. It’s a classic example of the Streisand effect. Instead of shutting Valizadeh down they’ve elevated him into a kind of cult hero status that is only likely to increase in the months ahead.

August 10, 2015

Toronto craft brewers and beer cans

Filed under: Business, Cancon — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Ben Johnson explains the rising popularity of beer cans even among microbreweries in the Toronto area:

Whether it be memories of your dad’s garage fridge filled with industrial lager in little tins or visions of shotgunning affordable lagers at college parties, beer cans have, for the most part, gotten a bad rap as something like the poor-man’s beverage container.

But that’s quickly changing.

Increasingly, as Toronto’s craft beer scene booms and the city’s brewers seek out the best ways to sell their beer, cans are becoming the preferred option. But why?

Jeff Rogowsky, the co-founder of Session Craft Canning, has seen the popularity of cans grow in the last few years. Rogowsky’s company is a mobile operation that brings canning capabilities to craft brewers who often can’t afford their own expensive canning lines.

I spoke with Rogowsky via email and he told me that he thinks the increased popularity of cans is largely being driven by consumer demand. “Canning gained popularity,” he says, “because it allowed people to take beer to more places–golf courses, beaches, in a backpack, to a movie theatre–cans are infinitely more portable and easier to travel with.”

August 9, 2015

Toronto-area supermarkets of the past

Filed under: Business, Cancon, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

At BlogTO, Chris Bateman digs up some old photos of some Toronto-area supermarket chains that have faded from the scene over the years:

Today, a trip to the supermarket in Toronto more than likely means shopping at a brand belonging to one of a small number of corporations. Loblaws owns No Frills, Valu-mart, and T&T; Metro owns Food Basics, while FreshCo, Sobeys, Price Chopper are part of the Canadian conglomerate Empire Company Limited.

In the mid 20th century, before the first of several major acquisitions and mergers, shoppers had more of a say where their grocery dollars ended up. In those days, independent chains like Power, Dominion, and Steinberg wowed customers with gleaming self-serve supermarkets, ample parking, and space age foods.

Here’s a look back at five supermarket chains that have vanished from Toronto.

My family moved to the Toronto area in 1968, but I didn’t know about some of the chains (but I recognized the distinctive architecture of this one):

Grand Union

Toronto Supermarkets-GrandUnion

Grand Union’s most famous Toronto store was at the Parkway Mall at Victoria Park and Ellesmere in Scarborough.

Toronto Supermarkets-GrandUnion-Ad

The U.S.-based company built the store with its distinctive arched roof in 1958, just five years after entering the Canadian market with the purchase of Carroll’s, a grocery chain based out of Hamilton.

Toronto Supermarkets-GrandUnion-Miracle

Just months after opening its flagship Scarborough location, Quebec-based Steinberg’s […] bought the company’s Canadian stores and rebranded the Parkway Mall location. It was later a Miracle Food Mart and a Dominion. Today, it’s a Metro. In 2009, the store became the first supermarket to be listed on the City of Toronto’s Inventory of Heritage Properties.

July 13, 2015

“Links to this Site are not permitted except with the written consent of TO2015™”

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Media, Sports — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Toronto’s Pan Am Games organizers appear to have been living in a cave without an internet connection for the last 15 years:

The organisers of the Pan American Games in Toronto, which start this week, require that people seek formal permission to link to its website at [toronto2015 DOT org].

Under the website’s terms of use, amid piles of incomprehensible legalese seemingly designed to hide from the fact that social media exists, it is decreed that no one is allowed to use one of those hyperlink thingies to connect to the website unless they first get approval. It reads:

    Links to this Site are not permitted except with the written consent of TO2015™. If you wish to link to the Site, you must submit a written request to TO2015™ to do so. Requests for written consent can be sent to branduse@toronto2015.org. TO2015™ reserves the right to withhold its consent to link, such right to be exercised in its sole and unfettered discretion.

Eagle-eyed readers will have noticed that the $2bn sports event – effectively a mini-Olympics – also appears to have trademarked the term “TO2015.” Which makes about as much sense.

Incredibly, this is not a misreading of the terms, and it doesn’t appear to have been a mistake either. Instead, it’s about the increasingly insane approach that intellectual property lawyers are taking to sponsors – and non-sponsors – of sporting events.

Alongside such gems as forcing people to put tape over their own computers if a computer company is a sponsor, and stopping people for drinking anything that isn’t a sponsor drink (if there is a drinks sponsor), now it seems the Pan Am Games lawyers have decided they need to prevent the internet from entering the hallowed sponsor world.

Strictly speaking, anyone who links to the website or even anyone who uses the games’ own hashtag of [hashtagTO2015] is violating its terms, and could be sued. Although not a court in the land would actually enforce it.

Notice that, as I live in Canada, I’ve carefully obfuscated the URL and the hashtag so you don’t accidentally click on them and violate their intellectual property right claims or anything. I suspect this will be the only actual coverage of the games I’ll be posting, just to be on the safe side. Discussion of the financial side, or the disruption to normal life in Toronto caused by the games, of course, is still fair game.

June 25, 2015

Delivering a new streetcar to the TTC

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

On Facebook, James Bow linked to this photoset from Toronto Life, showing the stages a new streetcar goes through when the railway delivers it to the TTC:

Click to see full-sized image at Toronto Life

Click to see full-sized image at Toronto Life

May 21, 2015

Jonathan Kay, ebike martyr

Filed under: Cancon, Environment, Humour, Media, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Despite having become the editor-in-chief of The Walrus, poor Jonathan Kay suffers the slings and arrows of all those who condemn and ridicule his ridiculous choice of transportation ebike (especially from his own staff):

City planners think of transportation in terms of its logistical and infrastructural components. That’s also how the issue gets discussed in the context of, say, energy conservation and traffic management. But when it comes to the transportation products we actually buy, our utilitarian calculus is overwhelmed by our aesthetic biases. When the Segway scooter had its great reveal in 2001, few observers cared about its groundbreaking self-balancing technology. All they saw was a nerd standing upright, wearing a funny helmet.

It is a lesson I have learned again over the last year, at great cost in dignity and personal reputation, as I have motored around Toronto on an ebike — a zero-emission electric scooter that travels at speeds of up to 32 km/h. As I noted in an essay last year, ebikes combine the low cost and convenience of a bicycle, while allowing a user to get to work without an ounce of sweat or a stitch of lycra.

In a more perfect world, the streets of our cities would be humming with ebikes. But that is not the world we inhabit. After a year of evangelizing these fantastically useful, earth-friendly contraptions among my peer group, I’ve failed to gain a single new convert.

Just the opposite, in fact: I have become a figure of overt and willfully cruel mockery.

Jonathan Kay - ebike ad

April 10, 2015

The Jailer’s Daughter on the CBC

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Well, technically it’s the CBC’s website, but still it’s nice to see the band getting a bit of exposure:

Click to go to the CBC artist page for The Jailer's Daughter

Click to go to the CBC artist page for The Jailer’s Daughter

March 19, 2015

I know it’s been cold around here this winter …

Filed under: Cancon, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

… but I hadn’t heard that Hell had actually frozen over. Because that’d be the only possible explanation for a headline like this one:

Is Scarborough, Ontario the dining capital of the world?

Wednesday night I was taken on a restaurant tour of Scarborough — four different places — plus rolls from a Sri Lankan locale, consumed in the office of the Dean of UT Scarborough and with the assistance of Peter Loewen.

After that eating, and lots of driving around and looking, I concluded Scarborough is the best ethnic food suburb I have seen in my life, ever, and by an order of magnitude. I hope you all have the chance to visit Scarborough, Ontario.

Update, 20 March: The Toronto Star‘s Lauren Pelley reports on Tyler Cowen’s recent visit to Scarborough and his discovery of the area’s impressive range of high quality ethnic food.

Over the phone from his office at George Mason University in Virginia, Cowen noted that people in Toronto seem to perceive the new, hip restaurants to be elsewhere. “But it seems to me, you don’t come close to this part of town,” he said.

Rick Halpern, dean of UTSC and Cowen’s tour guide last Wednesday, agreed that most people are fixated on the downtown core. “No one goes east of the DVP,” he lamented.

Cowen’s post is making the rounds online, and sparking discussion on blogs and Reddit. Scarborough is “a foodie’s best kept secret,” as one commenter put it, though it’s no secret to locals.

“I would say that people who are into food, and who have a car, explore Scarborough and other suburbs,” said Jennifer Bain, the Star’s food editor, who has highlighted many of the area’s offerings over the years — including Uighur fare from Scarborough’s Chinese Muslim community, sweets from local Filipino bakeries, and the global flavours of Hakka Chinese food, to name a few.

March 15, 2015

Toronto’s streetcars

Filed under: Cancon, Railways — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In a post somewhat misleadingly titled “Narrow-gauge railways”, David Warren comments on Toronto’s still-extant streetcars:

We have trolleys still, in Toronto. For decades the bureaucrats have been trying to get rid of them, and replace them with “environmental” buses, but praise the Lord, He has always put something in their way. I mentioned gauge earlier, and I wanted to explain what makes the city so special. It is the unique gauge of our trolley tracks: four feet, ten and seven-eighths. Our new, articulated, “environmental” streetcars — high-tech and incredibly expensive, compared even to the last round of million-dollar cars — had to be specially adapted to this gauge. It was selected in the nineteenth century by the city fathers, and for good reason: so that no other train in Canada, or on the planet for that matter, could ride on our rails. They were prissy, these fine old Orangemen: they didn’t want freight trains shunting downtown, the way they then did in Hamilton and elsewhere, with their steam and coal-dust billowing everywhere. They wanted electric, “environmental” streetcars. The Greater Parkdale Area has been under the tyranny of the do-goods for a long time.

Actually, if I remember correctly, the streetcar gauge was adopted more to keep out the radial railway companies than to prevent freight from intruding into Toronto’s urban streets.

March 2, 2015

Food naming oddities

Filed under: Cancon, India, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

David Warren on the oddly named “Digby Chicken” and “Bombay Duck” along with a paean to the joys of food shopping in Parkdale:

Parkdale, which is to say, the inner core of the Greater Parkdale Area, in which the High Doganate is located, is a melting pot of innumerable overlapping ethnications. Among our most exotic immigrants are those from the far east: Nova Scotia, for instance, and Newfoundland. Shopping, at least for food in Parkdale, is a treat. We have every sort of specialist grocery, and in effect, groceries within groceries. One gets one’s Tibetan yak sausage, for instance, from a Serbian butcher whose store is cowboy-themed; ingredients for one’s Somali maraq from the Sinhalese grocery (via their Maldivian connexion); but the exhilarating, cardamom-infused gashaato instead via the Sikh Punjabis, as supplement to their Bengali sweets. Note, this culinary cross-dressing is the opposite of multiculturalism. Rather I would call it, “downmarket fusion.”

This being Lent, I try to avoid fish on Fridays. There’s enough of that for the other days, beans on rice will do, or perhaps sinfully on the last two Fridays, I indulged a craving for sweet potato in a Siamese red sauce. I woke this morning with a craving for salt, as well as protein, and as God is merciful, recalled to mind a little platter of Digby chicks in my fridge — obtained some days before from the Maritime ethnic section of a cheap local supermarket.

Digby Chicken has long been Nova Scotia’s answer to Bombay Duck. The latter, also salty, and so powerful in flavour and scent that it requires careful packaging, is actually a fish, the bummalo. Gentle reader may already be trying to construct an etymology from that, but there is no hope for him. The fish is actually harvested from the waters off Bombay. It was transported from there by rail, in the good old days of British Imperialism, aboard the Bombay Dhak (i.e. the Bombay Mail), which gave rise to such expressions as, e.g. “You smell like the Bombay Dhak.” Surely, that will be enough to go on.

February 10, 2015

Smug Torontonians preen themselves over another meaningless survey

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Richard Anderson supplies the appropriate level of disdain:

It’s always nice when a big important magazine notices Canada. It’s also a big important British magazine. Even nowadays it’s extra special when mother says we’ve done so very well for ourselves. Did we mention the solarium we’re having installed? The Americans don’t have a solarium. Just thought we’d mention that. We got a great deal with the contractor. Excellent references.

Torontonians are known through out our fair dominion for two things: Having a gigantic tower that is no longer the most gigantic in the world and being incredibly smug. The original logo for Toronto actually featured a very smug looking beaver carefully ignoring the rest of Canada. If you paid close attention it was obvious the beaver was looking at New York but in a very nonchalant sort of way.

I hate it when The Economist or the OECD or UN or the OAS or whoever the hell puts out these surveys. Like most rankings the whole thing is a bit of numerical legerdemain. A recurring example of how the easiest way to bullshit your way through life is to use numbers. In what real common sense way is Toronto better than Sydney? Did you talk to someone who has lived in both cities?

Didn’t bloody think so. That would be journalism.

As a native Torontonian I would like to ask the editors of The Economist, those non-byline using smug bastards, why they think Toronto is so wonderful? Yes I know you visited here one summer for a conference. You strolled down Bloor Street and bought something at the Roots Store or Holts. It was so terribly clean and the homeless people were so very polite. Have you lived here? Would you ever in your right mind move from Chelsea to the Annex? Exactly. You’d prefer to be cramped and gouged in London than less cramped and less gouged in Toronto. Why? Because it’s friggin’ London! The potholes are older and more historic than the whole of Toronto.

December 31, 2014

The (awful) people of Whole Foods

Filed under: Business, Health, Personal, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Many years ago, when we lived on “the Danforth”, we were occasional patrons of “The Big Carrot”, an early retail store for the self-consciously “alternative” set. If you wanted gluten-free, or dairy-free, or fair-trade, they were almost the only game in town in the late 80s and early 90s. The selection may not have been great at times, but they did try to provide a variety of foods that you couldn’t get at the mainstream supermarkets of the day. The employees seemed to be mostly good, helpful folks, but almost to a person the customers were incredibly self-centred, self-righteous, arrogant, and intolerant. I don’t know how the staff put up with the constant childish antics and unending whining from the customers. Whole Foods is a much bigger enterprise than Toronto’s Big Carrot … and they seem to have attracted exactly the same customer base:

The problem with Whole Foods is their regular customers. They are, across the board, across the country, useless, ignorant, and miserable. They’re worse than miserable, they’re angry. They are quite literally the opposite of every Whole Foods employee I’ve ever encountered. Walk through any store any time of day—but especially 530pm on a weekday or Saturday afternoon during football season — and invariably you will encounter a sneering, disdainful horde of hipster Zombies and entitled 1%ers.

They stand in the middle of the aisles, blocking passage of any other cart, staring intently at the selection asking themselves that critical question: which one of these olive oils makes me seem coolest and most socially conscious, while also making the raw vegetable salad I’m preparing for the monthly condo board meeting seem most rustic and artisanal?

If you are a normal human being, when you come upon a person like this in the aisle you clear your throat or say excuse me, hoping against hope that they catch your drift. They don’t. In fact, they are disgusted by your very existence. The idea that you would violate their personal shopping space — which seems to be the entire store — or deign to request anything of them is so far beyond the pale that most times all they can muster is an “Ugh!”

Over the years I have tried everything to remain civil to these people, but nothing has worked, so I’ve stopped trying. Instead, I walk over to their cart and physically move it to the side for them. Usually, the shock of such an egregious transgression is so great that the “Ugh!” doesn’t happen until I’m around the corner out of sight. Usually, all I get is an incredulous bug-eyed stare. Sometimes I get both though, and when that happens, I look them square in the eye and say “Move. Your. Cart.” I used the same firm tone as Jason Bourne, with the hushed urgency of Jack Bauer and the uncomfortable proximity of Judge Reinhold. From their reaction you’d think I just committed an armed robbery or a sexual assault. When words fail them, as they often do with passive aggressive Whole Foods zombies, the anger turns inward and they start to vibrate with righteous indignation. Eventually, that pent up energy has to go somewhere, and like solar flares it bursts forth into the universe as paroxysms of rage.

December 20, 2014

Repost – Induced aversion to a particular Christmas song

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Media, Personal — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 00:02

Earlier this year, I had occasion to run a Google search for “Mr Gameway’s Ark” (it’s still almost unknown: the Googles, they do nothing). However, I did find a very early post on the old site that I thought deserved to be pulled out of the dusty archives, because it explains why I can — to this day — barely stand to listen to “Little Drummer Boy”:

Seasonal Melodies

James Lileks has a concern about Christmas music:

This isn’t to say all the classics are great, no matter who sings them. I can do without “The Little Drummer Boy,” for example.

It’s the “Bolero” of Christmas songs. It just goes on, and on, and on. Bara-pa-pa-pum, already. Plus, I understand it’s a sweet little story — all the kid had was a drum to play for the newborn infant — but for anyone who remembers what it was like when they had a baby, some kid showing up unannounced to stand around and beat on the skins would not exactly complete your mood. Happily, the song has not spawned a sequel like “The Somewhat Larger Cymbal Adolescent.”

This reminds me about my aversion to this particular song. It was so bad that I could not hear even three notes before starting to wince and/or growl.

Mr. Gameways' ArkBack in the early 1980’s, I was working in Toronto’s largest toy and game store, Mr Gameways’ Ark. It was a very odd store, and the owners were (to be polite) highly idiosyncratic types. They had a razor-thin profit margin, so any expenses that could be avoided, reduced, or eliminated were so treated. One thing that they didn’t want to pay for was Muzak (or the local equivalent), so one of the owners brought in his home stereo and another one put together a tape of Christmas music.

Note that singular. “Tape”.

An ad from the year of Trivial Pursuit (via OSRcon)

An ad from the year of Trivial Pursuit (via OSRcon)

Christmas season started somewhat later in those distant days, so that it was really only in December that we had to decorate the store and cope with the sudden influx of Christmas merchandise. Well, also, they couldn’t pay for the Christmas merchandise until sales started to pick up, so that kinda accounted for the delay in stocking-up the shelves as well …

So, Christmas season was officially open, and we decorated the store with the left-over krep from the owners’ various homes. It was, at best, kinda sad. But — we had Christmas music! And the tape was pretty eclectic: some typical 50’s stuff (“White Christmas” and the like), some medieval stuff, some Victorian stuff and that damned “Drummer Boy” song.

We were working ten- to twelve-hour shifts over the holidays (extra staff? you want Extra Staff, Mr. Cratchitt???), and the music played on. And on. And freaking on. Eternally. There was no way to escape it.

To top it all off, we were the exclusive distributor for a brand new game that suddenly was in high demand: Trivial Pursuit. We could not even get the truck unloaded safely without a cordon of employees to keep the random passers-by from trying to grab boxes of the damned game. When we tried to unpack the boxes on the sales floor, we had customers snatching them out of our hands and running (running!) to the cashier. Stress? It was like combat, except we couldn’t shoot back at the buggers.

Oh, and those were also the days that Ontario had a Sunday closing law, so we were violating all sorts of labour laws on top of the Sunday closing laws, so the Police were regular visitors. Given that some of our staff spent their spare time hiding from the Police, it just added immeasurably to the tension levels on the shop floor.

And all of this to the background soundtrack of Christmas music. One tape of Christmas music. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

It’s been over 20 [now 30] years, and I still feel the hackles rise on the back of my neck with this song … but I’m over the worst of it now: I can actually listen to it without feeling that all-consuming desire to rip out the sound system and dance on the speakers. After two decades.

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