Yesterday

The horrible news of yesterday was not unexpected, thanks to the leak back in May, but it still hurt. Even sitting here in Canada, it hurt. I spent far too much time yesterday doomscrolling, seeing more evidence that our largest neighbour -- and still one of the big superpowers -- was coming apart and turning into a fascistic hellhole. And that's on top of the fact that morally-bankrupt politicians here in Canada want to take a similar approach while the centrist parties seem hard-pressed to muster up the competence to truly deal with them, and of course, the anti-immigrant, homophobic, misogynistic hatred we see on many fronts, and the advancing apocalypse of climate change.

Many days, these days, I wish I could go back in time. I wish I could return to a simpler day in my childhood when nuclear war seemed on the wane, and climate change seemed more manageable. Times when all mainstream political parties seemed able to reason with each other, even while they came down on different sides on issues. The time when the Berlin Wall and then Apartheid fell. I would have to try and find some way to take my triumphs and the people I love from my current life back with me, but wouldn't we all be safer, and happier?

Then I remember that, while these times seemed safer and happier for me, a cis-gen white male (even if he is of mixed-race descent), that safety and happiness was harder to come by for so many people back in the day. LGTBQ individuals couldn't marry, were persecuted by religious fanatics and the casual homophobia that just seemed baked into society. Many were only just coming out of the closet because it was just marginally safer (and less criminal) to do so. Blacks and other racial minorities were locked out of our economic systems and didn't have nearly the voice we hear now. Residential schools were still being imposed upon Indigenous Peoples. Go back further and you have the Asian Exclusion Act, Jim Crow, segregation, and much more. And let's not forget how close we came to nuclear war, and ending our future decades before it happened.

So, while yesterday may seem a peaceful time of innocence (aside from some school bullying), it was only so for me and people like me: white heterosexual males who were the undisputed top class of Western society. For racial minorities, for LGTBQ+ people, for our First Nations, and for women, this time was very uncomfortable, even deadly due to direct and casual racism, sexism and homophobia, not to mention laws that criminalized their activities and existence or banned their medical needs.

And that's when I realize, this is what Republican leaders want, and what many forces within the Conservative Party of Canada are calling for. This is what the incels dream of. To regain any sort of prominence, however unearned, they seek to impose so much pain and discomfort on others, again, even though that pain and discomfort hasn't truly left.

It is, in a word, evil.

So, time travel is not the solution. Like it or not, where we are now may still not be comfortable for most of us, but it's still progress from where we've been. It's the fact that progress has been made that some forces are reacting with fear, hatred and violence to desperately turn back the clock.

As David Suzuki said, decades ago, there are no "good old days". There is just today. And today is better than yesterday because, unlike yesterday, today still gives us some control over tomorrow.

"Time Loop?" "Time Loop." "Groundhog Day."

I have to confess that I haven't been able to motivate myself to watch Doctor Who: Flux beyond The Halloween Apocalypse. No, I don't think the show is too "woke" (what does that even mean, for God's sake?), and no, I do very much think that Jodie Whitaker has done a wonderful job as the thirteenth Doctor. I do, however, feel that she has been let down by the quality of the storytelling. That and the unfortunate propensity to film things dark and to muffle the dialogue with the crash! bang! of frenzied action makes some of the episodes hard to watch, and it looked to be the case with Flux.

But I'm still a fan. I know this because I watched Eve of the Daleks, earlier this week, and I loved it. Indeed, the show won me over entirely with the exchange in the title, spoken between the principals, their third time into the time loop. All credit to John Bishop here: his delivery of that one line made me an instant fan of his character, and I'd only seen him in The Halloween Apocalypse.

I doubt the episode is going to survive an application of fridge logic. I strongly suspect that the characters were in each time loop for far longer than the eight, seven, six, and so on minutes of each loop, and a lot of stuff gets handwaved, but the whole episode felt right, primarily keeping the stakes easy to understand and manage, and allowing the actors (shout out to guests Aisling Bea and Adjani Salmon for their fully-fleshed-out portrayals of Sarah and Nick) and I was hooked. If all of the stories of Chibnall's era could have been like this, I'd be feeling a lot better about this program. As it was, Eve of the Daleks shows that there's still quite a bit of life in the old girl after all.

Video Essays

Sometimes I feel that I'm not writing as much as I'd like, beyond what I'm already doing for work. However, I have to remind myself that I am putting at least some of those creative energies into video production. In addition to digitizing and presenting the priceless 50-year-old film material from Richard Glaze (see here), I've been creating transit videos of my own. So, while your appreciation of the material may vary, here's some of the stuff I've recently published, starting with a timelapse video of a streetcar line filmed behind the front window of one such streetcar:

Here's a video of shots I took during an interesting TTC subway shuttle operation last weekend that my friend Damian Baranowski edited and put together:

And here's the latest video I produced from Richard Glaze's material, featuring voice work on my part. I'd like to thank Steve Munro for his help in nailing down the date of these film prints:

And another Richard Glaze production I'm particularly proud of, though maybe not as appropriate for the season:

If you want more, click to Transit Toronto's YouTube Channel. Hopefully I'll be back into some creative writing tomorrow and into this week.

We Need to Raise Taxes

glencairn-station-stained-glass-from-south.jpeg

The photo above is apropos of nothing. It's a shot I took because I thought it looked nice. I snapped it on March 20, 2022, from the Viewmount entrance to Glencairn Station on the Toronto subway. Anyway, on with the post...

From 2011 to 2019, I was privileged to have a weekly column with the community newspaper, the Kitchener Post. It allowed me to say what I was saying on this blog to my neighbours and surrounding community as well as to the old blogosphere. And judging from the e-mails I received (most of them polite) my words were reaching people.

Sadly, the paper folded and, soon after, their website went down, and my online record of columns disappeared with it. I still keep copies on my hard drive, though, and may occasionally place them here. I think a lot of what I said then is still relevant today.

Case in point is this column, which I wrote on July 25, 2019, and likely appeared the week following. I received a number of responses to it, and overall, it was far more positive than I'd expected. I think it bears saying here too.

I don't remember what the headline was. That wasn't my job. I supplied the words of the column below my byline, but the headline above it was my editor's job (or their designate) alone. If I'd been allowed to write that headline, perhaps this is what I would have come up with:

To Build the Province We Deserve, It's Time to Raise Our Taxes

Occasionally, readers write, and while I have been down on the Ford government for reneging on its promise that "not one front line worker will lose their job", they ask a reasonable question: where are we going to get the money to pay for the services that are being cut?

We'll leave aside that Ford is somehow spending more money than the Liberals did before they were defeated. We will leave aside that Ford has invested money in horse breeding while cutting funds for education.

There are a lot of things that need doing in this province. Ford himself hopes to spend $11.2 billion on four Toronto-area rapid transit lines. Where's he going to get the money?

We have to be honest. If we want better schools, if we want better roads and transit, if we want hospitals that serve our communities well, we have to pay for them. That means we have to raise taxes.

But James! Taxes are ever so high! Taxes are slavery! Why would you want to raise them?

Except that tax cuts have been a mantra of most governments since the mid-1980s. In general, taxes have gone in one direction, and it's not up. Brian Mulroney cut taxes. Stephen Harper cut taxes. Even Justin Trudeau cut the Federal business tax rate from 15% to 13%.

As a percentage of our income, we're paying less taxes now than we were doing in the mid-1980s. So, why do we think that our taxes are still too high?

Perhaps because we haven't seen the bulk of the tax cuts governments have made. When Harper cut the HST from 7% to 5%, for most people that amounted to four cents off a Tim Horton's coffee. The real benefits went to home buyers - particularly rich home buyers -- who saved thousands on their purchase price.

Anti-tax interests like to point to the Fraser Institute's "Tax Freedom Day". Supposedly, this is the day when average Canadians "stop working for the government" and start working for themselves. Although its methodology has been questioned, Tax Freedom Day has been placed at some point in June.

Those interests never point out that Corporate Tax Freedom Day is January 30. And Ford has promised to cut Ontario's corporate tax rate from 11.5% to 10.5%, even though Ontario's corporate tax rate is already among the lowest in Canada.

So, even though corporations pay significantly lower taxes than average Canadians, that's been the priority of the Ford government. If you're wondering why it doesn't feel as though your taxes have diminished, here is a place to look.

But I object to the whole concept of Tax "Freedom" Day. It implies that we receive no benefit from the money that's been spent.

I am seeing, however, an increasing understanding of what these tax dollars represent as my neighbours get increasingly angry over the loss of teaching jobs and the increase in class sizes, or their frustration about needed infrastructure projects that aren't getting done.

The money I've spent on taxes comes back to me, in the police, firefighters and emergency workers who keep our cities safe. It comes back to me in my children's education.

My taxes ensured that when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, she received hospital visits, palliative care, and the ability to die with dignity at home, without forcing my father to mortgage his house.

That's not slavery. That's freedom from it.

And if we want more, we have to pay for it.

James Bow is a writer and a father of two in Kitchener, Ontario. You can follow him online at bowjamesbow.ca or on Twitter at @jamesbowkwto.

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

So, for the first movie Erin and I saw in the theatre in over two years, we decided to see Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, starring Michelle Yeoh.

And... I honestly have no idea how to review the thing.

My best attempt is to say this: it's a simple story about regret, intergenerational trauma, and the value of love and kindness... told in absolutely the most batshit, bonkers, googly-eyed way you could possibly imagine, and and you couldn't even imagine that.

I am so glad that this was the film that broke our theatre fast. It's going to stick with me for the rest of my life. You should see it.

And I can't say any more than that. Honestly, the trailer here is all you need to get you into the theatre. Just... buckle up.


I am really pleased at the quality of the movies and television we've been watching of late. Thanks to Jessie Gender's recommendations, Erin and I have gotten interested in Apple TV+'s For All Mankind, an alternative history period piece that looks at how the United States (and the world) develops if the Soviet Union beats the U.S. to the Moon by a few weeks, and the space race doesn't end. It's hard to pick any one thing that stands out, since everything is done so well -- the acting, the scripts, the special effects. Any show that can still have Erin and I shouting at our screen in horror, joy, and frustrated sorrow (the ending of the ninth episode of season one) has a heck of a lot going for it. I really cannot recommend it enough, and we're going to barrel through Season Two, just as Season Three is set to debut on June 10.

The Need for a Rural Strategy

Apathy and polarization won the June 2nd Ontario election. With voter turnout at record lows, Doug Ford's Conservatives may have a majority government elected by the fewest voters in Ontario history (fun fact: over 400,000 fewer individuals voted for the Conservatives this time around than in 2018). You can say this is an indictment on the opposition parties, who many pundits suggest ran lacklustre campaigns. You can blame the corporate media, including the Toronto Star, who ran puff pieces throughout the election that didn't really challenge the Conservative's horrible record of governance. You can also blame the nearly 60% of eligible voters who decided that old people dying of thirst in Long Term Care facilities didn't merit their attention.

The reality probably features elements of all three.

But a look at the map of Ontario highlights another issue: the ongoing urban-rural split that affects Southern Ontario. The NDP continued to do well in cities like Kitchener, Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa, as well as successfully holding onto most of their seats in Northern Ontario. The Liberals managed an increase in votes (but not seats) in suburban ridings. Rural areas, however, voted PC Blue.

Why? What policies did the Conservatives offer that made life better for rural residents moreso than urban residents? What policies did the opposition parties fail to offer in order to attract serious attention from farmers?

My guess is that you probably don't know, and not just because the Conservatives ran a bubble campaign and failed to release a costed platform. I challenge urban voters to answer: what were the rural issues that were on the minds of rural citizens in this election. Anyone?

While it's true that the province is becoming increasingly urbanized, and increasingly where the votes are, it's more than just a tactical mistake for three of the four parties in Ontario to write off large swaths of the province. Rural residents are citizens too. They deserve representation. They deserve to have their concerns heard and addressed. And I hazard a guess that a lot of them care about some of the same issues that urban voters care about, just in different ways. I think many farmers are concerned about what Climate Change is going to do their way of life -- droughts, or climate-shifted pests and diseases will affect everybody along our food supply network, but they will affect farmers first. And farmers have to retire like the rest of us; how comfortable do you think they feel they are to do so, given the high levels of debt that farms take on?

Maybe rural voters feel that, right now, the Conservative party is the only party that speaks to them, and maybe that might be an incentive for other parties to write them off, but do you know who suffers the most when we take that approach? They do.

Under this arrangement, the Conservatives are increasingly going to believe that they own the votes of rural Ontario by default. They don't need to campaign for them. They don't need to serve them. So, ironically, if three of the four parties in Ontario refuse to reach out to rural residents and build a rural strategy that meshes with how they address urban voters, the fourth party isn't going to provide them with any rural policies beyond urban-scapegoating pablum. And nobody in this province is well-served by that.

So, this is a challenge to the three opposition parties: starting today, start thinking about how to reach out to rural residents. For the NDP, this may mean looking at why they are resonating in Northern Ontario and why not in southern rural Ontario -- how are the two lands different, and how do you adjust to that? For the Greens, this probably means addressing countryside rural issues, and showing why caring for the environment doesn't mean cutting farm incomes or production. It probably means really amping up the "Farms Feed Cities" slogan into being more than a slogan, and building serious urban-rural connections and alliances. As for the Liberals? They can point out all the ways the Conservatives have failed farmers, failed their elders in Long Term Care, failed to serve them as they deserve to be served.

What issues can an urban politician find that provide a real alternative to what little the Conservatives have to offer? Perhaps start by going out and talking (and, more importantly, LISTENING) to a whole bunch of rural voters. Stand up for what you know to be right, but also address their serious concerns that should be the serious concerns of anybody trying to build a life in this day and age. Advocate for the golden rule: love your neighbour, and treat others with the respect you yourself want to be treated with.

It won't be the same as what you offer urban voters, but it could be what the province as a whole needs in order to embark on the path for better government.

Senior Discount

niagara-falls-february-2020.jpgSo, the other day, I nipped into a nearby Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up some random groceries -- milk, toilet paper, cat food, the like, and I happened to pick up two of those long boxes of 12 cans of soda pop. Shoppers has these small-ish carts that would be laughed out of the store in any Zehr's supermarket, so the two boxes of cans aren't really sitting very securely. Sure enough, as I pull up to the self-serve checkout (I tend to use these nowadays to keep points of contact limited and to slow any spread of infection), one of the cans tips out of the cart, falls to the floor and bursts open, sending two cans skittering away.

I let out what can only be described as a whine. "Oh!" It's the sort of thing you say when you've had a day of being nibbled to death by ducks and really, this is just one more thing that you didn't need, and why?

Except, only two cans fall out of the box, and none of them puncture and fizz. All told, it could have been much worse. And I'm telling myself that as I pick up the fallen cans, put them back in their box and enter them into the self-serve checkout when the manager comes over and touches the screen.

"Here," she says. "I'll give you a seniors discount."

Note: I'm 50.

Well, this kind gesture didn't quite go off as planned because of minor computer problems that required the manager to call in a second manager to property key in my discount, but that left me some time to reflect on the fact that this was my first ever seniors discount, and how nice these workers were for responding to my momentary distress with this random act of kindness.

That is the sole reason why they gave me the seniors discount, right?

Right?

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