Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Snowmobile stupidity

Growing up in Montreal, snowmobiles were never far away. People with cottages in the nearby mountains often had them for getaways into the woods. Snow in that part of the world was serious stuff: up north, you didn't mess with it.

Here in Ontario, snowmobiling is a dilettante's winter sport. And not a week goes by that we don't hear of some horrid accident. The gruesome parade claims whoever is young or dumb enough to take the chance.

So when I saw statistics that supported my long-held suspicion that this was an activity that disproportionately attracted idiotic behaviors and the idiots who seem to know no better, I felt now was the right time to write this:
Snowmobile stats chilling eye-opener
Published Thursday, January 26, 2006
The London Free Press

I’ve never been a fan of snowmobiles. They may be lifelines for those who live in the Arctic. But down here where winter is a temporary inconvenience, these hugely powerful machines become dangerous playthings for young men who drink too much, drive too fast and refuse to wear their helmets.

My hunch is confirmed by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. It just released a report that says snowmobile accidents were responsible for 41 per cent of all specialized trauma injuries in Canada in 2003-2004.

In contrast, snowboarding and skiing each accounted for 20 per cent, while hockey mishaps resulted in nine per cent of trauma admissions. The report adds half of the snowmobile victims were drinking, 80 per cent were men, and people under 20 were the most likely of all groups to be seriously injured.

Other statistics put the annual Canadian death toll from this so-called sport at 95.

It seems to me that there’s little benefit to society that justifies this carnage taking place mere minutes from our homes.

Epilogue: CTV news reported this over the weekend: Snowmobile accidents claim 5 lives in Canada. Looks like those numbers will be just as big this year. I guess we'll never really learn.

Your turn: Does the frequency of accidents fuelled by sheer stupidity make this activity inherently more dangerous and costly to society than others? Should something be done to rein it in? If so, what?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Fording Ford's troubles

We live about a 20-minute drive from the Ford Motor Company factory that manufactures the Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis. When I cycle to the beach at Port Stanley, I ride right by it. I wave every time.

Ford's global troubles have affected this facility - known alternately as Ford Talbotville or Ford St. Thomas - and, by extension, the community that relies on it. Last Monday's announcement cut the plant back to one shift and resulted in the loss of some 1,200 jobs. In response, the union reps who represent the workers there have released their usual "they owe us" response.

My perspective is simple: the next round of layoffs could be the last for this plant. Being reduced to one shift is often the last step before permanent closure - unless you wise up and work cooperatively to find a creative solution (remember, I'm an idealist.)

It's time for the unionistas to sing a new tune. I doubt they will, and I doubt this column is going to secure my invitation to this year's Christmas party.
Purging the notion of entitlement
Published Wednesday, January 25, 2006
The London Free Press

There’s a right way and a wrong way to respond when your livelihood is threatened.

Whitey MacDonald is chairperson of Local 1520 of the Canadian Auto Workers union, which represents the Ford workers at the St. Thomas assembly plant. Ford’s reduction of the plant to one shift, part of a global restructuring to ensure the company’s survival, will eliminate up to 1,200 jobs at the facility.

Following the announcement, MacDonald said, “We are entitled to some new investment, given our track record.”

Entitlement no longer holds water in an increasingly competitive automotive market that is too small for Ford’s current size. Ford can no longer guarantee its workers anything as it battles for its very life. Ford is no different from any other manufacturer.

So what is the right way? The CAW must work creatively with Ford to figure out how St. Thomas can become a “flex” facility that can make more than one model. And its leaders must dispense with the dreams of entitlement. Times have changed.

Your turn: My perspective - that the powerful unions of yesteryear need to adapt to a very new and much colder economic reality - is pretty clear to anyone who reads me over time. Do you think an enlightened labor movement will be enough to help the American auto manufacturers survive? Do unions belong in the automotive landscape of tomorrow?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - A son votes

This past week was another "on" week for me at the paper. For new readers to this blog, I pen a column for our city's daily paper, the London Free Press.

The feature is called Ink Blog, and I'm part of a rotating group of writers who share their thoughts on the op-ed page. We write about whatever hits us, and about whatever we think will hit readers.

Canada voted on Monday. This first column - the pieces publish from Tuesday to Saturday, inclusive, with deadlines for each set for the day before publication - presented a bit of a logistical challenge.

Essentially, I had to write before the election, but it was going to be published after the results were known. I could have taken the easy way out - namely, by picking a non-election topic - but that would have been a cop-out.

So as I have done so many times before, I found my answer within my family. Our kids really are remarkable people.
Our kids represent political future
Published Tuesday, January 24, 2006
The London Free Press

My 11-year-old son’s eyes shone an unblinking blue as he asked me who deserved my vote. “What makes one party better than another?”

My wife and I pondered his question carefully as we deliberated our eventual choice.

He’s only seven years away from casting his first ballot, but we were delighted to see him diving head-first into the political game.

Doing our best to hide any of our political biases, we explained the major differences between each party. We discussed recent history, and why elections get called in the first place. He’s learning about government in school, but it seemed to matter more to him that his parents shared their own experiences with him.

In the end, the relative merits of one party over another mattered less than the fact that a boy who can’t yet vote took the time to learn why this matters.

To the embarrassing percentage of citizens who failed to vote last night, my son would be only too happy to have the chance to shape his world.

Your turn: It's so easy to become jaded. With that in mind, how do you get your kids excited about politics and democracy?

Quoted - New York Daily News

In my day job - "What do you mean, Carmi, you don't blog full-time?" - I am often asked to comment in the media on tech-related issues. This morning's peek at the big bad world of media brings some cool news: The New York Daily News has quoted me in today's edition.

The piece is called Rat on boss for cash, software groups urge. I was asked to talk about efforts by major software industry groups to turn in their leaders if they suspect them of engaging in software piracy. Byline is Daily News Staff Writer Jonathan Lemire.

The Business Software Alliance (BSA) and the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) are working with software vendors to cut down on the number of illegal packages out there, and they've struck on this rather innovative idea - namely offering hard cash to snitches - to catch some big fish. I know it's a bit geeky, but I am a geek. Right?

Here's what I said:
"Money talks. No one's going to say no to a dollar bill waving in front of their faces," said Carmi Levy, senior research analyst for Info-Tech Research Group, a computer consulting firm. "[Software companies] tried other strategies that have failed miserably. This is the last resort."
Your turn 1: Would you turn in your boss? If so, tell us what makes you so disgruntled that you would consider it.

Your turn 2: If anyone lives in New York and has access to the printed copy of the paper, I'll be your friend forever if you scan and e-mail it to me at writteninc AT gmail DOT com. Thanks!

Update, 1:57 p.m. Infinite thanks to Amanda from The Amanda Files. She managed to snag a copy of the paper, then scanned and e-mailed me the article. I've posted it below. If you haven't yet visited her excellent site, please do so immediately. I promise you you'll enjoy the read. In the meantime, I am humbled by Amanda's kindness. Thank you!

Yet another update: TMCnet is running the piece here.

Click on the image to zoom in.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Challenger - 20 years on

January 28, 1986. 11:39 a.m. ET.

I still remember what it felt like. In an instant, my idealistic beliefs in the infallibility of technology evaporated as I sat in stunned, disbelieving silence, watching the shattered pieces of humanity's most vaunted technological icon splash ingloriously into the ocean.

It's cliche to call the seven astronauts who died in the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger heroes. But in so many ways, they were. As were the seven who perished aboard Columbia 17 years later, and the three lost in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire in 1967. They risked - and ultimately lost - it all so that we would continue to push the bounds of exploration.

They were doing what humans have done forever; constantly challenging the limits of movement imposed on us by our current technology. From the earliest wheels to ancient ships to the latest aircraft, no new transportation system into a new environment has been developed, exploited and made routine without risk, or loss.

When I think of Apollo, Challenger and Columbia, I think of the countless aviators who perished in primitive contraptions so that we could cross the planet in a day with little more than some bothersome jet lag and a kinked neck from the lousy little pillows they hand out on trans-oceanic flights.

The extreme has become mundane. But only because explorers among us were willing to go there first. And possibly not return.

I shudder to think where we'd be without their kind. Likely nowhere.

I remember their names as clearly today as I did long before they first lifted off on that tragic day: Francis "Dick" Scobee, Michael Smith, Judith Resnik, Ellison Onizuka, Ronald McNair, Gregory Jarvis and Christa McAuliffe. I think of Commander Scobee and Pilot Smith, who by ancient tradition were ultimately responsible for the ship and its crew, who never got to bring their crewmates home - not because of anything they did, but because of the flawed organizational underpinnings of NASA, the organization they trusted with their lives.

Ms. McAuliffe, the first teacher in space, never did get to teach her lesson from orbit, and it was her loss that most poignantly galvanized the nation's sense of loss. Yet in the years since, we've started to learn how to turn unspeakable loss into hope for the future. We've lost another orbiter, endured the same painful analysis of the organizational and human factors that drove both losses, and emerged from the other side with the same drive to improve, advance and look forward.

Folding up our tents and going home was never an option. Nor should it ever be.

I never saw Ms. McAuliffe's lesson plans for that flight, but I suspect they very likely incorporated those very themes. May the exploration she and her crewmates so selflessly pursued never be hindered by those among us whose fear of risk would have us not try at all.


Your turn: Thoughts?

Friday, January 27, 2006

Genius zoning

We came across this intelligent bit of urban planning on our way home from vacation this year. Thoughts of giant fireballs made even more giant by the reservoirs of gasoline a mere basketball toss away from quite literally many tons of consumer-grade explosives raced through my head.

Your turn: What's the deal with America's obsession with fireworks? I know it's embedded in the national anthem, and I mean no disrespect. But come on, building on top of a gas station? Am I the only one who believes this to be the height of stupidity?

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Tea time

Thanks to you all for taking the time to wish me and my brood well after this week's dance with the viral fairies. I am touched by your kindness during this fun little adventure of ours.

I don't know how much weight I've lost this week, but colleagues were commenting on my return to work today that the difference in my face was noticeable. Oops...I hate when that happens.

So I need to fatten myself up. Problem is, I'm still afraid to eat - a typical post-flu response of mine. I often take days to build up the courage to start eating regular food. (Anyone who knows me knows how much I usually eat. No one, however, seems to understand where I seem to put it all.)

Which explains tonight's photo. I'm megadosing on tea for now. Sugar and caffeine will keep me awake and sorta functional until I'm back to my usual pantry- and fridge-raiding self.

Your turn: Coffee? Tea? Neither? Why?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Illness abounds

Four out of five members of the family, down for the count.
Fifth one about to join us.

Still, I voted. I'm sure I infected half the people at the polling station as I walked in mere minutes before closing, sweating profusely in a dark trench coat and sneakers. I even drove the three blocks to get there.

Aside from the fact that this is absolute sacrilege for me - I'm never supposed to drive anywhere that is close enough to walk - I grabbed the keys. I'm sure fellow motorists and pedestrians appreciated the compromised safety that comes with having a flu-addled driver on the road.

One of these days, I've got to dispense with the whole principles thing.

Now I'm up in the middle of the night. Back hurts too much to sleep. Brain's not working well enough to write coherently. So I thought I'd whine a little on my blog.

Illness in the modern age. Fun stuff.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


I've been venturing back into the produce aisle again. The new supermarket near our house has fairly thorough lighting that doesn't wreak havoc with the color balance. It also has employees who seem to find it amusing that I take pictures of their wares. Bless them indeed.

Your turn: I'm thinking of turning my addiction into a more formalized newspaper article or column. Do you have any suggestions for a topic, an angle, and/or a headline?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Inspiration comes standard

I've long had a sweet spot for Honda vehicles. The second car I ever owned was a candy apple red Honda Civic Si. Sunroof, stick and stereo...it was all I needed when I was young and impetuous. Click here for an earlier posting on it.

Honda, more than most other manufacturers, has always done an especially good job communicating with its audience on a deeply emotional level. Its television commercials, in particular, have long stood out from the usual high-volume sales pitches that have traditionally moved metal off the lot.

Honda UK has just released a stunning commercial that continues this tradition of excellent messaging. It's for the Civic hatchback (sadly not available in North America because folks on this continent still - and stupidly - don't get hatchbacks), and while watching it, you may find yourself oscillating between humor, amazement, and an emotional connection with the company behind it. Either way, I'm sure it will leave you feeling better about the planet.

On a day when one of its American competitors announces another wave of massive cuts, the dichotomy in these divergent message streams is poignant.

More goodies: The Honda UK Civic web site has additional background on the spot, how it was made, etc. Click on Watch, then sit back and enjoy the show. Flash-enabled browsers mandatory. Firefox doesn't seem to enjoy the experience as much as IE does.

Your turn: the company's slogan, which morphs silently into the screen at the very end of the spot, is The Power of Dreams. Does this inspire you? If so, how? If not, why not?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Seeking shelter...

...from the gathering storm. Posted by Picasa

Proof of concept - embedded video

As many visitors to this blog may have already figured out, I don't spend lots of time playing with toys. I've always tried to keep this blog focused on words and images, and I haven't invested a whole lot of time with geeky doodads. Sure, they may look cool on the surface, but I've always feared that they would detract from the experience of quietly enjoying the flow of a web log.

Maybe I'm wrong: I invite your thoughts on this in the comments below.

But I've noticed an increasing tendency among friends and colleagues to share video-based content. Since I'm an ardent fan of the comedy sketch - an art form if ever there was one - I thought I'd try to share some funnies from my past here as well.

This first one comes from the early days of Saturday Night Live. Bill Murray. Hercules. Laraine Newman. Hackneyed script. Badly done hair. Even worse synchronization. Classic. Say no more.

Here it is:

Your turn: Did this work for you? Should I dig up more? How do you share video content on your own web log?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Talk to yourself in the future

In my travels this week across the Internet – OK, I lied…I saw it on CNN Headline News – I was introduced to a neat new resource that should be fun at parties. It’s called FutureMe.org, and it allows you to e-mail yourself in the future.

Now, I have no idea what happens if this organization ceases to exist in the near future. One surmises that all those cached messages would be released to oblivion as well. But if you dispense with the cynicism for a brief moment – as I am patently unable to do – it may prove to be an interesting new resource.

An interesting side benefit is the ability to see the public messages of others. This further confirms my contention that the world is populated by many oddballs.

Find it at http://www.futureme.org/

Your turn: What would you say to your future self?

Friday, January 20, 2006

Coming home

On a gray Sunday a few weeks ago, our little man had a busy social calendar. I spent a good chunk of the day carting him from one birthday party to another. Thankfully I had my PalmPilot to keep everything sorted out.

On the way home from his final affair of the weekend - at a kids' gym - he chattered about how much fun he and his friends had, and how he wanted to have his party there as well. This will change three dozen times between now and his actual birthday this summer, but we’ve learned to just nod our heads because who are we to deny the dreams of a munchkin?

As we pulled into the driveway following the last party, he thanked me for taking him before he undid his seatbelt, opened the door, and popped out. He’s increasingly expressing his independence in all sorts of ways. I watched him trundle toward the front door, ring the bell and give my wife a big hug as she opened the door. Sitting in the car, I couldn’t hear what he was saying, but it was clear from his body language that he was excitedly telling her about every aspect of his day.

Watching him come in from the cold to an overwhelmingly warm greeting reminded me why I love returning home so much. It’s the one place in the world where you’ll always be kissed and hugged no matter what kind of day you’ve had. It took a five-year-old in a giant winter coat to reaffirm this very simple reality.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Resource of note: Google Maps Pedometer

The Internet is chock full of resources that allow you to waste as much time as you've got - and often quite a bit more.

Sometimes, we come across sites that are actually useful. The Google Maps Pedometer (also known as the Gmaps Pedometer) qualifies. Not sure how many miles that walk around the block is? Use this app - built using the Google Maps API, which itself forms the basis of the nascent Google Maps/Google Local service - to figure it out.

It's frighteningly addictive.

Your turn: Google Maps has quickly become a universally accepted basis for developing rich geographic applications. What Gmaps-based sites have you come across in your travels? I hope you'll share some links and thoughts in a comment.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Life, defiant

Thanks to Hurricane Wilma, large chunks of the rich canopy that defined so many lush neighborhoods in southern Florida were simply - and in some cases, brutally - stripped away.

On the surface, it was sad to see. Our memories of previous visits were filled with huge trees with thick layers of leaves, flowering plants of impossible color and a constant feeling that the landscape was always just one step removed from being completely overgrown. Seeing huge expanses of open sky over sun-baked and broken earth where a shady grove of trees once stood was a bit tough to take at first.

But anyone with enough patience to slow down and look more closely would often be rewarded with a front-row seat to a miracle that's been playing out since the beginning of time.

Here and there, tiny vestiges of life emerged from the monochromatic landscape. I found this one by the beach, and was immediately convinced that the passage of time, coupled with the planet's unstoppable wish to perpetuate life, would return the lush landscape to its former splendor.

Sure, more storms and natural disasters will threaten the view in the years to come. And today's new greenery may be summarily destroyed in the process. But the never-ending rhythms of our world will ensure any scorched earth will be strictly temporary in nature.

It's a comforting thought.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Capture the flag

One of the things I love about visiting the U.S. is how proud most citizens are of the flag. It's difficult to go for a walk anywhere without seeing at least a couple crisp examples of the stars and stripes fluttering in the wind.

This occurred to me almost on a subconscious level as the kids were drying off after a late-afternoon swim. I looked over the fence and saw a particularly brilliant example fluttering on a car antenna. I knew I needed to capture it now, before the sun got too low in the sky.

I wandered over to the car, looked surreptitiously around to ensure that its owner wasn't sitting on a nearby porch with a shotgun, and walked circles around it to find just the right angle to highlight the beautiful colors that just a few seconds earlier had reached out to me.

In the end, I think it's the light that makes this shot. The ghostlike images of the stars behind the red and white stripes betray the humdrumness (yes, I'm still inventing words) of a small flag mounted on a car. Beauty can indeed be found in the strangest of places.

I chose this perspective because it's one that isn't often chosen by photographers. That pretty much describes why I shoot what I shoot: because I always want to see something different from the norm. I've sat through way too many yawn-inducing slide shows in my lifetime, and I don't ever want to subject anyone else to the same old views of the same old topics.

So if some of my work comes across as visually bizarro on occasion, that's all part of the design.

Your turn: I've got scads of vacation pictures to post. Most of 'em will end up on the accompanying Flickr page (see sidebar to the right) in the days to come. But what kinds of images do you want posted - and written about - here?

Click the image to open up a higher-resolution version.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Druggie needles

This is the final published piece from last week's run of columns. I'm back on the column beat in a little over a week (from Tuesday the 24th to Saturday the 28th.) I'll post 'em as they hit the paper. Until then, I hope you enjoy this one.

Like so many mid-sized cities, the intensity of discussion surrounding issues that affect urban life can often glow white-hot. When the city's flagship downtown library announced it had installed needle disposal bins in its washrooms (the original news story is here), it ignited a highly polarizing debate that continues to burn.

Other columnists have taken a stab at the issue, and letters to the editor have hit the paper with regularity since the story first broke. So from a darkened, hotel room in Calhoun, GA, I filed this early in the morning before we loaded the kids into the wondervan and continued our journey home. Even though I was hardly the only one talking about the issue, I couldn't resist the urge to dive in.
Library needle bins a necessary evil
Published Saturday, January 7, 2006
The London Free Press

I’m disappointed in Londoners’ response to the Central Library’s installation of needle disposal bins in its washrooms.

Instead of calling the new additions “gross” and worrying that they would attract drug users, I expected them to praise library leadership for doing something about a problem that most of us would rather sweep under the rug.

I guess I was naive. It seems we’re still a little too conservative when it comes to accepting progressive means of dealing with difficult issues.

Reality is often a bitter pill to swallow, but swallow it we must. The downtown core is already home to illegal drug users. Whether we like it or not is pretty much irrelevant.

Instead of dumping on the library for trying to address an ugly reality of life in the new millennium, the malcontents might want to brainstorm a few other ideas to keep our city and its residents safer.

The library’s move this week should be seen as merely the first step in the right direction. Sure, it’s ugly. But necessity must trump esthetics.

Your turn: Is the library's move a positive or a negative one? Why/why not? Is your part of the world experiencing anything similar?

Publish Day - Ink Blog - A writer's risk

I'm still catching up on posting last week's London Free Press columns to the blog. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your thoughts on them. I hope you're finding this process an enlightening one (please let me know either way.)

One more to go after this one. Enjoy.

One of the things I like about writing for a living is the ability to turn the focus inward on occasion. I don't think I'd enjoy what I do as much as I do if I couldn't get personal every once in a while.

The flip side of that is you always run the risk of angering someone you've never even met. Journalists make nice targets for the criminals among us because they're so visible and accessible. I've touched on this in recent entries (see the post script below for a link), and the feedback I've received on the blog made this latest topic choice for the column an easy one.

Here's what I scribbled.
Live by the quill, die by the quill
Published Friday, January 6, 2006
The London Free Press

The popular perception of journalists is that they have it easy. Make a few calls, tap out a few words, call it a day.

Nice work if you can get it, right? Wrong.

It turns out covering news for a living can hasten your demise. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 47 of us were killed in 2005.

Despite the popular perception that most victims lost their lives on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, the sad truth is over 70 per cent were deliberately murdered.

Writing can get you killed. I must have missed that class in journalism school.

I’m not a paranoid person, but whenever I receive a spooky e-mail or phone message in response to something I’ve written, I wonder about the vulnerability of anyone who writes for a living.

The fact that people die in the process of keeping us informed underscores just how important a free press is to a functioning democratic society. It’s something I keep in mind every time I pick up my pen.

Post script: If you haven't read about the reader who called me at home the day after this piece was published, click here. Irony and prescience; quite the combination.

Your turn: No question this time out. I would simply ask that you allow this to settle on your mind for a moment, and that you read bylines a little more closely to get a better appreciation of the brave souls out there who set everything aside to ensure we are informed. The idealism with which I entered this profession seems to be alive and well all these years later.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Writing bloody murder

As many Canadians already know, a 15-year-old girl out shopping on Boxing Day in downtown Toronto was caught in the crossfire of a gang-related shootout (read here and here for additional background.) It was a shocking crime in a world seemingly numbed to this kind of thing.

The horrified response to this senseless murder of an innocent focused on how Canada's larest city is grappling with an apparent trend toward increased rates of violent crime.

From my little perch in a relatively small city a couple of hours down the highway, I wanted to reflect the reality that the issue is hardly confined to one large city. It affects us all. Read on...
Our homicide rate worse than Toronto
Published Thursday, January 5, 2006
The London Free Press

Londoners often look to Toronto and sigh with relief that our burg isn’t riddled with gun violence that kills teenage girls in broad daylight and disproportionately erases the lives of dozens of young African-Canadian men.

We shouldn’t be so smug.

London recorded 19 gun-related crimes in 2005 – a new high. Our 14 homicides pale in comparison to Toronto’s 78 – until you factor in our relative population sizes and realize our homicide rate tops theirs.

Whether or not we wish to admit it, we’re just as vulnerable to violent crime as any other Canadian city. Ignoring the issue won’t make us safer.

An election campaign gives us a chance to push candidates hard on issues that matter. I’d argue that public safety is one issue that matters.

The candidates will soon be gone. Violent crime, however, will persist.

Don’t let the politicos slide by with canned answers and vague policy directions.

The ones who show that they get it – and that they won’t forget about it after assuming office – will get my vote.

Disclosure: I wrote this from a coffee shop in Florida - see this entry for more - but I was writing from a Londoner's perspective. Now I know how ex-pats feel.

Your turn: Wherever you live, is public safety a hot-button issue for you? Why?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Avian flu fears

Quick writer's note: I've been a little slow in posting last week's London Free Press columns to the blog. The first piece from that week's run was about Dick Clark, and can be found here. I'll get the remaining four onto the site over the next few days. Now, on with the show...

The silliness of those in government and those who work in the related bureaucratic infrastructure never ceases to amaze me.

As we all know from the doomsday headlines, the avian (also known as bird) flu is coming. People are infected and dying in Turkey and other parts of the world, and it's only a matter of time before the bad bird poo somehow makes its way around the globe.

All together now: oooooohhhh (come on, make the big, scary sounds with me!)

So the government of our esteemed province of Ontario (I live in Canada, so it's OK to poke fun at our leaders without running the risk of being branded a traitor and getting thrown in jail) has, in its infinite wisdom, introduced legislation giving the premier "special powers" if the flu descends on our part of the planet.

Essentially, it allows the province's grand poobah and supreme leader to authorize overtime and restrict business travel.

I wrote this column because it struck me as remarkably dumb that a government should have to legislate what comes as natural behavior for the mere mortals who have not chosen a life of cri...oops, public service.

Here's what I wrote.
Is this legislation really necessary
Published Wednesday, January 4, 2006
The London Free Press

I can now sleep at night knowing the Ontario government is introducing legislation granting our premier special powers in the event of an avian flu pandemic.

The bill, which would make it easier for the government to require staffers to work overtime and restrict their travel, is expected to become law by mid-year. It was introduced at the end of the last legislative session by Community Safety Minister Monte Kwinter.

Its introduction raises the question of whether we need special legislation at all. I guess government works differently from the rest of us. In my work world, when there’s a big project or a heavy deadline, everyone pitches in to just get it done. No one needs to enforce something as basic as a work ethic.

Even the timing is questionable: Cross your fingers a wave of bird flu doesn’t hit the country before this bill becomes law.

I shudder to think that our government needs legislation to dictate behaviours that are simply common sense to the rest of us.

Your turn: Should this kind of thing be common sense? What will they legislate next? Government employees washing their hands after using the washroom?

One last thing (for now): This is the first piece I wrote from the fabled coffee shop. I first wrote about the experience here. The place is called the Bad Ass Coffee Co. It's named after a hardworking Hawaiian donkey (yes, you should feel ashamed of yourself!) The grand opening of the Deerfield Beach, FL franchise where I wrote this is Sat. Jan. 14 (tomorrow). I wish I could be there...they're bringing in a real donkey.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Quoted - Toronto Star

Tyler Hamilton's column in today's Toronto Star (Canada's highest-circulation newspaper) includes a quote from someone my kids know rather well. It's entitled Consumers fuel hi-tech surge, and here's what I said:

Carmi Levy, a technology analyst with Info-Tech Research Group Inc. in London, Ont., said the demand for iPod-like gadgets and online services has always been there, but a major bottleneck was bandwidth. Without high-speed Internet connections in most homes, people weren't able to download music or video or easily access services like Google Maps.

"In the late 1990s there was a lot of services that were promised that would revolutionize the way we live, but the bandwidth wasn't there," he said, adding that the ubiquity of high-speed and wireless technologies has changed the game. "Now we can run sophisticated applications on the Internet because we have the pipes."

Me again...

Your turn: The thesis of Mr. Hamilton's piece explores whether or not we're into another tech boom. Are we? Could a return to the zaniness of the late '90s (think eyeballs and clickthroughs and a total disregard for simple things like profit) be upon us?

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Concrete under a setting sun

Beyond the foliage (see previous entry), I noticed that the quality of the light is also different in a southern region. Every time I looked closely at an otherwise routine feature, I was amazed at how saturated the colors seemed to be. Maybe I was simply delusional from the salty air, but things like color and texture seemed to saturate differently in the light.

This image presented itself quite literally at my feet. We were heading home from the pool just before dinner. The late afternoon sun was casting a warm yellow tint on any white surface. The pool deck, however, remained a cool blue. The shadows seemed to stand out in stark relief much more than they had earlier in the day. So I pointed down and snapped away.

I'll bet the folks who originally built the pool never thought anyone would be capturing it in quite this manner.

Your turn: The first three words that come to your mind as you view this image are...

Monday, January 09, 2006

Notes from the road - part 2

Down south, even the leaves look different.

Quick note: I'm sifting through some 1,200+ (at last count...I'm sure there are even more) images to pick the best ones to add to my online photo stream. It'll take a few days to sort out, so thanks in advance for your patience.

In the meantime, I'll post the odd individual picture directly to the blog to keep the theme current. I hope you like them.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Notes from the road - part 1

Digital photography is the devil. Because of the perils of big memory cards and abundant battery power, I think I spent more time taking pictures on this vacation than I did sleeping, eating and picking beach sand from the nooks and crannies between my fingers and toes.

But we came home with abundant memories of our time there. And as I flip through the myriad folders I created to organize them all, I'm taken right back to each moment a given picture was taken.

That makes it easy to forget the snow and bluster just outside the patio door, and the fact that when the sun rises again in a few hours, I'll be returning to the real world of, you know, work, responsibilities, life in general.

It's been a nice break. Time to go back.

Administrative note: I'll be posting my favorite photos directly to the blog in the coming days, weeks and months (yes, months...I'm still working through some photos from last year, too). Since I don't envision writing 1,200+ individual photo-laden blog entries, I'll also be using the companion photo site to do some mass-dumpings as well. Look for the photo strip in the sidebar to the right, and click on the more of carmizvi's photos link at the bottom of the picture box. This will take you to the Flickr photo site. Enjoy the images!

About this image: Taken poolside at my aunt's and uncle's community pool. After Noah finished using the flippers - a 5-year-old's feet can get pretty tired after wearing giant flippers for a few minutes - they almost beckoned from poolside to be captured. As soon as I took it, I knew the compositon and color were just right. Sometimes, a picture just jumps out the moment it is taken.

Your turn: Please share your thoughts on your own favorite vacation images. If you feel so inclined, I hope you'll post a new one to your own blog, too.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Words of family, words of war

There's no question that war is hell. Please don't think I'm glamorizing it by writing this, but sustained military conflict seems to bring out the best in some people. Journalistically, great writing often emerges from the throes of military conflict.

To wit, the Washington Post article in tomorrow's edition, When Mom Is Over There. Subtitled, "A Family Learns to Stay the Course and Prays for a Safe Return From Iraq," the piece is a first-person perspective of the sister of a soldier now serving in theatre. Anne Hull is a Washington Post staff writer who has gone to Florida to help her younger brother with his two kids while his wife/their Mom is at war.

This article has accomplished two things:
  1. I am now a huge fan of Anne Hull, and have added her to my watchlist of notable writers.
  2. It has reminded us that ordinary folks are paying the price for the decisions of leadership. It's something I doubt much occurs to the Bushies and Rummies of the world.
Your turn: What's the first thing you feel as you finish reading this piece? Do you know of any other examples - writers, articles, publications, whatever - that reflect similar themes?

One last thing: I periodically post comments on notable coverage of the Iraq war. Here's one from October dealing with one soldier's ultimate sacrifice.

Technorati tag:

Home, quietly

After a two-day driving marathon that brought us from a warm beach to a frozen, snowy land, we safely pulled our minivan into the driveway around 1 this morning, carried our half-asleep kids inside and tried to go to sleep.

Little man (5) had spent much of the last two hours of the drive asleep. After a day of off-and-on napping in his booster seat, there was no way this bright boy was going to sleep. So with huge blue eyes framing an ear-to-ear grin, he played at the foot of our bed while my wife and I drifted off from exhaustion. We're not quite sure what time he fell asleep, but we're reasonably certain he outlasted us all.

Quick explanation: So you're likely wondering how I can take a two-week vacation to Florida without actually mentioning anything about it in my blog. The reason is simple: paranoia.

Since I publish under my own name - and was, in fact, filing columns from Florida and from the road on the way back - I worry that announcing to the world that I'm out of town is an invitation to unwelcome visitors to an empty house.

As if to underscore my point, I received a call from someone at home this afternoon. He had read my column in this morning's paper (filed from Calhoun, Georgia yesterday morning) and wanted to share his thoughts. Never mind that my e-mail address is printed on the bottom of everything I publish. Never mind that the paper's masthead includes all sorts of snail mail addresses for those who would rather not share their feedback online. No, this gentleman looked me up in the phone book and called. I suppose he could have dropped by for tea, as well.

I'm sure he's a nice guy. But it gives me the willies all the same.

Ergo, I don't make a practice of announcing when I leave an empty house behind. Sorry for the subterfuge, but it's just one of those vestiges of growing up in a large city that I can not shake.

I'll post lots of thoughts, pictures and observations from our travels in the days and weeks ahead. I hope you enjoy them.

Your turn: Am I being unnecessarily fearful?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Little man reads

I took this last year when the little guy was still in day care. Now he's all grown up and in Kindergarten. Time moves fast when we're not paying attention.

This moment has stuck in my mind as one of those that only a young child can create. It doesn't matter what's going on around him: he'll simply drop wherever he is and immerse himself in a book, a toy, whatever tickles his fancy at that moment.

Your turn: What do you do to tune out? Can little kids teach us how to be better in this regard?

Thursday, January 05, 2006


I don't much enjoy eating it - thanks to a childhood spent staring at endless Tupperware bowls of it because my Mom thought it would help me grow big and strong - but I rather like how it shows up on film. Screen. Whatever.

Your turn: Please share a tale of a food you ate in childhood that you never want to see, hear of or consume again. I'll apologize in advance if I'm conjuring up nightmarish images from your past. Have fun with this one!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Publish Day - Ink Blog - Dick Clark and courage

Those who know me know that I'm not much of a party person. I prefer the comforts of home and family to loud and contrived parties where the drinks are as watered down as the conversation.

New Year's Eve is typical of this, and over the years I've come to rely on Dick Clark as a familiar face and voice to help mark the transition from one year to the next. It's always been the same script: smooth, fluffy chatter to keep viewers focused as the seconds tick down to the inevitable milestone. The man became a cultural icon because he defined the very best in on-camera delivery.

So when I turned on the television just before midnight and saw him, I admit I was saddened to see him struggle to get through the show. The more I thought about it afterward, however, the more I admired him for his courage. I thought of the countless stroke survivors and their families who were inspired by what he had done, and I knew I wanted to write about the goodness that he had accomplished in the process.

The resulting piece was published in yesterday's London Free Press. Here's the link. Here's the text (see below your today's Your Turn...I hope you'll share your perspective as well):
Dick Clark return emotional moment
Published Tuesday, January 3, 2006
The London Free Press

If more Canadians take the time this year to learn about strokes, they'll have Dick Clark to thank.

Like so many on New Year's Eve, I watched television coverage of the big ball drop in New York's Times Square. Clark returned almost 13 months after suffering a stroke that had kept him silent last year for the first time in more than 30 years.

I'll admit it was initially painful to watch him. His speech was slurred, slow and deliberate. The smooth-as-glass delivery was gone.

Yet in its place was a man with the guts to risk losing his position at the very summit of American pop culture so that more of us would wake up to the risks of strokes.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation estimates some 50,000 Canadians will have a stroke this year. About 16,000 will die. Although stroke risk doubles every 10 years after age 55, it strikes at any age.

Because of Clark's courage, viewers with the foresight to help themselves just might avoid this fate.

Your turn: Stroke and heart disease are the leading killers of Canadians - and I surmise folks of other nations as well. How has heart disease and/or stroke touched your life? How have you coped?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Writer's block

The writer's life is a somewhat bizarre one. As the sky gradually lightens, I find myself sitting in a coffee shop that is surrounded by dense fog and populated by a changing mix of very happy people who are starting their day. The laptop is sucking data from a glorious (and free-with-purchase) spigot of wireless.

Even as I sit here trying to divine an idea for tomorrow's column, I've got a good feeling that that written-in-panic stretch of blue text in the photo above will quickly be replaced by something that will make readers at breakfast tables tomorrow morning pause and think.

I can't help but conclude that life is good.

Update, 7:45 a.m. The column is written. Once I locked onto an idea, it flowed onto the screen pretty quickly. I'm happy with the result, and now set my sights on enjoying a quiet day with the kinderlings and the woman who makes it all happen. I've taken this picture to show you what writing looks like at this hour of the day. Be warned: It isn't pretty.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Publish Day - shedding light for tomorrow

I was flattered to be asked to submit a piece to my paper this year outlining what it's like for a family with young kids to celebrate Chanukah. Being a part of a minority group has helped shape who I am and how I write, so I was glad to have a crack at this topic.

The resulting piece, The puzzle of passing down faith, (see below for full text) was published in The London Free Press on December 24th, 2005. Since today is the last day of Chanukah, and we lit all eight candles last night, I thought it might be nice to introduce it now for some post-holiday perspective. I hope you enjoy the read.

Your turn: Whatever your traditions are, how do you ensure your kids learn about them and carry them on? In this day of ubiquitous media and stressed family bonds, how do parents ensure continuity?
The puzzle of passing down faith
London Free Press
December 24, 2005
By Carmi Levy

My late grandfather loved to celebrate Jewish holidays, because he got to watch his beloved grandchildren sing their hearts out and be themselves. Although he immersed himself in our lives pretty much every time he visited, holidays always meant more.

I didn't begin to understand this immense power of tradition until I hit adulthood and had kids of my own.

Growing up Jewish isn't easy in a world that seems so ill at ease with religious recognition that even a simple Christmas greeting is fraught with controversy. Yet tradition is often all we have to hold onto when our increasingly secularized world makes it so easy to forget who we are and where we come from.

In my family, holidays have always been our cultural root system. They function as milestones in our efforts to reinforce to our kids that their heritage is important, that our history has brought with it certain obligations to not simply survive, but to live full lives and to give back to the community that has nurtured them.

But even Jewish holidays have a pecking order in the eyes of a child, and few holidays are as treasured as Hanukkah.

My mom wasn't much of a cook most of the time, but Hanukkah somehow transformed her. Dog-eared index cards with carefully written recipes suddenly appeared in her kitchen. Delicious smells filled the house and embedded themselves into our clothes. Even on the coldest winter nights, the warmth was almost tangible.

Hanukkah always ranked as my favourite. Meant to commemorate the miraculous victory of a small band of Jewish fighters against an overwhelmingly powerful force of Syrian Greeks, the story of the holiday fit nicely with my view of the world.

You always rooted for the underdog, because it was the morally right thing to do.

I grew up knowing that I was part of a small group that can never afford to take its existence for granted. Like the heroic Maccabee fighters we remember on Hanukkah, today's Jews must survive and thrive within a much larger, colder context.

Hanukkah was the one holiday when I didn't feel like a little kid in an adults-only world. I knew all the songs. I could eat the fried potato pancakes -- latkes -- until I was sick and no one would scold me. I could light my own candles and stare at them until they burned out. I could feel what it was like to have everything I wanted and be surrounded by the people who mattered most.

Now it falls to me and my wife to do the same for our kids. The same scenes, sounds and smells of ancient traditions now play out in our home much as they did in our parents' homes. We get to watch the wonder through their eyes as we quietly hope we've done enough to plant strong Jewish roots in them.

Admittedly, modern society has commercialized our holiday to a certain extent. We buy our kids Hanukkah gifts. Like parents of any religion, we struggle to keep the focus on the holiday and not the hype. But all that pales when they stand on tiptoes to help us light the candles.

Hanukkah is the Jewish Festival of Light, and nowhere does it hit home more as we help our kids carefully light their candles, then watch the warm glow reflect off of their curious faces.

There's poetry in the timing of Hanukkah this year. Starting a mere three days after the shortest day of the year, Hanukkah's light cuts through the gloom and gives us all something joyous to celebrate.

Some of my late grandfather's greatest joys were derived from watching us revel in the magic of Hanukkah, of being kids at a time that held so much promise and hope, not only for their future, but for their Jewish future. It's what my wife and I hope our kids hand down to their own children someday.

Carmi Levy is a London freelance writer.
His column appears every other Wednesday.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Perspective is a wonderful thing, especially as it applies to issues of temperature.

Within the general environment, a below-zero temperature is often perceived as miserable. We pull on extra sweaters, thick coats and as much wool as we can find. Then we gripe about it to ourselves as we leave the house and share it with friends and colleagues throughout the day.

Yet we willingly open the freezers at the supermarket and pull out oversize tubs of ice cream. We smile while doing so despite the fact that said tubs of ice cream more often than not numb the tips of our fingers before we drop them into the cart and quickly head for the checkout lane. Can't let it melt, after all.

I find myself thinking of ice cream as I scan the snowy scene around my house. It puts the whole frozen thing into its proper perspective and reminds me that extreme cold isn't always the depression-driver it's cut out to be.

Your turn:
What brings you comfort when the temperature dips?