Monthly Archives: April 2015

Why Hydro One should not be privatized

Hydro One Voltage Lines in Woodbridge Ontario, photo Tom Stefanac, from Wikipedia

Hydro One Voltage Lines in Woodbridge Ontario, photo Tom Stefanac, from Wikipedia

The privatization of Hydro One is a terrible idea, for many reasons. There is one argument that I have not seen in the press, and I’d like to present it now.

The idea that retaining the single largest portion of shares guarantees control is naive. The danger is not total loss of ownership. The danger (and inevitable effect) is that on an ongoing basis decisions will be weighed in terms of what the shareholders will think. Will they sell? Will the value go down? Up? The corruption is not in the gross effect, but in the innumerable details of policy driven by a financial system that is out of control.

When any company goes public and sells shares, a new element is introduced that often overrides everything else: shareholder value. When shareholders are added, the need to keep the value of the shares continually rising overrides everything else. The market is extremely sensitive, volatile and focused on the short term. This becomes the primary driver of policy.

A government should be making policy in the best interests of its citizens. It also has a responsibility to its suppliers, part of keeping the economy healthy. It should not be making policy to satisfy the needs of investors staring at their computer screens and deciding whether or buy or sell.

Cycling in London, with Boris Bikes

BorisBikes

Boris Bikes at Hyde Park, photo by ZanMan (from WikiMedia)

This visit, I decided to try cycling in London.

When I first went to London, many years ago, the traffic was scary. The streets were filled with cars tearing around corners at high speed, especially cabs. And, of course, for a Canadian visitor, these cars came rushing from behind as you peered carefully in the wrong direction. Tourists were picked off like flies.

As the decades passed, London became more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists. Street crossing islands sprang up, with traffic lights, and “look left” or “look right” painted on the streets. Mayor Ken Livingstone (“Red Ken”, bête noire for Maggie Thatcher) instituted a hefty congestion charge for the core, which reduced traffic to manageable proportions. He also lowered fares on the buses and underground, which actually increased revenues, but after his term the prices went up again. The Millennium Walk transformed the south bank of the Thames.

And in 1910, the Barclay Bikes appeared, quickly dubbed ” Boris Bikes” after the Mayor, Boris Johnson, who (though Conservative) was an enthusiastic advocate of biking. Barclay’s Bank was the sponsor from 2010 to 2015, but now it’s Santander Bank, though most of the bikes still say “Barclays”.

Biking is big in downtown London now. There are hundreds of bikes whizzing along the roads, seemingly getting along pretty well with the autos, lorries and buses.
Bicycle lanes are quite frequent in the core. There are also two-lane “cycle superhighways” from the more outlying districts.

Generally speaking, the cyclists are well-behaved. London cyclists never ride on sidewalks, tempting as it often is. They usually signal and stay well to the left. And the motorists are generally patient, even when they have to go a little more slowly than they would like.

It’s easy to use the Boris Bikes, and no commitment is required. You can just stick you debit or credit card in a slot, and the machine spits out a 5-digit access code. You go to the bike of your choice (they’re all the same) and key in the code. Then you jerk the bike out and ride away. The bikes are solid, with a “step through” frame, and three gears. There’s a small luggage rack for parcels, secured with bungee cords. For two pounds, you have 24-hour use, but you can only keep out a particular bike for a half-hour, before returning it to some other docking station. You can keep it longer, but there’s an extra 2 pounds on your card. The idea is to keep all the bikes in use, rather than sitting somewhere while the rider is shopping or visiting the British Museum.

You can also register online for 24 hours, 7 days or a year. For 3 pounds you get a key, and you can pick up a bike anytime during the selected period. I’m sure that if I am there long enough, I would buy a key, but I think that it is wonderful that you can try the system out in such a casual way. The costs are the same.

I’m very intrigued by the new sobi bikes in Hamilton. I own a bike, but I will sign up just to try it out.

I think, though, that the comparison with the Boris Bikes is interesting. The sobi bikes cost $4.00 per hour; Boris Bikes $4.00 (2 pounds) for 24 hours. And you don’t have to sign up in advance. Just saying.

 

Ensemble theatre company Idle Motion: Shooting with Light

Shooting with Light. Photo by Richard Davenport

Shooting with Light. Photo by Richard Davenport

Our biggest surprise in our recent London theatre binge was a production by an ensemble company called Idle Motion, at a small space called the New Diorama Theatre near Euston Station. The play was Shooting with Light, “devised, written and directed collaboratively by Grace, Sophie, Nathan, Ellie, Juian and Kate” (to quote the program). The company uses dance, theatrical movement and multimedia to tell its stories, and this of course appeals to us. So on a whim, we decided to forego the musical Made in Dagenham (which sounded interesting, but nothing we hadn’t seen before under other names), and seek out something that just might be more surprising. We were quite knocked out. We had hoped for good enough, and got something pretty close to marvellous. The story was compelling, the dance/movement was skillful, the acting was honest and unselfconscious, and the inventiveness just kept happening.

Sophie Cullen as Gerda Taro, photo by Margaret Durow

Sophie Cullen as Gerda Taro, photo by Margaret Durow

Based on Jane Rogoyzka’s book Gerda Taro, Shooting with Light tells the true story of a young woman living in Paris in the 1930s. She hooks up with a disheveled young photojournalist who can’t seem to sell any photos, smartens him up and starts to manage his career; in return, he gives her a camera and teaches her how to use it. They decide to invent a fictitious American photographer, always out of town, called Robert Capa, and the photos start selling. She changes her name to Gerda Taro, and starts to sell her photos, sometimes as Robert Capa and sometimes under her own name. They both go to Spain to cover the Spanish Civil War, where Robert Capa shoots the iconic photo of a Republican soldier in the moment of being shot. Gerda takes more and more risks, and insists on returning to Madrid after the fall of the city. She is killed at the age of 26 by an out-of-control tank. Treated as a martyr to the Republican cause, she has a couple of years of posthumous fame, and then is largely forgotten, her work subsumed into that of Robert Capa and remembered primarily as Robert Capa’s girlfriend.

One reason for this seeming neglect was that most of her negatives, along with many of Capa’s photos of the Spanish Civil War, had been stored in a box that was smuggled to the Mexican embassy and forgotten. Robert’s photographer brother, Cornell Capa (he changed his name as well) devoted years to tracking down this so-called “Mexican suitcase”.

The play opens with Cornell and his assistant June examining rolls of negatives from a compartmented tray. The set is an enlarged version of this tray. They find a roll that contains what they are looking for, and suddenly Gerda (the actor) bursts through the corresponding compartment in the set. It’s a wonderful shock, that sets us up for the transformations to come, through the use of projections and physical rearrangements.

Dance and movement are used to break through the convention of naturalism and propel the story onward. The script alternates between the search for the negatives and the truth about Gerda Taro, and the relationship between the two photographers, as they participate in the invention of the craft of photojournalism. This is a story worth telling, in this age of embedded journalists and manipulated media.

 

Lullingstone Castle and the World Garden

On a whim, we visited the ancient castle of the Hart Dyke family, with a pedigree going right back to William the Conqueror. Our friend David Hart Dyke, Green Party Candidate for Stoney Creek, would sometimes mention (after I had served him a beer or two) that in England he was a Baronet. “Our castle is in Kent. You should visit my family. They’re lots of fun.” Sure, David. Another Artbeer?

Easter Monday, bank holiday, we take the new Thames Link train service to Eynsford, south east of London, to see Lullingstone, an excavated Roman Villa. It was as interesting as expected, with explanatory material that explained just enough of all the right things.

Lullingstone Castle Gatehouse

Lullingstone Castle Gatehouse

There are two castles in Eynsford, one in the town and the other a little further down the road. Arbitrarily, we chose the second, Lullingstone Castle. The Gatehouse looked magnificent in the distance. Small (compared, say, to Warwick Castle), but beautifully proportioned .

We headed for the refreshment tent (bank holiday, remember?), where they advised us to start with a look at the World Garden. A labour of love by an obsessive “plant hunter”, the World Garden has plants from all the continents of the world in beds shaped like those continents!

World Garden

World Garden

A didactic panel at the entrance declared that the idea for the garden was born when its creator was kidnapped and held for ransom while collecting plants in Colombia. The name of the collector was Thomas Hart Dyke. “Look, I said to Judith. Hart Dyke! I wonder…”

In the Manor House, we were greeted warmly by the chatelaine. She asked if we had met Thomas. “Is he here?”, I enquired. “Oh, yes. I believe he’s dressed as a chicken.”

I mentioned a little diffidently that we knew a Hart Dyke in Hamilton, David Hart Dyke. “Oh, yes! David is Thomas’s cousin. He has the title, you know.”

“Should I mention him to Thomas?”, I asked. I wondered if there was some sort of Downton Abbey feud. Was David the black sheep?

Thomas Hart Dyke

Thomas Hart Dyke

“Of course. He’ll be delighted. And you must meet my husband. Guy! This couple know David in Hamilton.” We met Guy Hart Dyke, David’s uncle, who owns the castle, and were formally introduced to Sarah, his wife. And then we did meet Thomas, the eminent and indefatigable plant hunter, dressed indeed as a chicken.

The house is fascinating. Beautifully designed and appointed, it has paintings, carvings and furnishings representative of a history that stretches back to the 1497.

The Church of St. Botolph, also on the grounds, is equally ancient. It serves as the parish church for the town. Inside, there are magnificent memorials to the early Dykes and Harts. (The Hart Dykes represent a merging, by a marriage in the time of Elizabeth I, of two families both going back to the Norman Conquest.) Another reason to vote Green! Right, David?

Lullingstone Castle Manor House

Lullingstone Castle Manor House

Church of St Botolph

Church of St Botolph

Neo-nazis on the tube

We had a chilling experience last night on the London Tube Circle Line. A noisy, drunken crowd of men, and one women, piled on the train, singing and shouting. They had extreme east-end accents, so that even my relatively well-tuned Canadian ear could hardly make out anything that they were saying. I assumed that they were rugby louts, and watched and listened, though everyone else in the car (an Indian family, a young man of colour) looked elsewhere.
Finally, Judith whispered in my ear “they’re white supremacists. They’re singing about raping Moslem women”. I listened even more closely. She was right.
The Indian family and the young man got off at the next stop. The louts looked in my direction in a friendly manner, having noticed my interest. I didn’t want them to think that I was sympathetic, so I nodded to Judith and we moved away down the train.
It felt like something from the 1930s, Nazis singing the Horst Wessel song. What was particularly upsetting was that these yahoos were not really bad people, just not terribly bright and without much going for them, who were out for a good time. Going home, some of them, to wives and children. They were having fun singing together and enjoying companionship. They could have been sing bawdy songs (offensive enough, but not racist). Instead, they were shouting out these virulent hate-filled songs and cheers.
They hadn’t made the songs up themselves. They weren’t songwriters. Someone else had written the songs and taught them to the louts. Got them drunk, got them singing, and sent them out to get on the tube to terrorize women and children. Who is writing these songs?
I learned today that the Harper government has just passed a bill removing hate speech from the Canadian Human Rights Act. I guess Canada’s hate-song writers will breathe a little easier.