Falling Governments

As you probably already saw, the Canadian government yesterday actually fell.
And I can’t help but think that this seems to be such a useful tool that could be exported to America. If publicly elected officials doesn’t have “confidence” in one’s government officials, the superstructure is simply disbanded and the rest of the organizational institution continues to run smoothly – its social, security, defense, communication, leadership and cultural programs work fine without a Parliamentary structure in tact. In fact, there’s something very self-sacrificing about the no-confidence vote held in Ottawa, Canada’s capital; Ministers of Parliament not only actively disband the government’s policy producing body but they also send themselves home to be re-elected by the populace.
Fascinating. In part, it’s because of its apocalyptic nature to me. In the States, if the Government fell, funding would stop immediately, the overall leadership structure would collapse, state governments would have to take over and there would be lawlessness and localized military and militia control. (Elected officials in the U.S. are, by default and now more than ever, intimately entwined with everything the nation does or can do; the gap between elected officials and bureaucrats in the Government has been closing. We saw a glimpse of this back in the mid-1990s when budgets wouldn’t get passed and the country was essentially held hostage by new Republican legislators. Gee, remember that?
As one friend noted, it’s odd that the Parliamentary system appears so much more advanced than the American system. I remember learning over and over in Junior High and HIgh School that the federal system we had in the U.S. was an advancement over that of our British ancestors – that our system of checks and balances among the Executive, Judicial, and Legislataive branches would keep any one set of people from gaining too much power or privilege.
As anyone can tell from recent polls on the Presidency, a clear majority of Americans now think that the current Executive branch has too much concentrated power which has, in turn, lead to major mistakes, lies and criminal acts. The closest we got in recent memory to “felling” the U.S. Government was when Mr. Clinton was impeached. And I guess that this is the closest we’ll ever get.


I’m a bad Jew. When living in Brooklyn, I was a member of a congregation, doing volunteer work, enrolling my daughter in school there, and attending shul whenver possible. I would have the honor of treating my parents to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tickets and I could successfully say hello the Rabbi there without feeling shy and somehow ashamed. I had and have had many ambivalent feelings about synagogues in general; typically, they require you to put your head down and push forward and one has to ignore whatever class and economical factors there might exist at the congregation. Too often, I kind of had to seek out those who were like me, or felt like me, in their commitment to religion and observance and I think I almost found that in Brooklyn a few years ago.
I’ve found that Rabbis and staff at synagogues to be invariably committed to the facility and collection of often difficult congregants that congregate there. I also found that a synagogue is typically run by a few very, very tireless individuals who want to make sure that the place can be the very best it can be; these are the ones who organize events, initiate fundraising, request speakers, and help educate children. It’s an amazingly huge set of responsibilities to be a full member of a congregation and it’s one that I hope I’ll have a chance to have again.
But since moving here, I’ve found it difficult to find just the right place (or know of the right place) to “belong.” It’s a matter of speaking with people, visiting congregations, and, ultimately, taking a risk. No one shul is perfect but there must be a place here where I can call home. We haven’t had the sheer time to do the research but I do hope there will be time soon.
But I’ve also felt like a bad Jew because I haven’t been doing the many things that I associate very strongly with Judaism and Jewishness – volunteering in the community, donating one’s earnings, praying and singing and dovening, and, mostly, reading. I’ve gone Jew LCD: Jewish Lowest Common Denominator.
It’s particularly difficult right now (spiritually or psychologically) because Christmas is almost upon us in full swing. And while, in New York City, one’s religion or religiosity could kind of get lost in the shuffle (for good and for bad), here it’s more apparent. One of the parents at Maeve’s school said today, “Don’t forget to get your Christmas money to me for our present.” I didn’t know what she meant and she explained that she was collecting funds to give to World Vision to give a gift of two goats or a dozen hens to an African or Asian family to give to the teacher. All of the commercial streets in our area have Christmas wreaths and, one by one, the lights are going up on each of the houses around here. We’re not the only Jewish family in the area. But it doesn’t make it any more odd to feel like a self-imposed minority in a new city that, truthfully, seems about as open to minorities as I could imagine.

Double Thanks

Some new friends in Winnipeg invited us over for an American Thanksgiving this evening. It was very informal and very delightful. Like us, he is American and she is Canadian. Like us, they have a small child and feel blessed to have a warm, small house in a small city. And like us, they are kind of economic refugees (my new term of phrase, coined via my wife) from the U.S. Both academics, they found it difficult to raise a kid in San Diego and get the most of their lives with their salaries and their livelihoods.
Anyway, I had two Thanksgivings this year and so, here are the things I’m doubly thankful for (in no particular order):

  • Orange Juice
  • Dark Blue
  • Sincere Simplicity
  • Sheer Strength
  • Bad Television
  • Good Movies
  • Fine Chocolate
  • Small Books
  • Warm Homes
  • Great Friends
  • Family Commotion
  • Tough Tears
  • Canadian Music
  • Two Felines
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Utter Silliness
  • Wood Fires
  • Smelly Poopy
  • Large Paintings
  • 2000 Saabs
  • Usable Websites
  • Handwritten Letters
  • New York
  • Apple Computer
  • Tyra Banks
  • Savings Accounts
  • Independent Entrepreneurship
  • Cold Coke
  • Smooth Stones
  • Sweet Words


A few weeks ago, I mentioned Jason Kottke’s recent post about tidying up. Sometimes, and it is a rare occasion, an idea stick in the craw of one’s brain and doesn’t let go. In Jason’s post, he noted that cleaning up is an activity that is also well represented by numerous other, more metaphorical, activities such as modern sports.
But as I’ve been doing a lot of interface design the past week, I’ve been thinking about how designing is itself a physical process that echoes if not mimics cleaning up. When working on a website interface, I’ll typically add, piece by piece, more and more elements until everything is starting to look like chaos hit the fan. I’ll place photographs, pop-in a few gradients, push a few lines here and there, import some Illustrator elements, pull in a few color swatches and add more text than is really needed.
Then I pare down, little by little, pixel by pixel until there’s only what I feel is needed. I’ll try to kill everything that is superfluous. There’s even a little tool I love in Photoshop called “Delete Hidden Layers” which, in one fell swoop, takes out all of those little layers of photos, gradients, lines, swatches and text that are not being used. It’s a very physical process of cleaning and the end result is that (after a few hours of cleaning) I gain (or my client does) a successful design. I know this is not news, and many others have better stated it.
What interests me about the subject now is that cleaning appears to be an inherently radical phenomenon. Cleaning is about saving what you want and destroying the rest. Its relationship to racist heterodoxy and to environmental degradation and to all things morally repugnant are clear. We know that, en masse, by cleaning our hands too often with anti-bacterial soap, we are giving the germs out there a fighting chance to replicate and fight against us with better offenses. We know that the worst crimes in the past 100 years have been carried out in the name of keeping continents, countries, and cities free from a specified group of individuals. And we know that providing a monocrop in the growing fields can have large effects on food security, health, and local environments. Cleaning is a conservative value that adheres to no political ideology – yet it does lend itself to experimentation and, occasionally, criminality.
What I’m wondering about is whether design, if it is a form of cleaning and tidying up, which I think it is, is also a very real mechanism to take the nasty, organic, grotesque and fluid of the world and concretize it – to make it digestible and fine and even final.

A Shovel

The snows arrived.
It took about 2 weeks longer than usual. But they’re here. To misquote James Joyce, “Snow is general all over Winnipeg.”
I just went out to the 7-11, three doors down from our house, to get a few staples and there was plenty of milk on the shelves. And, surpisingly, staples.
The house is ready. We had the furnace checked a few weeks ago. It hadn’t been looked after in about, maybe, 6 years, perhaps more. The service repairman could tell by the way the doors were sealed around the boiler. They used to use some kind of concrete sealant around the doors to keep the heat in. Today, he explained, they use a kind of silicon sealant. It’s red and kind of pretty, like blood, and it was nicely applied all around the small doors of the furnace. Apparently, it’s the original one that was installed when the house was built in 1922. Back then, the owners would rake coal into the thing. Probably in the 1950s, it was converted to oil heat and then, perhaps in the 1970s or 1980s, it was converted again. This time it was gas. Natural gas.
The eavestroughs probably should have been cleaned. I mean the gutters. They should have been cleaned.
The house didn’t have all of its storm windows installed outside so a few of the windows in the house are directly exposed to the outside air, wind, cold, water. Not a tragedy but it’s something that we’ll have to attend to in the Spring.
But it’s Winter here. It looks like we’re going to get about 10 centimeters of snow. And, according to a long-time resident with whom I walked home today, once it snows at this time of year, it’s on the ground. It’s not likely to melt. The snow sitting on the ground right now, as I write, will be on the ground until March, perhaps later. It’s the same snow I’ll be walking upon for weeks, months. The same snow compacted by sister layers and feet and the occasional warm rays of the sun. The same snow, concretized and homogenized, compressed and repressed. Tonight’s layer will is the foundation for future slicks, for future falls and collisions, for the light reflected back up to the big sky here.
Tonight’s snow is one from Calgary, they tell me. Not a Northeaster, which is what I’m used to, as a Northeaster. But a Northwester, I guess, has come.
The quality of the snow seems like a lot of snows I’ve seen before. It’s powdery with a bit of wetness around the edges. It piles. And it doesn’t smell the way it does back home, in New York.
Over the weekend, we went to a Johnny Cash tribute party that was something like I imagined it and nothing like I could have imagined. I had waited pretty much two years for this event, held at our friends’ house. There were at least a hundred people there, sitting on the floor, on chairs, on stairs. J.C. himself made an apperance in the guise of one of our friends and he played beautifully. Petty Cash, Johnny’s little badass sister, also performed a song called “A Girl Named Poo.” And, just to keep the scatology going, a duo called the Ass Juice Trio crooned to lots of avail. It was great.
The snows and the cold are known to have this effect on people here. Being indoors means things get done and those things are often creative by nature. I love this.
I love this house, too. I wish I had a shovel, though.


I’ve never been a big fan of Veterans Day in the U.S. and that’s the clear “fault” of the realities of growing up directly after the fall of Vietnam and the crisis of Watergate. I sometimes thought that the war heros we typically celebrate or mourn in the United States were over-hyped and that the holiday itself was pure patriotism wrapped in fealty to the high offices of the land. I also thought that veterans themselves cared little about the working middle class and that, because “war” was an admission of the poverty of our imaginations, “veterans” were little more than serfs in the battle of those poor fantasies.
It’s hard to admit this today but it’s true. And kind of sad. After graduate school and an immersion in Jewish cultural history pre-1939, I became much more attuned to the world’s political realities and studied in Eastern Europe. It was there that I began to be able to give thanks to those who decided or had decided for them to fight against those in command of the European continent. I became tearfully impressed with those who sacrificed their very existence for the possibility (and it was just a possibility) that peace could break out in Europe and wrongs would be exposed. When I returned to the States in the late 1990s, I noted that Veterans Day was such a small holiday for most Americans.
In any case, here I am in Canada. And, while the US is embroiled in a major war in Iraq and other parts of the world, there seems to be so little media attention (at last online) being paid to those solidiers who died or are going to die. And, oddly, in Canada, the newspapers all week have pushed story after story about Canadians who died or who fought in wars during the past 100 years. Today’s newspaper here is full of information about how to celebrate Remembrance Day in town and there’s a huge pull-out section about the warzone’s lost and the living. Almost everyone is wearing these cloth red poppies on their coats in honor of this day. I’ve never seen such an outpouring of interest in remembrance of wars past and present.

Time to Pony Up!

As a recent immigrant to Canada, I’m kind of trying to expose myself to a bunch of new noise that is inherently of and from Canada. Not Leonard Cohen but the new stuff.
So I found this Montreal-based girl band called Pony Up! and they have a few great songs. Very 1980s sounds, of course – a kind of mix of Siouxie and the Banchees, The Pixies, and Throwing Muses, mostly. They have a curvy sound and aren’t afraid of using their sexy voices in the name of sex. Kind of sweet, actually.
In other news, I’m massively (again, kind of) reorganizing and redesigning this website. It’s going to be a few more days but I promise, it will happen. Perhaps I’ll even like writing Deckchairs more. It’s become a bit of a drag for some reason, in part because I’ve been reading so many other, better, more timely or more coherent blogs lately. And perhaps I’m slightly blogged out, though it does appear that I’ve been doing it a lot longer than most. Perhaps the symptom is the cure.
Additionally, I just downloaded the new Safari browser, along with the recent OS X update, and it does indeed support the Web Standards project’s brilliant Acid Test 2. In a nutshell, it means that Safari beat Firefox and Internet Explorer to the punch by supporting many of the most advanced features of Web standards site development.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg is growing on me. It’s not without it small-town associations but I’m also realizing that what it lacks in breadth, it makes up for in depth. On Tuesday, the new Millenium (previously the Centennial) library will open after many millions of dollars of investment. A whole new, huge space and 30% more books (open stack) will be a site to see.
Finally, I organized my office, finally. It’s not quite perfect, the pictures aren’t on the walls yet, and the windows need blinds, but it’s the most organized (and largest) office space I’ve ever had. Jason K. has written one of the most interesting pieces on tidying up that I’ve seen in some time.


It’s interesting that today, as many have predicted, Microsoft announced that the online software model will be pushed by the company. It’s a massive response and acceptance of the immense power of Google’s online-based email tools and its most recent embrace of Sun’s OpenOffice. In plainer language, Google wants to make PC-based Microsoft Word server-based Net Office. As long as I can remember, Sun has promoted the idea that the “network is the computer” and there are many, many unparalled features (like online collaboration and real-time version tracking) that only network-based applications can handle. Sun, in partnership with Google, could ultimately win the office productivity and workflow market if there is a serious desire for users to go ahead with online apps.
Despite many open source arguments for online application development and marketing, I have serious reservations about both the model and the privacy aspects of this purportedly new approach. There are a few very good and very serious online applications (like 37 signals’ excellent Basecamp, which I use daily) that provide a very solid and responsive application environment for simple tasks such as ordering and maintaining lists and messages and documents. The speed of these apps are fast, almost approaching the speed of a PC-based text editor or Word processor. The brief delay in responsiveness because of the network is a small price to pay for the collective nature of these applications.
But if, suddently, Google allowed me to transfer all of my Word documents to an online Word-like repository that could archive, search, and recognize my documents, would I step up and sign up? No. There are two key issues of trust that I could not readily accept:

  1. What will Google do with the content of my documents sitting on their servers? What are the real legal responsibilities that Google has toward me and my business documents? What legal repercussions are in place if, for example, they decide to share even aggregate data about my archive? And what would happen if someone at Google or a smart hacker could suddenly access my business, personal or other agreements, proposals, and personal information?
  2. As worrisome, what happens if Google shuts down? If Larry Page and Sergey Brin get the avian flu one day and the company shuts its doors, do I lose all of my documents and my business flies away the day after? And what happens if, for whatever reason, Google’s (albeit superbly redundant and stress-tested) servers go down? Will they assure me that I can get my documents back in an hour, a day or a week? And, most apocalyptically, what happens if the whole Net goes down? Granted, as a Web designer, I’m out of business anyway. But what about my mom’s documents?

[Google’s Gmail (email) is an exception rather than the rule here. Gmail, which is a powerful and highly usable online application, can also be used on the desktop by programs like Microsoft Outlook. And Gmail, despite its cool factor, has raised numerous legal questions about the privacy of content stored.]
I think it’s wise for all of us, if, in the long run, Google and Microsoft battle it out in the online application arena. It will mean better overall application development, stronger user interfaces, and more thoughtful engagements with customers. But, unless Google and Microsoft have a way to create real-time syncrhonicity between desktops, networks and server clusters, I doubt the real prospects of massive migration to online apps. This means, by the way, that Bill Gates’ vision of an Office on every PC is the long-term winner.