wash, rinse, repeat

laundromat

Fact #1: U.S. Democrat Gabrielle Giffords was shot yesterday. Some commentators are linking the shooting in Tucson to violent language on multiple websites, at least one of which showed Giffords’ congressional district in the crosshairs of a gun.

Fact #2: Yesterday I read an article in The Atlantic about the cost of believing everything you find on the internet. The gullibility of the public has allowed radicals and reactionaries to succeed in smear campaigns against their targets, even when their accusations have been proven to be false, because the public loves sensational scandal and ignores the truth that is later uncovered.

Fact #3: I spent more than six hours yesterday reading news feeds and bookmarked blog posts, and catching up on the expected results of South Sudan’s referendum, participating in an online conversation about Saint John’s uptown, and reading about the advantage of planned spending over budgeting.

* * *

If I wanted to remain virtually connected at this rate, I would have to devote at least two hours per day to reading online, and that would be mostly scanning the headlines. No wonder it’s hard to separate facts from fiction and to get a balanced view of the world.

And, in case you haven’t noticed, much of the noise out there (in the virtual world) is recycled information, broken up into byte-sized pieces. Sometimes the information is whitewashed, sometimes it’s muddied. And it’s all thrown together into the great washing machine of the internet, socks and underwear, tourniquets and tennis shoes, the bleeding red bandana and the white silk shirt. The internet does not sort and weigh the information, it does not separate the world’s laundry into the sheep and the wolves.

So take care what you say online, even in jest. Check your temper at the door but do not check your brain. Take care in what you read, and especially what you believe and pass on for fact. It’s not just viruses that we need to guard against. Sadly, very little can be trusted. Everything must be washed, rinsed and hung to dry in the cool light of rational thought.

Photo taken on December 18, 2010

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Saint John grows up

construction site

Last night I attended the Open House for PlanSJ — the process to create Saint John’s new official plan — and had a good look at the proposed direction for city growth over the next 25 years. In a nutshell, the plan calls the city to grow up, not out.

What this means is that urban areas, where the population is denser and communities are walkable, are recognized as healthier alternatives to suburban “scatteration”. These areas including the priority neighbourhoods of the Old North End, Crescent Valley, Waterloo Village, the South End, and the Lower West Side, areas of the city which desperately need an infusion of cash and smart development and energetic citizens. And the need is desperate: despite generous support for anti-poverty initiatives and community building projects, the neighbourhoods are known more for their decrepit buildings, drug traffickers and arsonists than the tenacious citizens who are trying to make things better.

If the city follows through, if buildings worth saving are rehabilitated, if new construction replaces empty lots and eyesores, and if people are willing to move back into the urban areas to make the city core healthy and happy, then Saint John doesn’t have anything to fear from the growing suburban communities on its east and west that have been attracting city refugees for the past 20 years. But in order for this to work, the city has to make the urban neighbourhoods more attractive — to developers, business owners, and prospective residents — at the same time as ensuring that people who live at or near the poverty line aren’t pushed out of their own neighbourhoods by skyrocketing rents.

It’s a tall order; is the city up to it? I hope so!

Photo taken on November 9, 2010

girders, Peel Plaza

girders, Peel Plaza

I’ve always been drawn to construction sites. I like the square geometry of the steel girders, the ponderous dance of heavy equipment, the way the skeletal frame is formed and shaped, the way space becomes place.

It’s archeology backwards, creation instead of forensics, a community working together to create something new. It reminds me of a wedding, an event buoyed by hope, plagued by doubt and gnawed finger nails; so much could go wrong, and yet it could turn out to be so right. This particular construction site is already historied in critique and finger-pointing, threatened by the mire of politics, budgetary foreboding and the shaking of heads. So much could go wrong — in fact, already seems to be wrong — and yet, and yet (dare I say it?) it could turn out to be so right.

O fortunati, quorum iam moenia surgunt! (O Fortunate Ones, whose walls are rising now) – motto of Saint John, from Virgil’s Dido & Aeneas.

Photo taken on November 9, 2010

architecture + puddle = fun

old post office, reflected

I am a spur-of-the-moment photographer. I tend to take ’em as I see ’em. That’s not to say I don’t work with different angles and compositions, and I certainly spend enough time adjusting colour, crop, contrast etc on the computer. But I have to admit that I seldom plan ahead.

Last night was an exception. I had two reasons to take photos. The first was because it was Thursday, and Utata (the Flickr photo group I participate in) always has a weekly project called Thursday walks. The second is the photo conference happening this weekend in Moncton, called Foto Expo, which is also running a contest with the theme “downtown architecture”. I didn’t get out during the daytime because I was making apple chutney, and it took longer than I expected (doesn’t it always). So that’s why I was uptown with a camera and tripod at 8 p.m. last night.

I had been wanting to take a photo of this building for a while, so last night was the perfect opportunity. Finding the puddle was a bonus. I’m really glad I planned ahead and brought the equipment I needed for this photo shoot. I spent about 40 minutes in this parking lot (my car is the 2nd from the right) and took photos of this Old Post Office building from several angles. In fact, it was so much fun, I might do it again (plan ahead, that is)!

Photo taken on October 28, 2010

red door with pumpkin

red door with pumpkin

This weathered door has seen a lot of Octobers. This door on Elliot Row, a few houses in from the sea in one of the oldest parts of the city, has seen thick fog and hurricane rains, hot sun and freezing gales, and everything in between. You can see the marks where the door has been pushed, shoved and bumped, where the paint is worn down to the wood by frequent use. It looks like this door was painted white before it was red, and before that — before the new owners refinished it and repainted and re-sided and renovated the house from top to bottom — I wonder what it looked like then?

When the Nor’easter rolls up the Eastern seaboard and sends the Bay of Fundy waves pounding against the shore, it will stand firm. When snowbanks ploughed off the street climb all the way to the top of the railing, and ice encases the steps, it will still open and close, firm against the weather. For now, it’s strong enough. For now, there are flowers, and a pumpkin to mark the season of harvest and Hallowe’en. Welcome.

Taken on October 2, 2010

playground

playground

I like toys. I have lots of them: a bike and camping gear and a harp and lots of camera stuff and a computer and an ipod touch and an elliptical exerciser and a bunch of kitchen gadgets and garden tools and, oh yes, a car. Yet I spend most of my spare time on my computer and ipod.

But I’m not doing very well in the fitness department. If I keep sitting all day, I’ll turn into an ottoman (the furniture kind) — all seat and no legs. With the  exception of apps for activities such as birding, starwatching and geocaching, computers and being outdoors don’t go together, and unless you’re just listening to music, you’re not actually doing anything.

And it’s not just me. There has been a lot of hand-wringing about child obesity in the so-called developed world. I saw a Saint John photo by Ian McEachern yesterday, showing a group of 9 or 10 kids playing in on the street next to a group of homes, a couple of adults leaning against the stoop, watching. That was 1968; this is 2010. The boy in this photo is alone. He has an electronic toy in his hand. He hasn’t walked the few blocks to the nearest playground, he isn’t kicking a soccer ball with the neighbourhood kids or heading to the library to check out a new book. He’s standing in a neighbourhood parking lot, with a whole universe of playgrounds to explore, at least until the battery runs down.

Taken on October 2, 2010

the milk wars

This is the back door of the Baxter’s Dairies milk processing plant. I really should say Saputo, although the milk still carries the Baxter’s label. Baxter’s grew out of a milk route started in 1924 and expanded to buy out many smaller dairies in the region before being acquired by Saputo in 2001. (The ice cream side of the business was bought out by Scotsburn.)

I remember drinking Baxter’s chocolate milk in elementary school. At home, Baxter’s milk arrived on our doorstep once a week, in exchange for coupons left out for the milkman in an old glass milk bottle. In fact, I was surprised to realize not long ago that my parents still get their milk delivered by a milkman every Tuesday morning.

However, I rarely buy Baxter’s milk products now. I want to support local producers whenever possible, and Baxter’s is no longer local. Oh sure, the company tagline now reads: “New Brunswick’s Oldest and Largest Dairy.” But I’ve been buying milk from the Northumberland Cooperative Dairy instead — their tagline reads: “The only dairy that’s pure New Brunswick.”

Now that’s good advertising.

Taken on April 22, 2010