Thoughts on politics

So, parliament has been prorogued, and the proposed coalition government will have to wait another two months before having another try. What do I think of this?

First of all, I’m disappointed – I thought the coalition would be a fine way to salvage a functional government out of a deeply divided parliament. We have a horribly broken electoral system that results in a parliament that does not reflect voters’ preferences. We have a Conservative government now that received about a third of the votes – and it must be said that half of the eligible voters didn’t bother going to the polls at all, through apathy, or else because they knew their votes wouldn’t count for much of anything.

Proroguing parliament in this case is clearly just running from the vote that would bring down the government, giving the coalition a chance to try to govern in its place. That vote was already postponed (it was originally supposed to be Monday, the 3rd, I believe). I think it was Bob Rae who I heard saying that it was “Like a kid pulling a fire alarm so he doesn’t have to write a test.” This parliament hasn’t really had a chance to do anything at all yet – no bills had been voted on at all. It’s rather similar to the way Harper called the election for October 14th, actually – he dissolved parliament the day before three by-elections. This meant that the government managed to avoid the bad press that losing those elections would have given them (all three ridings favoured other parties strongly). It also meant that the other parties, at least in those ridings, would have to be campaigning for 3 months straight – certainly in my riding of Westmount-Ville-Marie, several parties were very low on money at the beginning of the real campaign, having budgeted for the length of the by-election campaign.

So the government has been granted a reprieve – but what for, really? I think it’s obvious that the very first act of the new session of parliament in January will be to vote against the government. There’s just no way that Harper can restore confidence in himself or in his party (practically the same thing, the way he runs things). So why delay the inevitable? What can be accomplished in two months without a sitting parliament? Rather little, I think. The only thing I can think of is that, in January, the Governor-General would be more likely to just call a new election rather than let the coalition have a try.

That said, I don’t really lay the fault with the Governor General. While I wish she had decided otherwise, it’s a difficult decision to make. Normally, the Prime Minister decides that prorogation is desired, advises the GG of this, who then makes it official. The only way she could really refuse this request would be to say that Harper is no longer the prime minister, since he does not enjoy the confidence of the house. That’s a tough call to make though – on the one hand, all non-conservative MP’s (with the exception of the two independents) had written to her to say they did not support the government, clearly indicating a failure of confidence. On the other hand, it had not yet been formally recognized by a non-confidence vote in the house – this would have happened on the 8th, had the prorogation request not been granted. Technically, he is still the Prime Minister, and while not constitutionally obligated to grant his request, there’s a lot tradition behind the practice.

I’d say, though, that this is one of those very rare occasions where the GG should have been more than a rubber stamp. The office has become more and more of a symbolic one, just doing whatever the PM requests, and this is more in that direction. If she just follows tradition and precedent on all decisions, what’s the point of the position at all? Do we really need a purely symbolic head of state? I’d say that her role is really precisely to step in and work outside the well-established rules of the house, and do what’s right for the country, and for the system as a whole. Letting the government run from a confidence vote, preventing parliament from doing its job is not what I want to see.

So we’re left with an ineffective government for another two months, one that’s bound to collapse within days of parliament resuming in January. Stephane Dion will have even less time to serve as Prime Minister, since he has committed to stepping down as soon as a replacement is chosen. I can’t see this decision as being good for Canada in any way. It looks to me like Harper’s just hoping that something happens in the next little while that somehow makes him look good, so that they election that’s bound to happen soon won’t hit his party too hard.

edit: One unlikely, but interesting possibility is that the opposition coalition could call an emergency session of parliament to vote down the conservatives… I really don’t know the specific legalities involved, but it’s something I’d love to see happen!

Fall pictures

Various pictures from the fall – gardens, woods, and baking.

moop moop moop

It is 7:30AM. I’m awake because my neighbour has left for the weekend again (if not longer) and neglected to turn off her alarm clock which sits right across the wall from my bed. It has been beeping for the past 45 minutes now. ARGH. I might be sleeping on the couch for the next few days.

wp upgrade

Just a quick note that I upgraded wordpress. I don’t expect to see any problems, but you never know!


Have I been too busy or too lazy to post? A bit of both, I think.

There have been a lot of things going on though! In general, September happened, and all sorts of things have started up again. I’m doing some teaching (including some math tutoring and piano lessons, both of which are firsts for me), both choirs have started up, the usual computer work is continuing and some more has been added on.

Most of my time has been spent preparing for an upcoming concert though. October 19th, Sari and I will be in Fredericton for the first in a series of three concerts devoted to Bach, and featuring all six sonatas for violin and harpsichord, along with a bunch of famous solo harpsichord music. This first concert will have the B minor and A major sonatas, the Italian Concerto and the first French Suite. A fun challenge for me! I’ve played a lot of the music before, but I really feel that I’m much more prepared to tackle it than I was when I first tried it. Of course, when I last played the Italian Concerto and French Suite, I had only been taking harpsichord lessons for a year or two, so I should hope I’ve improved since then!

I’m really looking forward to this performance, and i hope the familiar repertoire brings in some new people. We’re working on some more advertising too, so expect to see posters and brochures appearing around Fredericton in the next week! If anyone in Fredericton has any suggestions of good places to put them, please let me know and we’ll make sure they get there.


A trip to Vermont to visit friends and hike on the Long Trail.

New Toy

I now live in a two-harpsichord house:

Rachelle's harpsichord

(not the greatest picture – maybe I’ll try again when the light’s better, or experiment with a flash…)
Rachelle Taylor is lending me her Beaupré French double while she does some renovations to her house. I’m happy to give it a home for the next little while! It’s great fun having two harpsichords in the same room, to be able to run back and forth and compare the different sounds. This is a very nice harpsichord, with a very rich sound, and it’s a breeze to play compared to mine. I’m not sure it works wonderfully for a lot of the earlier music I usually play, but it’s fantastic for Rameau, and sounds very nice for Bach as well. I need to dig up some music that I haven’t played in a while – Forqueray and the like.

Biking the West Island

Yesterday, I finally got around to biking out to my Grandfather’s in Dollard. A long trip (by my standards, anyway!) but reasonable. It was pretty neat to see all the different kinds of city biking that I passed through along the way – I think I covered just about all of it, from relatively heavy downtown traffic, gravel forest paths, terrifying high-speed not-at-all-bike-friendly roads, and very lazy suburban paths and streets.

Here’s the route I took:

  • Left from Lower Westmount
  • climbed Decarie (boulevard, not expressway!!!)
  • jogged over a few blocks on Jean-Talon to Lucerne, which turns into Ste-Croix after going under the 40
  • up Ste-Croix and then O’brien to Gouin
  • take the Gouin path through all its snaking around until it gets to the Bois-de-Liesse nature park.
  • Through the park and exit at Sunnybrooke. Stay on the bike path heading west until Lake
  • then onto the path at Salaberry.

On the way back, I took the South route:

  • the slightly insane route straight down Boul. St-Jean
  • Lakeshore rd
  • and then the Lachine Canal,
  • up Atwater

The trip up was fairly straightforward, but boring. I was really diappointed by the Gouin path on the short stretch I used it – it zigs and zags down all sorts of tiny streets, which can be nice since there’s no traffic, but it means that every 20 feet there’s a stop sign, and you have to cross the busy streets a few times without any lights or stop signs to give you a chance. Slow and tiring for no good reason… As well, except for the tiny jaunt under the bridge, you’re never near the water at all. I think if I had to take this route regularly, I’d end up just forgoing the path, and going straight down Gouin with the traffic instead.

Bois-de-Liesse was a nice surprise though! I didn’t know this park at all. Not great biking, since you share the path with hikers (lots of kids were out!) and it’s all gravel or dirt, but it’s so nice travelling through the trees!

After that, biking in the Suburbs on the other side was really dull. There are a surprising number of bike paths, but their design is…creative, if not effective.. Most of them are a relatively narrow bidirectional lane over to the side of the road. Normally, this is ok, but there’s nothing separating you from the traffic, and often not enough room to safely pass other bikers. Bus stops often interfere with the path as well, though with the scarcity of bus service out there, it’s not really a frequent issue. The real problem is that the paths tend to just end randomly, without notice! This can really suck when you suddenly find yourself coming up to a big intersection (crossing Sources on Hyman), in the middle of the road going the wrong direction! I don’t know if they expect people to just get on the sidewalk at these spots or what… Doesn’t make much sense though.

After the satisfactory, but fairly boring trip out, I decided to head to the South shore for the return trip. Boul. St-Jean is NOT a good road to bike on. it might be nice at 3AM, but at 4PM when I tried it, there was a lot of very fast-moving traffic, and no room at all to manoeuvre. I was tempted on several occasions to either turn around or get on the sidewalk, but I persisted. A harrowing 10 minutes, which I don’t recommend. I don’t know if there’s any better alternative for crossing to the south shore though.

I had biked along the south shore before, and was happy to repeat the experience. Travelling along a relatively quiet road, right by the water, with parks most of the way, lots of wildlife, and a cool breeze off the water is the way it should be! Lachine canal path was similar, but a little crowded, as usual.

All in all, a fun trip, but I wish I could travel along Lakeshore without risking life and limb on Boul. St-Jean. Does anyone have a better route to take? Is St. Charles or Sources any more bike-friendly? Or are there any tunnels or other ways to cross the highway that don’t show up on maps?

And geez, I’m wordy.

Couperin Preludes

I’m a big fan of French unmeasured preludes, as I’ve mentioned before. I always have a blast trying to interpret all the little ambiguous notes, and trying to make them musical. They’re also such exquisite pieces of pure harpsichord music! (of course, unmeasured preludes exist for other instruments as well, but they they’re idiomatic for those instruments instead!)

François Couperin wrote a series of 8 preludes in his L’Art de toucher le clavecin which are particularly intriguing because, while he suggests they be played freely, they are very precise in their rhythmic notation as well, so there’s always a question of how much you can step outside of those rhythms, and how you do so.

A few weeks ago, Thomas Dent posted a recording of the first prelude to the harpsichord mailing list that were quite striking in how he moves individual 8th notes around in a fairly systematic way, but keeps the overall rhythm fairly strict. Personally, I feel that maybe this is a little bit backwards – to me, small changes within a stable beat characterize not an unmeasured piece, but just a typical baroque, and especially French baroque, approach to meter and rhythm. What makes the unmeasured pieces special, to me, isn’t that the small notes are flexible, but that the big beats don’t have to have the structured regularity that most French music, with its basis in dances, always seems to have.

With that in mind, I made a few recordings of my own of the first prelude, trying to emphasize different things. First of all, I tried to do the opposite of Thomas, just to see if I could! This version keeps the eighth notes fairly regular, but speeds up and slows down and stops on a few big beats. I think this is more or less the way I used to play this.

Then I tried adding in the sort of 8th note flexibility that Thomas talks about, while still thinking about the bigger beats. I think it’s quite successful, though I could stand to spend a bit more time on it, for sure! I found that, even though the notated rhythm is very similar from bar to bar, there are many different ways that Couperin uses the syncopated notes. Sometimes they are suspensions, sometimes they’re anticipations, etc..

Finally, I just bashed through, half-way ignoring the page, and making up my own sorts of things. Great fun! It’s not just pointless silliness though, by any stretch: I find it very useful, when trying to find out what little notes mean, to try improvising similar patterns. When improvising, I won’t play something ‘just because it’s there’ (because it isn’t!) but rather, I play things because it makes sense for where I’m taking the music. Doing this with this particular piece gave me a better sense of where the harmonies move, and what each syncopation is really trying to accomplish. Definitely a useful exercise!

So what conclusions are to be drawn? Mainly that there are many ways to interpret any piece as free as a prelude, measured or not. I think it’s important to keep in mind the underlying harmonies though, and to find a reason for every note to be where it is. Without that figured out, it’s nearly impossible to play the piece in a way that will hang together.

New copyright bill

So, the internet’s all abuzz about the new Canadian copyright bill that’s just been tabled. It looks pretty awful… as a musician and a computer geek, this basically seems targeted mostly at me, and people who use computers the way I do.

A few things that it would criminalize that I do regularly:

  • Copying a CD (legally bought) onto a computer or mp3 player
  • Watching a DVD on a linux computer (I don’t have a tv, and can’t watch DVDs any other way)
  • Watching non-region-1 DVDs (I don’t actually do this now, but I certainly might want to, and know many people that do all the time)

There are many other things that, while legal, I never do because I avoid any DRM-laden media because I disagree so strongly with it. For example, I will never buy anything from iTunes while Apple insists on DRM, even if it’s relatively easy to remove the copy protection. This law would make it illegal for me to play songs bought legally on iTunes on my computer or mp3 player.

My biggest complaint about this bill though isn’t that it makes me a criminal for something that I don’t think should be outlawed – I feel pretty safe in just ignoring the new penalties, since the chances of being actually caught are next to nothing. The main problem is that it completely changes copyright law, and puts the wrong people in charge of it.

See, the law says, essentially, that it is illegal to circumvent any copy protection device. So if I take a DVD, break the (largely ineffectual) copy protection contained on it and copy the movie onto my computer, I’ve commited a crime, even if I’ve acted completely within the bounds of copyright law, and even if the discs contents are not protected by copyright! In other words existing laws about what copyright restricts, and how long copyright lasts become pretty much meaningless, since whoever slaps any sort of copy protection onto their media basically can rewrite the law to work however they want. If they don’t want you to make a copy of a DVD to watch on your computer, they can prevent that, legally. If they want their copyright to last indefinitely, they just have to ‘make sure’ that the DRM doesn’t magically turn itself off after the copyright expires – i.e. they have to do nothing.

In short, this law says that our existing copyright laws (thousands and thousands of words in the current Act, and many more thousands proposed to be added by this bill) are useless and say nothing, since they can all be easily overridden by anyone putting the most simplistic ‘digital lock’ onto the work in question, and even worse, it means that these new pseudo-laws are not controlled by our lawmakers (misguided though they may be, at least we can – and will – vote them out of office when they make a horrible mistake), but they’re controlled by those tech companies that make the digital locks themselves. Why should we, as Canadians, grant that kind of power to American, Japanese, and other corporations?

I’m hoping that this nasty bill will lead to quickly getting rid of this government, but I expect nothing will happen until the Fall in any direction on this front. Parliament is supposed to adjourn soon for the Summer, and it would be ridiculously rushed for it to come to any sort of vote before then. Sigh.. another quarter of a year with this ‘strong leadership’ in place, wrecking our country.