Sat, Jul
22
2017
Sat, Jul 22, 2017

On Pockets

My latest column for the Kitchener Post is now available on the website. Have a look:

Women Need Pockets Too

As daughter-the-elder prepares to switch schools on her way to Grade 7, I was unexpectedly reminded of how weird fashion is.

I'm not talking about dresses or makeup -- neither of which my daughter is going gaga for, thank goodness. I'm talking about pockets.

And the roundabout way this came about is through Grand River Transit.

The new school is some distance away, and as we are trying to keep our resolution to drive less, daughter-the-elder plans to bike there. My parental freakout over bike safety on the streets of Kitchener will be reserved for another column.

On those days she can't bike, she'll take public transit.

I'm looking forward to that. Yes, I am a transit nut and, yes, my daughter is humouring me, but I remember how public transit suddenly gave me access to my city when I was growing up.

Most people remember their first cars with fondness because of the freedom they represented. For me, this feeling is evoked by public transit vehicles for a similar reason.

We've talked about getting daughter-the-elder a Grand River Transit EasyGO fare card that she can have on her person at all times, so she'll never be caught short without a fare.

And the thought of her carrying this card brought my mind around to pockets.

For some reason, despite all the progress women have struggled to make toward equality, pockets seem to be a male domain.

My pockets are my fortress. In it, I place my financial security, cheques I need to deposit, drivers' license, health identification, and Presto card.

If I lost these things, my life would get a lot more inconvenient, which is why I have deep pockets and why my wallet and cellphone are kept in the front pocket, even though people say you're supposed to keep your wallet in the back.

I figure it's easier to notice a pickpocket's hands if they're sneaking around near your crotch instead of somewhere behind you.

So, I'm confident about where my important wallet-sized items are, and can pick them up at a moment's notice. The wallet stays in my pants or near my pants when I change them. When I get up in the morning, I put on my pants, and the wallet is ready to go.

And then I look at the struggles my wife goes through getting her documents in order. Her wallet is in her purse, which on more than one occasion has been misplaced. Purses have been snatched, jostled about, knocked down and spilled out.

The pockets my wife and daughters wear are not designed to handle bulky items like wallets, and I have to think that's the fault of the designers, who assume that women don't need pockets, they'll use purses, because they've always used purses.

So, I think about getting a fare card for daughter-the-elder, and I wonder where she's going to put it. She hasn't yet got my paranoia about keeping my important cards close. Worse, fashion designers have not giving her places where she can store these cards safely and conveniently.

I'm back at the time when I wrote a column about how clothes designers designed ridiculous proportions into children's apparel based on whether they were catering to boys and girls. Girls don't have hips before they're ten, and yet daughter-the-elder could only find boys' clothes that fit her.

Fashion is fine and good for those who choose it, but the world needs more sensible shoes and, better yet, sensible pants. With pockets.

James Bow is a writer and a father of two in Kitchener, Ontario. You can follow him online at bowjamesbow.ca or on Twitter at @jamesbow.

Wed, Jul
19
2017
Wed, Jul 19, 2017

Christian Privilege

On Twitter, a moderate Muslim activist took on a white supremacist in an act of what he called “collateral education”. No, he did not expect to change the mind of the white supremacist, who promptly called him a domestic terrorist and said that America was a white country, but he hoped that others would learn from the exchange.

I came upon this because, to prove that America (or, as I interpreted it, North America) was diverse, the Muslim activist asked that his statement saying so be retweeted. It wasn’t long before he had over ten thousand retweets, and numerous replies in support. I felt it was my obligation to join the retweet, and the replies of support were nice to read.

But one individual did speak up and challenged his assertion that “Islam teaches peace”, saying (paraphrased), “I’m sorry, but I’ve read the Quran twice, and it’s full of violence, just like the Bible.” It’s the last part of the sentence I want to talk about.

Let’s brush aside the fact that this sort of argument assumes that the Quran is Islam, and that the Bible is Christianity. They’re not. Yes, they are the most important books in our respective religions, but they are not Ikea assembly manuals. Regular Muslim groups, like regular Christian groups, require the application of free will, and some decent common sense when taking the passages of both books and interpreting them. We all know that crazies can take passages of both books out of context and use them for horrible purposes. Just look at the Westboro Baptist Church, or the Lord’s Resistance Army, or the militant portions of the IRA and the UDA before cooler heads prevailed. And just as terrorists can twist any passage of scripture to justify their horrible ends, so too can individuals who want to engage in unfair criticism of both faiths.

The phrase “just like the Bible” is an attempt to soften the unfairness of this criticism by suggesting they’re not playing sides, here. They’re applying their condemnation of passages taken out-of-context equally to bolster what they would argue is an atheistic viewpoint rather than an Islamophobic one. “I’m not Islamophobic, I’m cultophobic!” they might say.

And, fair enough: I’ll give them credit for not being a hypocrite. However, this is where my white and Christian privilege kicks in.

Suggestions that I might be no different from, or at least on a spectrum with the Westboro Baptist Church or the Lord’s Resistance Army might be hurtful or unfair, but that’s about as far as they go. They don’t contribute to a dark societal sentiment that might see me detained at airports for no good reason, shouted at or attacked on the street, or deported. I can choose to engage these criticisms or I can choose to roll my eyes and walk away with no risk to my personal safety.

That’s not a privilege accorded to those Muslims who have experienced the amount of hate they experienced for these past few years and especially these past few months since Trump was elected. That’s not a privilege accorded to the Muslims in my community whose perfectly sensible request to change an industrial site into a small prayer centre was met with coded complaints from a handful of residents saying that the prayer centre would, among other things, see “higher sewage use compared to that of normal faiths.”

This is the difference between being unfair to somebody on the mainstream, and attacking a marginalized group. The act causes significantly more damage to the latter group than to the former. That’s my Christian privilege, and that’s wrong.

Sun, Jul
16
2017
Sun, Jul 16, 2017

On Ontario's Reinventing the Wheel

Here’s a recent column that appeared in the June 19th issue of the Kitchener Post, in response to reports that the Ontario government was exploring hydrogen-powered commuter trains:

When Ontario’s Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca announced the province would look at equipping its GO commuter trains with hydrogen fuel cells, I had a disturbing sense of deja-vu.

Don’t get me wrong, I think hydrogen-fuel-cell powered vehicles are intriguing. Like normal electric cars, they’re run by an electric motor. Unlike normal electric cars, the power for that motor comes not from a battery, but from a hydrogen fuel cell, which generates electricity on the spot by combining hydrogen with oxygen.

While normal electric cars are recharged by plugging to a power source, hydrogen fuel cell cars need to be refueled with more hydrogen. That’s good for cars. Hydrogen fuel cells could solve the problem of replacing a fuel source as powerful and as portable as gasoline. But why put one on a train?

Cars drivers need a portable fuel source because you never know where you might need to drive one. But we know exactly where a train is going to go.

If we want to power a train with electricity, we don’t need the complications of producing it on the fly with a fuel cell. We have tried and true technologies to deliver electricity either through overhead wires or a third rail next to the tracks.

The solution for electrifying Ontario’s commuter rail network is easy. It’s been around for over a century. It could be built tomorrow if the province were willing to pay for it.

Hydrogen power, for all of its possibilities, is still a concept being explored. The first prototypes for hydrogen-powered trains are only now being built. It could be years before Ontario’s trains become hydrogen-powered, but a simpler solution exists today.

Ontarian governments, of various stripes, have had an unfortunate tendency these past decades of looking past the obvious, old-school solutions for concepts that are bold and new and untested.

In the early 1970s, Toronto and Ontario realized that subway construction was becoming prohibitively expensive, and the high-density neighbourhoods that were best served by subways were by and large served. What could be built instead to provide rapid transit into the lower density suburbs at less cost?

The Toronto Transit Commission had a solution in hand: put streetcars on private rights-of-way, operating at high speeds. The technology was tried and true, could carry the loads, and was considerably cheaper than subway construction.

Unfortunately, at the time, Ontario Premier Bill Davis wanted Ontario to become an industry leader in high tech public transportation vehicles. His crown corporation, the Urban Transportation Development Corporation, tried to build a maglev test-track at the Canadian National Exhibition before the West German partners pulled out.

Other cities that turned to high-speed streetcars, including Calgary, Portland and Denver, helped lead North America’s LRT renaissance.

Ontario created an Intermediate Capacity Transit System instead that used linear induction to haul its trains. This proved to be more expensive and less flexible. ICTS soured Toronto against building anything other than expensive subways for rapid transit.

By looking at hydrogen power for its future trains, Ontario risks wasting time again trying to reinvent the wheel.

Other cities know the benefits of electrifying their commuter rail lines. Their trains accelerate faster and are more energy efficient. There is a large market for electric trains and infrastructure thanks to the work of New York, Philadelphia, Montreal and other cities.

We know what needs to be built, and we want to build it sooner rather than later. If the province really wants electric trains, it only needs to pay for them.

IMG_1505.jpg

I’d be willing to bet this car is driven by somebody who works at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. We are in the area.

And as I think of it, this could also be a pretty good science-geek rap name…

Thu, Jul
13
2017
Thu, Jul 13, 2017

Night Girl, Coming Soon...

night-girl-to-come.jpg

The good people at REUTS, who are publishing my New Adult fantasy novel The Night Girl, recently debuted a completely revamped website, and as part of their celebrations, they announced their latest acquisitions. I've already announced that The Night Girl will be published by this company, but this news release makes it official, and provides one or two more details:

Winter 2018 - New Adult // A young woman comes to the big city looking for work and finds it as a secretary for an employment agency providing jobs to goblins and trolls. You could say her boss is a real troll, except he's a goblin.

Add on Goodreads // Follow James on Twitter

Things can still change, but Winter 2018 still sounds like this thing is coming out sooner, rather than later. I expect I will be doing some edits soon, making this ready for publication. Then, of course, comes the promotion. Gotta start making plans! Gotta start making plans!

I will, I hope, get to use this map as part of the promotion...

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