Sat, Aug
Sat, Aug 19, 2017

South of Dayton


I’m writing this in a hotel in the town of Springsboro, Ohio, south of Dayton. Dayton seems a picturesque town, but we passed quickly through on the Interstate. I didn’t get a chance to see the city’s (increasingly) unique electric trolley buses. But we’re off to see something bigger.

Erin has long desired to see a total eclipse of the sun, having missed the last Great American Eclipse when she was a little girl. This year, we grabbed the opportunity, buying a room in the path of totality north of Nashville back in June. Back then, Motel 6 rooms were around $90. Today, there is no place in Nashville on sale for less than hundreds of dollars.

It surely pays to plan ahead.

We are looking around for eclipse events around Nashville, but the weather looks like it’s going to be hot and clear on Monday, and our hotel parking lot will be in the path of totality all by itself. This alone should guarantee a show, and whatever happens on this visit, it will certainly be one to remember.

In other news, yesterday, Eric, Nora and I paid a visit to Stratford to listen to a Cape Breton band play pipe and fiddle and perform some step dance. The tunes were good, and the walk along the Avon was pleasant, but the highlight of the tour for Nora was stopping in the village of Shakespeare at a Mom-and-Pop ice cream stand. Some mighty fine ice cream and thick milkshakes there!


Wed, Aug
Wed, Aug 9, 2017

On the Death of VIA Rail

Here’s my latest column for the Kitchener Post. No surprise, it revisits an issue that I’m passionate about.

VIA Rail needs new equipment before it falls apart

OPINION Aug 09, 2017 10:52 by James Bow Kitchener Post

I realize that I have spoken about the federal government’s inadequate funding of VIA Rail recently, but I want to focus on a matter raised by Chris West of the All Aboard St. Mary’s citizens committee.

VIA Rail needs new equipment. The train cars they operate are decades old. VIA’s maintenance crews have done incredible work keeping these cars on the rails, but there is only so much that can be done.

Without a massive overhaul, enough equipment will become unusable by 2020 that VIA will have no choice but to cut service. At this point, it makes more sense to purchase new cars than to rebuild the old ones.

This doesn’t come cheap. Replacing VIA’s fleet with new equipment will cost more than $1 billion in up-front charges. However, by not spending this money, the federal government is making VIA Rail waste money year after year.

Old equipment costs a lot to maintain. This is eating up VIA Rail’s subsidy and preventing them from expanding service.

Even more cynically, rather than commit to funding VIA Rail’s needs one way or another, the government of Canada has committed to spending money on VIA Rail, by studying the issue.

(Read more…)

Wed, Jul
Wed, Jul 26, 2017

On Cataracts

So, my eyes have been in a state of “good news/bad news” for the better part of a month, now.

The good news is, I can see again.

The bad news is, my middle vision had been impaired for the better part of a month because my new prescription for progressive lenses radically changed my astigmatism setting when it perhaps didn’t need to.

The good news is, the optometrist acknowledged the problem and arranged to have my lenses replaced for free.

But the bad news is, one of the reasons the astigmatism was measured so wrong could have been because I was having an allergy attack at the time my eyes were being tested back in June. Worse news than that is the reason the doctors didn’t raise their eyebrows too high over the sudden shift in my astigmatism is because I’ve been diagnosed with cataracts.

But the good news is, with cataracts in my eyes, OHIP now covers my visits to the eye doctor!

You’ll take your good news where you can.

So, the long and the short of it is, I may need cataract surgery in eighteen months. It is noticeable in my left eye and it is getting worse (my left eye now sees double, regardless of how much they try to correct it). And I’m kind of freaking out about that, even though my eye doctor quotes me some very comforting statistics.

For instance, did you know that cataract surgery is the most common surgery performed in North America? It’s done out-patient, with local anesthetic, and all you need at the end of it is an eyepatch to put on when you sleep.

I’m not sure how I feel about that. It’s good that the surgery is so routine, the fact that there’s no blood involved and the incision is so microscopic that it seals itself almost instantly, but the fact that they’re going to be poking things at my eyes makes me almost wish they’d just put me out entirely.

But the strangest thing that I’m wrestling with is the fact that, with cataract surgery (which OHIP covers, yay!), they can fix my eyes. Completely. I mean, to the point where I won’t need glasses (except possibly magnifying reading glasses, if I so choose).

I’ve been wearing glasses since the summer before my third grade at school. They’ve been something of a bane to my existence. I’ve been tempted on numerous occasions to consider laser eye surgery in order to be able to see straight whenever I open my eyes in the morning (as opposed to fumbling and possibly knocking my glasses off my night stand). Especially now that the sight in my left eye is deteriorating, the prospect of proper vision is… compelling, to say the least.

On the other hand, glasses have stared back at me from every mirror I’ve looked into (clearly) these past thirty-five years. To suddenly consider such a radical change to my appearance — dare I say, my personality — well… I’m going to need a period of adjustment.

My body is changing; it’s like puberty all over again. It’s no less awkward and frightening but, at the same time (thanks to medical science) offering some prospects for hope.

Sat, Jul
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 or on Twitter at @jamesbow.

Wed, Jul
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.

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