Thursday, June 29, 2017

Canada Dollars

Trips to Canada have been a frequent occurrence for my family,  and especially for me,  for a long time now.

During those trips,  there have been times when I have come back with some extra money that I never spentwhile up there. Usually,  that can come in handy for the next trip up there.

Well,  on one of thosetrips,  I returned with a surprising amount of money - well over  $150. For a while,  I kept these bills,  but definitely needed them for this trip.

So,  I will not have them for very long.

That said,  I thought that it might be a good idea to take some pictures of these bigger bills, before I go up there and spend them.

And so,  here are some pictures of the larger Canadian paper currency.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Republicans Will Delay Vote on Trumpcare Wealthcare Bill

In  a style rather typical of the Republican party, President Trump and those GOP members who worked on this latest version of relentless Republican efforts to "repeal and replace" Obamacare were trying to push through their most recent healthcare bill. The first version, which would have had an estimated 24 million people lose healthcare within 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), failed.

The second version, which President Trump himself described as "mean," passed the House, but never went to a vote in the Senate. That version was estimated to cause 14 million Americans to lose their health insurance by 2018, and would see an estimated 23 million people lose their health insurance within ten years, according to the CBO, also would have failed to pass the Senate. It never even directly went to the Senate for a vote.

Instead, they Senate GOP leaders took that bill as the basis for this latest version, which is basically just as disastrous. Now, the one good thing is that it would make healthcare for the youngest and fittest Americans actually cheaper, but it would make healthcare costs for people over 50 more expensive. Also, again according to the CBO, as estimated 22 million Americans would lose their health insurance. 

Of course, Republicans are not all in agreement. Moderate Republicans, knowing the unpopularity of the bill according to most Americans polled (more Americans were opposed to this bill than for it, by a ratio of more than three to one), with those against numbering some 55 percent, while those who supported it were less than 20 percent of those polled, at an underwhelming 17 percent. Many Americans still said that they did not have enough information about it to say definitely how they felt, one way or the other. Despite all of this, Republican "leaders" are working hard to try and force this thing through and impose it on the American people.

My question is will the American people hold them accountable?

Perhaps. But Americans have allowed politicians, and especially Republican politicians, to get away with crimes and horrendous policies time and time and time again. So, I am not holding my breath.

Sure, there is a chance that Americans will remember, and then will vote the bums out.

But will either this healthcare bill resolve the numerous problems of our healthcare failures in this country, rather than adding to them and making things worse? And will Americans really hold the Republicans feet to the fire.

Well, the image in my head right now is of Tom, from Tom and Jerry, getting physically punished, and saying in that distinct voice, "Don't you believe it!"

Yet, there are some Republicans, particularly the hard-liners and Tea Party contingent, who suggest that this healthcare bill does not go nearly far enough towards "repealing and replacing" Obamacare.

All of this suggest that the bill has a fair chance of failing, as the other two versions did. However, since Republican leaders are working so hard to try and push this thing through, and trying to add compromises to those GOP members currently opposed, there is also a chance that it will pass, which would be disastrous.

No matter how some Republican leaders try to justify it, such as Paul Ryan's suggestion that these millions of Americans who are projected to lose their insurance are essentially "choosing" to go without healthcare, the fact of the matter is that this healthcare bill is very bad for the country. 

This bill has been called multiple things. Each version has received the moniker of Trumpcare, and the earlier versions were also sometimes known as Ryancare. Now, this version is sometimes being referred to as McConnellcare, although that is not the only name that is being used to describe it. Some people are already calling it the "Welfare Bill," for obvious reasons. Again in typical GOP fashion, it would benefit the wealthy, while hurting the rest. In other words, the vast majority of Americans, especially those who need the most help. 

Once again, this country seems to be going in the wrong direction, in not only the exact opposite direction that it should be going, but in the opposite direction than the rest of the world, as well. Instead of learning from other countries (and remember, no less a prominent politician than President Trump himself admitted that Australia's healthcare system was superior to our own here in the United States), we are hunkering down, digging the trenches deeper, and putting all of our trips on our American exceptionalist attitudes. We will do it better, and those who subscribe to this viewpoint rather typically are favoring the rich and corporations at the expense of the rest of us.

Some things never change.

If you are outraged like me, you might want to go ahead and call the Republican party and let them know! Here's there contact number (it helps if you suggest that you are and always have been a Republican, by the way):

Republican National Republican Senate Committee Phone: (202) 675-6000. 

Just 17 Percent Of Americans Approve Of Republican Senate Health Care Bill by Jessica Taylor, June 28, 2017:

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Québec Has Highest Taxes in Canada

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Canadian flag

Photo courtesy of waferboard's Flickr page - Canadian flag:

quebec_flag | by kylemac

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Over the past few days, I have posted a few blog entries about the more positive aspects of Canada in general, and the province of Québec especially.

However, there are some things that are far less than perfect in Québec, just like everywhere else in the world. Over the years, I have learned some things about the province that are worth criticizing, and these are not the complaints that many Anglos have of this place (and almost every other French-speaking place in the world), either, because those tend to be overblown and heavily influenced by silly stereotypes.

Now, to be sure, some citizens of Québec can indeed be criticized for this kind of insularity. I was not there for this, but my brother and father told me about one trip that they took together, many years ago. on the Île d'Orléans (a rural enclave near Québec City). They were interested in going to a restaurant, but arrived just as two American or English Canadian tourists were being told that the restaurant was filled, and had no open tables for them. My father asked (in French) just to confirm, but suddenly, the guy told him that it as fine, that there were tables for him. Clearly, this restaurant favored French speakers, and were prejudiced towards English speakers. Frankly, during the peak tourist season, it seems to me a bad business model to reject tourists at all, let alone as large a contingent as the inevitable English tourists that flock to Québec province. Also, many of these tourists tend to be more open-minded than the prejudice Anglos who have their beliefs about French speaking people virtually carved in stone. 

There are some people in French Canada who boast of being pure laine, a term which can be translated to meaning "pure wool," but which is a reference to pure French Canadian ancestry. The people who boast about this are obviously not the most open-minded when it comes to other cultures coming into Québec. 

Sticking with the language issue, although shifting gears nevertheless, I have learned about how many other French speakers in Canada outside of the province of Québec complain that they are looked down on by Québecois. 

All of this seems so ridiculous as to be petty, but there is nowhere in the world where you can escape the influence of petty, narrow-minded people. 

Now, I ran into this article which points out another imperfection about Québec. The province is heavily influenced politically by Europe, more so than the rest of Canada, and so it kind of has pushed Canada in a distinct political direction that I have heard compared to the influence that the South has on the United States (although the generally progressive ideology that Québec has on Canada is very, very different than the very conservative ideology that the South has on the United States!). 

One thing that this leads to often times are higher taxes, and apparently, the only predominately French speaking province in Canada has the highest taxes in the country.

Be that as it may, as an American, I would be more than willing to pay for higher taxes if it meant enjoying the benefits of a universal, affordable healthcare system like the one Canadians enjoy, or enjoying better infrastructure and government programs that actually benefit the people, and not just some corporate welfare system, like the one that exists in the United States.

In any case, this seemed worth mentioning as a criticism, to put some balance on the otherwise largely glowing reviews that I have posted of Québec, so take a look at this article about how taxes here are higher than anywhere else in Canada. 

It's Official, Quebec Ranked #1 For Highest Taxes In All Of Canada

⚜ ⚜ ⚜ ⚜ Foods of Québec ⚜ ⚜ ⚜ ⚜

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Photo courtesy of waferboard's Flickr page - Canadian flag:

quebec_flag | by kylemac

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This is actually one area that I would love to learn more about!

Of course, there are some local specialties that I have long enjoyed, such as smoked meat, or poutine. Who does not like those? I try and make sure to fet those every trip I take up there.

However, the flavor of Québec is likely a lot more complex than that. Here is the link to an article which may give a clue to that:

Top 10 Foods to Eat in Quebec

Monday, June 26, 2017

⚜ 🍁 Bilingualism in Canada 🍁 ⚜

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Photo courtesy of waferboard's Flickr page - Canadian flag:

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So, in continuing on the theme of Canada, since our neighbors to the north are about to celebrate 150 years of Confederation, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about bilingualism in Canada.

Let me start with this: a lot of Americans seem to have the wrong impression about just how bilingual Canada is. Quite a few Americans - adults old enough to have taken five minutes out of their lives and looked into the matter to find out for themselves - seem to think that Canada is predominately French speaking. I went to Canada with a friend back in 1996, specifically to the cities of Montréal and Québec, and towards the end, he kind of suggested that Canada was not really bilingual, that it was mostly French-speaking. I told him that we had been inside of Québec province, which is the only province that is predominately French speaking, and that all other provinces had a majority of English speakers, and he seemed surprised. In fact in his case, he seemed annoyed to learn that, feeling that Canada should be different, somehow. 

I cannot say why he got the impression that French is the dominant language there, although he is hardly alone in thinking this. In fact, quite a few Americans that I have met also seem to believe that Canada is mostly French speaking, with perhaps at best a token presence of English speakers, perhaps just to please Americans. And many Americans remain quite ignorant of Canada on many other levels, as well. I have known some Americans - again, I am talking exclusively about adults old enough to know better, who thought that Canada was the 51st state, literally. One person thought Montréal was it's own country. Some people think it is always cold there, as if the laws of physics defy Canada, and somehow, it is perennially winter north of the border. There was someone who I knew a long time ago who believed, like many others, that French was the dominant language, but when I asked him what the other language was, he hesitated, and then asked if maybe it was German.

And all of that is just about language. Ask Americans specifics about Canada (or pretty much any other country you choose), and what you will likely get in most cases is a staggering display of ignorance. Americans are known the world over as being quite a bit self-absorbed, and of not caring enough about anyone else outside of the country to know anything about them. An alarming number of adult Americans would struggle to locate many sizable countries on a world map or globe, and some might even struggle to point out their own country. So, ask them anything even remotely involved or halfway complex about other countries, and what you will likely get in many, if not most, cases, are embarrassed looks and answers that reveal the depth of their wealth of ignorance. And Canada is no exception, even though it shares the longest border in the world with the United States. 

Yes, all of this would suggest that Americans do not know much about Canada, so perhaps it is time to clarify, in case there is anyone reading this who share some of these misconceptions about our northern neighbors. Canada is predominately English speaking. If you are an American used to your predominately English-speaking country, you will feel right at home in most of Canada. From the west coast of Canada, with cities like Vancouver and Victoria, and straight through the Rockies and the Prairies and into Canada's largest city, Toronto, and to Ottawa, the capital of Canada, you will likely have no real trouble speaking only English. Now, there is a French-speaking presence in Ottawa, and it is right across the river from the province of Québec, but about 80 percent of Ottawa is English-speaking, which is roughly true for Canada itself. It might be a little more than that, because I have heard fairly frequently of the "French Quarter" of the Canadian population, suggesting that roughly 25 percent of them speak French. However, the percentage of French-speaking Canadians has been on the decline for many years now. It would be more accurate to suggest these days that the French-speaking population is a little over 20 percent of the nation's population.

Out of those who speak French predominately, most of them live in Québec, although by no means does that imply that all of them do. Québec is far and away the largest province that is predominately French-speaking. In fact, it is the second largest province in terms of population and economic strength, and it is the largest in terms of size, so there is that. Plus, it has the cities  of Montréal and Québec, which make it obviously fairly famous. No other province has a French-speaking presence anywhere near the extent that Québec does. 

But that does not mean that there are no French speakers outside of the province. Approximately one-third of the population In New Brunswick are predominately speak French, and that province is the only other province to officially recognize French as a language. That is a statistic that seems a bit pathetic to me, seeing as thought there is a fairly sizable French speaking presence in other provinces - especially in eastern Ontario and in some rural, farming areas of Manitoba. I mean, does it not seem strange to anyone else that Ottawa, the capital of Canada and which itself has roughly 20 percent of the population that speaks French, is nonetheless inside of a province that does not officially speak French? Again, much of Eastern Ontario close to the border with Québec province still speaks French. Granted, these are mostly rural communities, but they do exist. They are still there, and for the provincial government not to acknowledge their presence officially seems to me a bit ridiculous. 

Also, there are some fishing villages dotting the Maritime provinces that are Acadians, and Acadians speak French, of course. Now, granted, these are small communities, and they do not have the overpowering presence that big cities tend to have, so we are not talking about huge population centers that speak French. Still, again, they are nonetheless there. They do exist. 

I found one site where you can get specific information on some of these communities outside of Québec and New Brunswick that speak French. It was some interesting stuff, and if you would like to find out more about it, here are some links (see below). The first one shows some of those Franco-Ontario towns in the east, and the second one illustrates just how many people speak French in each Canadian province. The final one is a map that reveals just how bilingual Canadian cities are.

10 Franco-Ontario Towns You Never Knew Existed Jeremy Hazan       

This Is How Many People Speak French In Every Province In Canada 

Sunday, June 25, 2017

⚜ ⚜ ⚜ Québec Might be the Happiest Province in Canada ⚜ ⚜ ⚜

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Canadian flag

Photo courtesy of waferboard's Flickr page - Canadian flag:

quebec_flag | by kylemac

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I will begin a series of posts honoring Canada, our neighbors to the north. In case you were not aware, this year, 2017, is a year to travel to Canada!


Well, first of all, because it is an absolutely beautiful country! Trust me, I have traveled fairly extensively within Canada, having visited six provinces, and have gotten a taste of the natural and architectural beauty of the country, as well as the diverse set of experiences that you can find there. Yes, I have soaked in the Old World style architecture of Vieux Québec and Vieux Montréal on foot, or sometimes sitting at a peaceful sidewalk cafe, and have even enjoyed tea time in Victoria, British Columbia.

But why would 2017 be the year to make a trip up to Canada? Well, because this year marks the 150th anniversary of Confederation, which essentially is when Canada became less of a British colony, and more of it's own country.

Of course, it could and perhaps should be noted that Canada always seemed to have an identity crisis. Canada has almost always been in the shadow of it's much larger (in terms of population, anyway) and much more powerful neighbor to the south. English Canadians knew that they were not Americans, although they also knew that they were not entirely British, either. They once harbored dreams of becoming the most powerful and influential nation in the British Empire, although that never actually came to pass. Still, they understood that their identity, as a people and as a nation, was different than that of Americans and the British, although it seems to me that they cling more closely to signs of their historical association with Britain, with images of the Queen on their currency, and clear signs of the British monarchy on many of their symbols and in government.

For French Canadians, there never was this kind of identity crisis. The things that make French Canadians, especially Québecois, the things that separated them, that made them different, than the English or Americans were immediately apparent. They have a different language, a different religion, and a distinct cultural identity. They are not completely French in the traditional sense of identifying with the mother country across the ocean, because French Canadians have been in this part of North America now for five hundred years. During that time, they came to create their own identity, separate from that of the people of France, as well as, obviously, English Canadians and Americans. When you cross the border into English Canada, you might know that you are in a different country, but the signs are far more subtle. Maybe the metric system on road signs gives it away (if you are paying attention, or some other small things like that. But when you cross into French Canada, especially the province of Québec, it is immediately apparent that you are in a different country. Every sign is in another language, and even the landscape looks somehow different. The towns are different, with villages that are usually completely dominated by a church with a very tall spire, often in silver. The people, of course, tend to speak French, and many of them speak French exclusively, although I believe that a majority of the Québecois are, in fact, bilingual.

When their are cultural differences somewhere, there usually are also some notable tensions, and Canada is no different. England and France were at war for much of the colonial days, and it was a successful takeover by the British in Québec City during the French and Indian War (also known as the Seven Years War) wound up ultimately deciding the conflict in favor of Britain, and the French presence in North America was largely lost. There was a relatively short period when Napoleon's France took over in Louisiana and parts of the Mississippi Delta, but this was sold off to the Americans in the Louisiana Purchase. For the most part, French Canadians were left on their own after the British took over. However, to try to assure the allegiance of the French in Québec after taking over, the British passed the Quebec Act, which preserved the French language and culture, and the Catholic religion, for those living in Québec. This was a large part of the reason why Americans were not successful when they went up to Québec late in 1775 to try and gain support for their anti-British cause.

French remained the dominant language in Québec and French has been a strong presence in many other places throughout Canada ever since, as well. Outside of Québec province, there are numerous sections of New Brunswick where French is dominant, and other places where it is more or less on equal footing with English. There are also predominately French speaking town in eastern Ontario, and French is very much present in the national capital region of Ottawa. Otherwise, every province has some French speaking communities inside of it, especially some rural farming villages in Manitoba, where they have some strong pockets, and there are pockets of French speaking Acadian fishing villages in each of the Maritime provinces.

Still, it is in Québec, more than any other part of Canada, that you definitely feel a distinct cultural and linguistic difference than in the rest of North America. It is there that the French-speaking presence is strongest, where it is dominant. And it is there where an Old World flavor still prevails, not just along the sidewalk cafes of the cobbled streets of Vieux Québec or Vieux Montréal, but even in smaller, lesser known communities. When you go there, you can sense it, see it, feel it. Sometimes, you can even taste it. And pretty much everywhere you go, you can hear it.

Now, I am not sure that all of this makes Québec happier than any other province. Like all the other provinces, and like the American states, and like everywhere else in the world more generally, there are problems there. Montréal has a lot of homelessness and clear signs of poverty on the streets. There are problems with unemployment, and there is a sense among many here that French is constantly under threat, that this province, although large in size, is relatively small and isolated, and relatively powerless against the crushing presence of the English speaking lands which surround it.

The roof of the Château Frontenac peeks out over the Plains of Abraham. 

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As nice as this city is during the daylight, Quebec by night is even more romantic and (corny as this surely sounds) magical, than it is by day.

The Montmorency Falls

My girlfriend and I at the Île d'Orléans in 2012


Le Rocher Percé 

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Rocher Percé and Île-Bonaventure 

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Sunset on the St. Lawrence

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15 Reasons Quebec Is The Happiest Province In Canada Miranda Cipolla