Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Cartoon I'd Like to Draw

If I could only draw...

This would be my political cartoon of the week:

A large housecat with the face of George W. Bush, presents a gift at the feet of his owner, George Bush I:

a dead rat with the face of Saddam Hussein.

Cats often present such gifts to their owners, unaware that the owners find them icky – to say the least – but to the cat it is the ultimate gift of homage and devotion.

The cartoon is meant to suggest that the current Pres. Bush was motivated not so much by a desire to make the world a better place, but by a desire for parental approval and revenge against Saddam who apparently had plotted to assassinate the former Pres. Bush. So while nobody is arguing that the rat should be spared, the gift of it remains, well, icky.

I'll spare you the other 800+ words - for now.

Friday, December 29, 2006

It's Already a Success; All it Has to do Now is Occur!

Why I object to giving out *best of the year* awards before the year is actually over: this one is definitely a contender for

Best Attempt at Elevating Truthiness and Spin to a Whole New Level

It's about halfway down the page in this CNN transcript from Dec. 28, in which some reporters are interviewing one Fran Townsend, billed as a “Homeland Security Adviser”:


HENRY: You know, going back to September 2001, the president said, dead or alive, we're going to get him. Still don't have him. I know you are saying there's successes on the war on terror, and there have been. That's a failure.

TOWNSEND: Well, I'm not sure -- it's a success that hasn't occurred yet. I don't know that I view that as a failure.

A success that hasn’t occurred yet.

Finding that quote about made my day. It is the one simple phrase that sums up the Bush administration’s philosophy: facts be damned, just stay the course and expect our goals to fall into our laps. Sooner or later. (And if they don’t, it’s the fault of our opponents.)

Will it work for me too? Shall I start shovelling the snow that hasn’t fallen yet from my front walk?
Perhaps I should take a trip to Oslo next year to collect the Nobel Prize that I haven’t been awarded yet, or start spending the lottery fortune I haven’t won. Yet.

That kind of thinking would get me thrown in the looney bin; in Washington, it gets you hired as a government spokesman.

Buyer beware.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sex Offenders, Guns, and Jimmy Buffett, Oh My!

Update on a news story I blogged about in October, in which an American teacher, convicted of a sex offense for fondling an underage student, was allowed by US authorities to serve his sentence as a parolee, living in his home with his wife and child in Canada:

The good news is, Canada has deported Malcolm Watson.

The bad news is, he remains here nevertheless, pending an appeal which could take as long as a year.

Part of the issue is what kind of *rights* Watson has, as a permanent resident. That is for the lawyers to figure out. What continues to irk me is how an American judge can unilaterally decide that a person convicted of a sex offense may return to live in another country. I’m sure the US is only too glad to be rid of him on a day to day basis, and if he were a Canadian I’d understand if he were to be deported back home, but he is not a Canadian, merely a resident married to a Canadian.

While Watson may or may not pose a realistic hazard to the Canadian population, it is not acceptable for this decision to be made by a foreign court, and if there is a loophole in Canadian law that permits this to occur, it needs to be closed. Immediately.

Somewhat better news, for those living near the Great Lakes on either side of the border:

The US Coast Guard has abandoned its plan to carry out live-fire machine gun training exercises from ships on the lakes. This was a bad idea for many reasons, one of the least obvious perhaps being that the accumulation in the lakes of ammunition containing lead is a serious environmental hazard. Unfortunately, some such training was carried out last summer but was then suspended pending public hearings.

According to this article,

the exercises were justified by the Coast Guard as essential if officers were to be properly prepared to defend the United States against terrorists who could attack by boat from Canada.

Essential? There is no other way to train people to fire guns from boats? A wave pool comes to mind...

Finally, singer Jimmy Buffett has decided that he cares more for seals than for working people and their families. He has joined the chorus of rich and famous celebrities who protest the annual seal hunt in Canada but apparently has it in not only for the sealers, but also for those in the fishing industry. How else to explain his restaurant chain’s boycott of Canadian seafood?

I just love how these privileged celebrities parachute themselves into an issue with the result that real harm may be done to hard-working families that barely manage to eke a living out of the land and sea. In contrast, those who carry around guns and shoot forest creatures for sport get a free pass to the point that in Texas, a law is pending that will permit the blind to hunt with special, laser-pointing-equipped guns. According to the bill’s sponsor:

This opens up the fun of hunting to additional people, and I think that's great.

In a world in which the blind in Texas must not be denied the fun of hunting, but sealers and fishermen are to be denied the means to make a living, something is clearly wrong.


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Obscure? Who You Calling OBSCURE?

Poor Stephen Harper.

Scary in his own country, and now obscure outside of it, at least according to Chris Matthews, host of the MSNBC political show, Hardball.

On Tuesday’s show, Matthews interviewed potential presidential candidate John Edwards and decided, somewhat playfully, to quiz him on foreign affairs in a similar manner to how then-candidate G.W. Bush was quizzed during the 2000 campaign.

The transcript is here; scroll down about a third of the way, or search for the word “Canada”.

Edwards did not do too badly, correctly naming the leaders of Canada, Mexico, Iraq, Germany and Italy but missing South Africa. But what really really REALLY has me steaming is this: Matthews, obviously impressed, remarked,

I‘m going to go back in my box because Harper is pretty obscure.

Obscure: Among other definitions,

of little or no prominence, note, fame, or distinction

far from public notice, worldly affairs, or important activities; remote; retired

Previously Matthews had called the country Italy obscure; I take exception to that as well, particularly since Italy, unlike Canada, was a member of the “Coalition of the Willing”. But how, how on EARTH can a (presumably) educated talk show host call the elected leader of one of the US’s largest trading partners (if not THE largest) and the country with which the US shares the world’s longest undefended border, OBSCURE?

Furthermore, Edwards then was unable to elaborate on Harper’s first name or, and this is important, POLITICAL PARTY.

Can you function as President of the United States without knowing the political leanings of your allies? That might make it difficult to know which countries indeed ARE your allies, wouldn’t it?

Now, I realize that anything, even a mushroom, would be an improvement over the current President. But we are looking ahead here and maybe trying not to repeat past mistakes?

After the little quiz, indeed immediately after it, Matthews launched into a discussion of why “America” is hated throughout the world.

I had to laugh.

Among many other reasons, some arguably valid and some invalid, perhaps “America” is hated because its citizens and its leaders can’t tear themselves away from gazing into their own navel long enough to acquire some sort of global perspective.
(That language substantially cleaned up from what I actually wanted to say.)

This is a long-running pet peeve of mine dating back decades: anything that happens or relates to anything outside of US borders is looked upon with disdain and indifference in the US if it is looked upon at all.

Several years ago, way before 9/11, I entered into such a discussion with an American acquaintance, asking why there was no interest there about events in Canada. She replied, because you are not a threat to us.

But how did she know that if she didn’t know anything about us?

Now that the unthinkable has happened, Americans are a little more aware that there IS an outside world but I feel they still do not attach enough importance to being educated about it – if not for themselves, as citizens, then at least for their leaders and policy-makers. It seems like the electorate champions mediocrity, while those like Al Gore just make people nervous.

This happens to be not only my opinion, but that of political columnist Roger Simon, who stated on the Wednesday edition of Hardball,

Americans distrust people who are too smart. Remember, Adlai Stephenson ran into this problem. If you seem too intelligent—Dukakis had this problem.

When questioned, in an incredulous tone, by Matthews, who pointed out that Bill Clinton has a very high IQ, Simon replied,

We want it both ways. Clinton was smart enough to hide his intelligence. He ran as a good old boy, the boy from Hope. He ran as a nice guy that you want to live next to.

Smart enough to hide his intelligence.

Doesn't that just speak volumes.

This phenomenon is also reflected in some of the responses I received for an abbreviated version of this rant, in the comments section of this Newsvine post. My favourite, "that's what staffers and briefings are for", neatly sums up why and how the US has gotten into the mess that it's currently in.

I don’t get it. I will never get it. People who tolerate and excuse ignorance end up setting an abysmally low standard for those they depend on to lead them and – dare I say it – keep them safe.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A New Front in the War Against Hugging

Today’s news brings another skirmish in the global war against displaying affection.

Not to be outdone by the politically-correct Brits, this time it’s Americans who are asserting their right to be protected against unprovoked cuddles.

A four year old boy in a suburb of the appropriately-named Waco, Texas, served an "in-school suspension" for “inappropriate physical behavior interpreted as sexual contact and/or sexual harassment.” The incident is on the child’s record, much to the chagrin of his parents who are fighting it.

The crime?
He allegedly “hugged a teacher's aide and rubbed his face in the chest of (the) female employee.”

Yeah, and?

In some cultures, children are nursed until age four or five. Rather than a “sexual” impulse, rubbing his face in an adult woman’s chest probably meant he was hungry. Or maybe, just maybe, that he liked her.

People have a great tendency to anthropomorphize animal behaviour - that is, to ascribe human emotions and motives to what they observe animals doing. In this case, I fear the school district is adult-izing the behaviour of a four year old in exactly the same way. A child that age is not equipped to sexually harass anybody; they are too busy smashing their lunchboxes over their friends’ heads and disassembling small insects.

I had two boys of my own, and spent some time as a kindergarten lunchroom monitor.
I was hugged, and kissed. A lot.
By both boys and girls.

Perhaps I should have alerted the school that four year old girls were expressing homosexual tendencies by hugging me.
That would be as outrageous as what the Waco school has done.

I don’t remember it ever happening but if a child were to do something that made me uncomfortable, I would simply stop him (or her) and explain that it wasn’t a nice thing to touch someone in that place, using the same way and tone that I would if he (or she) were behaving inappropriately in some other manner.

Sexual harassment is a serious issue, one which society has tried to ignore. I fear that classifying a young child’s embrace as something of that nature is just another attempt to discredit the claims of those who have endured real harassment, by implying that their complaint is as ridiculous as this one.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Same Story, Different Spin

Being obsessive, I subscribe to breaking news e-mail alerts from various news sources.

Two of these just came in, one from CNN and one from MSNBC, and I had to shake my head at the seemingly conflicting headlines:

From CNN:
Panel: Leaders did not break rules in Foley matter.

From MSNBC:
House panel: GOP leaders negligent in protecting teen pages.

Further reading revealed that both headlines were accurate; the panel did say there was negligence but that no “rules” were broken.

The obvious conclusion is, the rules need to be changed. Perhaps when they were drawn up, the possibility of members of congress pursuing inappropriate relationships with under-age pages was not foreseen; but it’s now a fact and, sadly, needs to be addressed even though such an issue really does insult the integrity of anyone in public service.

Beyond that, I was amused at the predictable but blatant spin accorded the news by these two sources. The story, from Associated Press, was clearly the same one although written a little differently by each site. I suppose they get a raw feed of information, or something, and then edit it. The spin mostly took place in the headlines referenced above and in the more complete headline on the story pages:

CNN: Panel: Leaders negligent, broke no rules in page scandal

MSNBC: House Ethics finds GOP leaders negligent - with subtitle, in smaller font: Republicans did not break any rules in Foley-Congressional page scandal

Interestingly (to me, anyway) Fox News had a more balanced front page headline:

AP: Ethics Panel Says No Rules Broken, GOP Negligent in Foley Scandal

but titled their full story,

No House Members Broke Rules in Ex-Rep. Foley's Congressional Page Scandal,

and toned down the word “negligence” to “could have done a better job” in the report.

Kind of not the same thing, I think.

For news consumers the message is, get your information from a variety of sources, try to separate facts from opinion, and let it all settle in your own mind, from which the whole story will eventually emerge, or as close to it as is possible.

Or if that takes too long, just read my blog.

Monday, December 04, 2006

News Item: Tories end tattoo program at federal prisons

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day announced Monday that the government will not continue a pilot project that offered tattoos to inmates.

"Our government will not spend taxpayers' money on providing tattoos for convicted criminals,'' Day said.

"Our priority is to have an effective federal corrections system that protects Canadians, while providing inmates with access to acceptable health-care and treatment programs.''

Supporters of the pilot project say the move is a mistake. They say safe tattooing saves millions of dollars in health care and social costs by reducing the number of AIDS and hepatitis C cases.

It is a good thing this was cancelled before I found out about it or my head might have exploded.

MY tax dollars went for pay for PRISONERS getting tattoos? Whereas if my sons or I wanted a tattoo, being law-abiding citizens, we would have to pay - AGAIN - because we already paid for some convicted criminal's tattoo?

This is almost as bad as the program that provides free needles to junkies in Vancouver.

Look I like to think I am progressive but there is such a thing as TOO MUCH. I can't believe the government actually spent money to let prisoners get safe tattoos because if it didn't, the prisoners might use dirty needles and get sick, for which the government (i.e., my taxes) would pay for their health care!?!?!?

Prisoners. People who have been convicted of crimes serious enough to require INCARCERATION fergawdsake. They shouldn't be getting ANY tattoos, what is this, freakin' summer camp????

So people languishing in jail are to be indulged in their whims of vanity and encouraged to self-actualize, when money could be better spent in about a BILLION BETTER WAYS, for one, helping people such as this woman before she becomes so desperate that she kills herself and her young child.

Many points to the Conservative government for axing this ridiculous program.

Note to self: Maintain a scorecard. Election is coming...


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Back to Reality

It appears the jury is still very much out on whether the Liberals made a good choice in electing Stephane Dion as their leader yesterday.
I still feel he was the best among the choices given with regard to his policies and his personal style, vibe, that intangible whatever.

(Charisma? No. But I don’t expect anybody will ever top Trudeau in that department. Canada had its first love affair with Trudeau, and no subsequent love is ever quite the same.)

Dion might not be the most electable or winnable leader for the Liberals but I think it is to their credit that he came out on top instead of a Harper-lite (Iggy) or a recycled failed NDP Provincial Premier who was nonetheless supposed to be the *one most feared* by the Conservatives.

Editorials are understandably quite mixed: my local English paper, the Montreal Gazette, says the result will be “good for Canada”.

The Ottawa Sun’s columnist is less optimistic about the wisdom of the choice, naming Stephen Harper as the ultimate winner.

Many French Quebecois are not at all happy, even though Dion is part of their “Nation”, because he has a passion for a united Canada rather than a concept of an association of nations, such as Harper’s or Ignatieff’s.

I came across this article in the French media which expresses some displeasure (putting it mildly) at the result.

The Quebec Liberals would have preferred Ignatieff despite his having absolutely no history in Quebec and his hawkish neo-con leanings which generally do not go over well here at all. It must be because of the Quebec-Nation thing but I am disappointed that they would place so much weight on that and so little on important issues such as foreign policy and the environment.
After all, whether part of Canada or its own Nation, or both, Quebec still resides on Planet Earth and has to breathe, eat and drink what the rest of us do.

Finally, to inject a little perspective, the Liberal Leadership Convention was largely ignored by US mainstream media. Understandable in a way, since the Liberals aren’t even in power, but shouldn't it at least be worthy of a short mention?
CNN and MSNBC have nothing at all on their websites, while the New York Times and Washington Post do have articles but you have to search for them.

The Post’s write-up pretty well covers it, except for one thing: it claims Harper is fluent in French which is definitely not the case. As for Dion’s English, well he is vastly more comprehensible than Chretien and that is enough for me.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dion Wins!

A full day of political maneuverings and analysis with absolutely no idea of the outcome until the very end:

It was heaven.

I sat in front of that thing for nearly ten straight hours.

No commercials.

No blogging this afternoon either, as my internet connection was down, as was the TV cable. I almost went blind from watching the local channel through fields of snow. But far be it from me to complain.

I am pleased with the outcome. Stephane Dion is the new Liberal leader and it feels like the Liberal party is back.
If nothing else they sure updated their site in a timely fashion!

I am especially pleased that the environment is one of Dion's priorities. A little less pleased that his support of Israel is not on the scale of Harper's, but it's no worse than any other Liberal I suppose.

At least he's not accusing them of war crimes.

I’m not all that dissatisfied with Harper’s leadership but a party that embraces more of my values would be a refreshing change. The Liberals needed time off for renewal and they seem to be accomplishing it very nicely. I am very impressed with Dion’s passion and composure, his obvious intellect and mostly his love of Canada.

Choice, that is all I wanted.

A couple more observations from the CTV broadcast: the loose fish metaphor may have been overdone but it was nonetheless appropriate. The commentators referred to convention delegates who, for one reason or another were released from their obligation to support a certain candidate, as “loose fish” on the floor. Same thinking as “loose cannon” I suppose but in true Canadian form, a less violent image.
You never know where those darn fish will flop to.

Or maybe it’s on account of the delegates spending hours upon hours there – thus acquiring a certain odor?

Whatever.

The other thing was, I wondered if the representation of Michael Ignatieff on his posters had anything to do with his loss. He was shown with the top of his head cut off.
I thought this was rather strange, for a candidate whose prime qualification was supposed to be his academic experience and intellect.

Unintended subliminal message, perhaps? Or does he feel he can run Canada with only half a brain...

Happily, we don't get to find out.

Still Five... But Not for Long

Leading up to second ballot results, a few observations:

Much is being made of Stephane Dion’s being *everybody’s second choice*.
While that is mathematically a good thing, it doesn’t resound well for the future federal election campaign. I can see the bumper stickers now.

I was amused by Scott Brison’s explanation of how he, a former Progressive Conservative, can endorse a former NDP Premier: He quoted the song, “Stuck in the Middle With You”, the middle being the Liberal Party:

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you...

I don’t know how many might have caught this but Mike Duffy is on the 3-coast bandwagon, coast to coast to coast - the third coast being the Arctic, which is in dispute as Canadian territory.
Good on Mike.

Most creative observation that I saw:

“The morning started off like kind of a damp squid for you”: Lloyd Robertson to Ignatieff.

Lamest explanation for a poorer-than expected showing on the first ballot:

Michael Ignatieff: because he was the last speaker, a significant number of his delegates failed to vote.

Yeah, right.

And the corollary, Ignatieff supporter and former Ontario Premier David Peterson: “there are two kinds of momentum, superficial and real...”

Latest news of the deal between Kennedy and Dion seems to be all kinds of momentum; and now Ignatieff and Rae are shaking hands. Uh-oh...

Eight Becomes Five...

Random thoughts upon watching the Liberal Leadership Convention on TV:

The bottom three candidates have dropped out after the first ballot. That leaves five, and a minimum of one is eliminated with each further ballot.
Therefore the convention can have a maximum of four more ballots: 5 candidates, 4 candidates, 3 candidates, 2 candidates.
Someone please inform Lloyd Robertson who gleefully predicted it could go for five or six more.

Does anyone else find it extremely strange that Scott Brison, after his wonderful impassioned speech focused largely on environmental issues, decided to support Bob Rae instead of Stephane Dion?
Furthermore, it is a spectacle that possibly could occur only in Canada, that a former (Progressive) Conservative politician would ultimately endorse a former “Dipper”.

Great to see Mike Duffy again! He is back after months of recuperation from open heart surgery.

Personally I am rooting for Stephane Dion, although I will be satisfied with anyone but Iggy. Rae makes me nervous because Ontario’s economy was a mess while he was Premier. He says he’s learned but I’d as soon go with someone else.
I don’t know much about Kennedy; I do like Dion’s passion and his concern for the environment. The only qualm I have is that I have found NOTHING about his foreign policy position and that is important to me.

Why not Iggy? Don’t get me started. He is in my opinion, as inept as John Kerry and scarier than Harper.
I think he is a closet neo-con and with all the stumbles and gaffes I have no idea where he really stands and what I do see, I don’t like, not at all.

Just please send good vibes for my cable and internet connection which were out for 12 hours yesterday because of the wind and ice storm.

More to come, Videotron and the cable gods willing...

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Apology Insufficient. Send Cash.

Remember the old saying,

“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”?

Well, forget it.

If we are to believe the lessons of popular culture, weapons such as sticks, stones and birdshot aren’t worthy of mention; however for words, saying “I’m sorry” is not enough.

We teach our children to apologize for the most minimal of transgressions, such as making their sister cry, even if they aren’t really sorry. It is part of the civilizing process.
The offended sibling, in turn, is taught to forgive.
Over and over.

That is how it is supposed to work.

Now, the decision on whether to make or accept an apology seems to depend upon how much equity you can hope to wring out of the occasion. In the case of the man whose face got in the way of Vice-President Cheney’s gun, the shootee ended up apologizing for the ruckus. But for the Michael Richards hecklers, who up until the moment they hired lawyer Gloria Allred were seen as victims, multiple apologies won’t cut it, nor will mountains of public sympathy.

Show them the money.

I would be interested in finding out how those two hooked up with Ms. Allred in the first place. Did they seek out a lawyer, smelling opportunity, or did she swoop in like a latter-day ambulance-chaser? There is surely money to be made for the *victims*, but even selling their story to the National Enquirer would be *taking the high road* compared to a lawsuit. Instead of their role as the recipients of a truly vile, uncalled-for tirade, they now appear to be opportunists of the worst kind, trying to cash in on hundreds of years of collective racial abuse.

What started out as a lesson in how not to behave has become a lesson in how to make lemonade out of lemons; unfortunately these lemons were never fit for human consumption.

Children, take note.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

When the Work-Around Exacerbates the Original Problem

Scientists in Britain are proposing a new method of creating stem cells for research: combining an animal egg (probably that of a cow) with the nucleus of an adult human cell to produce... ?

Whatever it was would then divide itself for six days, upon which time the researchers would try to harvest stem cells and then destroy the... thing.

According to this article in the London Times, the method is proposed as an alternative to the use of human eggs which are “in short supply” and mainly used in infertility treatment. The article doesn’t mention the existing supply of excess, unused embryos created in the course of that treatment, whose proposed role in stem cell research is creating controversy for ethical and religious reasons. Currently, those excess embryos are frozen, and are eventually discarded.

I can see where some might have a problem with creating human embryos for the express purpose of research. However the objection to using embryos that would otherwise be unceremoniously destroyed, is beyond me.

And the idea that creating some kind of sci-fi human-animal hybrid is a better solution to this problem, is totally insane.

While the plan is to use the proposed technology strictly to obtain stem cells, the potential for abuse is enormous. If an egg of this sort found its way into a womb – I don’t even want to speculate on what species of womb – what would be the result? What laws would apply? What unforeseen public health hazards might occur? Not to mention the moral, religious and ethical concerns which would be legion; much more complicated than the issue of destroying an embryo in the name of life-saving research rather than throwing it out in the garbage.

The march of scientific progress is like the flow of water: it will find its own level, and if blocked it will find a way around the obstacle, with sometimes tragic results. Those who try to impede progress need to take a good look at what potential abomination their opposition is creating.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

This Will Not Do!

Now that the US has taken the first step back on the path towards sanity, and before I turn my attention to the upcoming Canadian Liberal Leadership contest, I have to ask:

What is up with those Brits?

Two recent news stories have come to my attention and I think they reveal a very troubling trend.

First,

Birthday card could be 'ageist'

Somewhere in England, “new legislation” dictates that anyone sending even a slightly snarky birthday card could be liable for discrimination or harassment:

"Even sending a birthday card that says colleagues are 'over the hill and past it' could be taken as ageist behaviour," says a memo to staff.

What would be the point of sending a card if you could not gently poke fun at the recipient?
And what about the greeting card industry and the retailer? Is the industry to have separate catalogues to comply with laws of each jurisdiction?

Who is responsible for the content of the cards? Why carry them in your store if people are going to be afraid to buy and send them? And what of e-cards?

Most importantly, where can we find a donor for the sense of humour transplant that these bureaucrats clearly need!

Beyond being a nuisance, the other story, I feel, is just one more step towards turning out a generation of robots:

Stop hugging, school head tells his pupils

I suppose since bullying is no longer in vogue, children have turned to other means of communicating. Problem is, all that hugging makes them late to class and can lead to *gasp* other things.
Never mind that all manner of physiologists and psychologists agree that physical contact is essential for human well-being.
Students claim the school has gone so far as to punish students for hugging.

Headteacher Steve Kenning declined to comment on claims that pupils had been given detention or named and shamed.
In his explanation on the school website he wrote: "Hugging has become very acceptable amongst students and this has led to some students believing that it is okay to go up to anyone and hug them, sometimes inappropriately.
"This is very serious not only for the victim but also for anyone accused of acting inappropriately. To avoid putting anyone at risk please avoid hugging."


The VICTIM?

Call the authorities, I am the victim of a random hug.

The prisoner who now stands before you,
Was caught red-handed showing feelings.
Showing feelings of an almost human nature.
This will not do.

-Pink Floyd

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Better a Lame Duck than a Cooked Goose

Half an hour before the US mid-term election results begin to come in, I have to wonder if we should be careful what we wish for.

By “we”, I mean me. And all who agree with me.

I would like nothing better than to see this administration lose some power. Any power. Anything that might conceivably put the brakes on the erosion of civil rights and the willful disregard for the Constitution and the system of checks and balances that has served the US well for over 200 years.

I would like to see some progress toward holding the Bush administration accountable for their actions; not so much as to paralyze the country in the next two years, but enough to convince me that come 2008, there will be consequences.

The only thought that gives me pause is, if the Democratic Party has any power between now and the next election, they will be an easy target for blame.
They are inheriting a mess, which is likely to remain a mess for some time. All we can hope for in the short term is for it not to get worse. What ensues in the next two years will be perceived as occurring on their watch, or so it will be spun. It won’t be Bush’s fault because he will have been a lame duck.

But if a Democratic win now leads to Republicans regaining power in 2008, so be it. It is a chance worth taking because two more years of unfettered neo-conism would, I fear, destroy the heart and soul of the United States. I think Americans are beginning to get it, in sufficient numbers that change is now possible. We will soon see if that is the case.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Yet More Proof that School Smarts Does Not Equal Street Smarts:

John Kerry shoots himself in the foot at a California rally:

The Massachusetts senator, who is considering another presidential run in 2008,had opened his speech at Pasadena City College with several one-liners, joking at one point that Bush had lived in Texas but now "lives in a state of denial."

Then he said: "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq."

What this statement appears to say is obvious; what I think Kerry meant to say was,

President Bush is a loser who didn't apply himself in school, and look at the pitiful mess he made of the country.

Unfortunately, it didn't come out like that.

Debate is already raging over whether Kerry's statement was accurate, whether he was courageous in saying something so non-PC, and whether his career and presidential hopes are now over.

(No, no, and yes.)

What's intriguing to me is how the fuss over what is at best a lapse of judgment parallels the fuss going on in Canada about the writings and statements of a candidate for high office with similar educational credentials and demeanor: Michael Ignatieff.

From the time "Iggy", as he has not-always-affectionately come to be known, decided to leave his ivory tower (Harvard) and bestow upon us his presence and his genius after an absence of around 30 years, he has repeatedly come under scrutiny for just the sort of gaffe Kerry made.

In fact, Ignatieff, currently running for leadership of the Federal Liberal Party, has managed to alienate the following groups and those who support them:

Ukrainians,

those opposed to the war in Iraq and the use of torture in interrogations,
(ironically, aka "liberals")

Arabs,

Jews,

Federalist Canadians
(i.e., those opposed to Quebec separation, probably about 90% of the population.)

Since there is considerable overlap here, except maybe between "Arabs" and "Jews", it is pretty incredible that Iggy continues to be the frontrunner in the leadership race for the Liberal Party.

Either the field is that lame, or his mystique has carried him through thus far; if the latter, I suspect (and hope) that he will fare even less well than Kerry did; if he does make it through the convention and becomes Liberal Leader, it will be a big boost for the Conservative Party of Canada, and that is not necessarily a good thing.


Thursday, October 26, 2006

Canada: The New Australia?

In 1868, the last boatload of convicts exiled from Britain arrived in Australia.
A mere 138 years later, the first convict exiled from the US arrived in... Ontario?

I refer of course to the case of Malcolm Watson, a convicted American sex offender, who was given his choice of sentence by a judge:

Either a year in a US jail;
or
Three years' exile in Canada.
Where he already lives with his wife and three children.

I bet he had to think hard and long about that one.

But Canada is far from becoming the new Australia, and the main difference is, the convicts sent to Australia were meant to provide labour to a developing land.
Mr. Watson is meant to provide Canada with...???

Upon hearing the news of this case I remarked to an American friend, "WTF, that can't be legal?"
To which he replied, "Since when is the US government concerned with what is legal?"
Duh. How silly of me.

The Canadian and Ontario governments, happily, are not amused, and the latest news is that Mr. Watson was arrested today while trying to enter Canada from the US.

I'm not clear on whether he was in the US legally on probation grounds, or not. I don't much care. I am outraged that Canada is perceived as an alternative to incarceration. Are American judges so arrogant as to believe that being deprived of breathing American air is equivalent to loss of personal freedom? Having to live in Canada for three years is punishment?
And what gives a judge in New York State the authority to decide that Canada must accept this person even though he had permission to live and work here before his conviction?

I cannot wrap my mind around the concept of one country imposing an exile to another country - a friendly country - unilaterally. Canada must send this and any other American pervert home. We have enough of our own to deal with.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Required Reading/Viewing

For anyone who isn't already aware: Keith Olbermann on MSNBC has become the definitive voice of reason in the US.

Check out the latest in his series of "Special Comments" (sort of rambling editorials) which he aired last night. The topic is the use of terror in campaign advertising.

I recommend viewing the video even though it is long; however there is a transcript you can read.

I am proud and even humbled to note that some of his concepts are similar to ones I expressed a couple of months ago, even before the law abolishing habeas corpus was passed. What is going on in the US has so sickened and saddened me that I can't bear to think about it much less write about it but I am so glad someone (Keith) is.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Politically Incorrect?

News article that awoke me from blogging slumber:

MacKay dogged by scandal

Scandal, in Canada, is rarely what scandal is in the US - although the sponsorship thing was a pretty good one.

Nobody here is abolishing habeas corpus, trying to terrorize the public into re-electing them, or having inappropriate communication with pages. At least not that we know of.

What we do have, aside from an MP being booted from his party ostensibly on account of his blog (a whole other story, that) is a nice juicy hissy fit.

There is a big history here and I don't intend to go into it but it's summarized in the linked article. For now, it appears that the Canadian Foreign Minister, Peter MacKay, is, so to speak, in the dog house.

According to the article and others like it, in the course of a debate on a new environmental bill MacKay was asked if he didn't care about his dog; he may or may not have shot back, "You already have her," while pointing to the chair sometimes occupied by his ex, an opposition MP.

All I can say to this is


You GO, Peter.

I'm sorry, I can't work up a whole lot of outrage over this. It's funny.

In fact it's freaking hilarious.

The ex in question was heard to protest today about being disrespected. Yup, just like the respect she showed to another woman, her current beau's wife, by dating him while they were still married.
She is now named in the divorce. Nice.

She also whined about it making things more difficult for women in politics.

Yeah, like she didn't just burst onto the scene as a candidate for LEADER of her party, bolstered by Daddy's millions, and later abandoned that party and MacKay by defecting to the opposition. Real difficult it was for her.

As for other women, I doubt this will make much of a blip in the big scheme of things. Sure it is difficult but it's not as if men don't squabble and disrespect each other in Parliament. If women want equality we should be prepared to tolerate the same level of abuse as men dish out to each other.

Or not. But don't make it into a woman's issue.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Soon There Won’t Be Any Freedoms Left For Them To Hate

While catching up on the political news out of the US last week, I came across Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s press release in response to the ruling that declared the NSA wiretap program unconstitutional:

Frist says,

"Terrorists are the real threat to our Constitutional and democratic freedoms, not the law enforcement and intelligence tools used to keep America safe. We need to strengthen, not weaken, our ability to foil terrorist plots before they can do us harm. I encourage swift appeal by the government and quick reversal of this unfortunate decision."

It’s the party line of course, but put in such a direct way that it begs for rebuttal.

Terrorists are the real threat to our... freedoms...

Perhaps in the terrorists’ wildest dreams, they are, but in reality?

Do the terrorists have the capability to literally invade the US, overthrow the government and establish their own regime?

No.

If they did they’d have done it already.

So short of overthrowing the government, how can the terrorists threaten America’s freedoms?

By getting Americans to do it for them.

It’s not so much the searches at the airport and the surveillance at public events; that unfortunately is necessary.
It’s the way in which the current administration is using the tragedy of the 9/11 attacks to attempt to control the psychology of the country, with the goal of holding on to power and justifying the Iraq war.

In the process, Bill Frist’s “Constitutional and democratic freedoms” are being trampled to bits.

There is the dispute about the treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay (Geneva Convention, yes or no?), the indefinite detention of others in the US (Jose Padilla), the warrantless wiretaps, and likely countless other examples that I’m either not aware of or have forgotten. There is also the flagrant disregard for court rulings that try to reign in this behaviour, and the signing statements that pretty much undo any law the President doesn’t like. The deliberate (in my opinion) outing of a CIA agent would fall into this category as well.

Did the terrorists do all that?

The administration contends that their measures are working because there has not been another attack on the US.

Of course there hasn’t been another attack. What more could another attack accomplish? How much more fearful, paranoid and emotionally devastated could the country be?

If the Bush administration has prevented one it was not by wiretaps but by giving the terrorists everything they could hope for in damaging American society.


The attacks were real. They were dramatic, terrifying, and tragic.
But now it’s time to let it heal, five years on.

The open wound that is 9/11 is preventing America from focusing on problems that are desperate for attention; for instance, what about the state of the Gulf Coast? Hurricane Katrina did more physical (property) damage over a greater geographical area than the terrorists, but doesn’t seem to have the same kind of gut-wrenching effect for those not immediately involved.
It’s also convenient to overlook the FEMA debacle when asserting that only this administration can protect the country. That argument is no longer in any way believable.

So when Bill Frist tries to tell the country exactly whom to fear, he falls terribly short in contrast to another famous statesman, one whose message in another challenging time was constructive, not destructive:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in his first inaugural address in 1933, said the following, which has never seemed more appropriate:

"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself--nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

News Story that Got Lost in the Big Picture:

FEMA says same key opens many trailers

Seems only fifty different key patterns were used by the maker of over 100,000 trailers sold to FEMA for hurricane relief.
By the law of averages, eventually this came to light and FEMA says it will change the locks.

Stuff happens, sure. But when so much stuff happens over and over, constantly, and most of it is preventable or could be handled better in such a way that even a five year old could tell you what is wrong with the picture, then it becomes clear that the system is rotten.

To which you will probably say, "well DUH".

But please don't forget, FEMA is part of the Department of Homeland Security;

the Department that is supposed to keep America safe from terrorists;

part of the government that claims that only its administration can keep the country safe.

Could the Democrats possibly do a worse job?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Finally - Vindication!

Recent news from science:

Results of a new psychological study show that in people over 60 years of age, crankiness and higher intelligence go together, and conversely, being agreeable predicts a lower IQ.

Furthermore, in the young, openness and extraversion are associated with intelligence, but that link disappears with age.

This study was reportedly the first time such personality traits were studied with age group comparisons.

Now I am nothing if not disagreeable, and I have been told I’m smart, so this theory seems to hold water in my all-important population of one.
Only I’m not yet 60. Minor detail.
I’m just ahead of my time, is all.

But I have to wonder, which is the cause and which the effect? Are older smart people “disagreeable” as the researchers put it because they see what’s going on around them more clearly – or are they smarter because they don’t accept the status quo and everything they are being told, and go and find things out for themselves?

Maybe some of each.

Does it follow, then, that if I make an effort to be even crankier, that will improve my cognitive ability?

Hey it doesn’t hurt to try!
grrrrrrrrrrrr

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Who is in Charge of US Foreign Policy?

Why, Osama bin Laden is, at least according to White House Press Secretary Tony Snow.

At today’s press briefing, in answer to a question vaguely related to Joe Lieberman’s Connecticut primary loss, Mr. Snow rambled,

“Now, when the United States walked away, in the opinion of Osama bin Laden in 1991, bin Laden drew from that the conclusion that Americans were weak and wouldn't stay the course, and that led to September 11th.”

Leaving aside how Tony Snow knows what bin Laden was thinking way back in 1991, it appears that he put the blame for the Sept. 11 attacks squarely on the shoulders of the first President Bush and his Cabinet.
The Cabinet in which current Vice President Dick Cheney held the post now occupied by Donald Rumsfeld.

Blaming the victim and blaming your boss’ father and father-figure all in one sentence is at once quite an accomplishment but not necessarily a good idea.

But, as if he hadn’t said enough, Snow continued,

“And it's important to realize that terrorists are not simply inspired by American engagement in the world, but they have their own agenda and it is an agenda that if we turn around and look the other way, they're not going to ignore -- they will continue to build strength and they will continue to build adherence.”

Following Tony Snow’s logic, then, in order to avoid future attacks the US must persevere in whatever misguided (or otherwise) pursuit it undertakes, Forever-And-Ever-Amen.
Kind of like marriage only with more commitment.

Constantly viewing vital policy decisions in the context of what would bin Laden think deprives the United States of the ability to formulate creative and independent options, and at the very least is a convenient and facile attempt to shut down critics and put a stop to healthy debate.
In this regard, I am sad to say, it appears that the terrorists have won.

Friday, August 04, 2006

As Ye Sow...

Elections.
Representative government.
Their own security forces.
Political demonstrations.

-All treasured hallmarks of life in a democratic society.

According to this Associated Press article, hundreds of thousands of Shiites poured into the streets of Baghdad on Friday for a non-violent demonstration in support of Hezbollah.
They came from all over southern Iraq for the occasion, which was complete with flag and effigy-burnings, flag-stompings, people dressed in burial shrouds in case of martyrdom, and the usual rhetoric.
Participants openly exercised their right of freedom of speech by chanting, “Death to Israel” and “Death to America”.

It is said to be the largest show of support for Hezbollah in the region since the current war between Israel and Hezbollah began on July 12, and it was made possible by the new era of freedom that has taken root in this newly-liberated country.

I doubt that the Shiite demonstrators feared retaliation or interference from their mortal rivals, the Sunnis, since the only things that Iraqi Moslem sects probably hate more than each other are Israel and the U.S.
Thus, a unified country appears feasible at last. It is enough to bring a tear to the eye.

Just to review, the Shiites are the ones who were repressed under the regime of Saddam Hussein, the ones who were to greet the coalition troops as “liberators”.

I guess they didn’t receive the script in time.

But now they are making up for it by showing their gratitude in the form of adopting the democratic principles of their conquerors!

If I were President Bush (perish the thought!) I’d feel proud and vindicated, since this is truly proof that my mission (to bring democracy to Iraq) has been accomplished.

And clearly, I’d immediately move to bring the troops home and close this chapter of my Presidential history, for it’s obvious that Iraqis have fully grasped the concept of democracy.

Bringing them any more of it would merely be redundant.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

By now you have doubtless heard the major news story of the day, that being the senseless massacre of a valuable teddy bear collection in England.

The alleged perpetrator (who was caught in the act so I don’t know why I might need to use the word “alleged” but you can never have enough protection from a libel suit) is Barney, a six year old Doberman pinscher.
Barney had access to the collection because he was serving as its guard dog at the behest of the insurance company covering the display at a British park.

Whoever came up with that bright idea is now in the process of moving his worldly possessions back into his parents’ basement, no doubt.

Apparently, Barney first became annoyed at Mabel, a vintage bear that had once been owned by Elvis Presley. She had survived for almost 100 years since her creation, that is, until she met Barney.
Mabel’s prognosis is uncertain at the moment.

Once Barney was deprived of his first kill, he reportedly went on a “rampage”, injuring one hundred more bears.
Perhaps he had watched one too many episodes of Stephen Colbert’s ThreatDown.

You might wonder why such a valuable collection was not locked up behind glass cases – but why would they feel the need to do that, when they had a guard dog!

As for Barney, now that he has passed the audition, he will take up residence on the proverbial “farm”, where he is to “chase chickens”.

One hopes they do not taste like teddy bears.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Newsflash:

Quebec agency offended by “Outgames”

Not by the existence of the event, a sort of gay and lesbian Olympics, but by the fact that organizers didn’t bother to give the name "Outgames" a French translation.

People unfamiliar with Quebec society might think I am making this up.

I am not.

Social values here are among the most liberal in North America, with the pendulum still swinging leftwards after the oppression of the days when the Church ran French society here. In fact, it was only in 1998 that school boards reorganized themselves along linguistic lines (French / English) rather than denominational ones (Catholic / Protestant, with each having French and English sections. A jurisdictional nightmare.)

So for Montreal to host the First World Outgames,

the largest and most magnificent gathering of gays, lesbians, bisexuals,transvestites,transsexuals and heterosexuals coming together in a festive spirit of celebration in North America's City of Festivals

is almost a no-brainer.

However “out” and “games” are English words, and the website of the OFFICE DE LA LANGUE FRANCAISE (aka Language Police, and other names too nasty to repeat) has put out a special little popup section bemoaning the lack of a French translation for the name.

What it says is, it’s a shame that there is no French equivalent for the word "Outgames", especially since the event is held in Montreal, a French-speaking city. They hope that this will be remedied in time for the next Outgames, in Denmark in 2009.
For now, why not call the games “Rendez-vous Montreal 2006” (Get-together Montreal 2006) which it is called on the French version of the official website?
This would be much more sensitive to the feelings of the French-speaking citizens who host the games and would also reflect the open spirit of this important occasion.

Okay, first of all, on the French section of the website they do call it “Outgames”.
Second, is there just something a little bit wrong with a society that is SO inclusive it doesn’t bat an eyelash at gay parades, gay marriage, gay olympics, but thinks it has the right to legislate what language is spoken?

Of course this is nothing new here. The OFFICE DE LA LANGUE FRANCAISE has been the agency we (English Quebecers) love to hate for the past 30 years. It has brought us such abominations as

manche a balai (joystick)
feux d’artifice (fireworks)
pommes de terre frites (french fries)
oiselet (birdie, in golf)

They even tried to muck with the internet, way back in the day, as evidenced by this page from Electronic Frontier Canada. a rights and freedoms watchdog group.

Its “tongue troopers” can be seen, (and were seen by me several years ago) notepad in hand, wandering through appliance sections of furniture stores to record which manufacturers comply with THE LAW, and which do not, and they even publish shit lists on their website!

Again, not news – but what IS news, and what brought this to my attention today, was this report:

Iranian Leader Bans Usage of Foreign Words

Way to go, Ahmadinejad, your repressive tactics have finally caught up with those of the Province of Quebec.
Iranians can no longer eat pizza but must eat “elastic loaves”, just as we must eat, er, poutine?

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Wake-Up Call for the Left

Helloooo!
All you "progressives" out there, marching for peace, equating stars of david with swastikas...

YOU ARE ON THE SIDE OF BIN LADEN.

If you need further explanation, try this.

You may want peace. I want peace too.
THEY do not want peace until Israel no longer exists.

If that is a price you are willing to pay, consider this:


They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

-Pastor Martin Niemoller, on Nazi Germany


Thursday, July 20, 2006

One Giant Leap - Backwards

One day short of the 37th anniversary of the moon landing, a feat which looks more and more spectacular (if not improbable) as time and technology advance, one day short of this milestone, the current US President took it upon himself to unilaterally impede the progress of science in a way that could benefit mankind far more directly, and far more rapidly, than the space program.

I am referring of course to President Bush’s veto of the stem cell bill passed by Congress, the one that would loosen restrictions on research using human embryos as stem cell sources.
The veto does not outlaw this research, but prevents it from being funded by taxpayers, which for practical purposes prevents it from being done to any significant degree in the U.S.

Thus, the U.S. is destined to fall behind the rest of the world in a technology that could be one of the greatest medical advances of the century.

Beyond the arguments pro and con, and the fact that the President’s moral/religious beliefs are being used to defy the will of the people, beyond all that, I can’t help but be struck by the difference in outlook between 37 years ago and today.

The public was told, and believed, that the US would not allow the Russians to get ahead, in science or in any venue, and that this was vital to the survival of democracy and freedom and the American way of life. I never quite followed that logic, but apparently it was true because the real issue with the space race wasn’t the pursuit of pure science so much as staking a claim for any weaponization of space that might one day be feasible.

Be that as it may, the initiative did foster a culture in which science was cool, kids aspired to be astronauts, the attitude was positive, forward-looking and productive, and the education system took full advantage of this outlook.

Not everyone was behind the goal of putting a man on the moon but the chief objection was that the incredible sums of money that went into it would be better spent on practical things such as alleviating world poverty and (duh) medical research.

Fast forward 40 years and what do we have?
A congress, senate and public sentiment that wants tax dollars spent on medical research, research that would likely have a tremendous impact in our lifetimes, on diseases as common as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

It’s a sad irony that just as one President ignited the spark that brought knowledge and achievement to his country, another has chosen to defy the will of the majority, relegating the US to Third World status in the global scientific community.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Just Imagine...

What if:

George W. Bush had not rushed right back home from Russia the other day, had hung around to chill with, say, the Prime Minister of France...
Maybe catch up on a little world news...
And spot an opportunity.
An opportunity to not only make a flamboyant statement - a la MISSION (not) ACCOMPLISHED - but actually contribute, if only a little, to a solution and make an effort towards repairing some ill-will that understandably flew his way.

Say George W. Bush were to throw the evil MEDIA and all but essential staff off of Air Force 1 - fly down to Cyprus, not all that far, really, and MEET THE FIRST CRUISE SHIP TO BE EVACUATING HIS COUNTRY'S CITIZENS.
And use the spare room on his plane to bring as many as he could - travelling WITH HIM - back to the US, while chartering planes for the remainder.

Far fetched?

For George, maybe, but that is exactly what Steven (Steve) Harper is doing.

I suspect his critics will find something wrong with this, as could I if I looked hard enough, but you gotta love his spunk.

Especially the part about the media. It is no secret that Steve and the media do not get along, but if you're going to do the GRAND GESTURE, wouldn't you at least want network coverage?
But of course he will get that in any way the networks can manage, and I do look forward to it.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

I'm Back...

You know you haven't blogged in awhile when Blogger makes you log in afresh.

Starting up again after a lull is difficult, in a way.
Not difficult as in waging urban warfare in Iraq, or staffing the Tim Horton's in Kandahar, to be sure.
But difficult as in overcoming the Inertia (heh. Inside joke).
No, really. When you blog every day, or at least regularly, it's like a conversation. Especially when the blog is dedicated to a topic such as the recent Canadian election. At least that narrows down the choices of topic.
When you haven't blessed the world with your opinion in a couple of months, there is so much to choose from, it's, er, difficult to decide.
So.
With all that's going on in the world, the first thing I want to mention is, of course, the sad demise of yet another Canadian groundhog, poor Wiarton Willie the most recent.

It seems like only yesterday that I wrote this, in the predecessor to this blog:
The story of the groundhog scandal of 1999, which, like all good scandals, involved a cover-up that was worse than the original misdeed.
Groundhogs will die, after all, but to throw a surprise funeral instead of a party, and failing to acknowledge that the *thing* you were burying was not even the deceased but a stuffed facsimile, is beyond acceptable Canadian procedure.
Six years later, the replacement groundhog has now also departed, and I am glad to say that whoever is in charge of these things at least learned something from the debacle. This time it's all properly disclosed, media informed, funeral plans and all.
I suppose it helped that the creature died in the off-season.

In the interests of full disclosure (as they say on the financial websites) I must reveal that a groundhog died under my front balcony this spring. Or at least, crawled out from under it to die on the lawn which was, I thought, really decent of him/her. I can just imagine having to look around to figure out what was causing that smell.

So now that I've gotten past choosing that all important first-topic-back, keeping going should be a breeze.

Right?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Yet Another Reason Not to Smoke

Pesticides approved for use on tobacco farms turn up in cigarette smoke, a new study finds.

Three different chemicals were detected at levels about 10% of those measured on tobacco leaves before processing. They are suspected carcinogens but are also "endocrine disruptors" which affect hormonal processes including reproduction and fetal development.

Of course the usual disclaimers apply: there are no studies on the long-term effects of this exposure, yadda yadda.
But it can't be good.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

AT&T Sued for Cooperating with NSA

I find this story very compelling - it's like a fairy tale in the morass of ugliness that is current events and news these days.
A civil liberties organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, has filed a class-action lawsuit against AT&T for violation of privacy of its customers. The company allegedly cooperated with the NSA spy program recently admitted-to by President Bush.

You can find more details at the above links (including the title) or if you aren't registered with the New York Times, try this.

The whole thing hinges on documents kept by an AT&T employee in 2002.

As so often happens, seemingly inconsequential events come together years later to prove very consequential indeed. Add a healthy dose of paranoia - no longer an affliction but a sign of higher intelligence, in my opinion - and you are all set.

The civil liberties organizations may seem to be pains in the butt at times but they provide a crucial *check and balance* to potential institutional abuses. Opening things up to debate is the healthiest thing a society can ever do, and if it takes litigation to accomplish that, so be it.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Ruling: No Wrongdoing in Emerson Floor-Crossing

Good.

Now let's get on with making rules that prevent the appearance of wrongdoing and save us all the time, energy, and tax dollars used up in dealing with this stuff.

While I'm happy about the ruling, I'm not so happy about Harper's reaction to the investigation. Show some grace under fire next time, will ya?


Thursday, March 16, 2006

Out of Context - or Out of Order?

Disclaimer: What I’m reacting to is possibly the choice of words of the newspaper article's author, and statements taken out of context. If anyone has an actual transcript of the event in question I’d love to see it.

Now that that’s out of the way, a report in the Toronto Star today set off all sorts of red flags:

Prepare for long Afghan stay: Powell

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke in Toronto yesterday at a Canadian-American Relations Conference, and as it appears in the report, and in all other reports I’ve been able to find online, told Canada that it

should prepare for an "extended" military campaign in Afghanistan and not put a time limit on its military stay there...

It’s those words “told” and “should” that set me off - when a non-Canadian "tells" us what we "should" do, my rebellious gene kicks in.

There is an ongoing debate among Canadians as to whether we should be in Afghanistan, and if so, for how long. The current commitment (to NATO) is nine months, and I would like to see a careful, open discussion about our role there weighing risks and rewards and perhaps a Parliamentary debate on whether and in what capacity to continue our involvement, given the nature of our military capabilities and other Canadian priorities.

What we don’t need is a failed American statesman telling us what to do.

I used to have a high opinion of Colin Powell, and even felt reassured in 2001 when he became Bush’s Secretary of State. However his credibility is now zero, for obvious reasons including that infamous speech to the United Nations shortly before the Iraq War began, three years ago.

While looking for another angle on this story, I came across a recent article in Slate Magazine that offers an explanation for the remaining bit of possible actual evidence Powell laid out that day: intercepted phone conversations interpreted as discussions about WMDs. It appears the conversations concerned cleaning up evidence from previous WMD programs, not any current ones.

There was a time when Colin Powell might have been able to be elected the first African-American President of the United States but now, when I hear his opinion of what Canada should do, all I can think to say is, “Who asked you?”

You Know You're Really In Trouble When...

...you invite Jessica Simpson to your fundraiser and she declines!

Ms. Simpson reportedly concluded that the publicity would do her own favourite charity more harm than good because it would be "politicized".

No photo-op for you, George W.

The sad thing is.. she's probably right. The other sad thing is - I'd vote for her for President over what the US has now.


Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What's Wrong with this Story?

By now, everyone who watches news or sports has seen the video: high-functioning autistic boy outperforms on the high school basketball court.

They sent in this kid, Jason McElwain, for the last four minutes of the season, probably to give him a happy memory, and he scored 20 points, breaking school records and setting off much celebration. Cool – but this thing has now taken on a life of its own and either I’m a heartless beast who doesn’t get it, or it’s being overblown to such a degree that it’s a bit of an insult to people with disabilities.

In the couple of weeks or so since that game, the story has yet to fade – on the contrary, it is still gathering steam: now corporations are vying for the rights to this story, with contenders said to include Magic Johnson and Oprah Winfrey for crying out loud.

And the kid isn’t even African-American.

Today, the networks aired film of Jason meeting with the President of the United States, who claims to have wept when he saw the video.
Or maybe that was the video of his latest poll numbers, inspiring him to arrange this meeting for the positive publicity, of which he can surely use some.

So what started out as a nice feel-good story is becoming a monstrosity and a mirror on society.

For starters – the kid can obviously play. So why wasn’t he better integrated into the team as a player, instead of being given a nominal title (“manager”) and a few pity minutes at the end of the season when his team had a substantial lead in that game? I already know the probable answer to that one – the competitive nature of even high school sports precludes such a risk.
Still, what does it say for the coach’s ability to spot talent, and for the school’s responsibility to its students – to the autistic one, to help him grow in any way he can, and to the others, to have the privilege to witness and be a part of it? How about the school’s responsibility to society? What’s more important, the school’s reputation in sports circles, or the impact it has on the community? (I know, don’t answer that.)

I’m also a little unnerved at the collective shock expressed at the fact that someone who is supposed to be handicapped – or is it “challenged” now – was actually able to function and even excel. People do this all the time, to a greater or lesser degree, to deafening indifference, and while it’s nice to see some appreciation, why don’t we spread it around a little more and recognize more of the “heroes” in our daily lives. You don’t need to have a diagnosable, visible disability to overcome challenges.

I’m especially saddened by a quote attributed to Jason’s mother, who is reported to have said,
"This is the first moment Jason has ever succeeded (and could be) proud of himself. I look at autism as the Berlin Wall, and he cracked it."
I really hope that was a misquote, or taken out of context, for if that mother really feels that her son has never succeeded in anything in his seventeen years before sinking a few baskets, then she needs more help than he does.

And has anyone considered how Jason must feel? If he’s enjoying the fuss, good, but if he isn’t, it’s time to call off the hounds. I’m reminded of the South Park episode where the school nurse, who had a visible disability (she was born with a dead fetus attached to her face – don’t ask!) caught the attention of the well-meaning townsfolk who rallied around her with parades and every sort of honour they could think up, all of which was devastatingly embarrassing to her, because all she wanted was to be treated as anyone else and be left to do her job which she was very good at.

The fact that this is SUCH a big deal reflects society’s abysmal view of the potential of handicapped people. A happy news story, sure – we can all use some of that. But it’s like telling an overweight person how great they look now that they lost twenty pounds: all it really says is how awful they looked before.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Harper makes surprise visit to Kandahar

Not a surprise that he made the trip - only the timing was secret, which is how it has to be.

There has been some debate lately as to whether there should be some debate about Canada's role in Afghanistan, but this particular mission is a committment Canada made to NATO.
While I'd like to see any further plans subject to parliamentary, and public scrutiny, we are there now for nine months and it's good to see the Prime Minister making this his first official foreign trip.

For an idea about what it's like there, check out this series of reports in the Toronto Star, by Mitch Potter who, with his cameraman, was recently embedded with Canadian soldiers.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Outrage du Jour

Just when you think it's as bad as it can get, the organizational disaster that is the response to Hurricane Katrina proves it's not done yet.

A few days ago CNN reported that the search for bodies in destroyed homes would finally resume. More than six months have passed since the hurricane, just the fact that this has not been completed defies credulity - this is the United States, not some third world impoverished nation.

However... yesterday, again from CNN, word came out that one of only three canine search teams would leave almost as soon as they arrived - because there were no hotel accomodations nor veterinary service arranged.
It's not a question of pampering pets - these animals do jobs humans physically cannot do and probably wouldn't want to if they could. There are hazards, too - one dog had to have glass surgically removed last time they were there.
And it wasn't that they didn't think providing a hotel room was appropriate - it was that something went wrong in the red tape process between the state of Louisiana and the infamous FEMA.

I don't know what else to say about this. If the United States cannot handle a natural disaster, how can it handle whatever else life throws at it? And why has it come to this?

Clearing out the Favourites File

A few stories that got buried in my links over the past week:

I especially liked this one...

Does democracy end tyranny?

...by Natan Sharansky, the Soviet Jew who spent nine years in prison as a dissident and then went on to become active in the Israeli government.
It addresses something I'd wondered about: why does it so often happen that emerging democracies hold elections that produce counter-democratic results?
(Or at the least, results that the West doesn't agree with.)

Sharansky says,

although elections are part of the democratic process, they are never a substitute for it.

He believes that democratic reforms come first, and elections later (he thinks at least three years later) in order for the "atmosphere to change" within the electorate.

Makes sense. After all, the governing process is so vastly different in western democratic countries, the people whose right and responsibility it is to vote need to become informed and need time to sort out the fear-mongering from the opportunities.
Lots of time.
Show them the reforms first and then let them decide if democracy is right for them.

A couple of articles from last Sunday's Washington Post, about the ongoing hijinks of the Bush administration:

Mandatory, If You Choose

...another word definition poser, with regard to whether there NEEDED to be a 45 day review for the Dubai Ports World deal, and whether the words mandatory and discretionary can be viewed as synonyms with the right amount of spin.
(In a word, No.)

and this one, which made a big splash in the media for a day or so but then disappeared:

White House Trains Efforts on Media Leaks
Sources, Reporters Could Be Prosecuted


This is scary. Limiting leaks by cracking down on those who hold sensitive information is one thing - but once that information does get out, it is the job of journalists to disseminate it, not something to be viewed as illegal, subject to prosecution.
The media is constantly criticized, in some cases rightly, but just think where we'd be without it!

Finally, we have the furry lobster story:

This THING (so far not exposed as a hoax) reportedly found at a depth of over a mile in the Pacific Ocean south of Easter Island.
Click link for photo, it's worth it.

It's a crustacean, about the size of a "salad plate" but no word yet on whether it's edible, for humans anyway.
It's also blind, which is probably just as well.

Friday, March 03, 2006

When I Get Older, Losing My Hair, Many Years From Now...

I just finished watching quite a spectacle on CNN:

Larry King, with the McCartneys who are protesting the impending seal hunt, and Danny Williams, the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, there to give the official response.
It is anything but a calm and reasoned debate.

I don’t know if this is what Paul McCartney had in mind for his golden years when he wrote When I’m 64, which he will be this coming June:

A young wife with a rather hefty axe to grind who seems to be taking him along for a bumpy, chilly ride. He can hardly keep up.

He looks confused, and hardly bothers to get a word in – I suppose by now he knows better.
She, on the other hand, isn’t shy to harass both Larry King and the Premier of Newfoundland (or as Larry pronounces it, New Finland).
Saying her piece is one thing, but she hardly lets anyone else say theirs particularly if it goes against her claims. She shrieks, whines and talks right over everyone else.

I don’t know much about the seal hunt, never did get too worked up about it one way or the other... but if I had to make up my mind solely from the Larry King Show this evening, I would side with those who sound well-informed and rational and that is not Heather McCartney.

Paul does have a few things to say, mostly that the annual seal hunt is a blight on the reputation of the Canadian people.
Well maybe so but I’d worry more about other blights on our reputation. We need look no further than the recent federal election with regard to the behaviour of some of our officials and the sleaziness of some of the issues involved.
I'd also worry more about our soldiers being killed and injured in Afghanistan than about the seals, who, even the McCartneys had to admit, are not presently endangered.

I don’t know what gives these rock stars the idea that they can come in here and tell us what to do – but at least Bono seems to have his facts in order, is respectful and never ever comes across as out of his depth, reading from a script.

Paul, you should have married me instead.

I could be handy mending a fuse when your lights have gone
You can knit a sweater by the fireside,
Sunday mornings, go for a ride
Doing the garden, digging the weeds, who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Today, a kirpan, tomorrow – what...

...A headscarf? A skullcap? A cross?

The Supreme Court of Canada handed down a very significant decision today.
It ruled – unanimously - that a Montreal teenager was within his rights when he wore a Sikh ceremonial dagger (kirpan) to school.

This case has been going on for about four years, and I’ve followed it in the local media.
It finally reached its conclusion after wins and losses through the court system.
Details of the case and background are on the CBC website; I don’t want to rehash the whole thing here, just comment on it.

This case is about an issue that speaks directly to the heart of society: what is more important, freedom or safety?
There’s no easy answer and compromises are made all the time. People have to submit to rigorous screening in order to board airplanes, and teens have to walk through metal detectors in order to attend a school dance.

Such measures, while inconvenient, are generally deemed worthwhile for the risk reduction that they bring.

Benjamin Franklin (not a Canadian but we respect him anyway) said,

the man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either.

That’s perhaps a little simplistic but Franklin lived in a simpler time.

These days, organizations have to take liability and civic responsibility into account. Public schools, for example, answer to taxpayers, parents, and society in general. They are expected to provide a safe, secure environment for learning and growth, and to teach students life skills of all sorts, not just the technical ones of the three Rs.

No easy task in today’s culture.

I understand the concerns of the parents who discovered that a twelve year old boy was carrying around a knife at school, but it would have been nice if educating the community about this particular custom were enough to allay those fears.

While the kirpan is technically a knife, sword or dagger, its significance is in its wearing, not its use. It is one of five distinctive symbols that must be worn by baptized Sikh men at all times, the others being uncut hair, a comb, a steel bangle and certain specific undergarments.

According to this UCLA Social Sciences website, the way the kirpan is worn is considered “ritually constrained”, to be used only to help others and in self-defense; to do otherwise would go against the tenets of the religion.

However, the argument put forward by the lawyers for the school board and the Quebec Government, that schools are so dangerous now that any potential weapon must be banned, reflects more than just concern for safety, but a myopic view of our society’s rights and responsibilities.

Potential weapon?

Potential weapons are everywhere. Some may be in the form of religious symbols; I could poke someone in the eye with my Christian cross medallion, or strangle someone’s neck with my Muslim head scarf.

Other potential weapons come disguised as everyday objects long tolerated - even encouraged - for use in schools, such as the geometry compass (very pointy!) and the pencil (good for causing messy, infection-prone wounds.)
We won’t even go into the issue of sports equipment.

But when you get right down to it, closed fists are weapons. Do you tell your child to check his hands at the door?

Clearly this argument is absurd. There IS a problem of violence in schools but eliminating “potential weapons” is not the way to deal with it if for no other reason than it is impossible to do. This way of thinking is part of the reason why people today have so much trouble with personal responsibility – because it has been withdrawn from the educational curriculum. All children are automatically assumed untrustworthy, aren’t given a chance to prove otherwise, and never learn about accountability, earning privileges, and consequences of mistakes.

If the kirpan-carrying child, or one of his peers, uses the kirpan in a violent manner, that is a behaviour problem, not a religious one. It has to be addressed, but it’s much easier to ban objects than to instill values and mold social skills. Unfortunately, the banning, besides being useless, sends the wrong message to students. It teaches them that differences are to be treated with suspicion, and are to be feared until proven otherwise. It reinforces the childish tendency to discriminate against others who don’t fit in with the majority, whether they be too large or too small, differently-coloured, differently-clothed, speak with strange accents, or whose parents don’t drive the right type of car.

What an opportunity was missed by that school board, to educate, to celebrate diversity, to open up students’ minds to another culture, to teach not merely tolerance, but acceptance.

WAY TO GO, SUPREME COURT OF CANADA!

Religious freedom wins over racism and paranoia in Canada. Yes.

More comments later.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Moving Finger writes...

I admit, it’s a good idea - the LongPen machine:

A remote control pen-type device that enables people to write things (such as signatures) long-hand... remotely.
It has applications in many fields, anywhere that a signature might be required, such as a doctor’s prescription or a legal document.

If surgeons can perform operations from afar, why not be able to send a signature? We have the technology, as the saying goes.

Strangely, though, the impetus for this specific invention came from...

Margaret Atwood

the renowned Canadian author.

She even started a company for the purpose, according to this news report, and is set to launch the product at the London (England) Book Fair next week.

That seems to me to be a lot of effort for one person not in the technology field, for the sole purpose of being able to do her appearances... remotely?

The LongPen and a webcam for that personal touch, that’s all you need.

I once attended one of Atwood’s book signings, at Eaton’s downtown in Montreal - must have been in the late 1970s. She had written a few novels by then and I had nothing for her to sign, having already purchased everything of hers I could find, but wanted to meet her in person.
After waiting in line, I finally got to gush out my enduring admiration of her and her work, and what did I get back?
A withering look, the likes of which I will never forget.

My mind has since forgiven her. I suppose she was tired/annoyed/shy/fed up/stressed, whatever. But I have never been able to get through anything of hers again.

That’s why I find it rather amusing that she of all people was the one to develop the remote control book signing device.

The first question that springs to my mind is, why bother? It’s easy enough to set up a webcam connection so that an author can meet with fans in places where travel would be impractical. Why do you need the remote pen thingy?

When an author signs in person, the creator has touched the actual book, which gives it that emotional appeal. Will the same connection exist with the LongPen even if it is the author’s signature? Is it the touching, the eye contact, this personal connection that makes a book signature worthwhile, or just the ink-scrawl done in the author’s unique fashion?
I guess that depends on the reader.
I think I'd rather have the signed book mailed to me, than autographed with a robotic instrument.

For the more mercenary among us, would a LongPen signature be worth as much as a direct one, on the memorabilia market? I wouldn’t think so - assuming there would be a way to tell the difference, and I suspect there would, forensic science being what it is.

I can absolutely relate to the discomfort that Atwood and other authors must feel, being trotted out and exhibited far from home for reasons having nothing to do with their outward nature. I’m sure I’d have a few nervous breakdowns myself, on a book tour. But it’s part of the job, it’s part of promotion, without which books wouldn’t get sold or read and authors wouldn’t make a living and would have to go back to flipping burgers or even worse, teaching English to junior college students.

Atwood claims the purpose is to make authors more accessible to readers in remote locations, not to do away with book signings altogether, but I can’t help but feel that authors, who are often by nature and necessity rather solitary people, might take advantage of the opportunity to remain ever more remote from their readers.

I fear it’s just the first step down the slippery slope of disengagement.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Dubai Ports Thing - Another Angle

Up until now I wasn't sure whether the issue of Dubai Ports World running some US ports is an outrage, or just an example of *how things work* overblown because of fear and xenophobia.

But an article in today's Jerusalem Post tipped the balance, towards Outrage:

Dubai ports firm enforces Israel boycott

The parent company of a Dubai-based firm at the center of a political storm in the US over the purchase of American ports participates in the Arab boycott against Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The firm, Dubai Ports World, is seeking control over six major US ports, including those in New York, Miami, Philadelphia and Baltimore. It is entirely owned by the Government of Dubai via a holding company called the Ports, Customs and Free Zone Corporation (PCZC), which consists of the Dubai Port Authority, the Dubai Customs Department and the Jebel Ali Free Zone Area.


The article goes on to explain that the company PCZC employs staff to oversee enforcement of the Israel boycott.

So far so good (although distasteful) but a problem arises because, according to the article,

US law bars firms from complying with ...requests or cooperating with attempts by Arab governments to boycott Israel.

And there is an actual US government entity, the Office of Anti-boycott Compliance, that has the power to fine companies that break this law.

So how can a company owned by the government of Dubai, a country that openly boycotts Israel, run ports in a country where that policy is illegal?

And while I'm on the subject, why is Pres. Bush so keen on defending this deal when he supposedly only learned about it at the last minute? Something else is going on here. I don't know what it is but the story just doesn't add up.