Sunday, December 30, 2007

Miles from Ottawa, in the best sense

The title of this entry was shamelessly taken from an article written for The Edmonton Journal by Lorne Gunter reviewing a new book titled, And God Created Manyberries. As Gunter implies in the article, the mention of Manyberries isn’t going to get too many folks excited, but it did unleash a flood of memories for me – memories of the summer of 1976 and one of those experiences of a lifetime.

Having been in the workforce for all of six years at that point, I had decided that an extended vacation was needed. Looking back on it now that was probably the one time in my working life I least needed a long break as being low man on the civil service totem pole wasn’t exactly a stressful occupation. But then again, I was working for Canada Post and they sure weren’t going to miss me for 10 weeks, so I strapped a tent, sleeping bag, and an extra pair of jeans on the Honda 500 and headed west to Vancouver, where I would meet up with my wife (then girlfriend) who could only get sufficient time off to make the return trip.

While in Vancouver we stayed for a couple of weeks with friends of friends who turned out to be terrific hosts, making us feel welcome and right at home from day one. So to show our appreciation, on our last night we gave them a copy of the then-new photo book, Between Friends. As it was our last night, the beer and the hippie lettuce were in abundance, and we were all well under the influence when we came across the photo of two grizzled cowboys standing in front of a grain silo in a place called Manyberries, Alberta. For whatever reason(!) that photo struck us all as particularly hilarious at the time.

So it was that a few days later, when we came upon a road sign on Highway 1 pointing the way to Manyberries, we just had to detour to see the town now made famous by Between Friends. I'm not sure what we expected exactly, but I grew up in a small village in western Quebec, so I'm no stranger to small towns. But this was small-town living on the edge. A few low buildings, a grain elevator or two, and that was it. Surrounded by endless prairie, Manyberries was the quintessential small prairie town – beautiful, but in a very Spartan kind of way. And there was no sign of the cowboys; just a very attractive young lady driving a bloody great tractor through town wearing cut-off jeans, a bikini top, and a straw cowboy hat. An injudicious remark that she should have been in the book instead of the two guys earned me a quick jab in the ribs from the girlfriend and a reminder that it was going to be a long ride home if I didn't behave.

But we took a quick look around, and since the road in had been pretty dry and dusty, we stopped in at the local watering hole for a quick pint. It may have been the Southern Ranchmen’s Inn mentioned in the book, but I don’t remember its name. I do recall being the only two people in the place besides the bartender though – and I don’t think he was too pleased to have a couple of long-haired “hippie bikers” in his bar. But our money was good, and he was keen to take it, so we quenched our thirsts, saddled up, and headed back out of town, north to Medicine Hat.

It was a beautiful day for riding - hawks circling in a clear blue sky and antelope in the fields. One of those rare, perfect days that you just know can't last. And sure enough, it didn't.

There is only one hill between Manyberries and Medicine Hat, and it was just as we crested that hill that we came into intimate contact with the gumbo that’s used to surface roads in those parts. A mixture of water, oil, and dust, this goop is spread and graded until it packs down and dries into something of the consistency of concrete. But while it’s being worked, it’s more like molasses, very, very thick molasses. Which is what it was when we hit it. At 70 mph. At the same instant we saw all the heavy equipment all over the road. We went down so fast I didn’t even have a chance to say, “What the f....?”

Some of the workers immediately raced over to help us up out of the mud and their safety guy dragged out the First Aid Kit to patch the scrapes and minor cuts. Fortunately, aside from a bit of road rash, a broken turn signal, and a bent handlebar, we and the bike were fine. It was only when they told us how lucky we were because “The guy last week went right into that grader there. Killed him.” that I got a little irate and suggested, very politely under the circumstances I thought, that they should put up a FUCKING WARNING SIGN! With that, we prised the mud out from under the fenders, got on the bike, and continued on to Medicine Hat, me driving with the left handlebar pointing to the sky and both of us covered head to toe in oil and mud.

We managed to find a dealership in Medicine Hat that stocked the spare parts we needed (As we entered the store, the parts guy took one look at us and said: “Coming up from Manyberries?”) and found a campsite just outside town where we could pitch our tent and affect the necessary repairs. It turned out that the campsite was in between Highway 1 and the major east-west CP Rail line, and a favourite camping spot for the Hell’s Angels, but that’s another story.

Yup. Manyberries. Miles from Ottawa, and in the very best sense.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Don't stop now!

The expression “a mile wide and a foot deep”, once used to describe the Rio Grande, now appears even more appropriate when applied to much of today’s media.

One of the best (worst?) examples can be found on CBC television. George Stroumboulopoulos’ The Hour is a frantic, balls-to-the-wall, series of drive-by interviews in which one’s appetite is whetted, only to be subsequently denied any substance. In the two or three minutes allocated to each interview, he skips along the surface, never really engaging his guest, or for that matter, this viewer. It’s like having to survive on hors d'oeuvres when what one really craves is an honest-to-goodness, sit-down, four-course dinner.

And of course, the blogosphere is worse (yours truly excluded, of course). Toss out the web equivalent of a couple of catchy sound bites and then leave the reader to go away hungry, with only a small, very selective glimpse of the real story.

None of this is really new, as the supermarket-checkout scandal sheets have made an art of the superficial and meaningless, but I was always able to retreat into the pages of a good book to satisfy my meat-and-potatoes craving (keeping the food metaphor going).

Now even that is changing. In our family, Christmas is a time for books – lots of books – and this year I was pleased to receive a copy of In The Hot Zone: One Man, One Year, Twenty Wars. Kevin Sites, the author, is a war correspondent who undertook this project for Yahoo! News, and he delivers a series of simply told and compelling human stories that we rarely get in the mainstream media coverage from these war zones. But, however fascinating the frequently horrific human dramas that he describes, I can't help but think I'm reading the Cliff Notes version of a planet at war, with layers of context and detail missing from the narrative. This is a very good book, but it would be an even better three books or four books.

As a person who's attention span actually exceeds that of a gnat, I sure hope this does not represent the shape of things to come in the publishing business.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

A failure to communicate ...

As everyone who’s ever had a real (as opposed to artificial) Christmas tree knows, 23½ minutes after Christmas is over they throw all their needles on the floor, to get caught up in socks and stick in the soles of your bare feet for months afterwards.

Now it turns out that some scientists are trying to ruin this part of the festive experience. According to a professor of plant physiology at the Nova Scotia Agriculture College, “Needle drop is a major issue after a tree is detached from its roots and used as a Christmas tree”.

“Detached from its roots”? Is that, like, PhD talk for “cut”?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

General Hillier on Cross Country Checkup

I just finished listening to General Hillier on Rex Murphy’s Cross Country Checkup. Regardless of one’s views on the appropriateness of the Afghanistan mission, it would be hard to find a more passionate and eloquent supporter of the men and women who we put in harm’s way. Well done, General Hillier.

But it is of more than passing interest that it was General Hillier and not Junior MacKay talking to Canadians about the mission and our troops. Where is our National Defence Minister anyway?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Flip-flop alert update.

Well it took about 24 hours longer than I expected, but the Canadian Forces has relented and agreed to take the 1,700 care packages to the troops in Afghanistan after all. Today, CBC radio reports that the packages will depart the Port of Montreal within the next few days, and be delivered to the men and women serving in Afghanistan by the end of January.

But how about this for a suggestion? Since these will be much better received than another visit by Harper or Junior MacKay for a photo-op, use a plane to get the gift boxes there by Christmas and offset the cost by sending the next batch of MPs by boat.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Flip-flop alert!

All we hear from Harper, Hillier and Junior McKay is “support the troops”. Well here’s a heart-warming story of a Montreal group that is trying to do just that, having put together over 1,700 care packages for our men and women serving in Afghanistan.

And a grateful Canadian Forces’ response?

“Citing security concerns and a lack of space on transport aircraft, the Canadian Forces informed the members of the Roxboro Legion, who spearheaded the drive, that it cannot accept the packages. Parcels must be addressed to a specific soldier, the military said, and not "Any CF member."”
Bet that policy is changed as soon as it hits Question Period tomorrow!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jimbo Flaherty's income trust boondoggle just won't go away ....

A little over a year ago, our bumbling finance minister whacked about $35 Billion out of the Canadian investment markets with his ill-advised sledge-hammering of income trusts. Since then, there has been no shortage of investors and independent experts pointing out the errors in the Cons own calculations (less the 18 blacked-out pages). Now comes one of the most damning reports yet.

The Con's (how appropriate) income trust strategy, intended to address a small and possibly fictitious tax leakage problem, has instead, according to this
article by Diane Francis, “done the opposite and created multi-billion dollar tax leakage.”

Don't you just long for the good old days when Flaherty was still ambulance chasing in southern Ontario and hadn't yet begun to consider himself a financial wizard?

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Another broken Tory promise ....

In the Tories much-touted Taxpayers Bill of Rights, they guaranteed taxpayers “the right to have the law applied consistently”. Now it turns out that a group of some ex-JDS Uniphase employees, mostly residents of Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn’s riding, will have their tax bills forgiven under some obscure tax regulation. I guess SH&Co. must have forgotten to include the “unless you’re in a Conservative riding” bit.

This is clearly not tax law being applied consistently. Granted the law in this case is a bad law, but what about the thousands or even tens of thousands of others in the same or similar situations who, at great personal expense, paid rather than fight the tax man? What about them? Is the law being applied consistently to them? Not as far as I know.

If the Cons really wanted to do something about this, they would do it through proper channels. Change the law and get it passed through Parliament so that everyone gets the same benefit – not just those with friends in high places and an effective lobby group.

Saturday's news ...

This has been a rough week for blogging as a long-deferred household project took center stage so the spousal unit could “have my new bathroom in for Christmas”. And since nothing got me riled enough that wasn’t more than adequately covered by other, more erudite bloggers, I basically took the week off.

But as is often the case, the Saturday papers opened the flood gates. Our local rag (The Ottawa Citizen) saves the interesting stories for the weekend papers. Like steroids to an athlete, these little snippets bulk it up to justify the higher weekend price.

Here are a few that caught my eye:

$400 toboggans. Say what?!? Talk about conspicuous consumption. The idea of paying that much money and more for a Porsche-designed sled or a “heirloom” toboggan so your kid can race it down a hill (and if he’s a male, intentionally crash it into something at the bottom, like the toboggan carrying the cute girl from next door) is beyond me. Folks, it’ll get just as wrecked, and just as fast, as the $20 Canadian Tire special. Put your money to better use.

Joe Clark gets a bloodied nose. While he’s walking down the street in Montreal, minding his own business, former PM Joe Clark gets punched in the nose by some guy who apparently held a grudge. It’s like Hockey Night in Canada broke out in downtown Montreal. Fortunately, aside from being a bit sore, Mr. Clark is fine. He and the RCMP are now discussing whether he should have a full time bodyguard (the decision to not have one was Mr. Clark’s) although I expect that will be considered an over-reaction and Mr. Clark will continue to walk the streets unencumbered and, hopefully unmolested, in future.

Hindu gods summoned to court. In a New Delhi courthouse, a disagreement over who owns a Hindu temple has resulted in the judge issuing a summons to “Ram, the most worshipped incarnation of the deities in the Hindu trinity, and to the monkey god Hanuman”. Apparently court officers are having some difficulty trying to find someone (anyone) to accept the summonses on behalf of the named gods. I can’t imagine why that would be. Perhaps they need a public inquiry. We should send them one.

New cobra species discovered in Africa. This new spitting cobra was discovered in Kenya and is described as being “about 2.6 meters long and with enough venom to kill up to 20 people in one bite.” Yup, that’s 20 people with ONE bite. The article doesn’t go on to explain how the cobra actually manages to bite 20 people at once, so I’ll just stay away from spitting cobras until they have all the answers.

And that was just in the first section. I can’t wait to see what’s in the rest of the paper.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I like aspirational targets

I think Stephen Harper is onto something with these “aspirational targets”. In fact, I like the idea so much I think I’ll use it at income tax time. I believe it’s important to pay taxes and that we should all do our share, but at the same time, I know that paying too much tax will hurt my family’s economic well-being, so I’ll pay what I can and hope to do better next year. And since my contribution to the federal coffers is miniscule, what I do won’t make any difference, right?

I mean, if it’s good enough for the Commonwealth it has to be good enough for the CRA.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

If we both think alike, one of us is redundant...

Something that’s always bothered me about Canadian party politics is the way in which supposedly intelligent men and women prostrate themselves at the feet of the party whenever they are told to do so. I just don’t get it. I mean, these are generally accomplished, successful people that we elect to represent us and, presumably, think on our behalf and use their brains for the good of the country. But as soon as the final vote is tallied they turn into a flock of highly paid and well trained sheep. Baaaaa! This “following orders” shtick was lame when it was used at Nuremberg, and it’s no less lame now.

Take the latest Mulroney-Schreiber affair (PLEASE!) and Harper’s ban on contact with the former prime minister. In his latest
rant, Rick Mercer puts it best when he says:

Look at Marjory Lebreton. Sure, she's a cabinet minister, but she's one of Mulroney's oldest friends. She goes to his children's weddings. They talk on the phone every day. If Marjory croaked tomorrow, he'd be one of her pallbearers. But nope, there's Marjory, proud as punch in the Montreal Gazette saying she's going to follow orders. She's never going to speak to Mulroney again until this thing is settled.

If I had friends like that, I'd want to shoot myself.

Personally I’d probably want to point the gun in the other direction, but regardless, how shallow, how fickle, how downright insincere can a person actually be to let her job (gravy train though it may be) stand in the way of a deep and abiding personal relationship?

And that’s only one example. How about Harper telling his MPs that they can’t go to the Press Gallery Dinner, and they do the ‘Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir’ jig and all stay home on a Saturday night. (And do what one wonders. Cower in the dark because of the crime spree sweeping Canadian neighbourhoods? Stuff plain brown envelopes with slips of paper to see what getting $300,000 would actually feel like? Think up catchy new negative ads for the next non-election campaign?) I mean it’s like you can’t trust your teenager not to get into trouble on a Saturday night so you ground him. Come on! These are adults we’re talking about here. Well, except for John Baird maybe. Or that Poilievre guy. Or ... Yeah, on second thought, maybe it is better to not let them out without adult supervision.

You also have to question the PM’s leadership skills. Granted, he doesn’t pick his MPs and so he has to work with whatever the voters give him (slim pickings indeed), but, Kim Jong Il aside, most prime ministers and successful managers of all stripes don’t want to be surrounded by grovelling toadies. It attracts ridicule, stifles progress and blunts innovation. If Harper ran a business like this he’d be bankrupt in a week and he and his yes men would be experiencing firsthand the benefits of Canada’s social safety net. A confident and strong leader will always trust and encourage his senior staff to think independently, show initiative, and do the right thing. A bad leader overcomes his weaknesses by dictating behaviour.

But let’s get back to the main point which is this: What kind of self-respecting person would allow themselves to be treated like this? The Members of Parliament we elect aren’t stupid. Most of them would be able to get some sort of real job if they had to. So how can they possibly go home feeling good after a day at the office wearing a choker collar tied to a short leash, and knowing that all they are is another bum in a seat doing what they’re told.

Nope, I just don’t get it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

More from our Public Safety Minister (sigh ....)

stupid pronouncement from our Public Safety Minister:

The minister told a crowd in the B.C. Interior on Saturday that Dziekanski's death was "tragic."

"Quite rightly, the whole nation is aghast.... One person was killed who didn't have to be killed," said Day, MP for Okanagan-Coquihalla.

But he says drunk-driving accidents also claim the lives of fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and other loved ones, "and where's the shock and horror?"

If Stockwell Day can’t tell the difference between an egregious abuse of power by a government agency and a criminal act by an individual member of the public, then he’s in the wrong job.

Friday, November 16, 2007

TASER - Weapon of first resort?

When the TASER was first introduced to law enforcement it was touted as an alternative to deadly force. In other words, when all else failed and your only other option was to shoot, the TASER offered an alternative that was less likely to be fatal. It was the weapon of (second) last resort. Since that time, it appears that, in the hands of many officers, it has become the weapon of first resort. No need to try to talk to the individual, or find out what the problem is, just TASER him (or her) and the questions can come later. And that misuse of this weapon is exactly why the RCMP finds itself in this mess today.

What will it take to put the TASER back where it belongs in the escalating use of force continuum? Well, since the killing of Robert Dziekanski at Vancouver International Airport on October 14, I have seen and heard of several demonstrations where police use the TASER on other officers to show just how safe it is. One day the demonstration won’t go as planned and the targeted officer will not walk away. When that happens, when one cop kills another cop with this “safe” device, we will finally see appropriate guidelines for the use of this weapon. How sad that more life will have to be lost before the authorities come to their senses.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Support the troops - or else!

We, through the governments we elect, send these men and women into harm’s way for a variety of reasons. But no matter what one’s personal views are of a particular war, it is not the troops that initiated it – they are only trying to finish a job that their governments have screwed up badly, to the point of war. It’s a dangerous job we ask them to do, and some don’t make it back.

I came of age in the 60s, when young American conscripts were booed, and in some cases spat upon, when they returned from Vietnam. My family has a military history through two World Wars as well as peacetime service, and I have been proud to wear the uniform. For those reasons and others, I am a huge supporter of our troops. I believe they need every advantage we can give them, and they deserve our thoughts and prayers as they literally put their lives on the line every day they spend in these dangerous places.

But I’ve about had enough of this faux patriotism and the feel-good ‘support the troops’ initiatives that are symbolic only and provide no support at all. Case in point: today an email message arrived (several times) in my inbox with pictures of soldiers petting kitties and holding babies. It included the following warning: “I BETTER NOT HEAR OF ANYONE BREAKING THIS ONE OR SEE DELETED” (sic). In case that wasn’t enough, there was this further incentive to not break the chain: “Something good will happen to you tonight. This is not a joke. Someone will either call you or will talk to you online and say that they love you. Do not break this chain. Send this to 13 people in the next 15 minutes. Go.”

I never have understood chain letters or the people who send them, but this seems to go beyond that as it implies we are somehow not supportive if we don’t send the message along to 13 people in the next 15 minutes. Why do so many feel a compunction to obey the implied threat that if you don’t send this, no one will call to tell you they love you? I mean, no one seriously believes it, but still it gets sent to everyone on their contact list, and I get 10 copies.

So why? Is this just a quick fix to assuage feelings of guilt for putting these fine young men and women in harm’s way in the first place? Is it simply easier to hit SEND than do something that truly offers meaningful support? I don’t know. But what I do know is that if you really want to support the troops, the best thing and most useful thing you can do is to make sure that the Canadian government does absolutely everything in its power to minimize the amount of time the troops are exposed to death or injury in any of the world’s hot spots. That doesn’t mean capitulation, or bringing them home right now (cut-and-run as the hawks of the day would call it), because sometimes you just have to fight for what is right – and as anyone with even a basic smattering of Canadian history will attest, we have never backed away from a fight when it was necessary. But at the same time, our government has to be working as hard or harder on finding ways to end the conflict as they currently are on improving the effectiveness of the killing machine. And I don’t get the sense that’s the priority for this government. That’s what we have to change if we are serious about supporting the troops.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

This morning I awoke to the sounds of small arms fire.

Jane and Finch? Surrey? Kandahar? Nope – Lanark Highlands in deer season.

In the interests of full disclosure let me say that I have no issue with a managed hunt, or responsible hunters, having been one myself in years gone by. But one has to admit, the fall deer hunt does warrant some comment.

First of all, local businesses virtually shut down during deer season. Want to get that hole in your roof fixed? Sorry, no one’s available for the next two weeks until after the season closes. Want to have that leaking hot water tank repaired? Nope, can’t help you for the next couple of weeks.

Now to be fair, general shutdowns are not that unusual. For example France has its August shutdown where everyone goes to the beach where they can spend long, hot summer days watching the young French ladies cavort topless in the surf. But in Lanark Highlands, everything shuts down in November so the men can go to a hunt camp, pee outdoors, not have to bathe, shave or change their clothes for two weeks, and generally freeze their asses off in sub-zero temperatures. I know how I’d prefer to spend my two weeks’ vacation.

And one can hardly claim to be hunting to “put food on the table”. When you factor in the costs for the hunting license, bullets, and sufficient stocks of beer and scotch for two weeks in the bush, the venison ends up costing about $25 a pound. That’s $25 a pound including the ground meat, roasts, and steaks. Buying Grade A beef is a steal in comparison. It gets even more ludicrous when one considers the lost income, the investment in rifles (every hunter has at least a couple), the cost of mandatory firearms and hunter safety courses, and the outrageous prices charged for those day-glo orange outfits now worn to satisfy a provincially-mandated fashion requirement.

Which leads to yet another curiosity. Today’s hunters dress up in camouflaged pants, camouflaged boots, camouflaged shirts, and maybe even camouflaged underwear for all I know (actually not a bad idea if you’re not going to change your shorts for a week). Then they put on a day-glo orange vest and matching hat. So can someone please explain the purpose behind the camouflaged pants? Is it so the deer will see this disembodied torso cruising through the woods and get disoriented? A kind of deer-in-the-headlights syndrome? Beats me. When I last hunted we wore regular clothes - jeans and a plaid shirt – and topped it off with a red hat. In those days we didn’t shoot anything we couldn’t clearly identify, and as long as we saw the deer first, it didn’t matter.

Even the farmers wear the day-glo orange during hunting season around here. You see them out in their fields, driving their big smoke-belching tractors, shattering the silence of the autumn woods, and wearing an orange hat. If a hunter can’t see and hear the tractor, do you think he’s going to notice an orange hat? Unlikely.

But for two weeks every November, that's life out here in the sticks; cars and trucks parked up and down the shoulder of every rural road, hunters driving up your laneway looking for "that big buck that just ran across the highway", and waking to the sound of small arms fire every morning.

Yup, the fall hunt is certainly a curious event.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

The latest from Stevie "I am not involved" Harper

Susan Delacourt writes in The Star, “Hal Jackman, the former lieutenant-governor of Ontario and a long-time Conservative supporter, fundraiser and sometime candidate, is outraged that the party has ousted Mark Warner as its next candidate in Toronto Centre."

The fact that Conservatives are upset at this latest bone-headed move by Harper & Co. is not news although it would be nice to see them do something about it other than just whine to the press.

But I had to laugh (really – and out loud too!) at this bit:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper attempted to wash his hands of any involvement in the decision when asked about it yesterday in Halifax.

"Frankly, I'm not involved in those kind of decisions," Harper said. "The National Council is democratically elected and makes those decisions under the constitution of the party."

Stevie, can you say Bill Casey? What a hypocrite!

Friday, November 2, 2007

Flaherty still has a long way to go .....

Lest anyone out there feel the need to pay obeisance at the foot of Jimbo Flaherty for slaying Canada’s tax dragon, here’s an interesting item from Diane Francis at the National Post.

I don’t agree with her premise that we should be at US or Swedish taxation levels because every country is different and has different needs for their tax dollars (perfect example – publicly funded health care in Canada versus none in the US). But on the other hand, one need only look at the money that gets burned by all levels of government on projects of dubious value or just in day-to-day operations to truly despair that any of them (politicians and bureaucrats) have the slightest real interest in doing anything about it.

Sure the Halloween Slasher talked a good story, but really, what is a 1% GST cut going to do other than buy votes? His corporate tax cuts only made his earlier pronouncements on Income Trusts seem even more ludicrous. And a ½% reduction in the personal tax rate from 15½% to 15% will amount to a maximum of about $100 a year for the lowest of low-income earners.

This isn’t tax-cutting; this is tinkering – callous vote buying by Canada’s Not So New Government that increasingly seems devoid of any overall vision or strategy for Canada’s economic well-being other than dispensing largess accruing from previous government's economic policies, a healthy economy, and over-taxed Canadians and corporations.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Maybe she could lend him her bicycle ....

It looks like it’s going to be one of those one-track days. No sooner did I uncover the bicycle lover story than this news item from Spiegel Online crossed my desk.

In summary, this 77-year-old German guy was rebuffed when he made sexual overtures to his 19-year-old “date”. Not surprising given the 58 year age difference, but it was her reason that has his knickers (lederhosen?) in a twist. She had the audacity to tell him he was too old for her. So now he’s suing her for age discrimination.

You just can’t make this shit up.

I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike ...

Apologies to Queen, but it does seem fitting.

I realized this blog was becoming much too serious, so I went looking for something a little lighter for a change, and found this story. Apparently some poor slob in Scotland has been placed on a sex offenders register for having sex with a bicycle. That's right - a bicycle. I thought I would write up something witty and then found this post by Mad Priest. There's no way I could do this story any better than he and his commenters.

Favorite comment? "There's nothing funny about a pedalphile." Check it out. Monty Python couldn't do it better.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

First 24 Sussex and now Horseshoe Falls?

According to this article in the International Herald Tribune, “The Bush administration appears to have annexed a major Canadian landmark as part of a slick new campaign to promote U.S. tourism and welcome foreign visitors to America.”

The 7-minute video showcases some of the scenic attractions and majestic landscapes that a foreign visitor could expect to see in the U.S. Obviously no such video would be complete without some footage of Niagara Falls, so it gets its few seconds to shine in all its spectacular glory, along with the Rockies, the Lincoln memorial and many other notable landmarks.

Except that the Niagara Falls in the video is the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, shot from the Canadian side of the border.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Thank you Tony Blair ....

According to this CBC News item, Canada is destined to “become one of the most powerful nations in the world”.

Canada is poised to become an economic and political powerhouse in the world, former British prime minister Tony Blair said Friday.

In a speech to an oil and gas industry crowd in Calgary, Blair forecast that Canada's energy reserves and, what he called its "modern spirit," make for a bright future.

"I often say to people, Canada will become one of the most powerful nations in the world."

I wonder how many times Harper & Co. will tie these comments to their “Canada is back” theme before the week is out?

Friday, October 26, 2007

Canada's War on Peace (activists)

The latest refusal by Canada’s Used-To-Be-New-And-Now-Isn’t Government to allow a well-known peace activist to visit Canada is a story that should have more legs. Although it garnered some indignant posts in the blogosphere, there was virtually no news coverage by the mainstream media (London Free Press excepted).

Col. Ann Wright was coming here to participate in a panel discussion with a number of Members of Parliament - hardly a nefarious objective. However, Canada (my country, I’m sometimes ashamed to admit) decided that she poses a danger to our society and thus turned her back at the border. Even Doris ... er, sorry, Stockwell Day waded into this one and had some inane explanation about protecting Canadians, blah, blah, blah.

This really pisses me off! Okay. Our border guards can, and do, reject would-be entrants to Canada for a whole raft of reasons – justified or not, rational or not. That is part of their job (although some seem to relish that part just a bit too much). But what is so egregious about this case is that the justification was not based on any Canadian rationale, but on Col. Wright’s name being included in a list of people the FBI says are dangerous! We (i.e. Canada) had NO involvement in creating that list or putting her name on it. We don't even know for sure why she's on the list. Perhaps she was just sitting there on the Group W bench with Arlo and the father rapers and the mother rapers and some FBI guy took an 8 by 10 color glossy and wrote her name down. Probably as good a reason as any in the post 9-11 U S of A, but it’s NOT OUR reason.

So Stockwell, just what has you so terrorfied (not a typo) that you’re willing to abrogate Canada’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about who to accept or not, and place that responsibility in the hands of another country’s police force? And if it’s OK for the US to dictate who we can and will accept into Canada, how about China? Perhaps we should deny entry to certain individuals based on a list provided by Beijing. Now that would be interesting with the Dalai Lama coming here and all. Better check with the FBI first though, just in case.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

U.S. peace activist detained at Ottawa airport en route to meet MPs

Here we go again! Story here.

Nova Scotia wants you! .... uh .... and $130,000

There was quite an amazing story on The National last night.

Apparently Nova Scotia has had a program in place for some time whereby would-be immigrants can pony up $130,000 to have their application fast-tracked and get 6 months of on-job mentoring to gain Canadian work experience.

Well, as with many government run projects, this one had a few tiny issues, resulting in a $60 million payback to 600 of the original 800 participants whose experience was, shall we say, less than optimal. The Iranian plastic surgeon whose mentoring experience was selling cars is but one extreme example.

And how was that $130,000 per person spent? Well, $10,000 went to the company that won the untendered project to run the program. $20,000 went to an agent for finding the work assignment. $80,000 went to the employer who was supposed to be providing the mentoring and skills training (a real nice income boost for that car dealership, I’m sure). And the final $20,000 went back to the immigrant as salary, WHICH WAS TAXED!

This whole program just seems wrong on so many levels:

1. Fast-tracking the immigration applications of people who have $130,000. Doesn’t anyone see an issue here?

2. Paying anybody $80,000 to “mentor” someone for 6 months seems just a bit excessive. More so when they don’t have to pay a salary or any other costs.

3. Paying an agency $20,000 per person to find employers willing to take an $80,000 boost to the bottom line in return for virtually no effort. Giving away free money is not that hard.

This is one government program that deserves to have the media shine a real bright light into all the corners.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Who the hell is Hannah Montana?

I’d never heard of Hannah Montana until this story hit the news wires. So that tells you there are either no pre-teen females in this household, or we live somewhere under a rock in Upper Armpit. And since Upper Armpit is actually just down the road, the correct answer is obviously a) no pre-teen females.

There used to be a pre-teen female in the house, but that was during the Back-Street Boys blessedly short reign at the top of the charts. We even did the father and daughter concert thing. Fortunately for me (and her) the tickets were free and included access to the company’s private suite – complete with well-stocked bar. While the girls shrieked their voices hoarse, moms and dads tried to tune out the noise and drank liberally in the back room. In other words, I have the t-shirt.

But things seem to have gotten just a little crazy since then. Tickets for some flash-in-the-pan teeny-bopper (now that dates me!) concert selling for thousands of dollars? One scalper is reportedly asking $3,600 a seat for these hard-to-get concert tickets. What the hell is going on here? Are some parents really willing to pay that kind of money just to avoid having to say “no” to their children?

Apparently they are. I mean it’s really not the kids fault. They have no idea what $3,600 represents. But their parents do, or should, and have an obligation to ensure their children develop some sense of perspective and the value of money. I don’t care how wealthy you are, or how guilty or inadequate you feel as a parent, THIS IS NUTS! Paying thousands of dollars for any 2-hour event is just plain dumb and should be cause to have one’s parenting license revoked (oh, how I wish it were possible!).

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Liberals should call his bluff .....

Since the blogosphere and mainstream media are awash in speculation and prognostication about today’s Throne Speech and the expected Liberal response, I thought I might as well toss my $0.02 ($0.021 US) into the fray as well.

We’ll know in a couple of hours what the Throne Speech actually says, but I expect there’ll be a few little nuggets in there that will be designed to force Stéphane Dion to squirm in his seat. Harper is nothing if not predictable.

So here’s my suggestion to the Liberal Party – call his bluff and force an election.

I say that for the following reasons:

1. The Liberal Party is years away (at least) from being able to form a majority government, so the best they can do in the short term is to keep the Cons at a minority and hope to retain the balance of power in the House.

2. If an election were held right now many, many Canadians of all political stripes would vote Liberal even if for no other reason than to keep Stephen Harper from getting his majority (and make no mistake, it’s viewed as Harper’s government, not a Conservative government).

3. Standing up to Harper on a point or two of principle would give Dion a boost that he could carry into an election. Imagine that, an election fought on principles!

4. There’s nothing like a major crisis to bring a family together, and perhaps the best thing that could happen to the Liberals right now is an election to force a redirection of their attentions outward and unite against a common enemy.

Of course there’s always a risk, and probably none bigger than that faced by the Liberals if they do trigger an election. But I for one would much rather see a loss on the battlefield than meek capitulation.

A modest proposal for the Throne Speech

I expect the Throne Speech is already written, but in case Canada’s Now Slightly Used Government is looking for another crumb to throw at the feet of us “hard-working Canadian families”, here’s one: pay-as-you-go cell phones!

Like many “hard-working Canadian families”, we have a couple of cell phones that are intended for emergency use only (we don’t feel the need to chat non-stop when out of the house). As infrequent users, the cheapest option is the pay-as-you-go plan, however both Bell Mobility and Rogers (perhaps other providers as well) have a “use it or lose it” policy when it comes to these phones. That means the minutes you purchase up front lapse after 30 or 60 days unless you buy even more minutes. Don’t buy more minutes within the 30 or 60 day period (whether you need them or not) and you lose whatever credit you had accumulated to that point – wiped out.

The bottom line is if you don’t use something you have paid for within an arbitrary period of time set by the provider, they simply confiscate it. Imagine selling your boat to a neighbour, and then when he doesn’t go fishing for two months you simply back up your truck, hook it up, and tow it back to your place. Do you think the police might have something to say about that?

So Jimbo Flaherty, instead of wasting your time harassing the banks over Interact charges that cost some “hard-working Canadian families” what, $3.50 a year or thereabouts, why not go after the slightly bigger fish (staying with the boating analogy) that are ripping many of us off to the tune of hundreds of dollars a year.

Just a suggestion.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Tragedy for the State of Georgia?

I was just sitting here trying to come up with something for my blog when this story landed in my inbox.
"In what U.S. wildlife officials are calling an "unprecedented" tragedy for the State of Georgia, a Canadian woman house-sitting for relatives in an affluent community along the Atlantic coast has been killed
in an alligator attack."

I expect this might also be considered ‘an “unprecedented” tragedy’ for the woman concerned, 83-year-old Gwen Williams, and her family. Apparently she was attacked and killed by a 3-metre-long, "aggressive" (is there any other kind?) alligator in the back yard of her daughter's home while house-sitting.

A "tragedy for the State of Georgia", indeed. Who writes this stuff?

Friday, October 5, 2007

News flash - US won the War of 1812!

According to an article in yesterday’s National Post, some in the United States feel that their side was victorious in the War of 1812. One memorable quote: "Certainly we won. Because if we hadn't, we'd be using loonies and toonies instead of dollar bills, wouldn't we?"

Now I don't mean to be picky, but it seems to me that if you invade another country and are soundly repulsed, that does not constitute a victory. Amazing!

Well done Veterans Affairs Canada

It’s rare that I have something particularly good to say about any federal government department or agency, viewing most of them as bloated bureaucracies that do little more than extort their pound of flesh from me every payday in return for burdening me with unwanted and unnecessary legislation.

However I now have a far more positive view of at least one such organization - Veterans Affairs. This is a big change for me. My father, a World War II vet, lost a prolonged benefits battle with the Department and that coloured my perspective for many, many years. And there are still frequent news items where it appears the Department is more concerned about saving a buck or two than doing the right thing for the Canadians who fought (and are fighting still) for us on foreign shores. But at least one part of that organization is doing amazing work that remains hidden to most Canadians, and that’s the part that has responsibility for Canada’s war memorials abroad.

We delayed our trip to the First Word War battlefields for a few years so that we would be able to see the Vimy Memorial once its refurbishment was complete. We were not disappointed. Perched atop the Vimy Ridge, the memorial is first visible across the Douai Plain while still many kilometres away, and as one gets closer, the power of this monument and what it represents becomes almost palpable. It’s hard to find the right adjectives to describe this memorial to Canada’s war dead: imposing, magnificent, striking, arresting – all apply, but all seem somewhat less than adequate when one actually stands in the shadow of the Weeping Woman and gazes up at the twin, 100-foot towers.

Less spectacular in scale, but no less impressive, is the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial, with the lone caribou, the emblem of the Newfoundland Regiment, looking out from his rocky perch over the battlefield where the Newfoundland Regiment took more than 80% casualties as they advanced on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

These sites, and others – sadly, too many others – are all beautifully maintained by Veterans Affairs Canada. Some have remnants of the original trenches still visible after all these years, and others still have the shell holes and mine craters to remind us of the horrors of that time so long ago. In addition the two largest sites, Vimy and Beaumont-Hamel, have interpretive centers staffed by knowledgeable guides – Canadian students – who are always willing to answer questions, provide tours, or just chat with Canadians from back home.

Having seen many, many such memorials over the course of our visit, there is no doubt that the Canadian memorials are a cut above, and being there among visitors from all over this planet made me proud to be Canadian and wishing the Canadian flag pinned to my jacket was just a little bigger.

Well done Veterans Affairs.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

It's a voyeur's world

Voyeurism used to be one of those one of those guilty, hidden pleasures. Whether it was granny spending her days peering out at the neighbours from behind the living room curtains, or the peeping tom skulking about in the shrubbery, no one would ever admit to surreptitiously spying on others. However all that has changed and voyeurism has now gone mainstream.

Like all-seeing, all-knowing gods, we can now watch other people’s lives unfold in complete privacy and with absolutely no risk of being torn up by those pesky rosebushes in front of the bedroom window. Everyone’s life is now on display and we are taking advantage. There’s no need to check out what’s at the back of the sock drawer to find out what your teenaged children are up to, just look at their Face book profiles. But be warned, you may find out more than you ever wanted to know. Ever wondered what your neighbour does for a living? Google him and you can find out not only where he works and what he does, but also his salary, marital status, and what he does for fun.

And now the latest “advance” in socially acceptable voyeurism has been implemented by none other than Google itself. Their latest application,
Blogger Play, displays a steady stream of pictures that Blogger users are uploading to their blogs in real time. As they say in the promotional write-up, the resulting slide show is “... fun, often beautiful, but above all, compelling. We couldn’t stop watching.” And they’re right – you can’t stop watching. Photos of drunken dorm parties are interspersed with baby pictures being uploaded for sharing with the grandparents. Tough-guy muscle poses compete for attention with beautiful scenic views. Pictures of old motorcycle restoration projects fade out to be replaced by the smiling face of a teenager posing with her new car. Amateur art mixes it up with “Free Burma” posters. The range is endless, and fascinating. And if you really want to know more, simply click on the picture and you will be transported to that person’s blog where you might find more items of similar interest. Voyeur heaven!

Why spend time in your own life when there are so many more to share?

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

We don't want to embarrass anyone ...

Today’s Ottawa Citizen carries an article describing how Ottawa Police will start sending letters to the homes of anyone caught cruising the streets in an attempt to pick up a prostitute. The objective is to try and reduce the number of cars (i.e. men) cruising certain neighbourhoods looking for sex, and by extension, reduce the number of prostitutes working the area. Street prostitution and its associated drug trade have become a real blight on some neighbourhoods and need to be cleaned up, so any effort by the authorities to do so should be lauded. Whether this one will work or not remains to be seen.

However the issue I have with this program is not the program itself, but the spin being put on it. According to the Ottawa Police, the “community safety” letters are intended to inform and educate those individuals caught trawling of the potential health hazards of sex with prostitutes as well as the community impacts of excessive vehicular traffic.

"The letter clearly states their actions are a risk to the safety of the community." It is not meant to "shame" or "embarrass" anyone, said Supt. Larochelle.


If it was simply informational, the officer would hand a copy of the letter to the driver when he was originally stopped. The only reason to mail it to the driver’s home is in the hope that someone else (wife, mother, girlfriend) will see it, in which case shame or embarrassment will be the least of the suspected john’s worries. And perhaps that’s what it will finally take to get some men to stop, in which case the letter served its purpose.

But why can’t the Ottawa Police at least be honest about it? Call a spade a spade and be upfront about the intent and hoped-for outcomes instead of expecting us to buy into the public service/community safety spin.

Monday, October 1, 2007

If you have half a mind to drive in Europe

that's enough, as the saying goes.

With a few decades of North American driving experience behind me, recent Australian experience with roundabouts and international signage, an International Driver’s Certificate, and a clutch of maps in hand, I figured I was all set for driving in Europe. Wrong! So here’s a handy guide to driving in Europe to help all those who, like me, figure they’ve got it all sorted out.

The first thing you need to know is that directions to the next major city are rarely posted until you are within a few kilometres of them. Instead the signs direct you through a steady stream of small towns and villages, three or four at a time. To put that in a local context, if, for example, you were trying to drive from Ottawa to Toronto, the sign posts, carefully hidden on the outskirts of Ottawa, would direct you to Bells Corners, Kanata, Stittsville, and Carleton Place. As you left Carleton Place you would head towards Innisville, Perth and Maberly. Toronto wouldn’t even show up until you were at least at Peterborough or maybe even Whitby, if you made it that far.

I suppose this is all rooted in medieval times when no one ever took their ox cart any further than the nearest village for market days and no one really cared what was over the next hill. But while people now drive long distances, route markers are still based on 12th century requirements. Bottom line: expect to zigzag your way across Europe, taking twice as long as you would expect.

Have a good map, but only one. Having more than one will simply confuse you. Besides you can only use about two square inches of it at a time (depending on scale) as you pinball your way across the country to your final destination. And don’t put too much faith in highway numbers as highway numbering appears to be a black art that is never totally explained. Major highways will frequently have multiple designators such as A8 and E42. At some point one or both will be dropped, to be replaced by something like D169 or N15. You will only become aware of the change when you hit a roundabout that attaches the new highway designator to the name of the next village on your route (you hope). Don’t panic. Even though you will not find D169 or N15 on any map (or even on any more road signs), keep going and if you guess right at the next three or four roundabouts, soon enough A8 or E42 will reappear and you’ll breathe a sigh of relief that you don’t have to do yet another 20-kilometer backtrack to find where you missed a turnoff.

Keep in mind that there are many languages spoken in Europe, and not all of them are English. This is particularly challenging when travelling across country borders as city names can be quite different in different languages. For example, when you are trying to get from somewhere in France to Kortrijk, which is just on the Belgian side of the Belgium-France border, you need to follow the signs to Courtrai (apparently Courtrai is French for Kortrijk) until you hit the border – and then try to not become confused when all of a sudden you seem to be heading somewhere else entirely. This doesn’t always work though and sometimes you will actually be heading somewhere else entirely, but you’ll figure it out eventually and get back on track. In the meantime you will have seen even more of the pleasant French countryside.

Finally you will arrive at your destination, which is when the real interesting driving begins.

Straight line stuff is pretty easy, so we’ll focus on intersections. There are generally three types of intersection – roundabouts, controlled intersections with traffic lights, and uncontrolled intersections.

Roundabouts are actually the easiest to navigate once you remember to count the number of the desired exit from the entry point based on the signage going into the roundabout. Once in the roundabout, signage may be non-existent, or equally likely, point to a different street name than the one you were expecting, necessitating another loop around or worse, an incorrect exit, a frustrating 20-minute recovery drive, and a couple more years off the likely duration of what was, until now, a pretty good marriage to your navigator.

Controlled intersections are somewhat of a misnomer as “control” seems to be marginal at best. Of course it must work else there’d be far many more bodies strewn about than one normally sees. For maximum challenge, visit Amsterdam where major intersections have separate traffic lights for cars, trams, pedestrians, and bicycles. As in North America, many bicyclists and pedestrians simply choose to ignore the lights, but unlike here, pedestrians and bicycles are king in Amsterdam and apparently always have the right-of-way whether they do or not. Oh, and one other thing, some motor scooters and small “cars” are allowed to use the bicycle paths, so it’s not unusual to have a couple of those zipping across under the bicycle light as well. And buses can drive on the tram lines, but cars cannot. It’s all very confusing so just take a clue from the driver beside you and you’ll only be wrong 10% of the time because even the locals can’t always figure it out.

But saving the best for last, there are the uncontrolled intersections. While we in North America are stop-sign happy, sticking those gas- and time-wasting signs on every street, lane and driveway, Europeans are much more casual about such things. Secondary road intersections in town will only rarely be graced with a yield sign, never mind a stop sign. This leads to a kind of interactive ballet between cars, bicycles, and people where it’s do-si-do and allaman left (oops, that’s square dancing, not ballet) and everyone gets through with nary a scratch nor a broken bone. It’s actually quite entertaining to watch, especially when a tourist enters the fray and the whole choreography goes up in smoke and the sounds of crunching metal. In the face of such apparent confusion, one will be tempted to just “go for it”, but personal experience says that just bulling one’s way through isn’t recommended either, having cut off a Belgian cop and received a good finger-wagging for my trouble.

So those are the main pointers I would offer, and if you still insist on getting behind the wheel, be prepared to be frustrated, lost and confused, even before you get out of the airport. After that it settles down and is actually not too bad. Remember Europe is a pretty small place, and it’s almost impossible to get really lost. Travel 50 kilometres in any direction and you’ll either be in the North Sea or a new country, at which point you can stop, check your maps, find out how far off track you really are, and find a good pub/cafe to have pint of Belgian Trappist beer to calm your nerves.

Have a good trip!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

We're back!

Well we’re back from our European trip with lots of good blogging material. However it will take a few days to sort it all out and get back in the swing of things, so in the meantime I leave you with these:

On the bathroom wall of a (supposedly) four-star Novotel in Amsterdam, this sign begs the question (reminiscent of that famous Groucho Marx quote): Are you sure you want to stay in a hotel whose other guests need this sort of reminder?

Then there was this little sign in a downtown Amsterdam restaurant. We passed, so don't know if apologies were indeed necessary.

Yes indeed, it’s sometimes a little weird out there.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Going back in time - to the Western Front

I’ll be away from the keyboard for a while as my wife and I take a long-planned vacation to visit some of the First World War battlefields in Northern France and Belgium. In anticipation of this trip I have increased my readings on WW I – not so much from the geo-political aspects of the war, but from the personal perspectives of the men (and the few women) who braved the mud of Passchendale, the terror of Vimy, and the atrocities of the Somme in what was then and still remains one of the greatest horrors of the modern age.

To put the scale of the carnage into perspective, consider just these four battles:
  • The Somme – July 1914 – 100,000 Germans dead, 160,000 British, and 50,000 French, including 20,000 allied forces dead and 40,000 wounded on the first day of the battle. The Battle of the Somme raged until November.

  • Vimy Ridge – April 1917 – 10,000 Canadians dead in 4 days of fighting.

  • Verdun – July 1916 – 280,000 Germans dead, 315,000 French. Five months of vicious fighting for virtually no progress.

  • Passchendale – July 1917 – “only” 20,000-25,000 dead on each side on the first day of battle - for an allied advance of about 900 yards. Tens of thousands more perished before that battle ended in October 1917.

These are just numbers – numbers so large as to defy even a mental image of what it must have been like to “lose” 20,000 men in one horrific day of a battle and a war that must have seemed endless at the time. I certainly have been unable to envision it, but I expect visiting the graveyards and looking out upon thousands and thousands of crosses representing the youth of an entire generation will bring it home with a vengeance.

So in some ways I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I anticipate some very emotional moments, but then again, I don’t think I can even begin to understand the enormity of what happened almost 100 years ago without making this trip.
If the reader is interested, here is some recommended reading, mostly stories (some fiction, based on facts) about the men and boys ground up and spit out on the fields of Flanders and environs.

  • The War Walk by Nigel Jones – A journey along the western front.

  • Vimy by Pierre Berton.

  • Three Day Road by Joseph Boyden – The story of two James Bay Cree who became accomplished WWI snipers.

  • Generals Die in Bed by Charles Yale Harrison – Describes life, and death, in the trenches.

  • Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks – Fictional account of the nightmare of Flanders.

Of course there are many, many more, but these are among the most interesting I have read (or re-read) recently.

See you again in a couple of weeks.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

What happened to the Liberals?

While I have a history of vacillation between voting Liberal or Conservative over the years, I expect that, in summary, I could best be defined as a Red Tory (or Blue Liberal?), choosing the party whose platform was most centrist in any election.

I will freely admit that there are some things Harper and co. have done in this parliament that appeal to me, but there are many, many more that do not, not least of which is the personal animosity I feel towards Messrs Harper and Flaherty (to name just two of the so-called honorable members of the Conservative caucus).

All of which is to say I was looking forward to a new and regenerated Liberal Party that I could support as being the party to take Canada boldly forward into the 21st century – or at least the next four years! But it just isn’t happening, and I simply could not put my finger on why that should be. Then I came across this
blog entry where the author has absolutely nailed it and expressed what is happening far more eloquently than I ever could. Definitely worth a read.

APEC a boost for Aussie hookers ...

The APEC conference may not have resulted in any significant progress on the climate change front, but according to Sydney Australia’s Daily Telegraph, it gave a huge boost to the prostitution business. I leave it to my readers' fertile imaginations as to why that might be, but I must admit some curiosity as to what a Condi Combo is exactly and whether the Presidential Platter is so named because it includes a president, or would merely be of interest to one.

INTERSTATE prostitutes were brought into Sydney to help service the 300 per cent spike in brothel business during APEC, the Adult Business Association (ABA) says.

APEC-themed specials on offer at Sydney brothels included the Condi Combo, the UN Duo and the Presidential Platter.

“It's been going gangbusters,” NSW spokesman for the ABA Chris Seage told Fairfax newspapers. “Businesses that were banking on a 200 per cent increase in business have done better than that with it up by 300 per cent.“There have been secret service agents, trade envoys, but no Putins yet.”

Mr Seage said suburban brothels were also getting extra work from locals deciding to stay closer to home during APEC.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Dalton, return my health premium. You can afford it.

According to Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Ontario Liberals will not repeal their much-maligned health premium if re-elected. The health care premium (a tax by any other name) generates about $750 million dollars in provincial revenues. The reason, according to McGuinty, is “... we need every single penny of the premium. We can’t afford to get rid of that money.”

This statement was particularly curious as it came at the same time he was announcing $14.7 BILLION dollars in new spending. So what he was really saying is that he and his caucus need that money to fund the election promises they are now making in the hopes of being returned to office.

Dalton, I have a suggestion. Why not return the $750 million to Ontario taxpayers and offer up only $14 billion in new spending? You still get to buy our votes, but you no longer have the sword of that broken election promise hanging over your head. It’s so simple I would have thought that even a politician could have figured that out.

Faith based schools - an idea whose time has definitely NOT come

Ontario school funding debates - gawd, my head hurts!

As a product of the public school system (and a rather successful one at that, if I do say so myself) I have no time for faith-based schools on principle. I firmly believe that religion belongs in the home and churches/synagogues/mosques/etc. and NOT in the taxpayer-funded school system.

And now we have John Tory musing about the appropriateness of teaching creationism in some Christian schools under his new plan to fund ALL faith-based schools. After the fact he did have his staff point out that what he meant was that it could be taught in religion classes, but not as part of the regular curriculum which was set by the province.

So if I understand it, all these new faith-based schools would have to teach the same content as the public system, except for their religion classes in which they can teach whatever lies, half-truths, or biases they want, including, but certainly not limited to creationism.

Okay, then why don’t we do this? Have ONE public school system, funded by taxpayers, that teaches ONE core curriculum. In addition, each student will have the option to attend an elective religion class of his or her own choosing. This can all be accomplished in the same schools with the same teachers (except for priests, rabbis, imams, and others who may be called upon to instruct in the religion classes). No more duplication of services; no more building of new faith-based schools next door to closed public schools; no prejudicial hiring of teachers based on religion; no duplication of bus services; one school board; and the list goes on. The consdierable financial savings could then go to improving teacher-student ratios, enhancing arts and non-science programs, and funding more sports and better fitness programs. And there would still be money left over to give back to the beleaguered taxpayer.

Now if Dalton McGuinty really wants to get my vote, that’s what he’d propose instead of some bogus Family Day holiday in February or the politically-expedient Highway of Heroes in southern Ontario.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

So where the hell is Dion?

Apparently the Conservatives have a callow disregard for democracy as evidenced by their positioning of an unelected member of the public, Sharon Smith, as the person citizens of the northern BC riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley should approach in order to have a direct connection with the federal government. Duly elected, very popular, and effective NDP MP Nathan Cullen apparently doesn’t count.

Elections Canada is investigating the Conservatives for
election spending irregularities. It's alleged they laundered some money through local riding organizations to avoid exceeding their allowable election spending limits. All sorts of high-priced lawyers will be fighting this one out for some time. Meanwhile hizzoner Steve Harper is pretty silent on the whole issue, no doubt because it’s all the Liberals’ fault for starting this whole sleaze in government thing in the first place (and if that's the case, the Cons have shown themselves to be pretty good students, thus denying the old adage that you can always tell a Conservative, you just can't tell him very much).

So Stéphane Dion and the Liberal Party are sitting on a couple of gold mines here but seem unable or unwilling to get any traction from either of them. It doesn’t take much to imagine the OUTRAGE, the RANTING, the BLEATING, and the cries of SHAME, SHAME if the roles were reversed. Why it would be absolutely deafening. So where is the Liberal high dudgeon now that the Conservatives have shown themselves to be fallible on a couple of high-visibility issues? It doesn't come packaged any sweeter than this but - nothing. Hizzoner must be laughing like a fool at a Liberal leader and a party that can’t even get a “WE’RE PISSED OFF AND YOU SHOULD BE TOO” message out to the public.

When the Liberals lose the next election it will be because they didn’t show up. Fools.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Flatulent moose and 30,000 rounds of ammo? Isn't it obvious?

After all the ranting, raving and high dudgeon expressed in the blogosphere this week over the Montebello “crisis”, it’s time for something a little lighter.

Every so often one comes across a couple of news stories that individually don’t amount to much, but taken together result in one of those eureka moments.

First the London Times publishes a
story on the environmental damage done by flatulent moose in Norway, and, presumably, Canada. In part the story says:

... scientists have claimed that because of their burping and farting, the placid moose is an eco killer. During a single year, according to new research, a full-grown moose expels – from both ends – the methane equivalent of 2,100kg of carbon dioxide emissions. That is said to be as destructive for the atmosphere as the emissions released by 13,000km (8,000 miles) of car travel.

“To put it into perspective, the return flight from Oslo to Santiago in Chile leaves a carbon footprint of 880 kilos,” said Reidar Andersen, a biologist. “Shoot a moose and you have saved the equivalent of two long-haul flights.”

Interesting in a kind of off-beat way.

Then comes this
story out of Ottawa.

Police seized 30 guns and over 30,000 rounds of ammunition from a west-Ottawa home, authorities said Friday.

Several of the guns found were inoperable, police said in a statement, but among the cache were a number of machine guns including an AK-47, UZI, MP-5, Sten Machine guns, semi-automatic handguns and a few high-powered long guns with bipods.
A 48-year-old Ottawa man, Siva Yogi Shanmugadhasan, is facing weapons and firearms related charges. He is expected to make a court
appearance Friday.

Clearly this is all just a terrible mistake as Mr. Shanmugadhasan is sure to claim that he is just one of John Baird’s own “coalition of the willing” who are taking direct action to deal with climate change in their own way. 30,000 rounds will generate a lot of carbon credits.

It's not just the weather that's cooler in Canada

The following editorial, which appeared in the
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on 30 July 2003, has just now come to my attention. And while some of the article is dated, due in part to our “new” Conservative regime and the passage of time, I think it’s worth repeating as it offers a pretty succinct view of who we are as Canadians, and partially explains why so many of us are resistant to the neo-con ideology of Messrs Harper and friends.

It's not just the weather that's cooler in Canada:

You live next door to a clean-cut, quiet guy. He never plays loud music or throws raucous parties. He doesn't gossip over the fence, just smiles politely and offers you some tomatoes. His lawn is cared-for, his house is neat as a pin and you get the feeling he doesn't always lock his front door. He wears Dockers. You hardly know he's there. And then one day you discover that he has pot in his basement, spends his weekends at peace marches and that guy you've seen mowing the yard is his spouse.

Allow me to introduce Canada. The Canadians are so quiet that you may have forgotten they're up there, but they've been busy doing some surprising things. It's like discovering that the mice you are dimly aware of in your attic have been building an espresso machine.

Did you realize, for example, that our reliable little tag-along brother never joined the Coalition of the Willing? Canada wasn't willing, as it turns out, to join the fun in Iraq. I can only assume American diner menus weren't angrily changed to include "freedom bacon," because nobody here eats the stuff anyway.

And then there's the wild drug situation: Canadian doctors are authorized to dispense medical marijuana. Parliament is considering legislation that would not exactly legalize marijuana possession, as you may have heard, but would reduce the penalty for possession of under 15 grams to a fine, like a speeding ticket. This is to allow law enforcement to concentrate resources on traffickers; if your garden is full of wasps, it's smarter to go for the nest rather than trying to swat every individual bug. Or, in the United States, bong.

Now, here's the part that I, as an American, can't understand.
These poor benighted pinkos are doing everything wrong. They have a drug problem: Marijuana offenses have doubled since 1991. And Canada has strict gun control laws, which means that the criminals must all be heavily armed, the law-abiding civilians helpless and the government on the verge of a massive confiscation campaign. (The laws have been in place since the '70s, but I'm sure the government will get around to the confiscation eventually.) They don't even have a death penalty!

And yet ... nationally, overall crime in Canada has been declining since 1991. Violent crimes fell 13 percent in 2002. Of course, there are still crimes committed with guns - brought in from the United States, which has become the major illegal weapons supplier for all of North America - but my theory is that the surge in pot-smoking has rendered most criminals too relaxed to commit violent crimes. They're probably more focused on shoplifting boxes of Ho-Hos from convenience stores.

And then there's the most reckless move of all: Just last month, Canada decided to allow and recognize same-sex marriages. Merciful moose, what can they be thinking? Will there be married Mounties (they always get their man!)? Dudley Do-Right was sweet on Nell, not Mel! We must be the only ones who really care about families. Not enough to make sure they all have health insurance, of course, but more than those libertines up north.

This sort of behavior is a clear and present danger to all our stereotypes about Canada. It's supposed to be a cold, wholesome country of polite, beer-drinking hockey players, not founded by freedom-fighters in a bloody revolution but quietly assembled by loyalists and royalists more interested in order and good government than liberty and independence. But if we are the rugged individualists, why do we spend so much of our time trying to get everyone to march in lockstep? And if Canadians are so reserved and moderate, why are they so progressive about letting people do what they want to?

Canadians are, as a nation, less religious than we are, according to polls. As a result, Canada's government isn't influenced by large, well-organized religious groups and thus has more in common with those of Scandinavia than those of the United States, or, say, Iran.

Canada signed the Kyoto global warming treaty, lets 19-year-olds drink, has more of its population living in urban areas and accepts more immigrants per capita than the United States. These are all things we've been told will wreck our society. But I guess Canadians are different, because theirs seems oddly sound.

Like teenagers, we fiercely idolize individual freedom but really demand that everyone be the same. But the Canadians seem more adult - more secure. They aren't afraid of foreigners. They aren't afraid ofhomosexuality. Most of all, they're not afraid of each other.

I wonder if America will ever be that cool.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Surete du Quebec owns up

As published in the Ottawa Citizen on-line edition.

Quebec's provincial police acknowledged in a statement Thursday that their agents had infiltrated protesters demonstrating during the recent North American leaders summit in Montebello, Que., but denied that they acted as "agent provocateurs".

"They had the mandate to spot and identify violent demonstrators to avoid the situation from getting out of hand," the Surete du Quebec said in a statement. "The police officers were identified by demonstrators when they refused to throw projectiles."

Full story here.

Okay all you cons who claimed this was nought but a massive left-wing conspiracy theory – the crow buffet is now open.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Most unlikely quote to ever appear on the Progressive Conservative Party’s web site

My vote for the quote most unlikely to ever appear on the Progressive Conservative Party’s web site: "And it just so happens that Mexico and Canada have renewed themselves with the election of two right-of-center leaders who see the world a lot like Bush does." (italics mine)

This according to Roger Noriega, Bush's former assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, as quoted in the Washington Post

My Friday night ..... too old for this

First let me say that I like music - all kinds of music. And I really like live-music concerts. But last night’s Kris Kristofferson concert at the Ottawa Folk Festival was the last outdoor concert for me.

Picture several hundred people in an open field under lead-gray skies, dressed in everything from sleeping bags to winter parkas and mitts as they braved 10 degree temperatures, stiff north winds blowing across the Ottawa River, and periodic drizzle. Sound appealing so far? Now add in too few porta-potties, exorbitantly priced concessions, and an aging 1960’s troubadour whose voice has seen better days, who periodically forgets the words to his songs, and frequently discovers at the most inopportune time that he has the wrong harmonica in his holder.

You’d think I’d know better by now. Last year it poured rain as I listened to Steve Earle mumble his way through some of his original material and a few more recent creations. The year before that it was almost as cold as last night and I shivered uncontrollably through Emmylou Harris with chattering teeth accompanying her otherwise fine performance.

Yup, been there before, but I’ve always been a slow learner. Not this time though. About midnight, after being out in this crap for about 5 hours and just before I turned into a popsicle, I decided that’s it. I’m too old for this Birkenstock, tie-died t-shirt, sit on the grass stuff. I want a comfy chair, a heated room, and a sound system not drowned out by the wind howling through the trees or the uncontrollable giggles of 50-somethings high on hippie lettuce when I listen to my favourite tunes. And if I have to pony up extra $$ for the privilege, so be it, it will be well worth the money. So Folk Fest, Blues Fest, Jazz Fest and any other outdoor music Fest, so long, it’s been good to know ya.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Canada refused U.S. requests to accept Guantanamo detainees? Good!

CBC News reports:

"The Canadian government balked at several requests from Washington to provide asylum to men cleared for release from the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, say newly released documents.

The material, obtained by the Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act, indicates the U.S. administration asked Canada to accept detainees of Uighur decent from China's Xinjiang region who were deemed to be no threat to national security.

The U.S. was not prepared to resettle the men in its own territory, but could not send them back to China for fear they would face persecution."
(full article).

Now let me see .....

The US detains these people in Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever, ships them to Guantanamo for interrogation, decides they’re no threat to national security, then expects Canada or another uninvolved, third party country to take them in as refugees?

No way. I’m sure there’s somewhere in the good old U S of A where a grand total of 17 people could be resettled without totally destroying US society or causing the demise of the Republican Party. It’s your problem, you created it, you deal with it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Canadian citizenship - a matter of convenience?

The issue of dual citizenship and the whole “citizenship of convenience” issue is not going away any time soon.

In today’s Ottawa Citizen, columnist Randy Boswell reports on a study done by one of Canada’s leading cultural researchers (italics mine) which suggests there’s “no evidence that membership with two nations diminishes a person’s attachment to Canada”.

“Jack Jedwab, director of the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, says data pulled from a landmark 2001 StatsCan survey refutes the notion that dual citizens are more prone to divided loyalties or a weakened commitment to Canada – key claims among critics who prompted a review of federal policies last year after Canada’s $100-million rescue of 15,000 Lebanese-Canadians from Bierut during Israeli attacks on Hezbollah.”

The researchers further claim that the data shows that “about 80% of dual citizens feel a ‘strong’ or ‘very strong sense’ of belonging to Canada”, thus dispelling (at least in the researcher’s mind) the myth that people with dual citizenship aren’t as 'Canadian' as those holding only a Canadian passport.

However there’s one major flaw in this line of reasoning – one that actually raises the question of whether the Association for Canadian Studies qualifies as a “leading cultural researcher” – and that is the census data compiled by Statistics Canada only includes people who were resident in Canada at the time the census was taken. It does not include those with Canadian citizenship who choose to live abroad which, according to published figures, could be as many as 3 million or more of the estimated 4-5 million Canadians currently holding two passports.

Those 3 million or so include many who hold Canadian passports as simply a security blanket, and they are the ones Mr. Jedwab really needs to poll to understand dual citizens’ commitment to Canada.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Cody's Cuddlers

While we bloggers spend hours indulging our narcissistic need to see ourselves online ranting about politicians, road rage, the vet bill for our pampered cat, or the latest feminist/sexuality/linguistic/religious/insert-your-favourite-cause-here slight, there’s a 12-year-old boy in Kemptville who spends his time doing something that is truly significant.

Cody Clark is a giver. While by almost any measure, he and his mother could use some help themselves, his unselfish acts speak volumes about the character of this young man, and indeed of his parents who raised him to be the person he is.

This is an amazing and heart-warming story.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Queen to Ph.D.

From the Associated Press: “Brian May is completing his doctorate in astrophysics, more than 30 years after he abandoned his studies to form the rock group Queen.

The 60-year-old guitarist and songwriter said he plans to submit his thesis, "Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud," to supervisors at Imperial College London within the next two weeks.”

As I’m sitting here listening to “The Very Best of Queen” (Fat Bottomed Girls – a favourite) and browsing the blogosphere it strikes me that I wouldn’t expect to see very many current celebrities and sundry airheads (Paris Hilton being but one example) even getting a Baccalaureate, never mind a Ph.D. And to do so in such an arcane field after a lapse of 30 years is even more remarkable. Wow!

Kudos to Brian May, and may your thesis be as successful as your music.

Kryptonite - Only in Canada you say?

Back in April, on what must have been a slow news day, there were reports out of the UK that a team of scientists had discovered a rock that was composed of the exact same minerals that the Superman movies attributed to Kryptonite. Holy Batman! Or whatever. Kryptonite, the real thing, right here on earth and discovered by the Natural History Museum in London, England.

Well, not quite. Now it turns out that the rock in question did originate with the Natural History Museum, but it was a Canadian team of scientists, working in our very own National Research Council labs, who discovered the formulation in fact matched the fictional Kryptonite of Superman fame. Anxious to make the announcement, the NRC was then held up by the Privy Council Office who, in its inimitable bumbling bureaucratic way, prevented the NRC from making the announcement because they weren’t given the requisite five days needed for approval. That’s right, they needed five days to review and approve something as trivial as this. It’s a good thing it wasn’t important. Imagine if the PCO was in existence on November 11, 1918 – we’d still be wondering if the war was over.

If it weren’t so sad it would be funny.

It’s way too easy – a cop-out really – to chalk this sort of thing up to incompetence or stupidity, but it’s deeper than that. It’s what happens when you encourage a bureaucracy to follow process and written guidelines rather than common sense and intuition. No one at PCO is incapable of reading a half-page press release and giving it a quick thumbs up (I assume), but the rules say five days so for four days, 23 hours and 50 minutes it sits in someone’s in-basket waiting for the clock to tick over.

I know, I know, our civil service is the envy of the world – professional, competent, effective. But that’s compared to other countries’ civil services! Instead, compare the day to day functioning of any level of government – municipal, provincial, federal, or even your condo board – to any successful business and the problems become very obvious very quickly. Bottom line, in many (most?) departments there is no incentive to succeed, let alone excel. No matter what you do, especially if it involves dealing with the (gasp!) public, there are rules that tell you how to do it, when to do it, who needs to be informed (or as they say, kept in the loop), how not to do it, etc. ad nauseum.

How mind numbing. Just like Superman under the influence of Kryptonite.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Dereliction of duty

I admit to having been remiss in my blogging of late. I could blame it on the great golfing weather, or the fact that I’ve been busy configuring a new computer, but the truth is that nothing has really got my juices flowing until this news item from today’s Ottawa Citizen.

“A Canadian soldier who refused to leave his bed during an insurgent attack on a Canadian base in Afghanistan has received a 21-day sentence and harsh criticism from a military judge.”

Apparently said “soldier” decided that, during a rocket attack on the base at Kandahar last year, he was best able to serve his country and fellow soldiers by staying in bed rather than reporting to his assigned place of duty. He further compounded the severity of his offence by trying to convince another soldier to do the same.

Cpl. Paul Patrick Billard, a 13-year veteran who was due for promotion to Sergeant, has said he is going to appeal the judgement.

Appeal his sentence? He’s lucky he wasn’t slapped in the stockade for a couple of months and then dishonourably discharged. Regardless of your views on the war itself, Afghanistan is a theatre of operations where his fellow Canadians are fighting and dying, and anyone who would let the team down like he did deserves to receive the full force of military justice.

Sometimes we’re just too nice.