Thursday, May 31, 2007

Native Land Claims

Well the season of native land claims appears to be on us like a horde of hungry mosquitoes looking for blood, and given some of the recent rhetoric and claims, the comparison would appear to be an apt one.

I’m old enough to recall when Canada's First Nations people had a legitimate beef with the various governments to be able to use the lands they were granted under various treaties in order to be able to maintain their traditional lifestyle by using the natural resources on those lands. This primarily consisted of fishing and hunting rights unencumbered by such “white man” rules as catch limits or open seasons. Fair enough. Before we came, those rules did not exist, and if they over-hunted their lands, they would be the only people to suffer, so there was a self-regulating mechanism in place.

That then morphed into being able to use the land commercially in order to generate income for the band. Unrestricted logging, the over-fishing of commercial fisheries, and other abuses ensued as the natives refused to recognise the white man’s rules on the use of such natural resources or for that matter have them applied to their commercial behaviour. (It’s curious that they are very quick to lever the laws of the land when it suits their purpose, and deny their authority when it doesn’t.) At any rate, I don’t believe the original treaty signatories had the intent to establish tobacco-smuggling jurisdictions or considered the clear-cutting of virgin forest to be an appropriate use of the land. While it was a stretch to view that the original intent was to use the land as an income-generator rather than simply a means of maintaining a traditional lifestyle, one could rationalise the various legal decisions that allowed for such use.

However the latest demands go so far beyond what could possibly have been imagined or intended by the various treaties as to be laughable. The claim that’s being made now is for total ownership of the airspace above the native lands, which would mean that any incursion into that space by cellular phone traffic, radio and television signals, aircraft, or anything else some shiny-suited lawyer can come up with is open for negotiation and subject to some sort of valuation and ultimately a pay-off.

This has clearly gone too far. If we’re going to continually be brought back to intent by native leaders (the “I don’t care what was signed, this is what my great-grandmother told me before she died they thought the deal was” school of negotiation) then let’s apply intent across the board. If it didn’t exist and couldn’t possibly have been contemplated at the time, then it doesn’t apply. Full stop.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Environmental zealotry

David Suzuki recently published an opinion piece in which he came out very strongly against the climate change deniers, saying that for some, “doubting the science of global warming has taken on an almost religious zeal”.

That got me thinking. He’s right, of course, but to define one side as being zealots doesn’t properly recognize the reality that people on both sides of the issue frequently take positions based on no more than pure faith and, as we know from how well the world’s various religions get along, faith-based belief is virtually impossible to change and does more to separate than to unify.

Now before people jump all over this statement and assert that their position (on both sides) is not based on faith but on real science, let me explain. I have no doubt that scientific evidence and perhaps even proof exists to support the various claims, but I would suggest that the number of people in the entire world who have seen the science and, more importantly, can properly review, assess and understand the science, is numbered in the hundreds. We are dealing with what are arguably the most complex natural systems on earth, and as anyone who has ever been disappointed when the weekend weather doesn’t turn out as was predicted as little as 48 hours previous knows, nature is notoriously bad at meeting expectations.

So what do the other few billion of us do? We listen to the scientists, the politicians, our neighbours, the media, etc., and we make up our own minds based – not on hard, tangible evidence – but on faith. David Suzuki says: Trust me. I’ve seen the evidence and it is frightening. And he says it again, and again, and again, until it becomes a mantra that environmentalists repeat over and over. He has seen and probably understands the science at a level most of us could never aspire to, so we take what he is saying on faith.

On the other hand, you’ve got the deniers, people like author Michael Crichton who’s book State of Fear is essentially several hundred pages of science and pseudo-science used to support the deniers’ “what, me worry?” frame of reference. People who quote that book to me as proof that the environmentalists are all wet, are doing so not because they have some special inside knowledge, but because they have faith in Michael Crichton; that he’s done his homework and the science he is quoting is legitimate and correct.

The stronger the faith, the more closed the mind, and so, as soon as there’s any dialogue between the two polarized camps on this issue, it becomes one side challenging the other side’s faith in what’s right and true with their own faith in what’s right and true. We don’t have the numbers, the hard evidence, the confidence in our models, or even the understanding of how the modeling was done to be able to fight a counter-position that is taken forcefully and aggressively, and usually quite loudly, so we retrench, dig in a little deeper and yell louder ourselves. Not terribly productive, but not at all unlike any inter-faith religious conflict in the history of the world.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I have nothing to say

Now some folks of my acquaintance, including the spousal unit, would consider that a good thing, but it’s not, especially when one is trying to be reasonably consistent in updating one’s blog, which now hasn’t had a new entry in a week.

I mean it’s not like our Now Slightly Used Government hasn’t been doing the same stupid stuff they’ve been doing for the past 16 months or so. Every time Baird or Flaherty or His Highness Stephen Harper himself opens his mouth there’s another few weeks of quality raw material. But for some reason it just hasn’t been resonating like it did last month or the month before that.

The goings-on with the Facebook crowd continue unabated. My inbox is jam-packed with Facebook notices of everything from friends updating their pictures and favourite colours to joining weird groups and writing on my wall with crayons. Ho-hum. Just more of the same old, same old. No creative sparks ignited by any of that.

I did buy a piece of outdoor art yesterday though - an old welder’s gas tank converted into a bell. Has a beautiful, deep, “BONG” sound to it that should carry for miles and irritate the hell out of the neighbours. It’s the kind of thing that small children (and I) would find fascinating but which many would view as simply a hunk of rusting steel. I thought about painting it bright red or fluorescent orange, but I think I’ll just let it rust. That way I don’t have to clean off the existing rust or worry about repainting it every year. Low maintenance is the key to garden art. Anyway, nothing to write about there either.

Nope, not a thing to say. Perhaps it’s just that spring has arrived, as scheduled, right after the May 2-4 long weekend, the winter-induced cabin fever is dissipating, attitudes are brightening, and an Ottawa summer beckons.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jim Flaherty - I'm confused

During his budget presentation, Jim Flaherty said that, in support of tax fairness, he was going to close a number of tax ‘loopholes’, one of which was interest deductibility on money borrowed by corporations to finance foreign takeovers. He claimed that this cost all Canadian taxpayers as we (the great unwashed) had to fill the gap left by this rampant abuse of the Canadian tax system. Now, in response to predictable cries of outrage from Bay Street, he’s changed his tune, and although he refuses to call it what it is – a flip-flop – his ‘clarification’ leaves me more in the dark than ever.

The issue he is supposedly fighting is multi-national, Canadian-based companies that claim a tax exemption for interest expenses twice – once in Canada and a second time in a foreign country. Whereas his original proposal, at least according to some interpretations, would completely eliminate all such interest deductions, his clarification to the Toronto Board of Trade this week was that what he really meant is that he would disallow the second deduction only. In other words, companies could still deduct interest expenses for tax purposes, but only once. No more, in his words, double-dipping.

This may play well with the uninformed public, but at best it’s a smokescreen to hide his budget mistake, and here’s why.

Canada’s corporate tax rate is higher than much, if not all, of the western world, and certainly higher than that of any country that considers itself a tax haven. Companies will take the single deduction where they get the most benefit. And that is in – yup – Canada! So the impact on Canada’s tax base will be effectively unchanged as corporations will continue to deduct the interest expenses from their Canadian corporate taxes as that’s where they get the best financial benefit. The only difference is that they won’t be allowed to also deduct those expenses in any foreign country.

Even if Canada could control foreign tax laws and monitor corporate entities operating in foreign countries (which it can’t), the net result of Flaherty’s proposal would be to improve the tax base for the tax havens. Now Flaherty may consider himself and the Conservative Party the natural ruling party of Canada and now, apparently, the world, but I fail to see how making sure Bermuda collects taxes from Canadian companies helps us in any way, shape or form.

So as Jim Flaherty stumbles from one ill-advised financial disaster to another we have to ask ourselves: Does this Whitby lawyer have any idea what he’s doing?

UPDATE MAY 17, 2007

Sent my M.P. (Scott Reid) a request to confirm my understanding - clarify the clarification, if you will. I will post his response, if and when I get one. Don't hold your breath though; so far his response rate to my previous inquiries on other items of interest has been 0%. Ignoring the electorate seems to be the Conservative way!

UPDATE JUNE 17, 2007

Despite two follow-up emails, Scott Reid remains silent, thus confirming Conservative disdain for anyone who might question their infallability.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Are we talking the same language here?

I just knew I was too old for this Facebook stuff! In a previous post I made reference to a group called “the word ’gay’ is not a synonym for ‘stupid’”. Now I have been known to get the odd brain cramp now and then, but with that name and an accompanying rainbow logo (I didn’t misunderstand the meaning of that!), I naturally assumed that this group had something to do with gay activism. And it does, sort of. But jumping to that conclusion was, to use the expression that the group is protesting, pretty gay of me.

It turns out that some of today’s younger generation have started using the word ‘gay’ to mean ‘stupid’. And it further turns out that the gay community has an issue with that because it is felt to demean and belittle homosexuality. Now I don’t think for a minute that we should be looking for ways to intentionally demean and/or belittle any group, but don’t people see the irony in this? It wasn’t that long ago that the male homosexual community appropriated the word ‘gay’ to define themselves. I also seem to recall that, at the time, lots of people were quite offended at this new use of a term which previously meant ‘happily excited’, ‘bright’, or ‘merry’ – not adjectives that would naturally come to mind when describing a person’s sexual orientation. In fact, straight people who are naturally happy-go-lucky and lively should, by rights, be up in arms because by that logic they too are now being labelled as stupid, but I expect they aren’t quite as sensitive.
So now there’s a veritable firestorm raging on the pages of Facebook, with competing points of view, flame wars, and new groups popping up like dandelions in spring (now there’s a gay image – a field of dandelions in full bloom). Where will it end? Who knows? Languages evolve, and this is either a fad that will fade in time like the beatnik language common among younger folks in the 50’s or it will become an established part of the English language and the homosexual community will co-opt some other term to use as a label. Either way, I’m still not going to join any group which has as its only focus an objection to the way in which some people use the English language, although I might make an exception for a group that advocated making the use of the word ‘like’ by anyone under the age of 21 illegal.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Good for the soul

We are putting a small vegetable garden in our little patch of Eden here, but that means ripping 400 square feet of ground from the very tenacious grasp of natural forest. Even then, this is not garden-friendly territory as the thin layer of soil sits on a bed of rocks, which also have to be removed in order to give any plants a fighting chance. Twenty or thirty wheel-barrow loads of topsoil and peat moss on top of all that, and hopefully we’ll have a vegetable garden – or at least a damn fine buffet for the deer.

So yesterday was a hard day, turning the soil by hand, pulling roots, lifting rocks, and trucking dirt around, but the best part was when I stopped for a beer break mid afternoon, and not just because I wasn’t breaking my back any more. No, it was the best part because I just got to relax, sit back, and listen to the sounds of the country.

We’re not so isolated that we don’t hear man-made sounds from neighbours, or a plane-load of travellers on a high-altitude flight path, but yesterday all was still – idyllic really. So against a back-drop of twittering chickadees, nuthatches, finches and other songbirds, I was able to just sit and listen: the toc-toc-toc of a pileated woodpecker hacking great holes in a nearby tree; the rustle of dried leaves as squirrels and chipmunks raced around on their busy way to somewhere else; the squeal of a red-tailed hawk on the hunt; the buzz of blackflies looking for a meal in my inner ear; the gentle whisper of a southerly breeze in the tops of the pine trees.

For those few minutes I was in a different place, transported away from the work, the muscle aches, and all the other worries of everyday life.

That’s why this place is so good for the soul.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The bizarre world of Facebook groups

I think I’m finally getting the hang of this Facebook thing. Yesterday I discovered groups, and more interestingly, the feature that tells you what groups your friends have recently joined. Now I consider myself an eclectic kind of guy – I listen to rock ‘n roll, the classics, easy listening, folk, jazz, and techno (but I’ll never learn to appreciate rap); I’ll read just about anything (see my book list for evidence of that); and I count as friends (the real kind – not just the Facebook variety) a group that is quite diverse in age, social standing, background, political beliefs and religious affiliations. But nothing quite prepared me for the list of “Recently joined by your friends” groups.

Topping the list is the “Take the David Suzuki Nature Challenge” group, recently joined by a young lady of my acquaintance who is energetic, socially-minded and an activist. That’s a good thing – if it weren’t for youth and their enthusiasm and commitment to various and sundry causes it would just be us old guys doing the same old things and expecting different results. I have no idea how joining a group will affect climate change, but hey, it’s worth a shot isn’t it?

Then there’s the group “The word ‘gay’ is not a synonym for ‘stupid’” joined by another young idealist tilting at a different windmill. Presumably she and 52,406 others share some common cause related to gay intelligence, but it's hard to figure out what from a name that's probably a quote from The Simpsons or Trailer Park Boys. The logo is (stereotypically) a rainbow flag upon which is superimposed the text “HATE FREE ZONE”. I have no issue with smart gays, or even stupid ones (surely there are some), but the name makes no sense to me, so I think I'll pass on this group. Besides, I'm not a big fan of the rainbow being co-opted as a socio-political statement - I'm still looking for my pot of gold at the end of it.

Third on the list is the “Flintstone Curling Club”. I always thought of Fred as a bowler, but I guess if he’d been a Canadian …. Anyway, this friend along with two other like-minded individuals felt it was necessary to first create, and then join this particular group. With a total of three members, this group could meet in a phone booth, so I’m not sure why the power of the internet had to be harnessed to improve communications, but there you have it.

Then to top it all off was the “worlds largest tree crusher fan club” group. For those few readers who may not know what the world’s largest tree crusher is, I direct you to As big as this thing is, it’s still an inanimate object – many tons of rusting steel – so it’s not clear to me why there would even be a tree crusher fan club. I mean, it’s not like it can sign autographs, or go on tour, or anything. Are there tree crusher t-shirts? Album covers? Whatever, apparently 250 facebookers (if that’s not yet an acceptable adjective, it soon will be) have decided to become tree crusher fan club members. Go figure.

Now there’s not really anything wrong with belonging to a group, no matter how bizarre or odd-sounding it may be, but what bothers me is that I know all these people! I’m the common denominator here! My short list of friends includes gay rights activists, environmentalists, cartoon fetishists and tree crusher groupies. It would make for a hell of a party! Now all I need to do is go and see if there’s a TL-125 vintage trials motorcycle group I can join to bring in the biker crowd.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Facebook - jusr what I needed

Facebook has really been in the news a lot lately – first it was touted as the single most effective communications tool for sharing information about the Virginia Tech shootings. Then it was in the news again because the Ontario provincial government is blocking Facebook access from government computers (A good thing, I say. Our tax dollars are supposed to be paying people to work, not socialize.) Even St├ęphane Dion has a Facebook page (must remember to invite him to be a friend) and Stephen Harper is considering it, except having NO friends in cyberspace probably wouldn’t look too good on his resume.

Even before all of this, Facebook kept being mentioned by all my twenty-something acquaintances, so I had to check it out.

The minute I started the sign-up process, I knew I was in the wrong place. I was the guy showing up at a nudist resort in a three-piece suit! Everything about the page screamed “Go away! You’re too old! You won’t get it!” and I’m afraid they’re right. Clearly designed by twenty-year-olds for twenty-year-olds, the entire communications paradigm is foreign to me; I mean, who would have thought people would want everybody in the world to be party to their conversations, know who they know and where they met them, and look at their personal photo albums? Some things are best kept behind closed doors, I say.

But as the expression goes, in for a penny – in for a pound, and so I persevered and set up my profile and joined my first network. That’s when I got the “You have no friends in Ottawa, ON." message, and just to make the point even more painful, "There are 104,841 people in the Ottawa, ON network.” So here I was, friendless among 104,841 people (or maybe it was only 104,840 if I was included in the count) and feeling pretty down about the whole thing. Oops - "down" means up, right? As in, I'm down with that meaning it's ok. Right? Never mind, let's just say I was kinda pissed. But then a helpful little wizard showed me how to find friends (in facebook lingo) and I was off. Now I have friends I’ve never heard of in places I’ve never been to. I know all the names of all my new friends’ friends. I get dozens of emails telling me about everything my newest closest friends are doing online. And I get friends poking me all the time, as if I need to be prodded periodically to stay awake at the keyboard. Well, maybe I do, but no need to keep doing it!

Yup, I’m now on Facebook , which gives me yet one more means of communicating with the world in addition to 5 email addresses, Microsoft Live Messenger, Microsoft Live Spaces, Google, a cell phone, two land lines, and a pair of semaphore flags. Life really was simpler when everything anybody wanted to tell me came once a day, through a slot in my front door, and heaven help anybody who read my mail.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Speaking of apologizing ...

So now the government is contemplating an apology to natives who were so badly treated under Canada’s residential schools program of oh-so-many years ago. Given the horrific experiences many of these young people (at the time) had, an apology is the least that is owed, so I have no issue with that.

But along with apologizing for residential schools, the Chinese head tax, and various and sundry other sins of past governments of all political stripes, there are some other apologies I’d like to see from Canada’s Now Slightly Used Government.

How about an apology from the prime minister for the lies he told about “sacred” income trusts and the ham-fisted way in which Jim Flaherty implemented the change? Lots of us out there will take many, many years to recover financially from that fiasco. Obviously compensation is not on the table, but a simple apology would be most welcome.

An apology from John Baird for insulting the intelligence of the average Canadian with his watered-down climate change plan would be nice. After weeks of fear-mongering and not-so-subtle threats from the oil patch, Baird did what politicians do best – obfuscate and bluster – all the while hoping that, in time, the electorate will forget how little the government actually did on the environment file.

And then there's Gordon O’Connor. He owes us all so many apologies that I’m not even sure where to start. Perhaps the prime minister should just offer a blanket apology for appointing O’Connor to cabinet in the first place and leave it at that.

Yup. There’s lot of apologizing that should be done once Steve (as he’s known by his pals George Bush and Danny Williams) actually screws up his courage enough to say “I’m sorry”. But Steve, a word of advice. It doesn’t mean much if your apology starts “Under the previous Liberal government …. “.