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.