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 St├ęphane 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!