Saturday, December 8, 2012

F35 Fiasco

F35I’ve avoided posting on the F35 up until now for a couple of reasons, not least of which is I have absolutely no idea whether this is the best plane for Canada at this time or not. With a defence strategy that could only charitably be called incoherent it’s hard to say what Canada’s military really needs to do whatever job the Harper Cons may require of them in the future. And secondly, I’m no aerospace expert so the technical pros and cons are just so much noise – F-35, CF-18, Navy specs, one engine, stealth, blah, blah, blah.

But here’s what I do know. The much vaunted Harper communications machine has been disastrous on this file. The obfuscations, the denials, the assertions of existing contracts, the demonizing of anyone daring to question, and the outright lies told by this government have done nothing to convince me or it seems the majority of Canadians that this is the best plane at the right price for Canada today. In fact it has done the exact opposite and rendered the F-35 toxic in the court of public opinion.

And now we have KPMG’s report on the full lifecycle costs of the plane which would appear to validate the Parliamentary Budget Officer’s numbers and further erode the Harper Conservative’s credibility on the file. But that doesn’t stop the Harper apologists from spinning this as “that’s what we’ve been saying all along”, cherry-picking out-of-context quotes to support their distorted view of reality. Good grief, will the lying never stop?

Unfortunately that’s all to be expected but the one recurring theme from the Cabinet right through to the guy on the street drinking the Harper Con kool-aid is a variant of “When you buy a car you don’t factor in the life cycle costs”, the implication being that the PBO and KPMG costings are therefore suspect. To which I say bullshit! Only a fool (or someone very wealthy) doesn’t compare the gas mileage one would expect, the warranty periods, future maintenance costs when deciding between that Mazda RX-3 and a Humvee. And if the choice is between no car and owning your own the calculus becomes even more critical – cost of parking, borrowing costs, licence fees, and so on.

So you’re simply wrong. You can argue the merits of one jet versus another. You can argue over the procurement process. But you can’t use the argument that real people in the real world don’t do lifecycle costing.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Animated suspension

When I was traveling extensively for business I had a technique that let me deal with the hours of tedium associated with air travel. By intentionally not thinking about the trip, the airport hassles, the hours trapped in a metal tube 6 miles above the earth, by effectively putting my mind in neutral I was able to withstand the long transit times to Europe, Australia, or the Far East (30 hours plus in some cases) with relative ease and calm. So while I was physically moving through space and time, mentally I was in a sort of Zen state, living in the moment and not thinking about the past, or the future. Sure I would read, watch movies, nap, and chat with the attendants but those diversions were superficial at best and the details rarely recalled once I arrived at my destination.

I referred to those times as being in a kind of animated suspension where the body is functioning but the mind has slowed, time seemed to lose it’s importance, and the question of how much longer until we get there rarely surfaced.

Aside from long-haul air travel and visiting the in-laws I never saw a need for this skill until my recent unfortunate incident involving a storm, fallen trees, a ladder, a chainsaw, and the medical community. With 7 broken ribs to heal my world suddenly got a lot smaller – no golf, no riding, no working in the yard or in the shop.  Even simple things like sitting down at a computer or standing up could cause pain the like of which I had never experienced. So I was essentially in a place where time had to pass but I had no outlets or activities to help it do so – not unlike an extended 19-hour flight to Hong Kong seated in steerage. And that I knew how to deal with.

As I near 4 weeks of recovery I am on final approach to my destination (to continue the flying metaphor). I am pretty much fully mobile and relatively(!) pain free and the doctors are telling me that I should now be able to start doing the things I like to do, in moderation of course. And that’s all good news, but still I marvel at the power of the human mind that it can so easily focus on the moment and compress hours and/or days of pain and unpleasantness into nothing but vague recollections of a period of discomfort. It truly is an amazing thing.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Progress is being made

After the carnage of three weeks ago (reported here) things have been looking up, albeit frustratingly slowly.

A follow up hospital visit discovered fluids had pooled in one lung so that required the medical equivalent of a Roto-Rooter procedure to drain and an overnight stay but otherwise the ribs are healing nicely and I have weaned myself off the painkillers (I hated how they made me feel). Also during that second visit a CT scan confirmed that it was 7 ribs fractured, not just 5. I’m not sure if it actually makes any difference but 7 always seems better than 5 unless one is playing golf, which I am most definitely not at this time.

The insurance company has been great with arrangements made to repair the garage roof and house damage and I have a cash settlement in hand for other insured losses. Unfortunately there is no insurance coverage for property clean-up. When I suggested such a clause, with a cap of $2500 or $5000, might be a useful inclusion in rural policies my agent’s response was, “Well it doesn’t happen very often.” Exactly. Isn’t that what we have insurance for, those events that don’t happen very often? And according to municipal and provincial officials the “disaster” wasn’t big enough (i.e. not enough homes were destroyed and there was no loss of life) so there’s no help available from them either. So we are on our own when it comes to the clean-up of the 100 or so felled trees and associated damage in the 2 or 3 acres directly around our home.

While I am mobile and can get around fine any strenuous activity, heavy lifting, chainsawing remains a distant objective. Without the help of friends and neighbours the clean-up would not have progressed at all in the past 3 weeks. The day after I got home from my initial hospital visit neighbours came by and cleared our driveway so at least we could drive up to the house. Another friend who owns some heavy equipment has been here most days clearing some of the larger trees out of the way. Even the missus has pitched in, learning to use the small chain saw to clear the downed trees off her flower beds. And I have actually been turning down some offers of help simply because I don’t feel right having others work on my property while I sit there and supervise. So a big THANK YOU to all who have helped and offered to do so.

And so it goes. We pick away at it a bit at a time while we wait for the fire ban to be lifted so we can begin to burn the tons of branches, small trees, and other waste left after the good white pine and cedar logs have been removed and the hardwood segregated for next year’s (and beyond) firewood. And then we start to replant.


2012-08-10 11.02.17

This tree snapped off 30’ above the ground, landing on my garage roof.



Can’t imagine clearing this by hand.


2012-08-16 09.12.24

A few of the logs taken off the property.
A similar sized pile is across the road.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The views from the lake have changed

The week started out normally enough. I was playing golf with some friends a few miles east of here when we were called off the course due to electrical storms in the area. So not wanting to waste a perfectly good afternoon we headed over to the Ashton Brew Pub (their Harvest Brown is delicious!) for a pint or two. Then the storm hit – golf-ball sized hail and winds that shook the old mill building.

After an hour or so it subsided enough to get in the car and head home, to be met by a roadblock set up by the police, blocking the only access into our community. With power lines and trees down all over the road, no one was getting in (or out) for the next 3 hours. Reports were of major storm damage and possible tornado activity (very rare in these parts). Of course we were worried.

When we finally did get through, here’s what greeted us as we came up our road.

Storm for web (13)The fire department had been in and cut a path down our road as they were checking residents to make sure everyone was okay.

Storm for web (7)Under all those trees on the right is where we normally park our cars.

Storm for web (9) Garage took some abuse. Another tree on the other side punched several large holes in the roof.

Storm for web (10)Deck furniture was rearranged.

Storm for web (11)

Buried under those trees is what was our vegetable garden. So far I’ve salvaged 6 beans and 2 cucumbers. We might yet get a couple of hardy tomatoes.

Fortunately damage to the house was limited to a broken window and some siding damage, but the garage didn’t fare so well with 2 trees on (and in) it.

The next day, about 1/2 hour into what promises to be a months-long clean-up  I managed to do something stupid and fell, about 6 feet, landing on my back on a log. An ambulance trip into town followed (a first for me) along with a day spent in emergency while they determined that the only(!) problem I had was that I had broken 5 ribs (another first).

XRaysI know, I can’t make any sense of these things either, but I am assured that there are 5 fractures in there somewhere.

Wednesday and Thursday some neighbours came and helped clear our driveway so we at least had access to the house. (Thank you, thank you, thank you!) On Friday we got our power back. Bell Canada is still insisting we have phone service even though the line is coiled up on my driveway. Wireless internet access is a long time off as our ‘tower’ (actually an 80’ pine tree) is now lying on the ground so my cellular data charges are through the roof.  The insurance company is giving me grief over some of the claim. And I’m drugged up, looking at a minimum of 3 to 4 weeks before I can ride again, at least a month before I can golf again, and having to pay someone else to clean up the mess because I did something dumb.

Can we please go back to Monday and start over?

P.S. The storm hit hard over a very large area and many homes and outbuildings were totally destroyed. And even though it had all the makings of a true disaster there was no loss of life, and no injuries reported. So while I chew pain killers by the handful and look out over a sea of destruction I have to think of how much worse it could have been and how truly lucky all of us were.

Bell Canada

We all love to hate large faceless corporations, and usually with good reason. Case in point: Last Monday, July 23, a massive storm blew through and several trees took down our phone line (and hydro, and garage roof, etc.).

Here’s the chronology of dealing with Bell Canada to get their service restored:

Tuesday July 24 – Called Bell to advise them of service outage. Stressed that the line was physically broken.

Wednesday July 25 (late) – Received a call from Bell advising that repairs had been completed.

Thursday July 26 – Called Bell again and suggested repairs might not actually be completed as the physical line was coiled up in my driveway.

Friday July 27 – Called Bell for follow-up and was advised the repairs would be completed by end of day. Again informed them the line was physically broken and would require someone on site.

Weekend – Nobody works on the weekend.

Monday July 30 – Called Bell. Voice response system advised that the previously reported issue had been resolved AND TESTED on Wednesday July 25. Spoke to an agent who seemed to have some difficulty grasping the fact that since I had the end of the line in my hand it couldn’t possibly be fixed, or tested. Projected repair date now Tuesday July 31.

Tuesday July 31 – Any bets????

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Age of Entitlement

In 1967 the 5th Dimension released the “Age of Aquarius” which quickly became one of the 60’s most popular songs.

According to Wikipedia, “The lyrics of this song were based on the astrological belief that the world would soon be entering the "Age of Aquarius", an age of love, light, and humanity.” Current global trends make it clear we haven’t arrived yet, and may not for some time to come, so astrologically we are still in the “Age of Pisces”.

However if the 5th Dimension were to release a song in 2012 that was to become an anthem for today’s generation like “Age of Aquarius” was for the baby boomers then entering their prime during the 60’s I would suggest “Age of Entitlement” would be a more appropriate title and theme.

This was brought to mind by a number of recent personal experiences and confirmed by others in similar situations. It seems that today’s generation (gross generalisation here admittedly) have forgotten the most basic of manners – the ability, indeed the responsibility, to say “Thank you”.

thank-youWhether it’s wedding gifts that go unrecognised, other gifts of a personal nature for which no thank you is received, or the acknowledgement of an act of kindness as simple as holding a door, today’s 20-somethings are rarely heard to utter those two magic words (as dear old Mom used to say, along with “please”).  And with e-mail, Facebook, and instant messaging you don’t even need to pay for a stamp any more.

Have we Boomers and Gen X’ers so totally spoiled the Generation Y cohort that they believe they are owed, and so no thanks is required? Or is it the result of a life lived online where meaningful personal interactions are so rare? I don’t know, and frankly don’t really care. But one thing is for sure, one gift or good deed unrecognised is the last they’ll get from me and from many of my generation because we might be getting older but we can still sure hold a grudge.

Be forewarned.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The great unwashed

The expression “the great unwashed” has been attributed to many but was probably first used by Edmund Burke in the 1700’s to refer to the common man, the lower classes, the hoi polloi.

But today I think the expression is more appropriate to use for the majority of commenters on on-line news items or blog posts, particularly those of a political nature. The level of commentary belies the fact that we are supposedly an intelligent race, capable of rational thought and is often more suited to the gutter than public discourse. Of course one of the problems is that it is not public and that posters can happily wallow in their ignorance and share their ever-so-brilliant comments without ever having to stand to account for what they say. But that’s a reason and not justification.

By now everyone has heard of Bev Oda’s latest ethical lapse, and I’m not referring to a $16 glass of OJ but rather the fact that she only felt the need to pay for the incremental costs of her London accommodations when she was publically shamed into doing so. She is being pilloried in the press, and rightly so in my opinion. Even Adrienne Batra of the Toronto Sun has jumped on the bandwagon and, to prove my point, here is a brief selection of some of the 130+ comments left on her online article (typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors included) .

We know she is not spending any money on plastic surgery! Yuk!

Beyond her flagrant disrespect to taxpayers, OMG, is she ugly or what?

did roy orbison have a sex  change?

The ONLY positive thing I can say about this "women?" is: She definitely DIDN'T sleep her way to the top!

Isn't she lovely ?  NOT !   Its time to can this bitch !

Affermative action in all it's glory

Harper keeps her on because she once got herself laid by the Ayatolllah Khomeni and he's been a pussycat ever since.

She looks like a crack ho,why do WE put up with this crap??

Tired of making fun of her looks? Then lets throw in a few racist comments.

Bev Oda heap big injin

Alcoholism and Drug Addiction is a big problem in her neck of the woods. Not a good place for Children.In other words thay are all drunks or dopers.

And then there’s the requisite adhominem Liberal attack.

Bob Rae likely put up Adam Carroll to slime and sleaze our public safety minister.

computer_nerdWhile the media generally decries the lack of engagement of Canada’s youth in the political process you would be hard pressed to convince me these comments weren’t written by pre-pubescent males from the privacy of their bedrooms at 4AM when mom and dad are asleep, dreaming of the day little Johnny finally grows up but little appreciating that 30 years hence he will still be living in their basement expecting mom to pay for his Pepsi habit and wash his underwear, soiled at the mere sight of the Sunshine Girl.

It’s actually quite depressing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

“It’s not who I am as a person”

Marc Zanetti is captain of the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League. In a playoff game against the Niagara IceDogs the IceDogs’ Tom Kuhnhackl scored the first goal. The Ottawa team’s response was to swarm Kuhnhackl, driving him to the ice at which time Zanetti skated over and kicked him in the head.

That kick has earned Zanetti an indefinite suspension, and rightly so. There is no place in this, or any game, for behaviour that would get one arrested if done on the street.

Zanetti of course was apologetic, saying “It was stupid” and that “It is not who I am as a person or as a player.” I suspect he is also ashamed and embarrassed by his behaviour, as he should be.

But how many times do we have to watch sometimes tearful apologies from sports figures, politicians, and b-rated movie stars in which they profess that their outrageous behaviour is not representative of who they are as a person?

What nonsense! When the adrenalin is pumping, the blood is flowing, emotions are running high, or inhibitions are lowered the already-thin veneer of civilisation disappears completely and that’s precisely when we get to see the real character of the person. That’s when the body reacts without the tempering influence of rationality. And that’s when the true, base character surfaces, either to do something incredible and heroic, or something blindingly stupid.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Shorter Vic Toews: “Criminals not co-operating”

So the Tories are closing a couple of prisons, including the Kingston Pen which has been in operation since 1835. Now I’ve never been in the Kingston Pen, but I have to imagine a penitentiary built 175 years ago, to the standards of the day, probably does not offer the latest in modern conveniences. In fact one imagines a bucket in the corner, a straw mattress on the floor, and a crust of bread and cup of water being the daily rations. Obviously it has been seriously upgraded but it’s still 175 years old and there’s only so much you can do to a crumbling pile of bricks and mortar.

All of which is to say that I have no idea whether closing the Kingston Pen is a good idea or not.

But what I did find interesting was this observation in the body of the news item.

Mr. Toews said the Tories are closing the prisons in part because the increase in jailed population expected from new harsher crime laws has not materialized.

He said the rise in inmate numbers has even fallen short of his own department's estimates.

Or put in mathematical terms:

tougher laws + minimum sentences ≠ more prisoners

So what does this mean?

Maybe tougher laws didn’t increase the number of convictions for Stock Day’s infamous unreported crimes.

Perhaps the police and the courts weren’t really just handing out slaps on the wrists and turning violent offenders loose after all.

Or maybe, just maybe the Harper Cons’ tough on crime legislation was, and is, nothing but crass political pandering to their red-meat base which will have little or no impact on crime in this country.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Smaller government? Or just dumber?

I’ve long been a proponent of smaller government. Far too much money and effort goes into regulating my private life as a citizen, to support questionable business practices (inside and outside of the bureaucracy), or to bail out entire industry sectors that were too stupid or lazy to respond to changing market conditions.

But where there is a role for strong government is in the areas of public health and safety, which I would have thought would also be a key consideration of this Con government.

If that is the indeed the case, why then did the recent budget implement the following?

  • Cuts to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, charged with protecting Canada’s domestic and imported food supply.
  • Cuts to front line border control officers responsible for identification and interdiction of drugs, guns, and illegal immigrants, including 25% of the CBSA sniffer dogs used in airports, ports, and border crossings.
  • Cuts to the Environment Canada unit responsible for coordinating the clean up of toxic spills to ensure human health is protected in the event of an accident.
  • Cuts to Defence Research and Development Canada who’s mandate (in part) is to develop new and improved techniques to protect the lives of our military.
  • Cuts to Transport Canada’s air safety inspectors who help ensure Canada’s record of air safety is maintained.

And there are more.

Now the cynic could say that these cuts are being implemented and announced to the media in this way to embarrass the Harper Cons (and there’s likely some merit to that argument), but the fact is these are coming as a result of yet another inept and half-hearted attempt to reduce the cost of government.

The Cons are not unique in this regard; this is one case where they can rightly claim “The Liberals did it too.” Instead of a process of rational debate about the merits, and eventual elimination, of entire programs, it’s easier to just tell every manager to cut their budget by X%. The political calculus is that the general public will view this more positively (“About time they made those lazy civil servants work for their pay like I do!”) than alienate thousands of Canadians (i.e. voters) by deciding to cut special tax incentives for children’s sports, lunch money for truckers, and so on. There are literally billions of dollars to be saved by simply reversing politically expedient tax loopholes and programs that serve no other purpose than to generate votes from an easily (and cheaply) bought populace and kudos from friends in big business (along with the periodic invitations to a hunting or fishing lodge). That’s before even looking at entire government departments and agencies that should be shuttered because they have either outlived their usefulness or cannot demonstrate that they have actually been successful in achieving their stated mandate(s).

Doing more with less in an idiotic turn of phrase; all you can do with less is less. But successive governments (at all levels) persist in the mythology that they can remain all things to all people and it won’t cost the taxpayer a penny more (or, in a few years, a nickel).

To which I say bullshit.

Monday, April 9, 2012

By-product of the sex offender registry

In this story, CBC reports that a Brockville man has had to “spend a lot of time and money” to clear his name because he has the same birth date as someone on Canada’s pardoned sex offender registry.

There are approximately 15,000 names on that registry. Assuming an even distribution of birth dates among a population of predominantly 20- to 60-year-old males, that means that anyone born between 1952 and 1992 is very likely to get a “hit” on the registry. This could result in millions of false positives that will then have to be disproved at (if the story is correct) a cost in time and expense to the individual trying to get a security clearance. It’s the classic “guilty until proven innocent” model favoured by the law‘n order crowd, with the onus on the individual to prove himself innocent.

Because of these false positives the police doing the checking are now requiring fingerprints to verify identity. This in turn raises some fundamental privacy questions: What happens to the applicant’s fingerprints after identity is confirmed? Are they deleted? Are they entered into a national database? Who decides?

As this policy could affect such large numbers of Canadians, it’s worth asking and demanding answers to those questions. Unfortunately the reporter was satisfied with a couple of fluffy police quotes and didn’t deem it worthwhile to dig even a little deeper into the story to provide readers with those answers.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Thoughts on Anonymous

Toews 2

“RCMP”, “serious threats”, “anonymous attacks”

When those words are reported time and time again with respect to the security of a certain member of parliament, one begins to think the worst, that at the very least the member and/or his family are at risk of serious physical harm necessitating a full and comprehensive police response.

But you’d be wrong.

What we are talking about here (if it isn’t already obvious) is the Anonymous video campaign threatening to out a few skeletons from Mr. Toew’s personal (and, if Anonymous is to be believed, very full) closet.

To be clear, any attempt to coerce a particular behaviour based on a threat to release damaging information about an individual is illegal; it is otherwise known as blackmail and warrants an investigation. However, this isn’t really about that at all. It is about a minister of the crown trying to avoid being embarrassed by the release of publically-available information that would shed some light on questionable decisions he’s made and actions he’s taken in his private life. The involvement of the RCMP, the tabling of this issue at the House and Procedural Affairs Committee (which threatened to call Anonymous to testify – good luck with that), the Sun Media coverage damning everyone in sight except Vic Toews, is all in response to the potential embarrassment of Vic Toews at the hands of an anonymous video maker.

And that, in and of itself, is worth a  few observations.

First of all one would think the Anonymous videos were being watched by millions of Canadians, bringing Vic Toews and the Conservative government into broad disrepute (not that they need any help with that). The reality is that none of the videos have exceeded a few thousand hits, and the majority of those have probably been by media types and Vic Toews’ own personal staff trying to find out what the fuss was all about. Canadians are simply not watching Anonymous in any numbers.

Second, if you have so much potentially damaging information in your background that some think it could be used as leverage to control your behaviour in Parliament, then you probably shouldn’t be in Parliament in the first place. Further to that, this over-excited response seems inconsistent with Vic Toews’ thick skin, so some might wonder if there really are career-ending details out there that have been oh so carefully hidden from public view until now.

And lastly, to badly mix a couple of metaphors, public life is like living in a fishbowl, so if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Robocall affair not going away any time soon

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few weeks, the robocall affair has been, if not a topic of water cooler conversation, at least of some interest. And as predictable as the opposition histrionics (Pat Martin, come on down!) have been the inevitable true-blue responses throwing out accusations of a ”Lieberal” conspiracy, a left-wing media-fuelled tempest in a teapot.

As disagreeable as I find the frothing condemnations flying back and forth across the floor of the HoC, I am more concerned, saddened really, by the number of people out there who believe this is just “normal” politics, nothing to see, move along folks, we’ve got our majority, all is well in the land of Steve.

No, this is not normal politics. Someone, somewhere, tried to corrupt our electoral system. What the real objective was, we don’t know. Whether it was one person or more, we don’t know. Whether it was directed from on high or not, we don’t know. To be sure we can’t even guarantee 100% that it wasn’t a Liberal/NDP/CBC conspiracy to make the Cons look bad (although it seems they have needed little help in that regard recently).

But the fact remains that potentially criminal acts were undertaken that have brought the legitimacy (if not the results) of the last election into question. And as much as the Harper Conservatives and many of their supporters would like the whole thing to die a quiet death, the media, fortunately, continues to pursue the story, including the National Post, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Globe and Mail, all of which are recognised as Conservative-friendly.

So let the chips fall where they may, but the story won’t, and mustn’t, just fade away. It’s far too  important to be treated as just another day at the office.

Friday, February 24, 2012

A lesson in “defeating the purpose”

I admit it: I’m a Tim Hortons junkie. (link)

imageThe spousal unit was troubled by all those paper cups going into the trash so, in a moment of environmental concern, she gave me “an environmentally-friendly way to enjoy hot Tim Hortons beverages”. My Travel mug is great, and by conservative (lower-case “c”) estimate I’ve saved a few dozen paper cups from the landfill. (As an aside, Tim Horton’s cups are expressly forbidden by our local paper recycling program, so they do end up in the landfill.)

imageBut then Tim’s initiated one of their frequent Rrroll up the rim to win! promotions.   And the next time I stopped at my local Tim’s for a refill they handed me my filled travel mug, along with an empty paper cup so I too could Rrroll up the rim to win!

So now I not only have a plastic cup which, being plastic, has its own environmental issues, but I’m also wasting a paper cup. Where’s the logic in that? So Tim Hortons, if you’re listening, I’d suggest a scratch-and-win or similar promotion for those of us who really are trying to cut down on your garbage, because wasting a paper cup just doesn’t do it for me.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sometimes the solution is worse than the problem.

Twenty years ago the only certainties in life were death and taxes. Now, in  this new Internet age, we can add spam to the list. If you are active online you can be sure to attract the attention of every sort of robotically generated pitch, from Viagra (spelled Via@ra to get past spam filters) to the more targeted automated sales pitches based on key word searches of your blog contents.

To counter the flood many sites now require some sort of proof that “you’re not a robot” by requiring a human being to interpret some oddly constructed text which is supposedly not possible to do by machine.

Hence we get this:

No idea 2

Or this:

No idea

Neither of which are remotely readable by anyone – man or machine.  Sure you can request a new code, but sometimes you will go through 3 or 4 iterations before finding one that is even barely legible.

Personally I find these captchas irritating as hell and have found myself, on more than one occasion, simply deleting a comment I’ve made on a post rather than dealing with an unintelligible scramble of images that is supposed to mean something to me but not a computer (it actually makes you wonder who’s really in charge here). So in a do-unto-others kind of way, I have decided to remove this irritant from my blogs and hope that I can stay on top of the spam flood, because there just has to be a better solution than this.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

An insight into the character of the man

toewsThere is no question that Vic Toews offended a great many Canadians with this comment in the House of Commons last week:

As technology evolves many criminal activities, such as the distribution of child pornography, become much easier. We are proposing to bring measures, to bring our laws into the 21st century and provide police with the lawful tools that they need. He can either stand with us, or with the child pornographers.

This morning on CBC’s The House, host Evan Solomon asked Toews if he would apologise for those remarks. Toew’s responded with:

I've thought about this very carefully. If fair-minded Canadians have come to the conclusion that my comments in that respect … were not appropriate I am prepared to accept their judgment.

Not what a normal person would consider an apology.

And as for an apology to Liberal MP Frances Scarpaleggia (the “he” Toews accused of standing with the child pornographers), here’s again what he had to say:

You know all I can say is that I'm prepared to accept the judgment of fair-minded Canadians on that. If they feel that I've gone over the top I would certainly accept that judgment.

In other words, an apology over my cold, dead body.

That Toews was “over the top” in his characterisation of those opposed to his bill is an understatement. Loathsome and odious would be far more apt descriptors. And any decent human being would realise that and apologise, in no uncertain terms, that, in the heat of debate, he was wrong. But not Vic Toews; he is only prepared to accept that “fair-minded Canadians” may think his comments were inappropriate though he clearly still does not.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

That the police want more power and less oversight is a given

Of course they do, and who can blame them? After all their jobs would be a lot easier without all the pesky rules about having to show cause and needing warrants, legal search and seizure procedures, unlawful detention, and so on. But in a democracy one of the fundamental roles of government is to balance the legitimate needs of those we charge with the responsibility to protect us, and the rights of its citizens to not be subject to the sometimes overzealous actions of those same protectors.

There is no shortage of examples in this world where governments have either abdicated that role or worse, encouraged their police forces to ignore the rights of its citizens. Nothing good ever results from that – the police become all powerful, the public becomes cowed and intimidated (if not imprisoned), and a police state ensues.

Is Canada on the cusp of becoming a police state? Of course not; there are still many checks and balances in the legal system to prevent excessive abuse (although abuses still do occur – the G8 being a prime example). But as the G8 experience also showed us, if we relax government controls on the police, they will take advantage at the expense of the civilian population.

Those controls are like a rope of many strands. Each strand in and of itself doesn’t offer adequate protection, but taken all together they do offer a degree of comfort that the state, through any of its agencies, cannot arbitrarily attack and persecute its citizens. But every time Vic Toews or Rob Nicholson cuts one of those strands the rope weakens just a little bit and we, as a society, become the poorer for it. That’s why this is worth fighting over.

If I have nothing to hide, I have nothing to fear

toewsThe response to Vic Toews’ latest inane (insane?) ramblings has been interesting. His stupid (What else could you call it?) comment in the House of Commons that people people “can either stand with us or with the child pornographers” is really beyond the pale. This was his reasoned response to a very legitimate concern that the lawful access bill his government is aggressively pushing forward is an infringement on privacy rights, and that police agencies should not be able to breach a Canadian’s privacy without, at the very least, having to show just cause and obtaining a warrant to do so.

Strong Conservative supporters in the media are calling Toews out on his latest brain fart, and the Tory blogosphere is pretty much silent (a sure indication that  the “Harper Government” has once again done something dumb/illegal/unethical).

But, to be sure, there are still those who justify such an intrusion with the timeworn observation that if I have nothing to hide I have nothing to fear.

It has taken generations for ‘civilised society’ to enact laws that ensured a modicum of privacy to Canadians as they go about their business. Often those laws were opposed by the police and some lawmakers as they were felt to limit the state’s ability to maintain good order and discipline. But the people prevailed and, little by little, the state adapted and the police learned that they could not simply barge into our homes without cause, or listen in on our telephone calls, or read our mail without judicial oversight and the provision of a warrant.

Now this government is on an aggressive campaign to reverse some of those hard-won rights, claiming the moral high ground that this is needed to protect society from “child pornographers” among others, and further, if you oppose this bill, you are no better than a child pornographer yourself (or a terrorist, or soft on crime, or any one of the other dismissive terms this government uses to disparage those who don’t agree with their dystopian view of the world).

Rights are fragile things. They are very difficult to establish yet remarkably easy to take away by legislators in the name of law and order, or more recently, terrorist threats (real or imagined). And when it’s an incremental erosion as we’ve seen in the west since 9/11 you might not even notice it until it’s too late and that airport screener is fondling your “package”, or your computer is being seized because you accessed a web site that does not meet the moral standards of the government of the day.

It was Ronald Regan who said, “Protecting the rights of even the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for even existing.” This government would be well served to acknowledge that as truth.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Shorter Larry Miller: Hitler would support the gun registry.

Larry MillerCon MP Larry Miller (Larry Who?) stood up in the House of Commons to throw his $0.02 into the gun registry debate. And his considered contribution? To equate the gun registry to Adolph Hitler. The money quote was: “the social re-engineering of Canadians? That is what Adolf Hitler tried to do in the 1930s.”

As one might expect this got the attention of other parliamentarians and the media. (If you ever want media coverage simply mention Hitler in the context of whatever subject you’re railing against – headline city!) Later MP Miller dutifully sort of apologized in the House.

That probably would have been the end of it and Larry Miller would have been able to go back to long lunches and snoozing in the back benches, but then he clarified his position in this interview published by the Toronto Sun.

Miller said he was trying to point out the similarities between the gun registry and Hitler confiscating guns from Jews.

“While the similarities between the gun registry and what Adolph Hitler did to perpetrate his crimes are very clear and obvious [ … ] but the truth is the truth and what he (Hitler) did at the time was his men went around and collected all the guns from the Jews. So I was just pointing out the similarities. That didn’t happen in Canada, but it could have and that’s one of the reasons there’s been such an uproar against the gun registry in this country.” (emphasis mine)

So in case it’s not “very clear and obvious” by now, the point he was trying to make is that Hitler did something in the 30’s that didn’t happen in Canada but could have if only we had mounted our own pogrom against our Jewish population and relieved them of their weapons. The fact that didn’t happen, and will never happen, is apparently irrelevant to this brainiac. By his logic(!) we should take away his car because someone once used one in a hit-and-run. The fact that he personally didn’t shouldn’t matter, he “could have”.

Bruce-Grey-Owen Sound must be so proud of their man in Ottawa.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Faux outrage!

Here’s the story so far:

  • StatsCan approaches a Fredericton resident for a survey on technology.
  • In subsequent communications between StatsCan and the candidate it is determined the candidate is deaf.
  • The candidate’s daughter, who is of normal hearing, tells StatsCan they need to get a certified interpreter to be available during the survey.
  • StatsCan then effectively says, never mind, it’s too much trouble, we’ll find someone else to do the survey.
  • Daughter goes ballistic. It’s a “violation of rights”, we’re going to “lodge a complaint with the Human Resources Development”, “Completely, completely angered!”, “I’m not going to let it drop.”

So let’s back up just a bit.

The survey is a computer-based survey. It is not relying on an oral exchange. The only reason an interpreter was insisted upon by the daughter was in the event there were questions about the survey. So why couldn’t those questions be asked and responded to in writing? After all StatsCan and the prospective survey respondent managed to communicate quite effectively using that medium until the daughter got involved. And for that matter, why didn’t the daughter herself step up to the plate and take a couple of hours out of her busy-being-outraged day to lend her parents a hand?

Look, I fully understand that deaf and other disadvantaged people often do have a hard time fitting in. I also understand that governments (at all levels) have a role to play to make life easier and as near-normal  as possible for them. But to insist that the only acceptable option is the most difficult and most expensive (when there are equally effective alternatives readily available) does everyone a disservice and makes the complainant (the daughter in this case) simply look like a whiner with a big chip.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

“StatsCan loses top economic analyst over census”

I have to say I’m having some difficulty getting incensed over this story. (Stats Can loses top economic analyst over census).

A top Statistics Canada official has resigned his post, citing the end of the mandatory long-form census and the stifling of debate at the agency as his reasons for leaving.

Chief economic analyst Phillip Cross was with the agency for 36 years.

After 36 years with the agency, Cross didn’t “resign”, he retired. And it sounds like he retired to a nice cushy position with the C. D. Howe Institute.

As valid as his claimed issues might be, I’d be a lot more accepting of a story describing a principled resignation if Cross had lined up with Munir Sheik last year and walked out the door at the same time. Instead this seems more like Cross went looking for a soft landing to supplement his not insignificant civil service pension, and only then claimed a principled departure for purely political reasons.

“Federal bureaucrats posed as ‘new Canadians’ for Sun News event”

Lego man jason kenney

And don’t forget to tune in at noon today when SUN TV’s Ezra Levant interviews Jason Kenney, Canada’s Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism, here seen holding the flag at a recent citizenship ceremony.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

An unlikely ally

happy-housewifeBrad Trost represents, in my opinion, the very worst of the Conservative Party. A true Reform-a-tory he would have us all living back in the 1950’s when men were men and the little lady was barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen. As conservative as Saskatoon-Humboltd may be I cannot believe that his ideas represent the thinking of a majority of its residents; instead, I expect by wrapping himself in Conservative blue he was able to cruise to victory without anyone seriously questioning his credentials or beliefs, or even caring.

So, given my personal views on Mr. Trost, I find myself now quite surprised to be agreeing with him on his latest crusade against party discipline in Ottawa. (link) I have posted on this topic before (here), bemoaning the fact that so many supposedly intelligent and independent thinkers roll over and play dead as soon as they arrive in the Nation’s Capital. In my opinion, no job warrants selling your soul to keep your self-proclaimed ‘boss’ happy and I immediately lose respect for anyone who does so voluntarily. (In fact, their real bosses should be the electorate who put them in Ottawa, not Harper, Rae, et al, who can apparently control their behaviour with the promise of a cabinet post some day, or at least their very own car and driver.)

So I am following the musings of Mr. Trost with some interest. Admittedly there is a degree of schadenfreude involved in my desire to see more Conservative backbenchers revolt against the tyranny of the PMO and more specifically Harper’s choke collars installed upon the necks of his caucus members, but I also think the current state of affairs is bad for Canadian democracy. (For the record, the Harper Cons aren’t the only party to keep their caucus members on a short leash – it’s become endemic in Ottawa.)

trostWhether this is just a flash in the pan, public musings by a disgruntled MP, or something more will depend on what happens next. Either other backbench MPs will start to speak out (Where is Max Bernier?), or Harper will give a quick tug on the leash and Mr. Trost will slide back into a position of irrelevance until he experiences another momentary flash of integrity and lets us know what he really thinks.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

We have a pill for that

Fat monkeys of the world, rejoice! A new fat-starving drug has been successful in reducing the amount of fat in experimental apes by as much as 11 percent of body weight. Researchers are all agog with dreams of the drug’s applicability to not only reduce weight but, by extension, also reduce certain cancers, etc. in the human population.

But is this really a success story we should be celebrating?

We have become a society of pill-takers. This is not new, but technology seems to have accelerated the pace of “miracle cures” for problems that we should be trying to avoid in the first place. If you have an obesity problem, exercise more and don’t eat so many Big Macs. But instead we say, go ahead, don’t worry about self control or discipline, we can fix you up later. (I know, there are people for whom obesity is truly a medical issue, but they are an insignificant number compared to the 25% of the population deemed obese by the Public Health Agency of Canada in 2007.)

Cancer is no different. Literally billions of dollars are spent trying to find a cure for a disease which we know is, in large part, triggered by lifestyle choices. How much is spent on prevention? Other than anti-smoking campaigns, a pittance. So go ahead and pollute the Athabaska River with tar sands run-off, spray our food crops with pesticides and fungicides and other toxins, chemically treat our fabrics and building materials, continue to mine and export asbestos to India, and when you get sick, which you inevitably will, we hope to have a pill for that too. (And by the way, please send more money.)

If we were to take the same approach to drunk driving we would celebrate the availability of cheap caskets as a solution to the problem of impaired drivers on our roads.

Life is all about choices. Some are easy (what to have for dinner) and some are hard (quitting smoking). If we as individuals, corporations, and governments really wanted to improve health and reduce medical costs we’d be spending as much money or more on the prevention side of the ledger as we do on the cure side. It only makes sense.