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.