Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Briefing notes (2006-10-04)

A fairly busy news day, and as I sometimes do I'm putting them all in one post rather than several. Here goes:

The heat is on at Six Nations: Two days after it was revealed Grand River Enterprises provided hosting services for an offshore Internet gambling operation, a report in this morning's Hamilton Spectator said the data from the servers had suddenly been transferred to another server -- at Kanhawake, Québec. Meanwhile, the paper's investigation continues, showing yesterday how GRE, despite opposition from Ontario tobacco farmers, is a huge player in Western Canada with some popular brands taking on the multinationals, even to the point of becoming a supplier to the German Army; and some questionable business practices such as buying products from one's own company to inflate sales. A technique a lot of televangelists use to make their books look like best-sellers when in fact they're just reselling them at a huge markup to their gullible followers (fortunately, the best sellers list at the NYT and others aren't so fooled -- and, it would appear, neither are what's left of the tobacco industry in Ontario in this version of musical chairs.) Today's installment is about how GRE has spread its wings and has become a major player across a number of reserves across Canada and even off-reserve. Including some allegations that they have effective control of some properties they really shouldn't as they are supposed to be for the use of bands of which they aren't members.

As always, I'm in favour of free enterprise on most things; and to see Aboriginal Canadians take the initiative to build a business from the ground up and provide employment opportunities for natives and non-natives, that pay at or above the national average for both groups, is impressive. But I also support ethical businesses, and the questions raised this week make me wonder not just about some of the practices used, but also whether the media may be attempting to tar all natives with a broad stroke. That may explain why the data transfer happened ... after all, there are those contracts they don't want to lose. The managers of GRE continue to be coy about their business ... one would expect a $350 million per year corporation to be just a bit more transparent, even if it isn't publicly traded.

Cons move to close marriage quagmire: God's Annointed Servant (TM) continues to deny it, but Stephen Harper has been considering a law to protect public officials who refuse to marry gay couples or to allow churches to deny services of any kind to homosexuals based on their orientation. The second one probably wouldn't get a leg to stand on if it was challenged in court; it would be struck down faster than most men manage to get women at hello. Besides, a church is supposed to hate the sin but love the sinner; and many of Harper's followers are even worse, hating the sinners to begin with.

But on the first point, I wouldn't hold any objections. If the Supreme Court of Canada ruled a clergyperson can refuse to marry homosexuals on religious grounds, it should logically follow public officials such as judges and city clerks should have the same right on personal grounds -- provided that they provide the names of those who will perform such marriages. The Second Estate is no less important than the first, and should have equal rights of refusal.

Air India judge says racism a factor: This is way beyond obvious, but former Supreme Court of Canada Justice John C Major has finally said what Canadians have known for years but didn't want to admit. If it had been an Air Canada flight with mostly white people, Canada would have armed itself with nuclear weapons, then destroyed Kashmir, in no time flat. But because it was Air India, the Mulroney Government sat on its hands and let the Mounties and the spy agency duke it out over jurisdiction. (I made extensive comments about how I felt about this over a year ago, here.) Meanwhile, Bob Rae -- yes, him -- told Justice Major the terrorist act never should have happened if for no other reason than the passenger who checked the bomb in Vancouver never boarded the flight; and this fact wasn't even flagged as the plane made a stopover in Toronto. Again, stating the obvious ... but at least someone's saying it.

Nova Scotia ends ban on Sunday shopping: It's about time Nova Scotia joined the rest of Canada in recognizing that not all people have Sunday as their rest day. Even the argument for a secular rest day falls flat because all it does is coerce people towards Christianity who may not want to observe that or any other religion. The method Nova Scotia used -- trying to punish two large supermarket chains to protect corner stores -- was rather half-baked anyway. As for the claim it'll make traffic bad seven days a week -- well, there's something there, but we put up with it.

2006 Nobel Prize in Chemistry: Finally, Roger Kornberg of Stanford wins this year's prize for his work on DNA, following his father Arthur who also won the prize for Medicine in 1959. (It's the seventh time a parent and child have both won the Big Kahuna.) While Arthur's work was how DNA gets copied from itself to its progeny, Roger was the first to actually describe how DNA duplicates itself within organisms with a nucleus, as lowly as yeast. (Technical details are here.) He's taken it further by creating pictures that show how the process works in a way the public can observe -- previously, this was limited to the lab and researchers.

Don't know much about biology or chemistry, but anything that brings the world of science closer to the public is well worth it, in my opinion.

Next week, we find out who's won the Bank of Sweden Prize for Economics, and the Nobels for Literature and Peace. The first two usually have a reputation for having rather wacky or eccentric winners, while Peace (which is awareded from Oslo and not Stockholm) always causes a buzz. Frankly, I'm rooting for Craig Kielburger for Peace -- not because he's a fellow Canadian; but because someone needs to tell the Sudanese government to fuck off over the Darfur genocide in a big way, just like the Norweigian Committee did to Dubya when they gave the honour to Jimmy Carter four years ago.

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