Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Next time, call in a REAL bomb threat

This is definitely not funny. Earlier today, there were no fewer than nine -- count them, nine -- bomb threats in Boston; one of them not too far from the head office of the company that now employs me. In this day and age, we get nervous about a discarded lunch bag or a milk box that goes "moo." So it's little wonder Beantown went into high alert when some electronic devices were found around town.

Only it now turns out it was a sick hoax, put on by the Cartoon Network -- the sister company of CNN. It was a publicity stunt for the late night show Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

At least when the Irish Republican Army was bombing things left right and centre, they called the BBC with a coded message giving some advance warning something was going to happen. Really going to happen.

What happened today really is like yelling "fire" in a crowded theatre where there was none. When the Mounties closed in on the Toronto cell, they got them just days before they could blow up the CN Tower and Parliament. And some other plots have been stopped as well based on a "clear and present danger." Frankly I think that Time Warner, the parent of CNN and Cartoon Network should be forced to pay for the extra policing costs as well as the nuisance they caused. There is simply no excuse for inconveniencing people like this in the name of cheap fun or advertising.

Especially when the current owners of Time are mostly Arab sheiks who sleep with Republicans and curse Democrats. If they bothered to check into Boston, they'd find there are a lot more GOPers in Massachusetts than Fox News would like us to believe; even if they are mostly liberal.

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The environment commissioner needs its own office

Sheila Fraser, the Auditor General of Canada, has become somewhat of a hero not just to accountants but to most Canadians in general for blowing the lid of of Sponsorgate and even before that being extremely aggressive in her review of spending by the federal government.

Within the office of Canada's top bean counter is that of the environmental commissioner. This was a post created out of Jean Chrétien's first "Red Book." Sort of. The idea that Paul Martin and Chaviva Hosek, who really wrote the 1993 Liberal platform, was that the "Environmental Auditor General" would be a completely separate office; but whether because of an opposition amendment or a change of heart it was decided to put the office within the purview of the Office of the Auditor General.

Today, we learn that Fraser has fired the commissioner, Johanne Gélinas. It is thought that she had gotten way too critical of both the Liberal and Conservative governments over their environmental record and went from merely reviewing performance to becoming an advocate on it.

No disrespect to Fraser, but hasn't the OAG itself become an advocate of sorts over the years? In the absence until recently of a Comptroller General (a chief accountant for the executive), the OAG as the servant of Parliament has had to do double duty, reviewing as well as signing off on the books, while making recommendations on how to improve performance. Typically, Fraser and her assistants go through the government every three years which means only a third of the tax dollars we pay are reviewed each year. We kind of expect in the interim someone will speak for those who are powerless, and I don't mean lobbyists who are in bed with one side or another but someone who can look at the big picture with a totally unbiased and non-partisan perspective.

So it's only natural that Jélinas would want to put her stamp on the Green File. Just as the Auditor makes recommendations on how to implement best practices on spending, we need someone arms length to do the same for the environment. The current government isn't doing its job and it's pretty clear the NDP and Cons are going to strike any deal to avoid an election at least until this fall. So who will speak up? Big Oil? We know where they stand. Greenpeace? Too confrontational at times.

The office of environment auditor should have been kept separate in the first place. I would make it a separate office with its own staff and budget -- and like the OAG, I'd not only permit quarterly reports, but I'd require it so the government is constantly scrutinized.

Why Fraser made her decision may be her business. But as she reports to Parliament, it should be our business too. I think we need some answers. I have to agree with Green Party leader Elizabeth May in her assessment that this is "shooting the messenger."

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

New Conservative ads possibly "funny face" redux

With the winter sitting of Parliament set to begin tomorrow, word comes out that the ruling minority Conservatives are going to run a set of negative ads during that time of year that attracts the biggest television audience -- the Super Bowl next Sunday. Reportedly, the commercials are drawn from the Liberals' leadership debates and Michael Ignatieff (now deputy leader of the party) questioning the environmental credentials of the ultimate winner, Stéphane Dion.

This is either a brilliant move on the part of Con strategists or it could really backfire the way the old Tory Party's "funny face" ads did in a last minute attempt to attack Jean Chrétien. I tend to think that it's the latter, and here's why.

For fully a year now, the Conservatives have tried to do anything to pretend that the environment is not a problem. All of a sudden, in the last month, they've decided to take it seriously. Perhaps they realize people in Central Canada and in the Lower Mainland understand just how bad the air and water is. Or the fact what's left of the fish stocks on both coasts are being destroyed not just by overfishing but by rapidly warming water.

Making a flip-flop like this without at least a reasonable explanation to its core constituents is tough enough (especially the most extreme branch of evangelicalism that denies global warming; to be fair many if not most "born again" people also recognize we're destroying the world). Try explaining that to the rest of Canadians who are already jaded and it becomes more of a problem.

Mind you, Dion does have some explaining to do of his own. Not on the environment but his openly musing earlier this week that the ten former members of the Liberal Party who were expelled for their roles in Sponsorgate might be welcomed back. This is something the Cons can definitely pounce on (and probably will in another ad next week) and he needs to make it absolutely clear that once you're out, you're out for good.

So, my advice to Dion would be this: Be relentless this week in Question Period and at the committee level. Be completely relentless. Ask why the change of heart, and why now. And don't just focus on the environment but the entire Conservative agenda and the potential impact and even damage it can have on Canada and Canadians in the short and long term. Talk about the air, yes; but also talk about families, defence policy, fisheries, and the fiscal imbalance. Take the wind out of the Conservatives so that when the ads air on Sunday, it's the Cons and not the Liberals who look like the indecisive ones.

And don't just do it this week, but every week until the election.

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Saturday, January 27, 2007

Another reason to oppose North Korea

Yes, I know, it's a right-wing publication ... but World Net Daily had a report the other day about the extent to which Christians are being persecuted in the appropriately named Hermit Kingdom. Four people professing Christianity were executed recently. Their crime? They had a Korean New Testament in their possession.

One can expect this kind of oppression in most dictatorial regimes -- except that in many authoritarian or totalitarian systems, there remains an active Church (regardless of denomination) which works either actively or behind the scenes to promote its message as well as act as an official or semi-official opposition. This certainly was the case in many former East Bloc countries -- Poland, Croatia and Slovakia to name just three. In those cases religion certainly wasn't encouraged but it was tolerated. While the end of communism was a secular act, the people behind it was backed by faith and the sense of inalienable rights.

Why would the PDRK be so vehement in its actions and its desire to crush any light the Church might attempt to spark? Because the light of freedom, no matter how dim, ultimately outshines any darkness. That's not to say it's necessary to be religious to have freedom, but even secular freedom movements normally have at least some elements based on common beliefs or ethical values. And perhaps the Kim family has actually read and taken seriously the words of Jesus of Nazareth when he said he would return when his Gospel was preached to all nations (Matthew 24:14). They've seen the fall of the Iron Curtain and how freedom eventually swept through most of Latin America. And they saw the downfall of apartheid and the role of faith-based organizations such as the Anglican and Roman Catholic Churches, and ultimately the Dutch Reformed Church which had once supported the system but then made a dramatic flip-flop.

They have no desire to let that happen in North Korea.

To the point where pretty much every other person in the PDRK is a snitch -- even an Army officer was executed when a fellow soldier caught him preaching to his unit. Many others are in slave labour camps.

Yet we are so preoccupied with Pyongyang's nuclear program and the complete incompetency of the food aid system that we've failed to speak out for people's freedom. The West, however, must. One of the main keys to a stable Asia-Pacific region is a united and democratic Korea. We need to speak out and regularly, and insist nuclear and food "aid" must be tied to greater freedoms. And we need to nurture, even if it is at great risk, the underground church.

If we succeed in Korea, we can start a domino effect for good. Mainland China would obviously be the next to topple, followed by Vietnam, Laos and Burma. And maybe we really could have peace in our time. So this weekend, pray for the people of North Korea.

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Friday, January 26, 2007

Royal snoop gets the slammer

A British newspaper was sentenced to time in jail today for hacking into the voice mail of the assistants of Princes William and Harry. I can't remember the last time this happened (prison time for a scribe who violated privacy rules) but it's a sign at least some courts recognize there really is a right to privacy and even celebrities have the right to be left alone as long as they generally stay out of trouble.

It doesn't matter that they are people on the public payroll or have a significant constitutional duty ... they're human beings and they need their own space.

It's becoming an issue as William intensifies his relationship with Kate Middleton. She's being harrassed as much as Diana was and maybe even more so. I doubt Will and Kate are going to get married this year -- after all, Betty Windsor and Phillip are celebrating their sixtieth anniversary this fall and I don't think The Firm wants anything to interfere with that. But Diana didn't put down her foot quite enough or often enough and it was ultimately to her detriment. Middleton needs to take the opportunity to do so now, before she and Will even get engaged. Matter of fact, if I were Middleton, I'd tell the media to back off or else I'd use my contacts in MI-5 and make them "disappear" the same way the late Augusto Pinochet did to several thousand Chileans.

Not that I really would (a royal, after all, should be among the first to defend press freedom in a democracy) but just putting the fear of God in some of the more unscrupulous members of the Fourth Estate might wake them up.

Or not.

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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Which Mounties did Stockwell Day speak to?

Policing is seen by many as an essential service, and in many jurisdictions they are prohibited from going on strike, but that does not mean they aren't allowed to form a union and bargain collectively. Every police force, that is, except the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. That's right, the Mounties are forbidden by law from forming a union -- have been since 1919.

Now, some members of the Red Serge want to change that. There is a "staff association" but many have accused it of being the pawns of management and want a real union. But in comments today, Public Security Minister Stockwell Day claimed the "vast majority" of Mounties he's talked to like the status quo.

Which members of The Force? And in what parts of the country? One can make a statement like that with a straight face if he only asked people in Alberta, which has one of the lowest levels of unionization in the country. Did Day bother to ask others -- in other parts of the Prairies, the West Coast, the Atlantic? Or in Central Canada, where the RCMP has a substantially smaller but still significant role in law enforcement?

The fact is, while the Mounties are police and a militia unit simultaneously, they are public servants. And as employees of the federal government, the people of Canada really, they should have the same rights as those in the civilian service and the military. To treat them with a lesser standard and to deny them one of the basic rights of democracy, that to bargain collectively, violates one of our most important freedoms -- freedom of association. Liberal MP Dan McTeague wants to change that with private member's bill C-392.

Fortunately, I'm currently in a work environment where it's not really necessary to have a union. We're generally well treated and well compensated compared to our colleagues in other parts of the service industry. In fact, during my work life, I've only been a member of a union for two years and not once during that time did I see the need to file a grievance. And there have been times when I felt that unions had way too much power and influence in Canada.

That being said, I would like to know that if circumstances were to change in the future that made things difficult, the option existed to at least try to certify a union local. It's simply ridiculous that 21,000 men and women are specifically denied what the rest of us are entitled to under federal or provincial law. Stockwell Day might want to talk to some more Mounties -- he might discover there's a lot more discontent than what he's been led to believe.

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Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Love horoscope? Ha!

A few items I wanted to blog about today ... but there is this one that I just found plain silly. One astrologists' "love" predictions for 2007. This, from a link on the home page of my ISP.

I haven't been much for horoscopes in quite some time now. I found it way too speculative and vague -- and truly telling is the amorphism that ninety-nine percent of people know their astrological sign but only twenty-five percent know their blood type. In the long run, what's more important?

I've been through it all -- horoscopes, psychics, palm reading, numerology, handwriting analysis -- and in the end it's all a big money grab. Others, like reading the grind stains of a demi-tasse Turkish coffee cup, are truly laughable. In some respects, other searches for answers are too, but we are ultimately the author of our own destinies.

Yes, I do have a spiritual side. I also believe there is a spirit world that lives among us. But the addendum to that is that I think one plays with fire if he or she tries to tamper with spirits or lives his or her life entirely according to the daily positions of the constellations.

I have nothing against people who want to pursue that kind of line of work. And besides, there will always be a market for it. But to be bald, I've had a "love forecast" each and every year since I was fourteen, saying it was all coming up roses. Uh, yeah. If they had all come true, I'd either have had twenty wives by now and be living in the FLDS commune of Bountiful, British Columbia; or I'd be already preparing for the wedding of my daughter. I'm not married, and I have no kids. In fact, I'm two years older than when my father sired me.

If this is the year for me -- and right now, I have every reason to remain pessimistic than optimistic -- it won't be because the stars are aligned properly. It'll be because I'm in the right place at the right time with the right woman. So, like they say in Missouri, Show Me. Show me this is my year.

I'm not bitter about having no woman in my life. Just -- pissed off. I don't need a horoscope to tell me it's my year, because ... well, I just don't. Mostly because I don't believe it.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Passports won't stop terrorists

After the attacks of 9/11, it seemed doubtful that North America would ever see the kind of integration that exists in the European Union, to the extent that most of its member states (and a few others outside the EU) actually abolished border controls between them starting about 20 years ago (the integration was mostly completed in 1995). Understandably, the emphasis should be on what's called "free and secure trade" with the borders open to those who love freedom and close to those who hate or oppose it.

However, I sense that the new passport rules that came into effect today are going to be more than just a huge headache for the tourist trade -- they could break a long standing sense of neighbourliness between Canada and the United States; partners economically and militarily yet still keeping an arms length from each other.

That really is a bad thing. Going across the border to get foodstuffs or gasoline -- or depending on the jurisdiction, to legally gamble -- almost seems like a right of passage along the 49th. Not to mention all the family ties.

And there's that little thing called the Jay Treaty of 1794, which granted dual citizenship to North American Indians -- a right reaffirmed in US law in the 1950s. Natives have enjoyed umimpeded access across the frontier. What about now? You thought Oka or Douglas Creek was crazy, just wait till they try enforcing the passport rules at Akwesasne - St. Regis (the internationally recognized border cuts right through tribal territory).

No, I wouldn't exactly like an arrangement like Schengen, at least not until America solves its immigration problem and Mexico's wage levels rise to those comparable to Canada and the US. But there has to be a better way to protect the border than this so-called border "initiative." Even most Senators and Governors along the border states say it's a rotten idea -- and they're the ones who are the first line of defence. If they know what's best for protecting America, why won't DC listen to that? Especially when the real threats to terrorism aren't outside invaders but people who want to destroy our freedoms from within.

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Monday, January 22, 2007

"Dessert is three kinds of dessert"

Kind of interesting week it's been, with the Conservative government unveiling its so-called Green Plan. Couple things stick out for me. First, the Harper team seems to be backing away from a Liberal tax shelter that proved to be a boon for the oil sands business -- allowing Big Oil to accelerate amortization over a very short period, just ten years. Now why on Earth would a party that bleeds oil want to cancel the very tax break that has allowed Alberta to completely eliminate its debt is astonishing. No more so than the sudden decision to begin the taxation of income trusts.

Second, the Cons revived the EnerGuide program -- sort of. People will now be able to get a rebate for retrofitting their homes, but only if they put up all the money first. This effectively means wealthier people will be able to heat their monster homes for way less than lower class people spend to warm their shacks -- going against the original intent to give everyone an incentive to upgrade and save money. When the oil runs out in Alberta and Newfoundland, the rich will be on wind power or geothermal whilst the rest of us buy it from Venezuela's dictator for life Hugo Chavez. (Blow a raspberry here.)

Third, they announce they're protecting a huge swath of the British Columbia coastline and Haida Gwaii -- the Queen Charlottes -- mostly with private money, though. The forest industry's.

For Team Harper, conservation and green values are a virtue, not a collective responsibility. For them, dessert is three kinds of dessert -- we can have our cake and eat it too, but not face the fact we face. What we need are real emission standards ... but we're going to have to wait another 6,917 days for that!

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

The trouble with Hillary

There's been a lot of buzz about Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton announcing they're forming "exploratory committees" -- the first legal step to running for President of the United States. Not much is known about Mr. Obama in general, and it's because he is such a relative newcomer to the Washington scene that makes him appealing to a lot of people. But that could be his Achilles heel also -- having spent much of his life in politics in Illinois and not at the national level could prove to be his undoing.

It's the candidacy of Mrs Clinton, however, that troubles me. It's not that she's a woman -- maybe the White House could use a woman to shake things up. After all, the conservative Margaret Thatcher once said that it takes a man to say something but a woman to do it.

Rather, it's that Clinton remains such a divisive figure in American politics. And she's managed to make a lot of enemies along the way. Big Health hates her because she supports universal health coverage. The religious right hates her both for her strong pro-choice position and her refusal to divorce Slick Willy when he cheated on her. Even people in her home state of New York are rather ambivalent about her if for no other reason than the state -- especially upstate -- is still in a period of economic decline as the rest of the country seems to surge in growth. In other words, she was re-elected back in November because she had no real competition.

From a progressive standpoint, she may be seen as a classic tax and spend liberal, when most progressives emphasize social moderation coupled with fiscal prudence. It's doubtful America could go back into balanced budgets if she tries to push through her agenda.

Another problem is that if she does manage to get the Democratic nomination next year, and that's a big if, the Democratic party will come out of the convention extremely divided. Further, if she goes on to win the big prize, that will mean that just four people from two families will have occupied the White House over the course of twenty-five years. Is that good for democracy? No, it isn't.

I expect an anyone but Hillary movement will crop up very quickly. I also expect it will come to a head come the Iowa caucuses in January and people in houses, churches and bars will take a look at the junior Senator from New York and decide that she's not The One -- just like four years ago, when party members defied media expectations and shunted Howard Dean for John Kerry. Hillary is definitely Cabinet material. She just doesn't have what it takes to be President.

So what other women are out there? Maria Shriver -- naw, she's a Kennedy, and besides she's married to Ahnold. Dianne Feinstein? I think she'd do a good job, but there are enough Americans to ensure a Jewish person never sits in the Oval Office. Nancy Pelosi? I think she's happy just to be Speaker. Jennifer Granholm? Canadian (and therefore ineligible). The only good women I can think of right now are all Republicans, albeit in the liberal wing of the party: Christine Wittman, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins (and it's because they are liberals in a mostly conservative party that ends their candidacies before they begin).

Burning bridges, as well as being way too stubborn and unwilling to compromise. These are not exactly the way to win friends in politics. I might vote for Clinton if she came out as the ultimate nominee because she'd still be better than anyone the Republicans put forward next year. But as the actual nominee? Nope. She's not my style.

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Saturday, January 20, 2007

Are singles members of the Church or aren't they?

I've decided to take a break from talking about politics and business the next few days to recharge my batteries, as it were. After a week of intensive training on my new job I can use it. However, I did want to talk a bit about something that nags at me.

As most of you know, I'm single and hating it. That may change in the future, but for the time being I anticipate remaining single for the short and medium term. It does not bother me so much that I am single -- after all, coming from a broken home, I have to extra careful about who I might choose as a life partner.

No, what makes me frustrated and has made me so in the last few years is that single people in general aren't made to feel as welcome in the Church as married people and those pursuing religious "vocations." There may be historical reasons for this, but in the Third Millennium it is almost as if we singles are people to be stigmatized. There's a sense among many, both within our respective families as well as in the gossip cliques, that because we choose to be single that somehow denotes that we're not "normal." Not normal, in the sense that "they" think we're gay or lesbian or have the potential to become pedophiles because we don't want to "settle down."

Which of course, is totally ridiculous. Some are homosexual or bisexual, but the vast majority are straight -- myself included. And those of us who know what it's liked to be abused, whether it's verbal or far worse, don't need any lessons on not passing on those habits to the next generation. Even when church leaders do try to encourage single social groups at a national or regional level, local parishes or church councils go out of their way not to inform singles within their congregations such groups exist.

I was a member of one such group (which eventually imploded over internal politics) and we had a hard time persuading parishes to print advertisements in church bulletins because we were considered to be an "outside group" (even though each parish had dozens of single people who might be interested in joining) until the local bishop ordered the priests in his diocese to comply on the grounds his predecessor had founded the group precisely to get singles to socialize.

Some see the single life itself as being a vocation and I totally agree with that sentiment. Some of us are single by choice, others by circumstance, but that's who we are.

Yes, there are still church dances and pot luck dinners and so forth. Who organizes them, however? Typically they are married people -- in the case of the Catholic Church I belong to, the Catholic Women's League or the Knights of Columbus. What do they know about what it's like to be single? They don't, not any more anyway. It's frustrating, and it's hard to make or keep those kinds of connections, and in this world where we're constantly moving or changing jobs we just can't rely on our family or even close friends to make connections. They have totally lost interest because they have families of their own -- and so the vicious circle continues, and we singles are further shoved to the side.

Just for once, I'd like to see a parish priest make us singles say we're as welcome as anyone else, and encourage married people to help us make those connections again so we can find Mr. or Miss Right. I'm not holding my breath, however ... they might anger those families who think we're gay, after all.

At the same time I'm not going to settle for second best either (as my parents did) just for the sake of satisfying the family majority. After all, divorce may no longer be considered a sin by Catholics but it still costs a pretty penny.

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Customer, investment information compromised

Two stories about the security of financial information broke today that makes one really wonder how secure our personal data is anymore. First, TJX, which operates under such labels as TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Winners and Home Sense, said that someone hacked into the data system that handles hundreds of thousands of credit card transactions sometime last month during the Christmas rush. Second, CIBC said a backup drive, in transit from Montréal to Toronto, somehow went missing -- and on it is the data of nearly a half million customers of its Talvest investment banking division.

Both events were part of the water cooler talk at work today and we wondered if some of the clients we serve may have been affected as well. (Sorry, can't say which clients, I signed a confidentiality agreement when I got hired.) The general sense was, who's behind it all? In the worst case scenario for the first one, one only has to think of two words: Al Qaeda. At best, it may have been just plain mischief, but still very illegal.

The second one, however, just is plain crazy. If one was shipping that kind of data, doesn't one used a bonded courier under the strictest of security? Mutual funds may be boring but they're no laughing matter -- and among the funds managed are a number of Labour Sponsored Investment Funds, which as the name suggests are those sponsored by trade union groups and which receive preferential tax treatment in many provinces. What possible comfort can anyone get knowing the data may have fallen into the wrong hands. This makes faxing personal info to a lumber yard look like small potatoes.

No amount of security is ever going to be foolproof. I reckon it's bound to happen again. But what worries me is the time lag between when the breach happened and the news being released to the media. Four weeks is an extremely long time to inflict the kind of damage any untoward elements would like to make. Just a few minutes, in fact, is too long. This isn't a case of crying wolf. It makes one want to think twice about doing business with it or any of its affiliated or partner companies.

Sometimes, I wish companies would risk crying wolf if they even suspect something untoward happened. It might help protect a lot of consumers who would naturally want to take the appropriate action to prevent further identity theft.

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Next time, send the tax receipt by e-mail

I just have a bit of a beef. I finally received my receipt for my 2006 donation to the Liberal Party of Canada. Finally, because it took them over a month after I made it over the phone.

Haven't they heard of PDF files? And, compared to the price of a postage stamp, isn't e-mail less expensive anyway?

Most charities have far faster turnaround times -- so much so that a number now ask their donors if they'd rather have just one at the end of the year to save paper. Further, several charities I donate to no longer generate, at my request, paper receipts. Instead, they e-mail them to me and I just print off the donation slip on my printer (in case the feds ask me to submit them at a later date). It's valid because it is on hard copy. Furthermore, I netfile my return and print off my own copy in Adobe format again -- saving the government paper and processing time and the cost of a stamp.

The party has my name and e-mail address on file. Couldn't they just have sent me the receipt over their share of bandwidth? That goes for my party membership as well. I rejoined last summer and I still haven't obtained my card.

I know of several bloggers with similar experiences. Any others?

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Yucca Mountain, meet Uranium City

Reports this morning on Radio One (no link) are that "Steve" Harper is considering fast-tracking a decision about the storage of nuclear waste. The so-called preferred option, preferred by the industry that is, is deep mine storage which is already used in Sweden and Finland. One only has to think of Yucca Mountain near Las Vegas, Nevada -- or in Canada's case, the proposed site would be the abadoned uranium mines of Uranium City, Saskatchewan. It's also a big issue in both France and Germany -- and with a "borderless" continent (at least in the Eurozone and a handful of other states) it becomes almost impossible to stop dumping if one country decides to make its problem another's.

I concede the waste has to go somewhere ... it just can't be kept "on site" forever because that causes problems of its own. But this is a terrorists' dream. At the rate of three trucks a day, it'll take thirty years to store all the spent fuel rods and fuel. Any commandeering of one of them could set off a crisis that could bring the country and possibly the world to its knees. What concessions would have to be offered to "liberate" depleted uranium, plutonium etc. is something very difficult to fathom.

And the time frame for storage is nuts. Even the US industry has set a deadline of ten thousand years for the rods to cool down enough to make a site inhabitable again. Canada's saying it will be one million.

A million?

Oh, and isn't it interesting how hot-button industry groups always manage to get the very politicians who made their lives a misery during their time in government? The nuclear industry is currently represented by Murray Elston, once a powerful member of David Peterson's team when the Liberals ran Ontario from 1985 to 1990. Big Pharma for a long time was also cheerleaded by (surprise) Mr. Elston and prior to that Judy Erola, a member of the Trudeau administration which was very reticent on the drug patent file.

They can hire anyone they want, of course. Maybe it's me, but using an insider to make one's point only helps to make it even less credible.

Nuclear power and research is a necessery evil but it's still a troublesome thing. Stéphan Dion may have found another election issue -- but he has to offer an answer of what he'd do with it. After all, fuel can only be reprocessed so many times and most of what's in question here is way beyond any use for medical isotopes.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Harper's plan for the "fiscal imbalance"

So Stephen Harper, it seems, wants to get rid of what's called the "fiscal imbalance" between Ottawa and the provincial capitals. The idea he has, according to at least one report, is to get out of the fields of education, health and welfare all together and just give the provinces a lump sum payment.

Sounds good on the surface -- giving provinces an incentive to innovate -- but the problem is there is no enforcement mechanism from a federal perspective if the spending power is abandoned. If one province does come with a way to get rid of waiting lists in certain areas, for instance, there is no ability to put even mild pressure on the other provinces to adapt similiar "best practices;" they can continue wasting money in the proverbial sinkhole if they so wish.

The upshot? He's going to make the proposal in the next budget, and a no-confidence vote is scheduled for March 20th. In fact, anticipating he's going to lose, he's told his campaign strategists to prepare for a call as early as March 18. Maybe he's worried about Stéphane Dion after all. Worried Dion could actually win by turning the tables and insisting a green economy could make Canada an economic superpower and a cash cow, making talk about the "imbalance" a non sequitur.

But what do I know? I'm not one of the white men in suits.

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Monday, January 15, 2007

Bush claims it wasn't about revenge

Did I hear George W Bush correctly last night? That he took no pleasure out of the hanging of Saddam Hussein because he was not a vengeful person? The same Dubya, who by the way, oversaw 140+ executions during his time as Governor of Texas and granted clemency to only three Death Row inmates?

And just this morning, we're learning that two of Mr Hussein's co-defendants were also hanged -- and one was literally decapitated in the process.

I have not still seen the video of Hussein's execution and I have no intention to ever, because the whole idea is sick to begin with. Anyone who says the death penalty is not about revenge, respectfully, isn't being truthful because it is entirely about revenge. A sentence of life without parole (LWOP), on the other hand -- that would be, and would have been, justice.

The more I watched the interview last night (which was mainly focused on his plans for a troop "surge"), the more it became clear how isolated he is. No disrespect, but shunning the advice of the Wise Guys and Gal and threatening Syria and Iran instead of restoring full diplomatic relations with them is not my idea of engagement. Seems to me like Mr Bush thinks he has a God-given right to get rid of the Assads and the Guardians, too, because of some "unsettled" issues.

Vengeance isn't the job of a secular leader. It's the sole province of One alone -- the Lord. Bush might want to check his Bible to prove it. (Romans 12:19)

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Sunday, January 14, 2007

OJ, still vindictive wife abuser

Some new information has come out today about what was in OJ Simpson's ill-fated book, If I Did It. In a chapter that Newsweek managed to obtain, Mr. Simpson now says that "if" he did it, there was an accomplice that he names "Charlie" -- which is interesting, since the Los Angeles District Attorney at the time totally dismissed out of hand that there was any second suspect in the case. According to Simpson, Charlie was actually an unwilling aide to the fact and begged OJ to stop. There are also some interesting details about the bloody socks and why there were no other clothes, the racket that woke up Brian "Kato" Kaelin, and something else significant -- that Ron Goldman, Nicole Brown's pal (and who was actually returning the glasses of Nicole's mother, not Nicole's as has always been reported), tried to save her life and even threatened to use karate on OJ.

What's more alarming is that Simpson uses the language of a classic wife abuser, always denying responsibility, always blaming his victim -- Nicole -- for being responsible for provoking the attacks. He's especially angry with her repeatedly committing adultery, although if even half of what is said about his treatment of her is true, her dalliances would have been completely justifiable. I think all of us remember that 911 call where OJ broke into Nicole's home and was shouting at her in violation of a court order (and how it took nearly a minute for the dispatcher to realize that "OJ" was the same one as the football player / broadcaster / actor / comedian, wasting precious moments for the police to break it up). I also remember one piece of evidence introduced where OJ complained to Nicole about filing a joint income tax return when their divorce had long been finalized -- dated less than a week before the murder.

Was that the motive for the murder, financial irregularities? Or the fact that she was at the wrong end of a drug deal gone terribly wrong (there was evidence she was experimenting with hard drugs)? Or the fact that he directly accused Ron Goldman of being there for the specific purpose of having an affair with Nicole? And, if what OJ is saying about Goldman standing up for both himself and Nicole is in fact true, then Goldman comes out as a true hero. Further, if the account is true, Goldman and Kato were at least acquaintances because Kato waved at the former before leaving the scene -- and immediately before the murders.

It's not just that OJ wrote the book that bothers me (why that is I explained here). What bothers me is his overall attitude towards women in general. I don't think it's the football that conditioned him to hate women, rather his sense that he was entitled to his entitlements. He felt he had paid his dues to society (or rather, society owed him because of his multiple talents) and here was this woman who wanted to expose him for the creep he really was. So what if she wanted to sleep with Goldman? Nicole and OJ were no longer married, therefore it was no longer OJ's business even if she was the mother of their children.

The scary part? Now that the publishing rights have been returned to Simpson, he's free to publish the book again -- even self-publish it if he chooses (and it's not that expensive anymore, hasn't been for sometime with a good office suite). He set up a trust for his kids specifically so the Brown and Goldman families don't get a penny. And all the while, he's free to pontificate his repulsive attitudes about the female half.

No doubt he's a very talented guy in every other respect. He had a major role in the seminal miniseries Roots, and is such a good actor he was actually considered for the title role in The Terminator. Not to mention his broad knowledge of the game that made him famous.

That's no excuse, however, for his revolting behaviour off the field. It's irrelevant if he "did it" or not. The fact is he has a rap sheet for his abuse. For that reason, and that reason alone, he should be avoided like the plague.

UPDATE (7:09 PM EST, 0009 Monday GMT): You're absolutely right, Justin. It was Ron, not Brian. I've edited accordingly.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Want to show "An Inconvenient Truth" in school? Bring your Bible

At the rate things are going, former Vice-President Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth will surpass J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter septology as the most challenged movie and book in America's schools.

Case in point: In the Seattle, Washington suburb of Federal Way, an evangelical parent challenged the movie, saying that it had to be "balanced" with the Bible -- or the movie had to be shown by a teacher who expressed the "opposing" view. From the words of the parent in question: "The Bible says that in the end times everything will burn up, but that perspective isn't in the DVD." Well of course it's not in the DVD because it's not in the Bible.

It's outright heresy, and as Gore himself said over a decade ago, an "appallingly self-fulfilling prophecy of doom." God never said he'd burn up the earth, but that plagues the world had never seen before would stymie the earth immediately before the arrival of the anti-Christ. Moreover, Jesus himself said in the Olivet Discourse that his return would be as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West -- in other words, the cosmic disturbance to end all of them. Nothing about fire there.

God promised to Noah he'd never destroy the Earth. Quite frankly, we're doing that ourselves -- and we're reaping the consequences: Depleted soil, uncontrolled forest fires, contaminated water, and of course massive hurricanes and tornadoes at the most inconvenient time of the year (like, say, November in urban Hamilton, where trailer parks are banned).

Truly said is that the White House and 24 Sussex are each inhabited by individuals who -- although they're entitled to believe what they believe -- have a warped view of what the Bible actually says. It's our job to have dominion over the earth, not to have domination.

I saw Gore's movie last year. While it's presented with an entirely secular viewpoint, it's also rooted in Gore's strong evangelical Christian faith. Of course, many if not most evangelicals have a hard time believing a Democrat could even be a Christian. If these critics want balance, they should do it from a secular standpoint -- and I'm not talking about "intelligent design" either because even an intelligent designer would not set up the Earth to self-destruct.

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Friday, January 12, 2007

Accredit foreign workers now

In the effort to build a more progressive society where everyone plays an equal part -- not one where the working and middle classes serve the upper echelons -- one group is often marginalized: Immigrant, skilled workers who are forced to drive taxis or flip burgers because their foreign credentials aren't recognized. This applies to both people who have full documentation of their skills as well as those who don't have them because they were "left behind" while running from the authorities.

This lack of justice has been a problem that's been going on for decades, but with a greater percentage of the immigrants coming from Africa, the Middle East and South Asia it has only gotten worse. What's even more bizarre is that accrediting authorities don't even want to talk to these people, they have a vested interest in "protecting" those who are already members and don't want "outsiders" from joining the club.

The problem is those immigrants came to Canada on the specific promise their skills would be recognized. By not doing so, we're breaking faith. And, as a consequence, possibly creating another terrorist within our midst.

Today's decision by the Ontario Superior Court in one such case is a step in the right direction. A teacher from Iran who escaped persecution (specifically, because she had the chutzpah to have her class debate the merits of The Satanic Verses) sued the Ontario Teachers' College saying it wouldn't even allow her to take the necessary examinations to become a licenced teacher in the province. The court said that the College discriminated against Fatima Siadit.

She's just one. We've all met the engineer / taxi driver at some point in our lives, or the physician / janitor, and so forth. What is it with Canada that this discrimination continues? We cry about a shortage of skilled labour, yet most of it is right here and ready to go at a second's notice.

For God's sake, just let them take the examinations. They're written in English or French so that should weed out ... well, nobody. If language proficiency is an issue, add the demand they take the TOEFL or the TFI in French (with additional testing to prove spoken proficiency and not merely they've been "taught to the test"), but that's it. We could easily drop the unemployment rate a full percentage point, and raise income tax revenues substantially, by ending this discrimination. If those who run the law societies and medical colleges and so forth resist, let them be stripped of their credentials and forced to push brooms so they feel what it's like.

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

It's time for Bush to throw in the towel

Rather than listen to common sense, including that of his own generals and a blue-ribbon panel of wise men and women, George W Bush thinks that escalating the war in Iraq may the only way to save the situation. So he's sending 20-22 thousand more troops. Needless to say, most Democrats (with the natural exception of Joe Lieberman) are furious and are sticking by their promise not to give Bush the funds he needs to escalate operations.

Until recently, I thought an escalation -- going big, as it's called in street talk -- was the only solution. After all, America made the mess, it had to get out of it. But in the last couple of months as it's become clear the police action has become a civil war, having American troops on the ground at all makes no sense at all; they're just target practice for the real aim -- Sunnis killing Shias and vice versa.

If it was just a question of getting rid of terrorists making imminent plans to attack a NATO country, I'd support a targeted mission to get rid of cells associated with Al-Qaeda and allied groups. I'm no pacifist -- protecting the home front sometimes means taking drastic action abroad. In the present situation, though, it's impossible to tell who's with the terrorists and who isn't. It's partly that, that explains why the killing has become so indiscriminate.

Even if this worked the way Bush thinks it could, it only buys America some time -- three to six months at most. The fact is the insurgents on both sides will simply catch their second wind and start all over again. The pottery barn rule can only go so far. America has had nearly four years to purchase the broken crockpot -- all they've done is subcontract the repair job to Big Oil. It's time for America to bring its troops home so they can fortify the country for the next terrorist attack, which will probably be sooner than later. Let the Iraqis themselves figure out where their country goes from here -- not the Pentagon.

There's no dishonour in admitting defeat -- in fact, doing so rather than just saying "mistakes were made" may be the best way Bush can salvage his reputation.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Good start for "Little Mosque"

I saw the première of Little Mosque on the Prairie last night and I have to admit that my first impressions are quite high. This is definitely the show that's needed in a post-9/11 world. It plays to all the prejudices that have always been an undercurent of Western society and became exacerbated after that horrible day when every little nuance became the subject of scrutiny often to the point of being preposterous.

The show's title of course is taken from the 1970s and early 80s show Little House and in my mind there was an arc of episodes that could be directly lifted out of it that could directly relate to the culture clash in the new show -- in particular the ones where bad girl Nellie Olsen turned good and married Percival Dalton, a Jewish boy. A major family feud erupted when Nellie became pregnant and it was trying to be determined whether the child would be raised as a Christian or as a Jew. (Perhaps this was a shot at the undercurrent of anti-Semitism that has always pervaded a significant part of American society.) Eventually, Nelson, Nellie's father, offered a compromise -- Christian if a girl, Jewish if a boy. As it turned out, Nellie was pregnant with twins -- a girl and a boy. Family harmony was restored, and perhaps the most poignant moment was the town's men -- all Christian -- gathering at the church afterwards and reciting the Shema in Hebrew: "Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One."

The current series has one of the main characters, a former Christian, being married to a Muslim -- and trying to be a go between keeping the peace in the town -- as well as their daughter who's also caught up in the perceived clash between Western and Muslim values. For me, though, the most bombastic character is the radio talk show host -- to me a cross between Rafe Mair and Lowell Green -- and who play to the worst fears of people who like things "the way they used to be."

If the writers play their cards right, this could be the yang to Corner Gas' ying and could run for several seasons.

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Tuesday, January 9, 2007

CBC Radio's Bad Taste

I normally like CBC Radio One, even more than CBC Television. Their newscasts tend to provide a lot more context on news issues than their boob tube counterparts. However, in reporting one particular story this morning, the scribes crossed the line of what's appropriate for morning radio.

Now, don't misunderstand me ... I'm all for free speech and a free press. But it's morning drive time and kids are often listening as their parents drive them to school. Or they may be listening to the radio themselves. So how to explain this:

First, in reporting on the birth of sextuplets in Vancouver -- a Canadian first -- the reporters relayed the parents are Jehovah's Witnesses. How that is in any way relevant to a medical marvel is beyond me. People of most if not all religions use fertility treatments -- even quite a few of my fellow Roman Catholics notwithstanding the Vatican's opposition to nearly all of them.

But then in the very next report, they began by mentioning the world's first IVF baby (Louise Brown) then did a 180 turn and changed the subject; talking about other parents faced with multiple birth situations (usually the result of fertility drugs), say five or more unborn children; and how many feel compelled to resort to "selective termination" to cut the number of fetuses down to just two in the interests of promoting normal childhood development -- even describing the drug typically used to achieve this particular form of abortion which just happens to also be one of the drugs used in a lethal injection.

This is not the place to reopen the abortion question -- I've addressed how I feel about it in the past (both personally and as a matter of public policy), although my views have shifted somewhat since then and I'll opine about in a future post. My question for now instead is this: Aren't there other shows on Radio One where this is a more appropriate forum for discussion -- such as The Current (when most kids are in school) or Ideas (in prime time)? And can we keep the religion out of it too? I don't mind the issue being raised, I only mind the timing.

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Monday, January 8, 2007

Kurd case against Saddam "moot"

There just seemed something wrong with the rush to execute Saddam Hussein last week. Why were they in such a hurry -- and why did they have to do it, of all days, the same weekend of the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the most solemn rituals in Islam? I was thinking there was some unfinished business -- and there was. He was still on trial for ordering the genocide of 180 000 people; and specifically the mustard gas attack in 1988 that murdered 5000.

Today, an Iraqi court declared the Kurdish case against Mr Hussein moot. Since he was dead, there was no point in continuing the prosecution.

What a warped sense of "justice" there is, when someone faces the ultimate punishment whilst another case against him or her is pending. Even most democratic states that retain the death penalty, including the United States, normally do not carry out an execution until any and all appeals are exhausted.

It's this kind of rush to judgment -- or rather revenge -- that's just one reason why I am so against capital punishment. In his death, Hussein has become a martyr not just for Palestinians as he vowed he would be, but for all Muslims -- including ironcially the Kurds, who are mostly Muslim but feel they have been cheated out of their sense of justice. And the consequences could be incalculable. In my humble opinion, Saddam Hussein may have been convicted of the Dujail atrocity but he was executed for ordering an assassination attempt on George Bush Senior.

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Sunday, January 7, 2007

Warsaw bishop resigns

On the very day he was supposed to be installed as the new Archbishop of Warsaw, Stanislaw Wielgus announced that he was resigning. Turns out he was a collaborator with the Communist-era secret police of Poland. In a country where many people see the Roman Catholic Church is seen as being the moral force that brought down iron rule (although it's more fair to say decades of economic stagnation proved to be too much for the Poles), Wielgus' admission last week was seen as a betrayal.

Only thing is, this is the latest in the very long aftermath of the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989. Just months after the Berlin Wall collapsed, the outgoing East German administration tried to stop the unsealing of the files of the Stazi, but the pressures to do so were overwhelming. It came as no surprise that a handful of couples spied on each other. Not to mention officials from the Catholic and Lutheran churches were also in cahoots with Erich Honecker.

In such a repressive regime it's hard to know who to trust. Being born in Canada, I never experienced the kind of repression my parents did in Croatia (then part of Yugoslavia) -- a free market brand of Communism under Josip Tito but Communism nevertheless. In fact, my father defected in 1964 after a not too pleasant stint of compulsory military service in part because of his religious beliefs.

It makes me wonder whether on his escape route the very people in the underground who were facilitating his exit may have been in fact ratting on him to the authorities to try to stop him. Wouldn't have been too surprising -- so in a way, it's a miracle he did make it out, and I'm here and not six feet under from bullet wounds from the war of liberation.

Given today's news I doubt that the rate of people who nominally claim Catholicism is going to drop in Poland any time soon (about 90%). But Karol Wojtyla must be spinning in his crypt at the Vatican knowing one of his trusted friends and allies was one of the enemies. He would have excommunicated Wielgus on the spot. But Joe Ratzinger's running the show now, so probably he'll just send him into a life of "contemplation and repentance." Nevertheless, it's still a huge letdown. In a part of the EU that is still very religious when most of the rest has officially eschewed religion (except the UK and the official state religions of Anglicanism and Presbyterianism), the RC Church is seen as a positive force. At the very least, I suspect church attendance among practicing Catholics will decline. If Wielgus was one of "them," who else wearing the Roman collar is?

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Saturday, January 6, 2007

Wacky weather -- warm but wishing for the white stuff

As I look outside my window this morning, it's overcast but unseasonably mild. At this time of year, one should expect temperatures in this part of Canada to be around the minus 5 Celsius range. It's been averaging plus 10. Needless to say, it's been anything but business as usual. Yesterday, I heard that local city crews which normally run the snow plows have instead been doing some winter pruning of trees. The spring-like winter has also, perhaps, accelerated construction of the Red Hill Parkway, which was supposed to open next fall but instead could be open by the summer.

It hasn't been happy news elsewhere, though ... like at Blue Mountain, which yesterday laid off 1300 employees for three weeks because there just isn't any snow on the ground -- or enough, rather, to make ski conditions safe.

To my memory, I can't remember a winter this mild since 1983 ... and the stuff on the ground then was mostly slush and not snow. But to hear it's not just us and that the cherry blossoms are blooming in Manhattan, something that hasn't happened this early since 1888, is in some ways very scary. Consider the ice wine industry in Niagara, to the east of me, is heavily reliant on cold steady temperatures for the crop to be produced. I don't think it's been below minus 10 three day in a row since -- um, March of last year. I'm not the only one noticing this. But it was the cold snap of winters that prepared us for the heat of summers; making us tougher persons. We see places like Los Angeles basking in summer eleven or even twelve months of the year and think, they're not so tough!

The cities of Canada are their best when there is both winter and summer --which makes us very different from the places the "snowbirds" flock to during the winter to escape winter all together. Sure, some places the snow's around for too long it seems, but it's that winter moisture that prepares the rural soil for the spring crops. Too little of it, and there's going to be a big problem.

Maybe I'm a cold romantic in wishing for a Green Christmas every year ... but we could use some snow. Not a blizzard, but enough that's easy enough to shovel but also make sure the farmers are ready for spring and the reservoirs full in case -- as I sense -- there could be a scorching summer and the threat of a water shortage, even with Hamilton sitting right on Lake Ontario. After all, the farmers have to pump in the water from somewhere and it's not just from the wells.

It's not just the same without the white stuff. It's just not Hamilton. If places like the Far North and New Orleans are the proving grounds for global warming, imagine what it's going to be like inland when the weather changes become permanent.

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Friday, January 5, 2007

Girl "stunted' by parents, on purpose

Yesterday's reporting that a pair of parents decided to stunt their disabled nine-year old daughter's growth made me wonder just how much we have entered the "Brave New World" that Aldous Huxley wrote of in 1932. Simply stated, to make sure "Ashley" stays four foot five they had her "de-sexed" -- removing her breasts and uterus -- and giving her significant amounts of hormones. What's more bizarre is that the procedure was done by a children's hospital (this one in Seattle), which normally has a mandate to make the lives of children and their parents more manageable.

One could probably empathize with the parents' plight, but under normal circumstances the young woman would grow to a height of five foot six. And many if not most mentally and /or physically challenged persons enjoy sex as much as the rest of us. What possible purpose could be gained by keeping a child such as Ashley small forever? Are kids that dispensable?

Moreover, whatever happened to the principle of informed consent? Surely a child of that age, no matter how challenged, must be aware of what her parents want to do to her. The parents have asked people not to judge them, but who can't help but do so?

For me, this isn't so much an act of love as it is one of frustration. This reminds me so much about the case of Robert Latimer, who murdered his daughter Tracy. No doubt Tracy was in excruciating pain and the numerous surgeries must have absolutely overwhelmed the parents. But rather than putting her into long term care where Tracy might have received the palliative care she was entitled to, Robert took the coward's way out and poisoned her. She wasn't asked if she wanted to die, if her father had the state would have had no leg to stand on even if the killing was immoral. Robert made the decision for her -- or more accurately, for himself.

But the case of Ashley is in some ways worse. To make their lives easier, they have disabled their daughter even more. Moreover, they have taken away her womanhood so that if in the future by some unforeseen circumstance she is suddenly cured she will never have the life that a woman is entitled to. We freak out, and justifiably, at female "circumcision" of able bodied females, many of which are done by other misguided women. Doesn't Ashley have the same rights? Isn't she entitled to keep her breasts and her uterus? It's not like she has cancer which might otherwise necessitate a mastectomy or hysterectomy.

Kids are not an inconvenience. They are God's gift to us. We don't inherit the world from our parents but borrow it from our children. Having a child is one of the most solemn responsibilities we can take on -- part of the reason why I haven't had any yet because I haven't felt I was able to be a parent, until now. We just can't throw them away because they're a burden. We have a duty to ensure their well-being, no matter what condition they are in.

What I would do if I were in Ashley's parents' position? Honestly, I don't know -- but this is one option I would not consider, any more than euthanasia.

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Thursday, January 4, 2007

The pointless fitness tax credit

There's something perplexing about the Conservatives' new "fitness tax credit" of five hundred dollars (which, at 15.5%, really amounts to a saving of just $77.50). One of the terms of the credit is that a certain amount of physical "exertion" must be demonstrated in order to qualify for the credit.

So I guess that means sports like ice hockey and lacrosse (our national sports in Canada), as well as biathlon, swimming and soccer etc. qualify. Sports that don't require as much (like bowling or table tennis) don't. And it says absolutely nothing about people who aren't physically inclined but like to engage in mental or artistic pursuits like musical instruments, Scouting, ballet or old fashioned community service. They don't qualify period.

This is baffling and not just because of all the questions it raises (and I for one can't wait to read what the interpretation bulletin will say as to exactly what's a "sport" and what isn't). It's also a colossal waste of taxpayers' money, giving a measly at best subsidy to only a small percentage of Canadians. It'd be far better to give parents a real tax break, say a five hundred dollar per year increase in the child tax credit. (I've argued in past columns for much more but a per capita increase that modest would do more good to promote health and nutrition for all, than just giving a King, Betty Windsor and Laurier to a few.)

I understand what the government is trying to do. Canada is an obese nation (and to be fair I do have a few extra pounds myself) and we need to promote physical activity. But why aren't we doing it in the schools already? Arts and gymnastics are the first items to go in any budget cuts by school boards. Not only are we creating kids who don't have the ability to think, they're also fat and they don't even realize they are.

When I was in kindergarten and grade one, Ontario had something called the "Health Hustle" -- a quick, ten minute mandatory stretching and jumping exercise to start the day. (The Gen-Xers who read this will probably remember this one, which included four popular songs from the era -- the two that stick in my mind were Hot Butter's Popcorn and Captain and Tenille's blockbuster cover of Neil Sedaka's Love Will Keep Us Together.) The weird thing was, it actually made us want to seize the day. (It's still used in some jurisdictions, although nowadays more contemporary music such as the Macarena.)

And forget the arts. Music appreciation and visual arts were a big part of my education -- a huge one, and I am convinced it helped make me a more rounded person; even if when it came to painting I was mostly a klutz. (My "masterpiece," if you can call it that, was a bronze engraving I did, copied from a single frame comic strip popular during the 1980s -- and not a totally unreasonable one for me.) Now, kids are just required to take one arts credit in Grade Nine. One.

Is that the way to promote balance with our kids? The provinces don't get it, and neither do the feds.

I hear there's a Cabinet shuffle today. No doubt Rona Ambrose and a few others will be dumped (welcome news to us progressives), but one cannot change outward appearances if there is inner decay. The minority government is just managing the country, it's not governing it. And one of its keynote policy decisions, the fitness tax credit, is rotten to the core. Noble idea, but the wrong way to do it.

Increase funding at the school level, yes (including federal transfers that help the provinces run education). Give a paltry tax break, no.

UPDATE (2:02 PM EST, 1902 GMT): Ambrose is not out of the Cabinet, but she has been shifted to President of the Privy Council. Included in that file is intergovernmental relations -- so she'll be point woman to the provinces. Given most provinces have already taken the lead on the environment, it's hard to see how she'll be able to persuade them on the constittution.

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Wednesday, January 3, 2007

Two (or more) serial killers, two different approaches

With the news that someone in Edmonton has been slapped with a second murder charge in the disappearance of sex trade workers in that city, people are wondering if there is a serial killer on their hands. They only have to think about Robert Pickton, who's accused (and I stress merely accused) of 27 homicides of prostitutes in the Vancouver area. (There are presently 28 other cold cases and Pickton is thought to be the prime suspect also.)

I think back a few years when the numbers in the Lower Mainland were beginning to accumulate yet the city's police force didn't really seem to care. After all, the attitude was, they're hookers -- who gives a damn about the world's oldest profession? But these were women who were estranged from their families. They were sisters, daughters and in some cases mothers, who were just trying to get by and taken advantage of in the worst possible way. So why weren't the cops doing their jobs? Seems they were more interested in protecting the homes of the super-wealthy (in a city with the most expensive residential real estate in the country), which just happened to be experiencing a rash of break-ins at the time.

And of course, they couldn't be bothered to just pick up the phone and ask other police forces if they saw something weird going on or if women were missing from their cities. Selfish pride and good old police rivalries rather than making service and protection their common priority.

So when no reward was offered for information about the missing woman but a large one -- $100 000 -- was for the burglars, people naturally went nuts. What an appalling double standard. It was as if the Vancouver police had adopted the despicable decree of one particular prophet in the Bible who believed that the most virtuous woman was still worse than the most wicked man. Eventually they wizened up but in the time they wasted many lives could have been spared.

Compare that to the Edmonton approach. When something suspicious was happening there and the same pattern began emerging, the police there didn't hesitate. They got together with the Mounties and pooled their resources (in something called Project KARE), and made it one of their top priorities. They also didn't stall in saying they're looking for more than just one predator; that there are quite a few out there.

It's not hard to imagine which one makes more common sense.

Sure, prostitution is a plague. Frankly, it'd be good to see those involved in the business (mostly women) either find work or be given the support to get job retraining so they can get real jobs and put the business out of business. For the part of the patrons, they need to find other ways to gratify themselves than deal with total strangers at spas (or for the well-heeled, going to so called "massage parlours" which are really bawdy houses or bordellos). It's a two way street and the evil itself must be cleansed. All reasonable attempts should be made at family reunions as well.

But as long as such evil exists, we must prevent an even worse evil -- those who would take advantage of the most vulnerable in the worst possible way. The vast majority of us who are law abiding vowed to stop child exploitation when the Internet allowed it to spread faster than at any time in history. So why won't we do the same for adult women (and men) who are in this dead end?

Every murder case, every sexual assault, every robbery, must be treated the same by the cops -- whether the victim is someone on the A-list or the Z-list. It's by doing that that law enforcement earns trust and respect -- not because they're armed and dangerous. As long as police apply double standards, the regard people have for law enforcement will decline. No police force is ever perfect. But some are better than others in practicing the principles of equity.

It's little wonder why there was such a large list of applicants when Edmonton was looking for a new police chief some time ago -- and very few even bothered when Vancouver did the same.

UPDATE (3:23 PM EST, 2023 GMT): Fixing a bad link. Sorry folks, still getting used to Blogger.

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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

In Memoriam: Teddy Kollek

Some sad news when I woke up this morning, although I suspect as usual many televangelists will be actually quite happy. Theodor Kollek, the long-time former Mayor of Jerusalem, died this morning at the age of 95. Against a gradual tide of anti-Arab resentment, Kollek tried to promote the co-existence of Jews and Palestinians in the Holy City, starting from his election in 1965. He was also a major patron of the arts and made Jerusalem one of the world's top tourist destinations -- so much that when was finally defeated after 27 years in office by Ehud Olmert in 1993, it was hard to imagine Jerusalem without "Mayor Teddy."

Few other mayors have worldwide name recognition. Besides Jerusalem, I can only think of the mayoralties of Paris, London, New York City and Los Angeles that rank in importance alongside Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Kollek's passing is quite bitter. The peace process is at an absolute standstill and even retrenching; and it all comes down to ultimately what the "final status" of Jerusalem will be. Israel insists that it must remain undivided, while the Palestinians want at least the east side of the city (al-Quds), including the Holy Sites of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, as their future capital. Interestingly, only Bolivia and Paraguay have their embassies in Jerusalem or its suburbs -- even El Salvador is in the process of moving its mission to Tel Aviv as most other countries did after Jerusalem formally annexed the East in 1980. This was at about the mid-point of Kollek's tenure and he kept holding out hope even afterwards -- naïvely, perhaps -- that some kind of reconciliation could happen. His downfall, coming around the same time as the Rabin-Arafat accord, was perhaps the beginning of the end (or the end of the beginning, depending on how one views it).

With Hamas running the show, it's hard to see any movement in the foreseeable future -- the moment of opportunity actually expired in 2000 with the collapse of Camp David II, when Arafat was offered 97% of what he asked for plus some territory within what the world recognizes as Israel and it still wasn't enough.

Perhaps with Kollek's passing someone, somewhere, out there will rally all religious groups within the region to recapture the optimism "Teddy" represented and at last come up with a deal that offers peace and security and without triggering the supposed seven-year countdown to Armageddon. One that allows Jerusalem to be shared fairly, and with free access to the Holy Sites not just there but also those sacred to all in Jericho and Hebron as well.

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