banner photo:

"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope


Banner photo
Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Waiting for a response from the NDP [crickets chirping]

Back in October, a group of Conservative MPs, including Foreign Minister John Baird and Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, recorded anti-bullying videos for Dan Savage's It Gets Better campaign, which is designed to help gay teenagers deal with homophobic bullying. The MPs made the videos in response to the suicide of Ottawa teenager Jamie Hubley. There was considerable criticism at the time and many, including Dan Savage himself, were outraged that presumably homophobic Conservatives dared to weigh in on the issue.

In particular, NDP MP Randall Garrison, the NDP critic for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, drew on deep wells of contempt and snapped that
... the Conservatives' video "fails to understand the basic concept" of the campaign, adding that message only works if delivered by openly gay people.

"And there's a shortage on the Conservative side," he said. "You can't do these (videos) if you're not an out, gay person."
Fast forward to Queen's Park, where today Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, a Liberal, released his own "It Gets Better" video:
Today, Premier Dalton McGuinty delivered a simple message to Ontario students who are bullied or feel alone: it gets better, and we can make it better, together.

The Premier met students at L'Amoreaux Collegiate Institute in Toronto, where he also released his "It Gets Better" video, which encourages students, teachers, parents and community members to do their part to help end bullying and intolerance.
I assume that Mr. McGuinty, married, father of four, is not an out gay person. Over to you, Mr. Garrison.

Review of the century

Read this review by Matt Cartmill of Donna Haraway's book Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science and stand in awe of this epic slapdown:
This is a book full of vaporous, French-intellectual prose that makes Teilhard de Chardin sound like Ernest Hemingway by comparison; but that is not a criticism, because the author likes that sort of prose and has taken lessons in how to write it, and she thinks that plain, homely speech is part of a conspiracy to oppress the poor.

This is a book that clatters around in a dark closet of irrelevancies for 450 pages before it bumps accidentally into its index and stops; but that is not a criticism, either, because its author finds it gratifying and refreshing to bang unrelated facts together as a rebuke to stuffy minds. This book infuriated me; but that is not a defect in it, because it is supposed to infuriate people like me, and the author would have been happier still if I had blown out an artery. In short, this book is flawless, because all its deficiencies are deliberate products of art. Given its assumptions, there is nothing here to criticize. The only course open to a reviewer who dislikes this book as much as I do is to question its author’s fundamental assumptions—which are big-ticket items involving the nature and relationships of language, knowledge, and science.


(HT: Improbable Research)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

What's happened to Britain?

Compare and contrast:

2011: Prime Minister David Cameron responding to the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran:
The Iranian government must recognize that there will be serious consequences for failing to protect our staff. We will consider what these measures should be in the coming days.
1843: Sir Charles James Napier, British Governor of Bombay & Commander of British forces in India, to holdout enemy leaders who refused to surrender after the Battle of Miani:
Come here instantly. Come here at once and make your submission, or I will in a week tear you from the midst of your village and hang you.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Brains behind Occupy Wall Street disappointed by the "loony left"

Last week, Kalle Lasn, editor of Adbusters magazine and the man behind the campaign that launched the Occupy Wall Street movement, expressed his disappointment in the quality of the protesters who showed up at Occupy camps in Canada and the US. In an interview with CJME radio, he said:
"I must admit, there is something kind of special about Canada," Lasn said in a telephone interview. "Somehow I found that many of the things that were happening in the U.S., there seems to be more vigour and spunk in some of the occupations there."

Lasn's impressions of the comparative lassitude stemmed from visits to the Occupy site in his adopted home town of Vancouver, which _ along with other urban campsites in Toronto, Montreal, Quebec and Edmonton _ was forcibly shut down by city authorities earlier this week.

While the site attracted its share of energized, politically engaged youth who the Estonian-born Lasn describes as "the new left," he also noted a stronger presence from fringe elements that has given left wing movements a bad name in the past, he said.

"I just had a feeling that there was a little bit too much of the loony left there," Lasn said. "I had a feeling that we needed more of the young, new-left spunk that I felt was happening in Zuccotti Park. I didn't see all that much of it here in Vancouver."
"New-left spunk"? So that's what that smell was. Mr. Lasn naturally blamed the collapse of the movement on "the mainstream media":
Lasn is quick to lay much of the blame on mainstream media, who he accuses of depicting the protesters as lawless rebels and their camp sites as dens of iniquity.

By zeroing in on incidents of drug use and crime _ which take place in staggering numbers every day _ Canada's news outlets failed to communicate the key message at the heart of the "Occupy movement," he said.

"The Canadian media really dropped the ball on this one," Lasn said. "Instead of seeing it as a movement of young people fighting for a different kind of future, which is so beautiful and so valid, they basically saw it as a pesky irritation that had to be got rid of."
You've got to be kidding me. The mainstream media handled the Occupy protests with kid gloves and hyped it beyond belief. Most reporters filed breathless stories like they were calling in from Tiananmen Square. If it hadn't been for bloggers and a few outlets like Sun News and the National Post, we would have learned very little about the filth, violence and substance abuse that was happening.

I personally visited two Occupy camps in Ottawa and Kingston. I saw for myself what was going on and I would have been really surprised if I had relied solely on the CBC, CTV or the Toronto Star for my information.

I have news for Kalle Lasn: the loony left IS the new left.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Time to end Ontario's beer cartel

Most beer drinkers in Ontario don't realize that the neighbourhood beer retailer with the folksy name "The Beer Store" is not a branch of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, nor is it run by any government agency at all. It is in fact a legal cartel run by Ontario's three largest brewers: Molson's (now owned by US brewer Coors), Labatt's (now a branch of Anheuser Busch InBev of Belgium) and Sleeman's (owned by Japanese brewer Sapporo). It jealously guards its monopoly and furiously resists attempts to allow competition, and it's not above strong-arming small craft brewers to do so.

In 2008, The Beer Store (TBS) harassed the Brick Brewing Company of Waterloo and threatened to cut off its supply of industry-standard long-necked bottles if it didn't stop bottling its Red Cap beer in distinctive stubby bottles. This prompted a lengthy and expensive court case which Brick eventually won:
The fight over the stubby is just one example of how tough it is to compete in a retail distribution system owned by some of his biggest rivals, Brickman told the Star earlier this summer. His comments came in an interview for a series examining the ownership structure at The Beer Store.

Though licensed by the province, the retail chain that accounts for more than 80 per cent of all beer sales in Ontario is owned and operated by Canada's three largest brewers, which in turn are foreign dominated.

They are Labatt, owned by Belgium's InBev SA, Molson, part of U.S.-based Molson Coors, and Sleeman, now owned by Sapporo of Japan.

Together they control $2.5 billion in beer sales in the province, with little government involvement.

So, when Brick got into a fight with The Beer Store over its use of the non-standard bottle, it had nowhere to go but court to complain – an expensive route for a small firm, Brickman noted.

"Our beef is that the owners (of the store) have their own agenda," he said.
That same year TBS squeezed the Beau's All Natural Brewing Company, a craft brewer in Vankleek Hill near Ottawa. Beau's sold its signature Lug Tread Lager in bottles with ceramic swing tops. Although Beau's didn't sell its beer at Beer Store outlets (opting for the LCBO, the only other legal retail outlet in the province), customers were returning the empties to the Beer Store and getting a refund. However, since Beau's was not carried by the Beer Store, TBS refused to give the company its bottles back. Beau's eventually set up a charity bottle drive through Operation Go Home, an Ottawa based youth shelter, just to get its bottles returned.

Beau's is again in the sights of the beer monopoly because it had the temerity to set up a home delivery service (proceeds were again being donated to Operation Go Home) which last week ran afoul of Ontario's Alcohol and Gaming Commission. Steve Beauchesne of Beau's explains:
Today we launched Buy Your Beau’s Online, our project with Operation Come Home to deliver beer to people’s homes in Ottawa, and promptly had the service effectively shut down by the AGCO.

That’s right, after less than a day of operation, BYBO has been closed, after another brewery (we weren’t told which one) complained. The complaint has nothing to do with the service or the fact that at-risk youth were involved, but over a technicality involving what I believe to be a typo in the regulations around home beer delivery services.

Our retail store operates as an authorized beer store by the LCBO, but the regulation around home delivery uses the wording ‘operated’ instead of ‘authorized,’ which is how it is worded to allow us to sell to special occasion permit holders, and retail customers. It is interesting to note that the Beer Store, which is not operated by the LCBO or government is somehow allowed to sell to home delivery services.

So…

No specialty beer delivered to our Ottawa customers.
No employment for homeless youth, to get them off the street.
No additional revenue for Operation Come Home.

What’s really got me irked about this situation is the complete arbitrariness of the regulation that is being used to kill a social enterprise designed to do good for the community and the malicious behaviour by another brewery in this province.

The Beer Store is a retail outlet owned by three breweries. Why would they be allowed to sell to a home delivery service and Beau’s (or any other brewery) not be? It doesn’t make any sense, it’s anti-competitive and it restricts choice to the residents of this province.

I know that there are a lot of cut-throat competitive tactics used by some of the less honourable members of the brewing community, but taking a job from a homeless youth to thwart us is beyond reprehensible.

I’m disappointed that the AGCO has decided to act this way, using the letter and not the spirit of the law to guide their decision-making, but ultimately I understand that they may not have had a choice once the complaint was lodged. I would have rathered more consultation from them or that they refused the delivery license application when they were informed how the service would work. If that had happened, at least Corey and Kyle, the two youths who had been hired to start this service, wouldn’t have had their hopes lifted and then let down in such a dramatic way.

I’m simply aghast, though that another brewery instigated this.

I’m really disappointed that this service is unfortunately going to be shut down.

I’m sorry to the youth who have been dealt yet another misfortune, to our customers who were looking forward to gaining better access to our beer and to other breweries who probably would have been able to use similar models to compete better in this Province.
Beer purchases are tightly controlled in Ontario. Beer drinkers can get their suds from the Beer Store, a cartel run by the three big brewers and regulated by the Ontario government, or from the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, a liquor monopoly run by the Ontario government. This crazy system was set up in 1927 after Prohibition ended to placate the nervous Nellies of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, and almost a century later we're still under its thumb. What kind of civilized country still treats its alcohol consumers like crazed underage teenagers and permits a cartel run by three foreign multinationals to control the beer supply? The province has a paternalistic assumption that the citizens of Ontario are not mature or responsible enough to handle wider more unrestricted access to alcohol. It's embarrassing and insulting.

By the way, if you want to sign a petition urging the Ontario government to end the Beer Store's monopoly, go here. Free the oppressed microbrewers of Ontario! And if you're in the Ottawa area, pick up a case of Beau's Lug Tread Lager - it's really good.

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: The Messiah Will Come Again, by Roy Buchanan

Friday, November 25, 2011

Gay marriage & the BC polygamy court decision

It's not often I get to gloat in this blog and say "I told you so", but I'm going to indulge a little today. I saw the recent BC Supreme Court decision on the Bountiful polygamists coming, and I was correct in saying that allowing gay marriage in Canada did not set a precedent that inevitably lead to legalized polygamy.

Way back in 2007 I responded to an article by David Warren in the Ottawa Citizen in a post I called The polygamy red herring. Warren had written that
polygamy follows "multiple parentage" as night follows day. It likewise followed from same-sex "marriage" -- for if the institution cannot be restricted to one man and one woman, how otherwise can it be restricted?

...

Long ago, we realized the marriage formula "one man, one woman" must secure the hearth of our settled culture -- that no other arrangement could possibly end well. The centuries pass, and we manage to forget why we came to that conclusion, and start tinkering with it again. Civilized men and women have their own taboos -- founded in reason and historical experience -- and the one against polygamy is (or was) among the most powerful. Cross the essential taboo lines, dare others to cross, and the superstructure of any society comes down, whether that society be civilized or primitive.

...

Wake up, gentle reader. If you don't want polygamy in Canada, you had better start making a loud noise. For the internal enemies of our civilization have laid all the groundwork for this coup de grace.
In my response, I wrote:
Even rabid libertarians acknowledge that not all individual rights are worthy of protection. John Stuart Mill, in his great essay “On Liberty”, laid the framework that has guided most western common law rights traditions: he wrote that individuals are entitled to life, liberty and property rights only so far as the exercise of those rights does not harm the rights of others. You may have the right to keep plutonium in your garden shed, but if it makes your neighbours sick or you are planning to build a weapon of mass destruction with it, then the state is justified in restricting this right to property.

It is difficult, in my mind, to argue that gay marriage infringes on the rights of anyone else. If a homosexual couple gets married, I can’t see how this significantly harms heterosexual couples or society at large. Similarly, if the state recognizes that a child has three legal parents, I don’t find the argument that this harms children very convincing. I think it makes sense from a libertarian perspective for the state to recognize that there is no valid reason for people not to exercise their liberty in this regard.

However, a very strong case can be made that polygamy does create harm. First of all, let us recognize that in societies that practice polygamy, it almost always means that one man has multiple wives, and not the other way around. In a population that statistically has a 50-50 split between males and females, and where males take multiple wives, the logical result is that many young men are prevented from taking wives of their own. The result in these communities is that surplus young men are frequently ostracized or banished from their communities against their will. This phenomenon is well documented in polygamist communities in the U.S. and Canada. This alone would justify the state’s intervention in limiting a man’s right to take multiple wives.

Furthermore, polygamist communities have a disturbingly high rate of incest, child abuse and wife battering. In Utah, where approximately 2% of the population are practicing polygamists in spite of a legal ban on plural marriage, the Los Angeles Times reported in 2001 that polygamist communities had extraordinarily high levels of these crimes, as well as widespread reliance on welfare, unusual levels of child poverty, wide-ranging tax fraud, limited education, and over-taxed public services. It is difficult to prosecute polygamy in Utah because the victims in these cases rarely press charges and it is almost impossible to compel witnesses to testify. However, there is no doubt in most people’s minds (including most Mormons) that polygamy should be illegal - the harm it produces far outweighs the rights to liberty of its practitioners. The state is fully justified in prohibiting it.

Opponents of gay marriage (and now “multiple parents”) argue that once the precedent for “non-traditional” family arrangements has been set, there is now no argument for continuing to insist that other non-traditional practices like polygamy remain illegal. Nonsense. The state has imposed limits on heterosexual marriage for centuries; the courts have upheld traditional taboos against marrying your mother, or your sister, or your dog. It is a legal requirement for heterosexuals to limit the number of their spouses to one. Homosexual marriage has the same legal limits - the centuries-old common law traditions have not been overturned, they have been extended, to include gay couples.

Gay marriage is now legal because its opponents could not muster up enough support for the argument that it caused harm to society. Fair enough. However, it would be difficult to make the same argument for polygamy, and the courts can and will recognize this. In my opinion, the moral floodgates have not been opened - everyone take a pill and relax.
Justice Bauman of the BC Supreme Court apparently has a similar opinion:
Chief Justice Robert Bauman wrote that Section 293 of the Criminal Code, the law banning polygamy, does, in fact, run counter to sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In particular, he made reference to Section 2, which protects such fundamental freedoms as freedom of religion, and Section 7, which guarantees the autonomy of the individual.

He ruled, however, that the ban remains constitutional under Section 1 - allowing "reasonable limits" on absolute rights that can be "demonstrably justified" - because the harm that flows from polygamous relationships outweighs any violation of constitutionally protected rights.
Section 1 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that in Canada, rights (including the right to religious freedom) are not absolute:
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
As reported by Lorne Gunter of the National Post, Justice Bauman clearly outlined the justification for limiting the religious rights of the Bountiful polygamists:
Yet as B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert Baumann ruled on Wednesday, in upholding the constitutionality of Canada's anti-polygamy laws, "there is no such thing as 'good polygamy.'" While in theory polygamy should be an individual right, nowhere - at least not in North America - does polygamy exist without harm to children and mental damage to spouses. Therefore, Judge Baumann reasoned, while banning polygamy violates the religious rights of fundamentalist Mormons, that right is outweighed by the harm the practice necessarily does to women and children.

"The harms associated with the practice are endemic; they are inherent," the judge wrote in a 357-page decision. "This conclusion is critical because it supports the view that the harms found in polygynous societies are not simply the product of individual misconduct; they arise inevitably out of the practice." It is simply impossible to allow polygamy without condoning abuse.
Gay marriage has none of the inherent harms associated with it that polygamy does; I can't think of any situation where anyone would be coerced into a gay marriage (well, none that wouldn't similarly apply to heterosexual marriage) nor can I see any realistic harm to society at large that automatically ensues from allowing gay couples to marry.

Before Justice Baumann's ruling, the Bountiful case had skittish politicians paralyzed with indecision. We shouldn't confuse a failure of will on the part of the authorities to enforce the law with a collapse of the moral order brought on by gay marriage. Even though the ruling pointed out potential problems and loopholes in Canada's anti-polygamy laws and is likely to be appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada, there is no excuse now for governments not to act against the criminal offence of polygamy in Bountiful and elsewhere. Failure to enforce the law now can only result from spineless politicians trying to avoid confrontation. Don't blame gay couples for this.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Literally ...

One of my pet peeves is the mis-use of the word "literally" in conversation. It's proper meaning is "actually; without exaggeration or inaccuracy,as in the city was literally destroyed." However, its current usage equates it with "virtually" or "in effect" - a sloppy mistake that must be stopped at all costs.

Rob Lowe uses the confusion to comic effect in the TV sitcom "Parks and Recreation" - his character Chris Traeger uses the word "literally" as a modifier in almost every sentence ("My body is literally a finely-tuned machine"). However, I don't think most viewers get the joke, that his body is not ACTUALLY a machine. It's funny to most people just because of its repetitive use.

Over to the talking heads at MSNBC. Commentator Mika Brezinski was driven to rant in spectacular fashion the other day by Newt Gingrich's comment that the people at Occupy Wall Street should "get a job, right after you take a bath". Practically hyperventilating, she said:
I'm so disgusted by that that something horrible is going to come . . . I, I, am I alone here? Am I over-reacting? I'm sickened by that . . . It's fair to say he's in the 1%, correct? He's telling the 99% to take a bath and get a job? Really? Really, I wonder how they do that right now. How, given the state of this country, how anyone's going to just get a job and take a bath. Who is this man? Who does he think he is? And why is he surging in the polls? I don't get it. I mean,to hear Newt Gingrich standing on literally his high horse, after taking advantage of the system, cashing in, being the biggest, literally the biggest hypocrite in the Repubican field, probably in politics today. The biggest hypocrite. And then to cast aspersions and to speak down to these people as if--plghhh--they should be flipped away? It's disgusting. It's absolutely disgusting. It's a very angry way to start the show. I'm extremely sorry. But it's the first time I'd seen that. And it literally made my skin crawl. I can't believe he resonates.

I'm trying to picture Newt Gingrich, who's literally the biggest hypocrite, literally standing on a high horse, making Ms Brezinski's skin literally crawl. It actually makes me shudder.

Russian city may enact draconian anti-gay law

The municipal government of St Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, is one step closer to enacting a harsh new law prohibiting "gay propaganda" which may have the effect of silencing the city's gay citizens:
The bill, which St. Petersburg’s city assembly passed nearly unanimously on the first of three readings on Wednesday, effectively bans public events by LGBTI people and organizations under the pretext of protecting minors.

If enacted, the law would allow authorities to impose fines of up to the equivalent of US$1,600 for “public actions aimed at propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.”

“This bill is a thinly veiled attempt to legalize discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people in Russia’s second-biggest city,” said Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty International’s Europe and Central Asia Programme Director.

“The notion that LGBTI rights activists are somehow converting Russia’s youth through ‘propaganda’ would be laughable, if the potential effects of this new law weren’t so dangerous and wide-reaching.”

Local LGBTI rights activists have blasted the law, saying it will provide legal cover for banning any of their actions, including the distribution of information leaflets or even actions against homophobia.

Under the measure, freedom of assembly and expression for LGBTI groups would be prohibited anywhere children might be present. This would rule out nearly all public events carried out by or on behalf of LGBTI people and organizations.

The publication of anything relating to LGBTI rights or providing assistance or advice – including informative leaflets as well as publications in the media and on the internet – would also be severely curtailed.

Other Russian cities like Moscow have planned legislation to ban “propaganda for homosexuality”, while Arkhangelsk and the region of Riazan have already introduced such legislation.

Although consensual same-sex activity was decriminalized in Russia in 1993, LGBTI people still face widespread discrimination and violence.

LGBTI activists’ attempts to organize Pride marches, cultural festivals and other events in major cities, including St. Petersburg, have frequently been met with official red tape and violence from anti-gay groups, among them people associating themselves with the Orthodox Church. Violent attacks against LGBTI activists often go unpunished.
The Washington Post reports:
Russia’s top gay rights activist on Thursday condemned a bill passed in the country’s second largest city that prohibits “propaganda of homosexuality” to minors, warning it could be used to ban gay protest rallies.

Nikolai Alexeyev of the GayRussia.ru group described the legislation tentatively approved by lawmakers in St. Petersburg as a “disgrace.”

The bill was proposed by the dominant United Russia party and passed Wednesday by a 27 to 1 vote, with one abstention, in the first of three required readings. It calls for a fine of up to $1,600 for “public actions aimed at propaganda of pederasty, lesbianism, bisexuality, and transgenderism among minors.”

Alexeyev said the bill could become “the main legal reason to deny any public actions by the LGBT community.”

“It theoretically allows the ban of anything anywhere where kids could be present,” he told The Associated Press.
This is yet more evidence that Russia is sliding further into totalitarianism. If you would like to add your name to a petition of support for Russian activists fighting this bill, go here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Occupy Kingston: This is what a pathetic protest looks like

I was in Kingston, Ontario this afternoon taking a stroll downtown on a beautiful fall day when I stumbled on the Occupy Kingston encampment in Confederation Park in front of Kingston's beautiful 19th century city hall. I had such fun talking to the folks at Occupy Ottawa a few weeks ago that I thought I would wander over and see how the revolution was going.





















Kingston is a city of about 150 000 people (including the surrounding suburbs) at the headwaters of the St Lawrence River and home to Queen's University (approximately 15 000 students) and the Royal Military College of Canada. It is a town of remarkable beauty with a distinguished history; it was once the capital of the united provinces of Upper and Lower Canada. I was curious to see how a movement to bring down the capitalist system would fare in this establishment town; I was confident the lefty Sociology and Post-colonial Studies students at Queen's could be counted on to put on a decent show.

Check out their website - there's the standard boiler-plate agitprop about being part of the world-wide "Occupy" movement that sounds quite impressive:
From America to Asia, from Africa to Europe, people are rising up to claim their rights and demand a true democracy. Now it is time for all of us to join in a global non violent protest.

The ruling powers work for the benefit of just a few, ignoring the will of the vast majority and the human and environmental price we all have to pay. This intolerable situation must end.

United in one voice, we will let politicians, and the financial elites they serve, know it is up to us, the people, to decide our future. We are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers who do not represent us.

On October 15th, we will meet on the streets to initiate the global change we want. We will peacefully demonstrate, talk and organize until we make it happen.

They've been at it for over a month - surely the movement has grown to the point where the citizens of Kingston can no longer ignore it. I wandered over expecting to encounter a raucous crowd of malcontents, but that was far from the case. In fact, when I spotted their weird igloo made of fiberglass tarpaulins, I thought it was maybe a construction excavation that had been covered over for the weekend.































This couldn't be the Kingston cell of the infamous Occupy Wall Street movement, could it? I walked around the structure and finally found a sign that said that this was in fact ground zero for the Kingston Revolution (even if they couldn't spell "Kingston" properly).

















The "People's Tent" is apparently sponsored by organized labour - there was a United Steelworkers flag flying over it and a banner from the Ontario Federation of Labour taped to one side. Steelworkers of the world, unite!
































The Occupiers also apparently have a problem with WalMart:

















I would love to have talked with the protesters about how the destruction of WalMart would help the working class, or how the hobbling of giant corporations like Stelco and Dofasco would benefit the Steelworkers of Canada, but I couldn't find anyone to talk to. There was no one around. Not a soul. The camp was empty. In fact the only people anywhere near the encampment were a young couple who were taking pictures of each other in front of the People's Tent. This is apparently now the main function of Occupy Kingston - a backdrop for tourists to use to update their Facebook photo pages.

This is the movement that is sweeping the land? This is what the mainstream media have been breathlessly and uncritically reporting as North America's "Arab Spring moment"? Pathetic.

My advice to the Mayor of Kingston is to leave this camp in place to expose it as the sham that it is. Trying to get a court injunction against the occupiers and sending the police in to clear out the tents will only feed the media narrative and give the occupiers undeserved publicity. Wait until the winter arrives in earnest and the tarpaulins collapse under the weight of a Kingston winter, and then send in the Parks and Recreation department in the spring to clean up the mess.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011

This is how it's done, folks

In New York, a former NYPD cop teaches a lesson to an Occupy Wall Street protester:
Meet New York’s newest hero.

Kevin Hiltunen, a former NYPD officer, yesterday grabbed an Occupy Wall Street demonstrator by the collar and dragged him out of a Queens school where he’d been heckling US Rep. Bob Turner at the congressman’s swearing-in ceremony.

“I guess you could say I sorted him out,” said Hiltunen, 48, his jacket and tie barely mussed after dragging the scruffy protester out on his rear end.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Blues for a Saturday Night

I'm starting a new feature here at Diogenes Borealis, mainly as a way to store links to great music, but also to share my love of the blues. Tonight, enjoy "Maggot Brain" by Funkadelic:

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Down with the LCBO

When I was a university student in Ontario in the 1970s the only place to legally buy liquor was downtown at a single run-down LCBO store. Buying liquor there was what I imagine shopping at the GUM department store must have been like in the Soviet Union - there were no products on display, no pictures or advertisements, just row after row of lists of various types of booze available in various bottle sizes. You had to find the stuff you wanted on the list and use a little stubby pencil to fill out an official purchase order with your name, address and the serial number and quantity of hooch you wanted. You then guiltily handed the PO to a crusty guy behind a wicket who perused your order, looked you up and down and then, sighing, went into a back room and eventually brought out your purchase in a brown paper bag. When the whole sordid transaction was complete, you snuck out of the store feeling like you'd just been caught by your dad reading dirty magazines.

Thankfully that humiliating experience is now history in Ontario, but the provincial government still maintains a stranglehold on the sale of most types of wine and liquor, and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario stubbornly defends its monopoly while touting its mandate to be a "socially responsible, performance-driven and profitable retailer, engaging our customers in a discovery of the world of beverage alcohol through enthusiastic, courteous and knowledgeable service." This may be a laudable goal, but is it really the government's role to control the retail sale of alcohol rather than just regulate it?

The LCBO's conversion to "enthusiastic, courteous and knowledgeable service" while "engaging customers in a discovery of the world of beverage alcohol" may be sincere, but it's damned inconvenient. In the village where I live (population 3000) there is a tiny LCBO outlet that has only enough shelf space to carry the community's lowest common denominator of product, which means it's well stocked with Mike's Hard Lemonade and Canadian Club whiskey. To satisfy the more, shall we say, discriminating palate, you have to drive for 45 minutes to the city of Belleville (population 48 000) which is served by exactly ONE LCBO store.

Compare this to the experience in most US cities. For example, the upstate New York city of Watertown (population 27 000) near the Canadian border has seven conveniently located liquor stores and every grocery store has a huge selection of beer and wine, including fantastic local microbrews and an impressive selection of imported and domestic wine. The first time I wandered into the Hannaford's grocery store there and beheld the beer & wine section I felt like Howard Carter opening the tomb of Tutankhamun - I saw "wonderful things".

Once every decade or so someone runs in a provincial election in Ontario promising to release the LCBO's death grip and allow the sale of wine and beer in convenience and grocery stores, but inevitably the powerful LCBO employees' union mounts a ferocious campaign which portrays it as the only thing standing between the citizens and the complete moral collapse of society. Without the LCBO standing guard, there will be thousands of drunken infants littering the gutters of Ontario and the whole province will turn into a hellhole like Watertown. Inevitably the party foolhardy enough to propose the end of the monopoly backs off.

Is it impossible to end a state monopoly on alcohol sales? In Ontario, that seems to be the case. However, voters in Washington State have recently shown that it can be done:
Thanks to a $22.7 million campaign headed up by Costco, grocery stores and other large retail establishments will soon be allowed to sell booze. What's particularly neat about the ballot measure was that it abolished not only the state's monopoly on retail, but on distribution as well. Liquor sellers will now be allowed to buy directly from distillers and warehouse their own inventory rather than going through the state.
The ballot intitiative was approved by 60% of the votes cast, in spite of the dire predictions of the No campaign:
Early on, the No campaign focused on the safety implications of the measure and was winning in phone surveys. Its lead diminished as the campaign turned to speculation about how many gas stations and minimarts might sell liquor, and to Costco.
In a statement, the opposition coalition said it remains concerned about the public-safety consequences and hopes the measure's supporters will make good on promises of extra revenue for law enforcement.
The fact that 900 state liquor store employees would lose their jobs didn't make much difference. In fact, the change is expected to generate more jobs and increase revenue to the State of Washington:
The state budgeting office figures the number of outlets selling liquor will jump from 328 to 1,428. It also expects the change to generate an average of $80 million more in annual revenue for the state and local governments over the next six years.
I would like to think that such a thing is possible in Ontario, but with the voters having recently chosen another four years of Nanny McGuinty, that has about as much chance as a wine cooler in hell.