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"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


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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Something's Wrong, by Billy D and the Hoodoos

Friday, July 27, 2012

Worst opening ceremonies ever

I just sat through a replay of the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games in London. That's two hours of my life I'll never get back. Directed by film maker Danny Boyle, the spectacle was jaw-droppingly awful. Three thousand years of British history was distilled down to an extended commercial for multiculturalism and the National Health Service. Her Majesty the Queen looked like she was sucking on a lemon, and I don't blame her.

Here are the lowlights. The scene opened on a landscaped stadium infield meant to represent the green fields of England, with Glastonbury Tor rising up in the end zone crowned by an enormous tree. Happy peasants (of suitable racial diversity of course) sang folk songs and played games while harvesting their sustainable crops and dancing around a maypole.

Alas, this bucolic paradise was not to last. A troop of top-hatted capitalists led by Kenneth Branagh smoking a cigar entered the stadium and ushered in the Industrial Revolution, forcing the peasants to literally remove the vegetation. The giant tree on Glastonbury Tor was uprooted and grimy coal miners emerged from the hole in a cloud of smoke, like Orcs ready to do Sauron's bidding. As the capitalists watched in delight, huge smokestacks rose up from the ground, belching smoke and filling the stadium with pollution, complete with the scent of brimstone. The peasants rhythmically toiled away at huge machines which forged a molten iron ring around a map of Victorian London, while a giant model of the Olympic Rings drifted in overhead showering the peasants with golden sparks while the capitalists removed their top hats reverentially. Then there was something to do with the First World War, but I really couldn't figure that part out.

At this point there was a cute segment featuring the Queen in Buckingham Palace being escorted by Daniel Craig (as James Bond) by helicopter to the stadium. When Her Majesty took her place, the British national anthem was sung by (groan) a choir of deaf children in pajamas who signed the words. Good lord. The British practically invented choral music; did they get the choir of St Paul's or Westminster Abbey to sing the anthem? No - a choir of children who can't hear.

This was followed by, I kid you not, a salute to the National Health Service. A horde of Edwardian doctors and nurses rolled hundreds of hospital beds bearing cute children onto the field. The health care workers jitterbugged while the kids bounced up and down on their beds, and huge lights spelled out the letters NHS. Then the kids all started to read Peter Pan books, and JK Rowling appeared with a swarm of characters from children's literature. It got kind of dicey for the kids when Captain Hook appeared, but not to worry - dozens of women dressed like Mary Poppins descended from the sky by umbrella and tucked the kids into bed. Then, inexplicably, hundreds of men and women entered dressed like the Beatles from the cover of the Sergeant Pepper album.

At this point I kind of lost interest - there was a salute to the Digital Age, something about a mixed-race couple and their children searching for their iPhones while crowds of dancers recapitulated the history of British music since the 60s. Needless to say we descended from the Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin to Queen to Amy Winehouse to some rapper who screamed into the microphone for five minutes. It was awful.

This is the best that Britain can do? If I had to figure out the history of the British Isles based on this show, I'd conclude that there was a period of primitive bliss which was destroyed by capitalism, and then the National Health Service stepped in and made it all better. This was followed by a long period of racial harmony and iPhones. This is the country that gave us Shakespeare and Handel, Wordsworth and Vaughan Williams? No mention was made of most of the fascinating history of Britain. Nothing about the Romans or the Celts, or the Elizabethan Age when Queen Elizabeth I stared down the Spanish Armada. Nothing about Walter Raleigh, Francis Drake, James Cook, Christopher Wren, Isaac Newton, Horatio Nelson, the Duke of Wellington, Mary Wollstonecraft, Queen Victoria, Florence Nightingale, Alexander Fleming or Charles Darwin. Nothing about Britain standing against Fascism in the Second World War, or the British Empire that dominated the world for almost two hundred years and spread Parliamentary democracy, the free market and Common Law to its now independent colonies. The world is a better place because of Britain, but you'd never know it from this cheesy, embarrassing circus.

What the hell has happened to Britain? Winston Churchill is rolling in his grave right now.

UPDATE:  Conservative British MP Aidan Burley is also annoyed. He tweeted during the ceremony:
The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next? Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multicultural crap. Bring back red arrows (sic), Shakespeare and the Stones!
He is now being taken to the proverbial woodshed by London Mayor Boris Johnson and by 10 Downing Street for departing from orthodoxy. Johnson, nominally a Conservative, countered:
The thing I loved was the heavy political stuff. I loved the emergence of the urban proletariat and the rise of the chimneys and the forging of the ring.
Expect a retraction from a suitably chastised Burley soon.

UPDATE 2:  It seems Mr. Burley has an unsavory past. He was fired by PM Cameron from his post as Parliamentary Secretary for attending a stag party where the guests dressed like Nazis and drank toasts to senior Nazi figures, and for texting during a talk by a Holocaust survivor during a visit to Auschwitz. Obviously not the best person to be complaining about political correctness.

UPDATE 3: I'm not alone! Anthony Kosner at Forbes asks: Did London just stage the most embarrassing opening ceremony?

UPDATE 4:  Even left-wing Mother Jones contributor Kevin Drum wondered what the hell was going on: An Olympic Tribute to the NHS? Really?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Citizens of Ontario! Rise up against LCBO & Beer Store tyranny!

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty's government is not cool with a request by convenience store operators that they be allowed to sell beer and wine in their shops:
Ontario’s convenience stores launched another bid Wednesday for permission to sell beer and wine, and found at least one party leader willing to consider the idea.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association released a petition with 112,500 signatures gathered across the province supporting the idea of broader retail availability of beer and wine.
“Ontarians have spoken very clearly and they are not happy with the antiquated alcohol retailing system we have in Ontario,” said association CEO Dave Bryans. “They’re responsible adults who want the simple convenience of leaving the car at home and walking to their neighbourhood store to get wine for dinner or drinks for the barbecue.”
A spokesperson for Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan immediately nipped the rebellion in the bud:
“The current system balances access for both customers and suppliers with social responsibility,” said Aly Vitunski, press secretary for Finance Minister Dwight Duncan. “We take the concerns of convenience store owners seriously, but we believe the current system of selling liquor is an effective way to guard the public interest.”
Well there you have it. The Mandarins at Queen's Park have once again decided that the citizens of Ontario cannot be trusted to buy beer and wine without their permission, because such a change would lead to drunken infants lying about in the gutters of Toronto sucking Coors Lite from their bottles. They're obviously concerned about a complete breakdown of society, much like has already happened in Alberta, Quebec, most of the United States and just about every other jurisdiction in the civilized world.

I find it astonishing that the government uses the excuse of "social responsibility" to maintain its monopoly on wine and liquor sales and to support the cartel of breweries that runs the Beer Stores. Surely this argument applies to cigarettes, another product prohibited to minors but sold in every convenience store in the province. Furthermore, convenience stores in remote rural communities in Ontario are already licensed to sell beer and wine; an option denied to residents of larger communities.

I wish Dwight Duncan had the stones to tell the people of Ontario the real reason for the policy: McGuinty doesn't dare take on the Ontario Public Service Employees Union, to which the LCBO's 6000 employees belong. Plus there's this:
The LCBO turned over a record $1.63 billion dividend to the Ontario government for 2010-11 after sales of $4.7 billion.
Ah, there's the rub. Our rights have a price.

Tim Hudak immediately announced that the PCs would support ending the LCBO/Beer Store monopoly. Remember that at the next election, folks.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Sexual orientation not an issue in US election

From an article by Joshua Miller at Roll Call - gay candidates in US congressional elections are finding that their sexual orientation is not important to voters:
A gay candidate for Congress walks into a bar. No joke: Nothing happens.
A record number of openly gay candidates are running for Congress this cycle, and the reaction, among a huge swath of voters, has been a collective yawn. “It’s really becoming a nonissue,” Democratic consultant Steve Elmendorf explained. “If you look at a lot of these districts where people are running, the fact that they are gay is not really that important to the campaign.”
All across the country, serious contenders for Congress who are openly gay — Democratic and Republican — said their sexual identity plays almost no role in their election efforts.
I think this mirrors the situation in Canada - voters are more concerned with economic and law & order issues. Candidates who flog social conservative issues in election campaigns are largely met with indifference.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  I'd Rather Go Blind, covered by Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa:

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Further On Down The Road by Roy Buchanan and Albert Collins:

Monday, July 09, 2012

Cholera outbreak in the Socialist Workers' Paradise

According to the Miami Herald, a cholera outbreak in Cuba has killed 15 people and sickened hundreds more. State security agents who "don't want alarming reports to get out" have locked down the hospital involved:
The first cholera outbreak in Cuba in a century has left at least 15 dead and sent hundreds to hospitals all but sealed off by security agents bent on keeping a lid on the news, according to reports Friday.
“There are 1,000-plus cases” in the southeastern province of Granma, said Yoandris Montoya, who lives in Bayamo, the provincial capital. Security agents have locked down the city’s hospital, he added, but staff told him the situation inside is “chaotic.”
Santiago Marquez, a physician in the neighboring town of Manzanillo, said there is “a lot of panic” in the region because of the lack of official information about the intestinal disease.
Cuba’s Public Health Ministry, which rarely makes public any information that could give the island a negative image, declared Tuesday it had “controlled” an outbreak of cholera that had killed three people and affected 50 others in Granma province. But unofficial reports from the region Friday indicated the disease was continuing to spread, with hundreds more suspected cases jamming hospitals in Manzanillo and Bayamo. Montoya said more cases were reported in nearby Niquero and Pilón.
Cuba is, of course, the home of the exemplary health care system featured in Michael Moore's 2007 movie Sicko, in which he famously took several ailing 9-11 relief workers to the island paradise for medical treatment. At the time, the Communist newspaper Worker's World described the stunt in glowing terms:
In “Sicko,” Moore takes a number of 9/11 relief workers to Cuba to receive health care. These workers have suffered from a number of severe respiratory and other problems without U.S. government support for their needs.
The boats first traveled to Guantánamo Bay—where, despite a systematic pattern of detainee torture that has received worldwide condemnation, the U.S. claims its prisoners receive high-end health care. After being denied services there, the group ends up at Havana’s central hospital.
In an article entitled “’Sicko’ Stars Thank Moore for Cuba Trip,” the May 19 Associated Press reports: “There, the film shows the group getting thorough care from kind doctors. They don’t have to fill out any long forms; health care is free in the Communist nation, after all.” The group received medical tests and services to deal with conditions ranging from reflux problems to eye and nose infections and dental problems.
Salon.com states, “The pathos of the story makes [Moore’s] point for him. A poor Caribbean island, whatever its ideology, can afford health care for everyone while we do not. The only possible conclusion is that our society has chosen not to.”
This conclusion is all the more startling given the history of the U.S. blockade against Cuba.
...
Despite [the blockade], Cuba has continued to offer free, comprehensive health care to all its citizens. In addition, since 1963 Cuba has exported its exemplary health care services around the world, sending doctors and its own technological advancements in medicine to countries throughout Latin America and Africa.
Cuba provided medical support after the 2005 earthquake in Kashmir, Pakistan. When Hurricane Katrina coupled with U.S. government negligence to ravage the lives of the people of the U.S. Gulf Coast, Cuba immediately offered its assistance—an offer that was arrogantly and callously rejected by the Bush administration.
Cholera is a bacterial infection caused primarily by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated by the feces of an infected person. It is almost non-existent in the developed world as a result of effective sanitation and drinking water treatment; the last major outbreak in the US was in 1911. One has to wonder how this could happen in a country that is held up as a paragon of government-run universal health care, although I'm sure that somehow the US blockade will be blamed. It's a lot easier for some people than concluding that a dysfunctional political and economic system that can't treat its sewage and water is responsible.

 I wonder if Michael Moore would visit Havana's central hospital now? Canadians who love to vacation in the Communist Utopia should probably get their shots first.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Poor Elijah by Delaney and Bonnie, featuring Eric Clapton:

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Quebec to keep secret dossier on "offensive mockery" of gays

Mark Steyn takes a poke at the thin-skinned homosexuals of La Belle Province, who will soon be keeping secret files on people accused of "offensively mocking" them or covering them "inappropriately" in the media:
I wrote recently about a small victory for freedom of speech in Canada, but, as always, it’s two steps forward, one step back. Here’s the backward one: Gai Écoute in Québec has announced the launch of the world’s first “register of homophobic acts.” 
I don’t mind gay groups keeping a vast database of anonymously-reported homophobic thought-crimes if they feel that’s a productive use of their time. But it is preposterous that this sprawling directory of cobwebbed flamer cracks and swishy-gait titters will be publicly funded by taxpayers under the Québec Government’s “action plan for the fight against homophobia,” which apparently also includes redesignating Jean-Marc Fournier, the minister of justice and attorney general, as “Minister of Justice, Attorney General, and Minister for the Fight Against Homophobia.” 
As usual with these censorious types, “act” is defined with the broadest of brushes to include “moquerie blessante” (offensive mockery) and “couverture médiatique inappropriée” (inappropriate media coverage). The right to mock and be “inappropriate” are about as basic to a free society as any, so nuts to that.
Oh for crying out loud. Quebec's homosexuals need to grow a pair and quit being so easily offended. There are plenty of protections in the Criminal Code and elsewhere to protect gays from actual harm without monitoring every newspaper and stand-up comic who threatens to expose them to "offensive mockery" and running to the police about it.