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, August 27, 2014

Tim Horton's deal prompts another round of embarrassing Canadian navel-gazing

The merger between Burger King and Tim Horton's has produced such a flood of melodramatic hyperventilating among the pearl-clutching pundits north of the border that one would think the Dominion was in grave danger unprecedented since the damned Yankees crossed the Niagara River at Queenston Heights in 1812. Judging by all the press, a double-double and a donut should be engraved on the back of the twenty dollar bill.

The craziest nonsense so far has come, predictably, from the NDP's industry critic Peggy Nash, who solemnly intoned on Monday that "we want to make sure those jobs are protected as well as ensure that the Tim Hortons brand and the Tim Hortons experience continue to be part of our Canadian society". Wait - we're still talking about donut shops, right? The "Tim Horton's experience" is a vital element of Canadian society that must be protected by the federal government? I suppose we could make sure that the nation's strategic reserves of coffee and Timbits are guaranteed in perpetuity by nationalizing the whole chain and turning it over to Parks Canada which would run "Tim Horton's Experience" historic sites across the land, in both official languages of course. Then we could sleep soundly at night. And by the way, isn't this the same Peggy Nash who complained earlier this year that the Conservatives' job strategy was woefully inadequate because "too many of the jobs being created are low-paying and part-time", kind of like the jobs at oh, I don't know, Tim Horton's?

That's OK, I thought - this kind of over-reaction is limited to socialist MPs and CBC reporters. The average Canadian blue-collar Timmy's customer probably doesn't care one way or another. That was until I had breakfast in an Ottawa diner on Tuesday morning, and my companion innocently asked the waitress what she thought of the merger. "I'm totally against it" she replied."I don't approve of American companies coming up here taking over Canadian businesses." When I pointed out that the newly merged company would in fact be a Canadian company with its headquarters in Canada, she seemed surprised to hear that. She rallied with the emphatic statement that "the Americans are just coming up here to take advantage of our low taxes." I wager that such an astonishing phrase has never been uttered in this country before this week. After a moment of surprised silence, I replied that this indeed was a good thing, since Burger King would be paying corporate taxes as a Canadian company, just like Tim Horton's already does. She didn't agree, and replied that it just wasn't right that a company should want to pay lower taxes, and she didn't want companies like that up here. Now that's a true Canadian sentiment if I ever heard one.

The hysterical over-reaction to the Burger King-Tim Horton's merger is embarrassing. Only an immature and insecure country would link its national identity to a chain of donut shops and worry that a strategic merger with an American hamburger company is a threat to our cultural sovereignty. It's time we grew up.

Friday, June 13, 2014

An election post-mortem

Some random thoughts about last night's catastrophe.
  1. So-called social-conservative issues like gay marriage, abortion and the "war on religion" were not, to my knowledge, mentioned once in the campaign. This is a good thing, and the PCs need to continue doing this. If the party hopes to break out of its rural fortress and appeal to urban voters, let sleeping dogs lie.
  2. Speaking of urban voters, I had a look at the electoral map this morning, and it is telling. Liberal support is almost exclusively urban, concentrated in the Toronto/Hamilton corridor, metro Ottawa, and university towns like Kitchener-Waterloo and London (which were shared with the NDP). The NDP's support is mostly in Northern Ontario, Windsor, eastern Niagara (all economically depressed), and a few urban ridings. The rest of the rural, sparsely-populated province is Tory blue. The PC party needs to wake up to this fact: if it can't come up with a coherent fiscally-responsible platform that appeals to urban voters and isn't delivered by someone who reminds them of Jethro Clampett, then it is doomed for the forseeable future. 
  3. I'm sure Tim Hudak is a nice guy, but he's a terrible campaigner and I'm glad he resigned last night. Every time I saw him on TV I cringed, what with his rictus grin, his constant hand-waving and his wooden "Bueller ... Bueller ... anyone?" delivery. Winston Churchill he ain't. I wish him well, but he's been a big disappointment as leader. In addition, the wonks who run the party should also fall on their swords. There needs to be a purge of the party organization and a complete re-tooling. As Talleyrand said of the last Bourbon monarchs of France - "they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing".
  4. Memo to the PC party:  GO NEGATIVE for God's sake!!! Hudak's decision to run a positive campaign and concentrate on his platform was a huge mistake. The past two elections have seen the PCs up against an ethically and morally bankrupt incumbent government that is running the province into the ground, propped up for the last two years by the NDP, and yet Hudak barely mentioned that glaring fact. Voters should have been confronted daily by the Liberal party's long record of malfeasance and outright chicanery. Somewhere at Harvard Dalton McGuinty is laughing into his soy decaf latté.
  5. Hudak's biggest mistakes were the promise to cut 100 000 jobs from the civil service and the "Million Jobs Plan". Attaching nice round numbers to the platform, seemingly pulled out of a hat, practically invited criticism. The job cuts figure allowed the opposition to trot out the supposed widows and orphans who would be hurt or outright killed by Scary Tim, and the Million Jobs platform brought out the opposition bean counters who picked apart the statistics and handed the Liberals their "Bad Math" slogan. Hudak lost control of the debate at that point and it became bogged down in trivial arguments among ivory tower academics. Hudak then doubled down, promising to resign in two years if his goals weren't met - this smacked of desperation. The platform should be made up of broad ideological principles and goals like personal liberty, fiscal responsibility, easing the regulatory load on business, and  lower taxes. The Liberal platform was devoid of both hard numbers AND ideological principles, and they were returned with a majority - go figure.
  6. There is a small silver lining; for the next four years Kathleen Wynne now owns the mess her party created. It's with a certain amount of schadenfreude that I'll watch her twist and squirm as she has to deal with the credit rating agencies and the public sector unions without having the NDP to kick around anymore. 
Ontario is in for a world of hurt, and if from the ruins the PCs can't craft a viable alternative in 2018, then we don't deserve to form the government. And now, I'm going to cry in my beer.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The legacy of Edward Cornwallis

There's a debate currently raging in Halifax about the city's founder, British Governor Edward Cornwallis, who founded the city in 1749. The agitation is centred on a statue of the Governor in Halifax's downtown Cornwallis Square:
Last May, an unknown vandal spray-painted “Self righteous ass” on a statue of Halifax founder Edward Cornwallis, the 18th century British military governor who once placed 10 guinea bounties on Mi’kmaq scalps. In 2001, someone else doused the statue in red paint and scrawled “killed natives” on its base.
At the city’s 250th birthday party, an actor dressed as Cornwallis was forbidden from speaking and in 2011, a Nova Scotia school was renamed to scrub out Cornwallis’ violent legacy. And now, some Haligonians are wondering whether they even need a statue of Cornwallis at all. 
The debate is largely about a contentious proclamation Cornwallis issued in an attempt to deal with a violent uprising by Mi'kmaq natives who were targeting the British settlements in Acadia. It reads:
His Majesty’s Council do hereby authorize and command all Officers Civil and Military, and all his Majesty’s Subjects of others to annoy, distress, take or destroy the Savage commonly called the Micmac, wherever they are found,” it read. “[And] promise a reward of ten Guineas for ever Indian Micmac taken or killed, to be paid upon producing such Savage taken or his scalp.
We have a tendency to look at historical issues like the Cornwallis administration through the lens of modern grievances. The "Scalping Proclamation" is indeed horrific by modern standards, but it must be taken in context. The Mi'kmaq weren't exactly Boy Scouts - there had been a series of brutal Mi'kmaq attacks on British settlers in Acadia leading up to the proclamation, and indeed the Mi'kmaq themselves were being paid by the French to collect British scalps. In a 1749 raid on Dartmouth, across the harbour from Halifax, a month before Cornwallis' proclamation, Mi'kmaq warriors attacked a British party cutting firewood:
On September 30, 1749, about forty Mi'kmaq attacked six men who were in Dartmouth cutting trees. The Mi'kmaq killed four of them on the spot, took one prisoner and one escaped. Two of the men were scalped and the heads of the others were cut off. The attack was on the saw mill at Dartmouth Cove, which was under the command of Major Ezekiel Gilman. A detachment of rangers was sent after the raiding party and cut off the heads of two Mi'kmaq and scalped one.
To prevent the French and Wabanaki Confederacy massacres of British families, on October 2, 1749, Governor Edward Cornwallis offered a bounty on the head of every Mi'kmaq. Prior to Cornwallis, there was a long history of Massachusetts Governors issuing bounties for the scalps of Indian men, women, and children. Cornwallis followed New England's example. He set the amount at the same rate that the Mi'kmaq received from the French for British scalps. The British military paid the Rangers the same rate per scalp as the French military paid the Mi'kmaq for British scalps.
...
Despite Cornwallis' efforts to defend the community, in July 1750, the Mi'kmaq killed and scalped 7 men who were at work in Dartmouth. In August 1750, 353 people arrived on the ship Alderney and began the town of Dartmouth. The town was laid out in the autumn of that year. The following month, on September 30, 1750, Dartmouth was attacked again by the Mi'kmaq and five more residents were killed. In October 1750 a group of about eight men went out "to take their diversion; and as they were fowling, they were attacked by the Indians, who took the whole prisoners; scalped ... [one] with a large knife, which they wear for that purpose, and threw him into the sea ..."
In March 1751, the Mi’kmaq attacked on two more occasions, bringing the total number of raids to six in the previous two years. Three months later, on May 13, 1751, Broussard led sixty Mi'kmaq and Acadians to attack Dartmouth again, in what would be known as the "Dartmouth Massacre".
Certainly, Edward Cornwallis' legacy in Canada is not without controversy, but that doesn't mean his significance as the founder of one of Canada's oldest cities should be expunged from our collective memory. Halifax as it is today would not exist were it not for Governor Cornwallis. Canada in the 18th century was a brutal, violent place, and for those who make a fetish of our "proud peacekeeping tradition", the colonial wars are an embarrassment. That doesn't mean we should pretend they didn't occur and flush all references to them down the memory hole.

Edward Cornwallis is an important figure in Canadian history, and he deserves a statue in the city he founded. Here's a suggestion - put up a statue of a Mi'kmaq warrior in the same park (or better yet in Dartmouth) and look on it as a teaching experience.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Kathleen Wynne deconstructed

This campaign ad for the Ontario Liberal Party has recently hit the airwaves, and in it the very first words that Kathleen Wynne utters perfectly encapsulate everything I despise about modern liberalism in general, and the Ontario Liberals in particular.






The line is "I believe that government should be a force for good in people's lives". It sounds innocuous - who could argue with good things for people? What's the matter with me - do I want government to make people miserable? Here are the key words that raise my hackles:

Government:
Liberals love government. They believe that government has a moral duty to centrally manage every aspect of society to smooth out the bumps in the road of life for all citizens. More government is always a good thing. Believing that government should maybe back off and let people make their own informed decisions about things like smoking tobacco, wearing bicycle helmets, buying beer in corner stores and saving for their own retirement just gives liberals the heebie jeebies. If it saves one life, it's worth it, isn't it?

Force
There's an unsettling undertone of authoritarianism in the liberal world-view. People must be forced to do the right thing - not necessarily by armed police, but by vast bureaucracies and myriads of pettifogging regulations enforced by legions of inspectors and commissioners. People must be forced to support programs deemed to be for the good of society, not necessarily at the point of a gun but by confiscatory taxation that removes a citizen's discretion to spend money on things that he chooses for himself.

Good
The heavy-handed influence of the state in people's lives is always justified, in the mind of a liberal, by the argument that it's for the common good. This pre-supposes that it is possible for a diverse population to agree on what constitutes the common good; the job of doing this is left ultimately to the government itself. The concept is also used to stifle dissent - people who disagree with the government's agenda for good are labelled racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, or anti-environment. Whatever the government deems worthy of its warm embrace is then protected from criticism in the name of the common good. What kind of monster would argue against good things? "The issue is settled" - thus spake the Premier.

People's lives
Here's the nub of the liberal ideology. We're not arguing about things like filling potholes, collecting garbage, building highways or defending the borders, all of which are legitimate roles for government. Liberals want to be intimately involved in people's lives. To a liberal, government has a duty to prevent people from making bad decisions and to force people to make good ones, and the government knows better than you do what is good for you. I bristle when I hear things like this from politicians. Society is made up of individuals making individual decisions, for good or ill, and they should be left alone to make those decisions and to enjoy their property except when another individual is at risk of harm as a result.

Kathleen Wynne is portraying herself as the kindly mother-figure who will lead us all to the sunny meadows of a prosperous Ontario where we all live forever in peace, harmony and equity. This of course must come with a massive intrusion of the state into the lives of individual citizens, and the past eight years of Dalton McGuinty preaching the same sermon has shown where this leads.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Adventures in bureaucracy at Passport Canada

My sister is planning a trip to the US this summer and needed to renew her passport. I was planning to be in Ottawa this week anyway, so I told her I'd drop off her completed application package at the Ottawa office of Passport Canada, which is where it would have ended up if she had mailed it. Sounds simple enough.

A certain pettifogging torpor permeates large organizations, and never so much so as in government departments that are immune to competition. Such was the case at the Ottawa branch of Passport Canada. When I arrived, there was a single long queue of customers and no signage of any sort with instructions for the perplexed. It seemed obvious that I should join the queue, so I did. When I got to the front there were eight wickets with clerks behind them. I waited for one to open up (it was wicket #4) and then approached. The guy behind the glass said "Do you have a number?" I replied "No, I didn't know I needed a number." He said "You need a number." I asked "Where do I get a number?" He gestured back towards the queue and said "Over there."

I asked the commissionaire where I was supposed to get the aforementioned number- he said "You have to line up in the queue and then go to wicket 1 or 2." Sigh. I rejoined the queue and worked my way to the front a second time.

With my number in hand, I was told to sit in the waiting area until my number was called. A few minutes later I approached Wicket #5.  The following conversation occurred with the clerk, whom I'll call "Betty".
Me: "I'm here to drop off a passport application for my sister." 
Betty:  "Do you live at the same address?" 
Me: "No." 
Betty: "Do you have a letter of authorization from your sister to drop off her passport application?" 
Me:  "No, it doesn't say anywhere on the form [which is three pages long, by the way] that I need a letter of authorization." 
Betty:  "Well, you can't drop off someone else's passport application without authorization. Can we call her to get her to authorize you?" 
Me:  "No, she's not available during the work day. She signed the forms, isn't that enough?" 
Betty:  "No." 
Me:  "So let me get this straight. If she had just mailed the forms to Passport Canada, you would process them, but if I drop off the exact same forms right at your office, you won't process them?" 
Betty:  "That's correct. It's a totally different process." 
Me:  "Of course it is. Just give me back the forms - I'll mail them."
So I left the Passport Canada office in a funk, drove across town to a post office, paid $2.05 in postage and mailed the package to - you guessed it - Passport Canada, Ottawa.

Ugh.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Blackbird Song by Lee DeWyze, from The Walking Dead soundtrack

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: I Need Your Love So Bad, a very early song by Fleetwood Mac (1968)

Earth Hour 2014

I'm celebrating tonight by driving my SUV to an expensive restaurant that's keeping all its lights on and cooking with fossil fuels. Meanwhile in Pyongyang ...


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Poison Milk, by Sallie Ford and the Sound Outside

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The Death of Statesmanship

It's hard not to draw parallels between the current crisis in Ukraine and the 1938 crisis in Czechoslovakia, when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated the Munich Agreement with Hitler that surrendered the Czech Sudetenland to Nazi Germany and agreed to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia.

What is most striking to me is the mediocrity of the leaders of the West in their response to Russian aggression in the Crimea. This is from a press conference President Obama, Leader of the Free World, gave today :
I know President Putin seems to have a different set of lawyers making a different set of interpretations but I don't think that's fooling anybody. I think everybody recognizes that although Russia has legitimate interests in what happens in a neighboring state that does not give it the right to use force as a means of exerting influence inside of that state.
Secretary of State John Kerry stepped up with this statement, telling the Russians that if they didn't back off
... then our partners will have absolutely no choice (but) to join us to continue to expand on steps we have taken in recent days to isolate Russia diplomatically, politically and economically.
Well, that's telling them. I bet they're quaking in their valenki over at the Kremlin.

When Neville Chamberlain sacrificed Czechoslovakia to Hitler in 1938, Leader of the Opposition Winston Churchill gave this blistering speech in the House of Commons on October 5 1938. Here are some excerpts:
I will, therefore, begin by saying the most unpopular and most unwelcome thing. I will begin by saying what everybody would like to ignore or forget but which must nevertheless be stated, namely, that we have sustained a total and unmitigated defeat, and that France has suffered even more than we have.
The utmost my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has been able to secure by all his immense exertions, by all the great efforts and mobilisation which took place in this country, and by all the anguish and strain through which we have passed in this country, the utmost he has been able to gain for Czechoslovakia in the matters which were in dispute has been that the German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer [Sir John Simon] said it was the first time Herr Hitler had been made to retract - I think that was the word - in any degree. We really must not waste time after all this long Debate upon the difference between the positions reached at Berchtesgaden, at Godesberg and at Munich. They can be very simply epitomised, if the House will permit me to vary the metaphor. £1 was demanded at the pistol's point. When it was given, £2 were demanded at the pistol's point. Finally, the dictator consented to take £1 17s. 6d. and the rest in promises of goodwill for the future.
...
All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness. She has suffered in every respect by her association with the Western democracies and with the League of Nations, of which she has always been an obedient servant. She has suffered in particular from her association with France, under whose guidance and policy she has been actuated for so long.
...
We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen Great Britain and France. Do not let us blind ourselves to that. It must now be accepted that all the countries of Central and Eastern Europe will make the best terms they can with the triumphant Nazi power. The system of alliances in Central Europe upon which France has relied for her safety has been swept away, and I can see no means by which it can be reconstituted. The road down the Danube Valley to the Black Sea, the road which leads as far as Turkey, has been opened.
...
I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week - I do not grudge them the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies:
"Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting."
And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.
The Russian aggression in Ukraine cannot stand, but the West is being led by pygmies. Come back Churchill - we need you.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Crimea then and now

As the crisis unfolds in Ukraine, it is enlightening to read accounts of a previous confrontation between the West and Russia - the Crimean War of 1853-1856, when Britain, France and the Ottoman Empire confronted Russia over control of Ottoman territories bordering the Russian Empire (including Ukraine). One is struck particularly by the mealy-mouthed response by western leaders to the current aggression compared to the belligerent oratory of the 19th century.

Browse through the Hansard record of the debate about war with Russia in the British House of Commons on March 31 1854. Here is Lord Palmerston, Leader of the Opposition:
The question we have to consider is this, whether Turkey is to lie prostrate at the feet of one great overwhelming Power—whether one Power is to bestride the globe from the north to the south, from the Baltic to the Mediterranean, to dictate to Germany, to domineer in the Mediterranean, to have the whole of the rest of Europe at its mercy to deal with as it pleases—or whether that Power shall be taught that there are limits even to the ambition of a Czar—that there are limits even to the conquest of a military empire, of which one may say that the whole territory is one great camp, and the population one recruiting depôt—and that in spite of the power which a Sovereign may be able to sway—in spite of the military resources which he is able to command—that there does exist in the Powers of Europe a respect for the principles of national independence—that there does exist in the Powers of Europe a determination to resist the overwhelming encroachments of any Power, be that Power what it may—and that we are able, as we are willing, since resort to arms has become necessary, to maintain in arms, by sea and by land, the liberties of Europe and the independence of nations.
Compare that to alleged master-orator Barack Obama's speech today:
It would be a clear violation of Russia’s commitment to respect the independence and sovereignty and borders of Ukraine, and of international laws. And just days after the world came to Russia for the Olympic games, it would invite the condemnation of nations around the world. And indeed, the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.
The events of the past several months remind us of how difficult democracy can be in a country with deep divisions. But the Ukrainian people have also reminded us that human beings have a human universal right to determine their own future.
Right now, the situation remains very fluid. Vice President Biden just spoke with prime minister -- the prime minister of Ukraine to assure him that in this difficult moment, the United States supports his government’s efforts and stands for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and democratic future of Ukraine.
I also commend the Ukrainian government’s restraint and its commitment to uphold its international obligations. We will continue to coordinate closely with our European allies, we will continue to communicate directly with the Russian government, and we will continue to keep all of you in the press corps and the American people informed as events develop.
Thanks very much.
There will be costs! Condemnation! We're going to continue to coordinate closely with our allies!  We'll keep you informed as events develop!

Good god, this guy's the leader of the free world and this is the speech he gives while Russian troop carriers are rolling into the Ukraine?

As Bette Davis said in All About Eve - "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night."

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Blow With Ry, by Nicky Hopkins, Ry Cooder, Mick Jagger, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts:

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Dust Bowl by Joe Bonamassa, recorded in a live acoustic performance at the Vienna Opera House

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: What You Gonna Do About Me, by Buddy Guy and Beth Hart:

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Justin Trudeau's Senate gong show

Apparently Justin Trudeau got up this morning, drank his latté, and without consulting anyone involved, decided to abolish the Liberal Party's caucus in the Senate. He's being cautiously hailed by the confused punditry for his "bold move" that "seizes the agenda" on Senate reform. Really? Has he thought this out, or does he just make things up as he goes along?

This move has serious implications that I fear have not been considered. Who is now the opposition to the Tories in the Senate? Who is the Opposition Leader? What happens to the budget for the Senate Opposition? Who sits on Senate Committees? I'm not a fan of the Liberal Party, but Trudeau has just abdicated his responsibility to provide principled opposition, debate and criticism in the upper chamber - now the Tories are virtually unopposed there. This is an agenda?

Senate reform is a necessary and serious business. It has to be done by consultations with the provinces and regions that the Senate is supposed to provide with a counterbalance to the domination of large populations in the House of Commons. Various proposals have been put forward for the reform or abolition of the Senate which have to be carefully considered before embarking on the long and difficult process of amending the Constitution. Changing the Senate is difficult on purpose - it forces politicians and political parties to articulate a plan and sell its merits to the voters, then seek compromise to achieve a new model that is acceptable to the House of Commons, the Senate and the majority of people in the majority of provinces with the majority of the population. Senate reform should NOT be done on the whim of a single person who happens to be the leader of the Third Party when he has a light-bulb-over-the-head moment while staring at himself in the mirror one morning.

Trudeau's proposal is idiotic. However, it may serve a greater purpose. I think the best Conservative strategy for dealing with the Liberals from now until the next election is to let Justin be Justin. The more he preens in front of press scrums in the Commons lobby and theatrically tosses out poorly-thought-out policies off the top of his head, the more even his star-struck fans will realize what an airhead he is. The Tory campaign attack ads will practically write themselves. Since he's been leader he has only articulated two major policy proposals - legalizing marijuana and firing Liberal Senators. The best is yet to come, folks - stay tuned.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection - Jeep's Blues by Duke Ellington. This song was prominently featured in an important scene in the new movie American Hustle where the characters played by Christian Bale and Amy Adams meet for the first time. It's a fantastic movie, by the way - especially if you grew up in the 1970s like I did.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Deep thoughts from Justin Trudeau

Justin Trudeau was interviewed by Calgary Metro News recently, and produced this answer when asked how he would deal with requests from municipalities for help in public transit funding:
Remove a lot of the politics from it. … There’s a lot of politicking around perception and short-term advantage but not necessarily a larger plan of what’s actually going to serve, not just in the short-term in terms of construction jobs, but in the long-term in terms of what a growing city is going to need. So, very much an approach that looks at facts, data, best practices, and a real vision for the next decades rather than just the next electoral cycle.
Good grief - Wilfrid Laurier must be spinning in his grave. I can't wait for Trudeau to go mano a mano with Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair in the leadership debates in 2015 - it's going to be a train wreck.

Harper's Knesset heckler becomes leftist celebrity in Canada

A story from the Jerusalem Post  features one of the Arab members of the Israeli parliament (Knesset) who heckled Prime Minister Harper during his speech this week:
MK Ahmed Tibi became an overnight celebrity in Canada this week after he heckled Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper during his address to the Knesset.
Since heckling Harper on Monday, Tibi (United Arab List-Ta’al) has given 15 interviews to Canadian media outlets and has been invited to speak at universities in multiple provinces.
Tibi said he would go to Canada in the spring to lecture and give more interviews.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to Mr. Tibi's heckling on his Facebook page:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu boasted on his Facebook page that Harper’s heckling was proof of the vibrancy of Israeli democracy.
Netanyahu’s speech before Harper’s at the Knesset was also heckled by Tibi, who shouted that Abu Arar had no electricity and water in his village.
Netanyahu then posted a picture of Abu Arar’s three-story home on his Facebook page with proof that it has both electricity and water. Tibi responded on Netanyahu’s Facebook page that posting the picture was childish and intended to hide Israel’s embarrassment over the state of unrecognized Beduin villages.
I'm sure Mr. Tibi will be greeted with open arms at Canadian universities, which are after all celebrated bastions of free speech. Recall that PM Netanyahu was prevented from speaking at Montreal's Concordia University in 2002 when an antisemitic mob rioted at the campus venue where he was to speak, assaulted some members of the audience and vandalized the building.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Canada steps up & condemns Nigerian anti-gay law

While the media has been wringing its hands about whether or not Stephen Harper is getting too cozy with Israel, the Canadian government's condemnation of Nigeria's persecution of gays has barely been noticed. The Harper government deserves praise and support for its stance, especially from the gay community.

Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan recently signed a bill into law which criminalized gay marriage, "belonging to gay groups" and "public displays of same-sex relationships":
Under the terms of the law, anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage or civil union can be sentenced to 14 years in prison while any such partnerships entered into abroad are deemed "void".

It also warns that anyone who registers, operates or participates in gay clubs, societies and organisations or who directly or indirectly makes a public show of a same-sex relationship will break the law. Punishment is up to 10 years in prison, it adds.
Let that sink in for a minute. Nigeria didn't just outlaw gay marriage; it criminalized "public shows of a same-sex relationship." Gay Nigerians can be sentenced to 10 years in prison for going to a gay bar or holding hands in public. Predictably, the police in Bauchi province were rounding up homosexuals within days of the bill's passage:
 In Bauchi state, police entrapped four gay men and tortured them into naming others, Aken’Ova said. She said the police have drawn up a list of 168 wanted gay men, of whom 38 have been arrested in recent weeks.
She said the arrests began during the Christmas holidays and blamed “all the noise that was going on surrounding the (same sex marriage prohibition) bill.”
The chairman of Bauchi state Shariah Commission, Mustapha Baba Ilela, told the AP that 11 men have been arrested in the past two weeks and charged with belonging to a gay organization. He denied anyone had been tortured and said all 11 – 10 Muslims and a non-Muslim – signed confessions that they belonged to a gay organization but that some of them retracted the statements when they were charged by a judge.
Bauchi state, by the way, has enshrined Sharia law in its criminal law system. Soon one of the arrested men was flogged for his transgression. He was lucky he wasn't sentenced to death by stoning:
A Nigerian man has received 20 lashes after an Islamic court in the northern city of Bauchi convicted him of homosexual offences.
Under Islamic law, courts can punish homosexual acts by stoning to death.
But the judge said he took into account that the Muslim man, Mubarak Ibrahim, 20, carried out the acts seven years ago, and had stopped the practice.
In Nigeria, homosexual acts are illegal under both Islamic and secular law and restrictions have been tightened.
Earlier this month, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into law a bill which bans same-sex marriages, gay groups and shows of same-sex public affection.
The new legislation applies throughout Nigeria.
Most states in the predominantly Muslim north of Nigeria have adopted Islamic law, known as Sharia, since the end of military rule in 1999.
Along with Mr Ibrahim, 11 other Muslims and a Christian man were arrested last month accused by the authorities of being homosexuals.

He was also ordered to pay a fine of about $30 (£18).
Mr Ibrahim told the BBC he was relieved that Judge Nuhu Muhammad had been lenient on him and had not sentenced him to death.
The BBC's Ishaq Khalid was in court when Mr Ibrahim was lashed with a whip, made of animal skin smeared with oil.
Mr Ibrahim, who had pleaded guilty to the charge, was ordered to lie on a bench, and an official whipped his back in front of a packed courtroom, our correspondent says.
Mr Ibrahim screamed in pain while being lashed, but was able to walk afterwards, he adds.
The trial of two other men was adjourned to 23 January.
Yesterday in Bauchi a howling mob of thousands of protesters gathered outside the courthouse where the trial of 11 other homosexual men was to take place, hurling stones at the building and demanding the conviction and execution of the men arrested under the new law:
Thousands of protesters threw stones into the Shariah court in a north Nigerian city Wednesday, urging the speedy convictions and executions of 11 men arrested for belonging to gay organizations.
"No one can be sentenced to death until confirmed without a reasonable doubt," Aliyu said in response to calls for the men's execution.Security officials fired into the air to disperse protesters in Bauchi city so the accused men could be safely returned to the prison. Judge El-Yakubu Aliyu closed the court abruptly.
The court was arraigning seven of 11 accused men on Wednesday. Only three had given testimony when the mayhem began.
...
The Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act that President Goodluck Jonathan signed on Jan. 7 has resulted in a frenzy of arrests of gays. The law bans all gay associations, with penalties up to 14 years' imprisonment for marriage.
Bauchi state has both a Western-style penal code and Shariah, or Islamic law, in which sodomy can carry the death sentence with a judge deciding whether it should be done by a public stoning or by lethal injection. Shariah law is implemented to different degrees in nine of Nigeria's 36 states. About half of the country's more than 160 million people are Muslims, the other half Christians.
Canada's Foreign Minister, John Baird, immediately condemned the new law, and apparently an upcoming state visit to Canada by President Johnathan has been cancelled by the Canadian government:
Gay rights activists, human rights activists and even entire nations have voiced out their concern at the harsh law. Canada, on the other hand, may have decided to do more than just talking.
The nation was expected to receive Nigeria’s president on a state visit slated for February but is said to have cancelled the visit in a bid to show its displeasure at the new law.
According to Sahara Reporters:
A state visit being planned by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to Canada for February has been canceled by the Canadian Government.
The cancellation happened in the same week it was revealed the President secretly signed a controversial law banning gays, lesbians, and sexual minorities in Nigeria.
Sources in Abuja told Sahara Reporters that the Nigerian Ambassador to Canada, Ojo Madueke, was told to inform President Jonathan that the state visit to Canada scheduled for February 13 and 14th 2014 has now been canceled.
Bravo. I'm very proud of Minister Baird and the Harper government for taking a public stand on this issue and telling the Nigerian government exactly how heinous this law is. As with Israel,  the government hasn't worried about what CBC viewers in Toronto think about losing our influence in the region and abandoning our so-called traditional (read Liberal) role of "honest brokers" exercising our "soft power".  We've come out strongly and forcefully against a barbaric law that has no place in a country that calls itself modern or civilized instead of worrying about offending a sovereign nation's unique cultural traditions. Thank you.

And to those gay critics of Harper who show up at his public appearances (as I witnessed once during the last election) chanting "Racist, sexist, anti-gay - Stephen Harper go away!" - judge the Tories by their actions and not by a cartoonish stereotype that fits your preconceptions of what motivates redneck Christian conservatives.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: 100 Days, 100 Nights by Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Global Warming 1662

From the diary of Samuel Pepys, January 15 1662:
This morning Mr. Berchenshaw came again; and after he had examined me and taught me something in my work, he and I went to breakfast in my chamber, upon a Collar of brawne. And after we had eaten, he asked me whether we have not committed a fault in eating today, telling me that it is a fast-day, ordered by the parliament to pray for more seasonable weather - it having hitherto been some summer weather, that is, both as to warmth and every other thing, just as if it were the middle of May or June, which doth threaten a plague (as all men think) to follow; for so it was almost the last winter and the whole year after hath been a very sickly time.
Does this sound familiar? Maybe it's because of a recent publicity stunt by a delegate from the Philippines to the UN Climate Change Conference in Warsaw in November 2013, who vowed to fast until the world took action to stop "climate change madness":
With his country grappling with the damage from "hell-storm" Haiyan, a Philippines official launched a hunger strike Tuesday to pressure a U.N. climate change conference for concrete steps to fight global warming.
Naderev Sano, a member of the Philippines Climate Change Commission, said he was fasting "in solidarity with my countrymen who are now struggling for food back home" -- including his own brother, whom Sano said "has been gathering bodies of the dead with his own two hands."
"What my country is going through as a result of this extreme climate event is madness. The climate crisis is madness," he said. "Mr. President, we can stop this madness, right here in Warsaw."
...
Sano's protest prompted Twitter users to begin using the hashtag #fastfortheclimate in support.
The Climate Action Network -- a body of 850 nongovernmental organizations -- later announced that members of "civil society" were joining Sano in fasting, in a move it said is "unprecedented within the history of the climate movement."
Climate Action Network spokeswoman Ria Voorhaar said the protest is spreading "far and wide," with at least 100 people in Warsaw for the conference also fasting.
"A lot of climate-focused youth groups have jumped on it immediately to show solidarity," she said.
Voorhaar said the hunger strikers want the Warsaw conference to take "concrete steps" toward reducing carbon emissions before 2020, enacting an international mechanism for damages and financing efforts to adapt to a warming world.
Well, it worked in London, so maybe the climateers in Warsaw were on to something. Pepys noted in his diary the following year, on August 28 1663:
 At the office betimes (it being cold all night and this morning, and a very great frost they say abroad; which is much, having had no summer at all almost)
Yeah, yeah - weather isn't climate, etc etc. Fast away, people. I wonder if Mr. Sano is eating again.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

What's the matter with Toronto?

Pardon my insensitivity, but since when is it the responsibility of the taxpayers of Ontario to replace groceries lost during power outages? The Liberal government of Ontario has just announced that it will distribute $450 000 worth of grocery store gift cards to residents outside the GTA to "replace food that spoiled when power went out after the pre-Christmas storm". This is on top of the botched handout of $843 000 worth of cards already handed out to residents of Toronto.

To recap, the provincial government of Ontario has just spent almost $1.3 million to hand out groceries to people who lost power during an ice storm. Some random thoughts:

  • If it's the middle of winter and you lose power, presumably your home would be approximately the temperature of a refrigerator. Not to make light of the problems endured by the people who lived in the affected area, but is lack of refrigeration a huge problem in December? Can't people figure out how to keep food from spoiling in the middle of winter? 
  • Shit happens during natural disasters - that's why people buy insurance. If you lost a bunch of expensive food, make an insurance claim. If you don't have insurance, use the money you saved on premiums to buy your own damned groceries. I didn't expect the government to replace my water pipes when they froze during a cold snap a few years ago - I fixed them myself and had insurance for repairs that were beyond my immediate means. It was a power outage, for heaven's sake - not Hurricane Katrina.
  • I find it reprehensible that Premier Kathleen Wynne used the ice storm as an excuse to grab a little publicity for herself. She and her entourage arrived in the "devastated" area, TV cameras in tow, handing out baskets of food like Good King Wenceslas to carefully pre-screened Liberal-supporting households so that she could be seen acting like a leader on the six o'clock news. Disgraceful.
  • You'd think that the opposition Conservatives would be up in arms about the waste of money in this grocery-card fiasco, but no; they're lining up at the trough with the NDP and the Liberals. PC MPP Lisa McLeod complained that people outside of Toronto didn't have access to "free" groceries: "The political way that this has been handled by Premier Wynne and her cabinet has prevented people from equal access to a program that she initiated", she said. Tory MPP Michael Harris also complained that people in his riding of Kitchener-Conestoga West weren't getting free stuff like everyone in Toronto:  "My office has been bombarded with phone calls recently in terms of how to access this program and they've been getting the runaround. They're questioning really why this program was only available in Toronto and not in their communities when they too went without power for a significant amount of time." Ugh.
  • What's the matter with Toronto? Why aren't people there able to cope with an ice storm without screaming at the Mayor to declare a state of emergency, debating whether or not to call in the army, standing around in front of TV cameras wringing their hands about the slow pace of the cleanup in their suburban neighbourhoods and generally waiting for "the Government" to do something while complaining constantly? In 1998 much of Eastern Ontario was crippled by an epic ice storm which took out electricity for days - people in tiny inaccessible communities pulled together and helped clear each other's laneways, took each other in and generally coped until power was restored. It's what people used to be able to do without being told. And by the way, nobody begged the government for free groceries.
The Toronto ice storm has brought out the worst in people - venal politicians who viewed the event as an opportunity for self-aggrandizing photo ops while throwing around taxpayer's money willy nilly, and helpless dependent citizens who couldn't figure out what to do without a massive bureaucratic swat team to lead them. God help us if a truly serious natural disaster occurs.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: I Put A Spell On You performed by Joss Stone, backed up by Jeff Beck and the Jubilation Gospel Choir in a live American Idol performance.