Sunday, April 30, 2006

Ontario to Compensate Caledonia Developers

From CBC news:

The Ontario government has reportedly offered compensation to land developers who are affected by an eight-week aboriginal occupation near the town of Caledonia.

A spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs Minister David Ramsay said that two developers and six builders were offered a deal on Thursday in an attempt to break a deadlock over land.

Good news if it settles down this whole situation. I don't think, though, that the developers should have been allowed to start building in the first place.

Not a real expert on the nuances here, however.

Rising Gas Prices Make Me Feel So Smug

When I was ready to leave for Toronto from my small, Left Coast hometown, it was pretty obvious that my old datsun pickup (the Yellow Chariot) wasn't ready for a trip over the Rocky Mountains. So I sold it for a $100 and took a plane out, which meant that I arrived in Toronto with no vehicle, and without the financial wherewithal to purchase a new one.

However, for someone who hailed from a town (Esquimaux) where the buses came twice a day, Toronto's public transit system was a complete eye-opener. There were so many buses that, if you found yourself sitting next to a guy talking loudly to Jesus, you could just get off at the next stop and wait for another one. And traveling by subway meant riding on a train! For the first couple of weeks, I was exploring the underground just for kicks.

In any case, the TTC allowed me to commit to a totally green, crunchy-granola lifestyle, at least when it came to getting from place to place.

About ten years ago, though, I met my wife, and found that it was not really possible to conduct a good date from the back of a street-car. Furthermore, when she moved in with me and I actually was forced to buy food, taking a cab back and forth from the local Dominion store seemed a bit excessive. So I finally broke down and bought the Cavalier I now own (The Green Can).

But I'm still committed to a car-free lifestyle, inasmuch as this is possible. For example, The Green Can is insured only for "pleasure" use, and I have managed to keep my annual mileage under 10,000 K for five years running. In fact, when I purchased The Green Can I hadn't driven in 15 years and was considered a new driver, so my insurance costs have actually gone down since that time! I run to work and back every day (through any weather but thunderstorms and minus 15 C cold), and I bus or walk on all trips but those for which the vehicle is absolutely necessary.

So, when I read here that oil is expected to hit $100 a barrel this summer, with a resultant spike in gas prices, I could not help but whip off my clothes and start doing my Superiority Dance. In fact I am doing it right now, Nekkid, in front of the computer! In fact I am doing my Jimi Hendrix act with the keyboard, typing behind my back as I shake my ass at the screen! Get a load of that, you Petro addicted pack of Pansies! Because I'm alright, Jack! I'll be spending my extra cash this summer on Latte's and trips to the Opera! You'll be standing cap-in-hand begging for coins outside the Shell station! God its wonderful! I've got the Liberal smirk going so hard it hurts...but in a good way!

Just had to get that off my chest.

PS. But BigCityLib, I hear people asking, what about our small town brothers and sisters, who don't have the benefit of an elaborate public transit system? Well, BigCityLib has the answer:

I hear these suckers are tippier than a Jeep Samurai, but eventually you learn how to lean!

BigCityLib, Nekkid and Sexxxy in The City, over and out!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Poll Shows Harper Stepped Wrong on Flag/Funerals

From the Ipsos-Reid Poll, as reported here in the Nat. Post:

More (53%) Disagree Than Agree (45%) With Decision To Not Fly Flag At Half-Mast Every Time A Soldier Is Killed

Majority (66%) Feel Media Ban From Return Of Killed Soldiers Is Really A Government Muzzle and Should Be Left Up To Families To Decide

This pretty much shows what everyone who wasn't the blindest variety of Tory partisan suspected. I don't have a lot to add.

However, one pro-Harper argument I hear re. the flag flying issue is that, if we lowered the flag for every soldier that died in the time immediately following their death, and the fighting over in Afghanistan really flared up, we might have to half-mast the thing permanently.

Put aside the issue of whether we should remain in Afghanistan under such circumstances, and concentrate on the symbolism. What exactly would be wrong with flying the flag permanently at half-mast during times of war? Some have argued that such an act is somehow defeatist, but it seems to me that they just misinterpret the gesture. Among other things, the half-mast flag is a symbol of national mourning and, if the nation is in the midst of a particularly grievous War, where soldiers are dying every day, then almost by definition it is a nation in a constant state of mourning. I don't see anything bizarre about using the flag on the PT to express that fact. I even see the poetics of it as being rather compelling.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Mexico Legalizes it All

From Fox News, of all places:

MEXICO CITY — Mexico's Congress approved a bill Friday that would legalize drug possession for personal use — decriminalizing the carrying of small quantities of marijuana, ecstasy, cocaine and even heroin. The only step remaining is the signature of the president, whose office indicates he will sign it, despite the implications for the war on drugs.

I've always supported the decriminalization of marijuana in Canada, although I think some of the other substances listed here should remain illegal. What I don't understand is, when the Canadian Libs made any gesture in this direction, the Yankees squealed to high heaven. And yet I have heard nothing similar over this action. I wonder what the difference in the political dynamic is? You'd think the U.S. would be worried more about Cocaine coming up from Mexico than pot coming down from Canada.

Also, the legal limit is five grams of weed. I guess that means that next time I walk into a Mexican bar they won't be waving a bag the size of a bale of alfalfa at me.

(I swear they've got an ongoing scam down there. One guy sells you the weed, and he and the cop split the bribe money you pay when you're busted five minutes later. Then they repeat the process with some other tourist. Not that it's happened to me personally, mind you)

Camus vs. Beowulf on the Atheistic Lifestyle

Rabbi Marc Goldman is trying to understand Atheism. In this weeks edition of Newsweek, the good Rabbi writes, among other things:

To be called to a level of goodness and sacrifice so constantly and so patiently by a loving but demanding God may seem like a naive demand to achieve what is only a remote human possibility. However, such a vision need not be seen as a red flag to those who believe nothing. I can humbly ask whether my atheist brothers and sisters really believe that their lives are better, richer and more hopeful by clinging to Camus's existential despair:"The purpose of life is that it ends."

Mr. Goldman clearly does not realize that there are several models available for the Godless life, some of which are a bit more full-bodied than the one he makes note of in the passage above. A relatively exciting version, for example, can be gleaned from the pages of the Anglo-Saxon Epic poem Beowulf.

Now, Woody Allen once advised would-be college students to "avoid any class where they make you read Beowulf", and this still holds good today. However, if you are, for example, bent on an English degree and the sad task cannot be avoided, you will do far worse than to get hold of the new(ish) translation by Nobel prize winning poet Seamus Heany. Unfortunately, this volume was not available in my day.

In any case, when I took Beowulf at the University of Victoria, my professor spent alot of time over the Anglo-Saxon concepts of "Glory", "Reputation", and "Fame" which played so great a role within the world of the poem. For the Saxons were an extremely materialistic people, and according to them all that remained of a man after he died was his "reputation", ie. the "glory" and "fame" that had accumulated around his name during life. Furthermore, a deadman would be remembered for a span of years that was in direct proportion to the "amount" of these properties that he had acquired while living.

"Glory" and "Fame", then, were a kind of fuel that launched a man's name across History until, metaphorically, the tank was empty, and it crashed to the same Earth in which his body lay, and he was forgotten. An enduring reputation was as close as the Saxons could imagine to an Afterworld.

It is for this reason that the character Beowulf spends much of the poem running around looking for monsters to slay and feats of strength to perform. He is literally gathering points against his death, so that his name might afterwards ring out through the ages.

And in this seems to lie a fairly robust Atheist credo: live a full life, because you only have one and it is all you will be remembered by.

Of course, it isn't as though I personally embody this credo. I like sitting around in front of the television too much. But, as my parents always told me, do what I say, not what I do.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

A Negotiation is a Negotiation, says Michael Wilson

In trying to explain where $1,000,000,000 stolen from Canada and redistributed to the American lumber lobby went, Ambassador Michael Wilson said that "A Negotiation is a Negotiation." Can anyone explain what that means? He sounds a bit like Chretien, doesn't he?

Maybe even more obscure.

Help! I'm Being Oppressed by Rednecks!

Well, it seems like the rumors are true! Kate has banned your own BigCityLib from posting to her SmallDeadAnimals blog!

Now, I haven't received even the courtesy of an e-mail explaining the reasoning behind this ban, but I can guess. For example, many smalldeadanimalists have e-mailed me with words to the effect that my stark criticisms have made them cry. One gentlemen wrote to inform me that my comments had inspired him to a whole new direction in life, and he was coming to Toronto to marry himself a nice young hockey-player. So, I was stirring up the pot a bit too thoroughly and Kate, rather than allow a true and free debate and letting the chips fall where they might, clamped down in an attempt to impose some right wing version of "political correctness".

However, one thing that I know for sure: the ban had nothing to do with my violating any of Kate's new posting or anti-trolling guidelines, which I have bent over backwards to observe, and indeed have observed much more strictly than many of her ideological soul-mates.

For example, I have stopped referring to the other participants on SmallDeadAnimals as "ignorant bush-hicks from the foothills outside of Gooberville", and I've stopped referring to Stephen Harper as "Harponey", although I thought that last was a rather good one. In fact, I think the only real difference in the level of invective that I have employed, as opposed to that which has been used upon me, is that I, being a Liberal, seem to know more words than the average SmallDeadAnimal. I would constantly get the whole "latte drinking scumbag" thing, and I didn't have the heart to tell them that I don't even drink coffee, because I don't think they would have known what else to call me. In fact, on several occasions I offered to buy everyone on the blog a thesaurus, only to have this offer turned down in language that I will not repeat here.

And, as noted earlier, it isn't just that I can't post to SmallDeadAnimals. I get the following message when I attempt to visit the site:


You don't have permission to access / on this server.

Additionally, a 404 Not Found error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.

I'm not really a techy, but I assume my IP is being blocked. Is there any way to dodge this other than posting from a different computer?

And I would like to return, because it isn't that Conservatives are totally incorrigible. Do you remember the story about the farmer and his donkey? The farmer says that he has the smartest donkey in the world. In fact, the donkey can learn anything you might care to teach it. But before launching into a demonstration, the farmer takes a big 2-by-4 and whacks the donkey over the head. When asked why, he says, "Before you can teach them, you have to get their attention."

Tories are a bit like the donkey, I find.

Maybe Kate hasn't realized it yet, but they need me over at SmallDeadAnimals, and I am anxious to get on with their education.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

DND Repudiates Tories on Flag Protocol

The Harper rationale for not flying the flag at half-staff continues to crumble. From the Montreal Gazette:

The department of Canadian Heritage, which is responsible for the protocol surrounding the half-staffing of the Canadian flag atop the Peace Tower, says it is just doing what the military wants.

"This was developed by the military and for the military," said heritage department spokesperson Len Westerberg. "It has been accepted by the past government and the present government."

The Department of National defense, however, says drafting its own internal policy for the half-staffing of the flag at military facilities and bases was never intended to prevent other parts of the government from honoring fallen soldiers by half-staffing the flag.

"My understanding is that the government always has the prerogative to lower the flags should they see fit," said Jay Paxton, public affairs officer for National defense.

The Gazette story makes a couple of further interesting points. One is that the Prime Minister always has the power to have the flag run at half-staff if circumstances are deemed "extraordinary". So for example it was lowered to commemorate the death of Canadian diplomat Glyn Berry in Afghanistan (January 15th, 2006) and in March 2005 to honor RCMP officers killed on duty in Alberta. The second point is that current protocol will see the flag flown at half-staff should scandal soaked Canadian ambassador Alfonso Gagliano kick the bucket.

The stench around this story continues to increase.

McGuinty Libs Lead Tory Tories

Missed in the ongoing kerfuffle over the half-mast flag, a poll from Leger Marketing (Ontario Political Landscape) shows the Mcguinty Liberals up 39% to 35% over John Tory's Tories, with the NDP coming in at 18%. This, says the poll, is due to a "fairly well-received provincial budget".

Though an election is at least a year away, I think it's going to be hard for the Ontario Conservatives to win this time out. Voters seem to have forgiven Mcguinty his string of broken promises (note to Harper: saying Sorry works!), and he will almost certainly produce a balanced election budget. The only thing the Libs should be worried about right now is if the situation in Caledonia turns sour. At the moment, John Tory is merely criticizing them for a lack of leadership. If shots get fired, the urge to demagogue may become irresistible.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Tories Once Embraced Liberal Flag Protocol

It turns out that the Tories embrace of traditional flag protocol is about ten minutes old.

In 2004, if you remember, the fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi resulted in the death of submariner Lieut. Chris Saunders. CTV reports that: was actually a Conservative MP -- James Moore -- who put forward a motion calling for flags on all government buildings to be flown at half-mast [on that occasion].

The motion was passed unanimously and up to now, has been policy ever since.

So, to put it bluntly, the Conservatives were for the Liberal flag protocol before they were against it. And what can possibly account for the sudden flip-flop? Well, the argument people like retired General, former Conservative MP wannabe, and once pro-Milosovic toady Lewis Mackenzie are making here is that hey, fuck man, now we're at war and people get killed all the time.

So it seems to me that the Tories aren't trying to hide the nature of our mission in Afghanistan. Rather, they are trying to change Canadian attitudes towards it. They want us to view the deaths over there as routine.

Update 9:52 pm: Thanks to Robert McClelland for his link to My Blahg where there is the transcript of James Moore's original motion.

Canada to mimic US climate change policies

From Space Daily, disappointing but hardly surprising:

Ottawa will soon announce new "made in Canada" measures that closely resemble US efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants, Canada's environment minister said Tuesday.

So, several more years of inaction. Oh, but the good news?

Canada may opt later to join the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate, an agreement on air pollution between the United States, Australia, China, Japan, India and South Korea, but not now.

So somewhere down the road Canada may join a partnership explicitly designed for countries who wanted no part of Kyoto, but needed a fig-leaf to make it seem as though they gave a shit. From Wikipedia, "[The Partnership] provides no mandatory enforcement mechanism. This has led to criticism that the "Partnership" is meaningless by...environmental groups."

Even Republican Senator John McCain has said that the Partnership "[amounts] to nothing more than a nice little public relations ploy."

Ralph Klein Will Lower the Flag

From the Edmonton Sun

Alberta will lower flags on all provincial buildings on the days of funerals for soldiers born or based in Alberta.

Premier Ralph Klein said his caucus will honor Alberta soldiers killed in the line of duty, even if the federal government will not.

"It's our way of honoring the men and women who are killed while serving in Afghanistan or other areas," Klein told reporters yesterday.

Klein said his "gut feeling" tells him that's what Albertans would want and he's not worried about undermining Ottawa.

"From what I understand, we're not the only province to do this," he said.

A rare classy act from the Alberta Premier. No polling as far as I know, but I frankly trust Mr. Klein's "gut" on issues like this. I imagine Mr. Harper's new edict is not going down well, and that we will see more acts of defiance should Canada take further casualties.

Canadian military deaths should not ever come to seem routine.

I admit to some discomfort, however, over Klein's restricting the flag-lowering ritual to Alberta soldiers. If all the provinces were to follow a similar directive, I have a picture in my mind of Canadian flags flying at different heights depending on whether you are in Alberta, B.C., or New Brunswick. I think we should be honoring them all, regardless of their place of residence.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Is Mary McCarthy Being Railroaded?

Mary MacCarthy is the Clinton appointed CIA analyst who last week confessed to leaking classified secrets to the Washington Post pertaining to secret CIA detention centers in Eastern Europe. Except that, according to this Newseek Story, she "categorically denies being the source of the leak". From the story:

McCarthy's lawyer, Ty Cobb, told NEWSWEEK this afternooon that contrary to public statements by the CIA late last week, McCarthy never confessed to agency interrogators that she had divulged classified information and "didn't even have access to the information" in The Washington Post story in question.

After being told by agency interrogators that she may have been deceptive on a question during a polygraph, McCarthy did acknowledge that she had failed to report contacts with Washington Post reporter Dana Priest and at least one other reporter, said a source familiar with her account who asked not to be identified because of legal sensitivities. McCarthy has known Priest for some time, the source said.

So, as it turns out, McCarthy was not fired for leaking a particular story, but merely for "unauthorized contacts with the media and discussion of classified information... with journalists."

More specifically:

A counter-terrorism official acknowledged to NEWSWEEK today that in firing McCarthy, the CIA was not necessarily accusing her of being the principal, original, or sole leaker of any particular story. Intelligence officials privately acknowledge that key news stories about secret agency prison and rendition operations have been based, at least in part, upon information available from unclassified sources.

It is also clear that Ms. McCarthy probably cannot be subject of a criminal prosecution. For one thing, the results of polygraph tests are usually inadmissible in court due to "doubts about the judicial doubts about the reliability and credibility of lie-detector machines." Furthermore, "...witnesses submitting to a polygraph examination usually give up their rights not to make self-incriminating statements. The use of any admissions McCarthy gave under these circumstances for a criminal investigation would therefore be problematic."

The Bosnian Pyramid

Because politics can be depressing, and Science wonderful, today's post will concern the most interesting tale from the world of Archeology that I've heard in awhile.

There is a hill outside of Visoko, Bosnia-Herzegovina, known as Visocica, the shape of which has long been considered unusual. Specifically, it has relatively flat, 45-degree slopes pointing toward the cardinal points and a flat top. The local residents have long wondered if human hands might have played a role in scultping the hill.

In 2005, an amateur archeologist named Semir Osmanagicm visited Visoko and discovered that the sides of the hill were aligned with the four points of the compass. After further work he claimed to have uncovered "stone tiles" and an "entrance" into the hill. His theory was that a step-pyramid 220 meters high, or 80 meters taller than the Great Pyramid of Egypt, was buried under Visocica. To get an appreciation, compare the town of Visoko in the foreground of the picture left with Visocica Hill behind it.

Now, the strangest thing here is that this whole story does not appear to be a hoax. Even though Semir Osmanagic is considered a bit of a "mysterious character" by the archeological establishment, the dig currently ongoing at the site has been turning up more and more evidence for his claims: walls made of cut stone cubes, entrances to tunnels, and so on. Furthermore, satellite photographs and thermal imaging revealed two other, smaller pyramid-shaped hills in the Visoko Valley. And as the evidence seems to mount, the story of what may be Europe's first pyramid is being picked up by mainstream publications like the Washington Post.

Now, assuming this continues to play out as legitimate science, the discovery of the Bosnian Pyramid is one of those events that will literally rewrite world history. So far the best theory is that the Illyrian people, who inhabited the Balkan region before conquering Slavic tribes overran them about 1,400 years ago, had the sophistication to shape a hill into a pyramid.

More information on the Bosnian Pyramid can be found here at the official website.

One of those WOW! moments, frankly. And even wilder is that that Spanish guy in Alien Vs. Predator may turn out to have been a Prophet (before he got eaten)!

Update, 7:21 pm: Well, certainly critics have emerged, and their claims can be read here. Their main claim is that the Visocica once housed old settlements or perhaps a medieval necropolis, and that Osmanagic and his "team" are basically trashing a legitimate archeological site in search of an non-existant pyramid. Given that Osmanagic has a thing for Indiana Jones, and has dated the pyramid to 12,000 BC, they might have a point.

Here is Cnn's take on the story. They are taking it very lightly.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Update on Illegal Workers

An update, concerning the ongoing crackdown on mostly Portuguese, mostly GTA based illegal immigrants. From the T.O. Star:

Organizers expected up to 3,500 people for a march and rally through the streets of Toronto, but only a few hundred supporters of undocumented Portuguese workers braved rainy weather on Saturday.

Chanting "support, don't deport," the crowd made its way from Queen's Park to Toronto city hall to cheer speakers who said Canada's "immigration system is broken."

Pity the turnout was not as expected, although on Friday, apparently, "about 1,000 Portuguese workers and their family members converged on Queen's Park".

But of course, the Harper government is indifferent:

Despite the protests and a level of public sympathy for deportees, the federal government appears to be unmoved.

The federal government has said there are no plans to provide amnesty to undocumented workers, regardless of their skills.

To me, it seems that a number of factors behind the Federal government's non-response. For one thing, I suspect they see it as a Toronto/GTA/Ontario issue, and Ontario looks to be at the bottom of their list of priorities. For another, I think the issues surrounding the "War on Terror"and the idea that Terrorists might be getting into the country are skewing attitudes towards all illegals.

However, the people we are talking about are (mostly) Portuguese, certainly not terrorists, and though they are here without the proper papers, they pay taxes and work hard and have given birth to Canadian citizens, who in many cases will also be forced to leave the country with them.

Can the Senate Save our Children?

Although it is premature to say that the Tory childcare proposals are in trouble, I think it is surprising how little enthusiasm these proposals have generated among the general public. When, for example, the best quote that the wildly pro-Tory National Post can come up with is, "I think it's just a payoff. Of course I'm going to take the money but I don't think it's solving any problems." then you are clearly having some difficulty convincing the populace. And when your PR plan includes sending in the wingnuts, far right lobby groups whose other beliefs include the theory that the One World Government, acting through the United Nations, is employing homosexuals to undermine the Catholic Church, then you are clearly having difficult finding mainstream groups to carry the torch for you.

And of course, though the Stephen Harper Tories command a small minority in the HOC, in the Senate Liberals outnumber Conservatives by a 66 to 25 majority. Which fact inspires Alan Holman of the PEI Guardian to write in his Saturday column:

If the Liberals sense there is serious public opposition to the government's proposal, by arguing it's the duty of the Senate to thoroughly examine all bills that come before it, they could use their majority to strike a committee and hear all sides of the issue from people across the country.

Senate committees have a long history of studying complex bills, often making important amendments. Senate committees have also been used to study complex social issues. They are efficient and much more cost-effective than royal commissions.

If Mr. Harper cares about the children, and his program isn't just a $1,200 handout to stay-at-home mothers and others who oppose day-care, then he would encourage the Senate to study the issue, and perhaps reach a consensus. With only a third of the seats in the Commons, the government can't claim it has a mandate for such a controversial program.

A Senate committee would allow both sides the opportunity to present their views in a more reasoned and rational manner than would ever be possible in the heat of an election campaign. And that could be the very reason why the Conservatives might oppose such a move.

Should Harper refuse to at least allow those deals signed by the previous Liberal government to go forward, then slowing things up in the Senate seems to be a good move both substantively and politically. While Harper seems (almost comically) eager to goad the Libs into an election before their new leader is in place, I don't believe he wants to do it over this issue, especially if the choice is not between passing the legislation or killing it, but between passing a flawed set of proposals and subjecting them to a "rational, reasonable" reconsideration.

Friday, April 21, 2006

How Extreme are the Extremists Shilling for Harpers "Childcare Policy"?

This post was inspired by a recent comment on another blog, which I now forget the name of.

Allegedly, one of the SoCon groups that Harper has enlisted to sell his new $1,200 per year baby bonus masquerading as a "Childcare Policy" came down against the portions of Bill C-53 which, back in 1984, criminalized marital rape (among other things). Well, after a long day of slogging through the Globe & Mail's free on-line archive, I have been unable to find evidence for this contention.

However, some of the stuff I was able to dig up turned out to be interesting and quite fun. Furthermore, it practically begged the question: just how mainstream are the people that Harper is ready to "unleash" in his attempt to convince the nation that a couple bucks per day for every kid under six (pre taxes) amounts to a "national, universal childcare program"?

It turns out, the answer is "not very".

Probably the most interesting character in the Tory cheering section on this issue is Gwen Landolt, the founder and current Vice-President of REAL Women of Canada.

Gwen Landolt's history of political activism is long and full. Previously a lawyer for the federal government, she founded The Right to Life in 1971, one of the first (if not the first) Pro-Life groups in Canada. In the early 80s, frustrated by the "radical feminist" agenda being promoted by the NAC (National Action Committee on the Status of Women), she founded REAL Women as kind of cultural a counter-weight. Through the latter half of the 1980s', REAL Women made a prolonged effort to secure government funding to match that of their "radical feminist" counterparts, an effort which failed when the Mulroney Tories decided that the group was not in fact advancing the "equality" of women. Since then they have surfaced in various battles in the Culture Wars, most recently in opposition to same-sex marriage legislation.

The public positions taken by REAL Women over the years have been fairly predictable--to the Right of the mainstream, but not entirely out of it. They have for a long time been advocating a kind of homemakers bonus not too dissimilar to the current $1,200 per year proposal that Harper is offering. They have opposed "abortion on demand", pay equity legislation, "socialized" daycare. Their anti-porn stance overlaps that of some more mainstream Feminist organizations (or at least their 1980s equivalent), although their past opposition to any material that portrays non-violent sexual intercourse between gays and lesbians puts them closer to the fringe. Furthermore, their opposition to the "homosexual" agenda has, according to some accounts, extended from the gay marriage issue to opposing equal workplace rights for gays.

So, if I were to sum Real Women of Canada up in a single sentence, I'd say: they are wrong, but not way past gone.

However, Gwen Landolt has also spoken and written for kindred spirits: fellow SoCons, in other words. And in some of these speeches the sensible shoes come off and Gwen lets it all hang out. There is, for example, an account here of a January 18, 2003 speech given to Witness, a Toronto Catholic group.

Gwen Landolt's presentation that day was entitled "The Homosexual Activists' Push to Change Canadian Society", and in it she makes a number of remarkable contentions.

1) About 300 people planet-wide (no mention as to whether or not they are Jews) are manipulating the United Nations to create the One World Government which, when it is formed, will be used to "attack the Catholic Church and all other religions", and replace them with "humanism, secularism, [and] materialism".

2) At the forefront of the One World Government's attack are "homosexual activists". Among other things, "homosexual activists" are "...very closely involved in the abortion battle... because they know it's deteriorating and breaking down the structure of society." So, homosexuals, serving as the "advance guard" for the United Nations, are promoting "abortion on demand" as a means to an end--to kind of soften everyone one up for coming of the One World Government.

3) Of course, the Canadian Surpreme Court has played a role here too, advancing the homosexual agenda by redefining the terms "Tolerance and Diversity" to mean an "unconditional acceptance" of homosexuality. Justice Beverly McLachlan comes in for some especially harsh language.

Remember Gwen's words when the Tories unveil the final details of their daycare package, for she and REAL women will be there at the table co-ordinating efforts with Conservative Party strategists.

PS: if anyone can point to definitive evidence that any of the SoCon groups that Harper is appealing to really did oppose Bill C-53, I would love to hear about it. Politically, the daycare plan is already proving to be a loser for the new government (up to 10,000 spaces will be lost across Canada). If the plan's supporters all prove to be far-right wingnuts for hire, the political cost will be greater. Who knows? Maybe the provinces that have already signed deals with the previous Federal government will be allowed to keep their spaces.

PPS: The Globe and Mail's on-line archive, stretching back every issue to 1844, is truly a wonder, and all you have to do (in Toronto at least) is have a library card. Absolute gold for anyone wishing to research national issues.

Is Gerard Kennedy Too Pretty to Lead?

Gerard Kennedy is off to a fast start in the Liberal leadership race, having already garnered the support of a group of "young" Liberal MPs from around the GTA. But is it Deja Vu all over again?

Of course everyone remembers the 1996 Ontario Liberal leadership race, when Gerard came into the convention as the frontrunner, and lost after an "anyone but Kennedy movement" sprang up that gave the prize to Dalton McGuinty on the fifth ballot. Could history repeat itself?

My main contact with the Liberal Party machine at that time was through my wife, who was active in her old riding association and several Liberal Women's groups. I was often dragged kicking and screaming to their events, and sat quietly easting pastries while they discussed the issues of the day.

One thing I noted is how little these discussions, when they turned to the various leadership candidates, dealt with actual policy. Instead, it was all about: did X make time to speak to a particular group; how was Y dressed when he/she spoke to them; did he/she have any annoying facial tics?; did he/she rudely blow anyone off for asking silly a question? And so on.

I have actually learned to be more appreciative of these sorts of considerations in evaluating politicians. You are selecting a person as much as a platform, after all. But the bottom line was, these Liberal women hated Gerard Kennedy. And the same words came up over and over again: arrogant, preening, self-centered, pretty-boy. The impression I got here was that Gerard was the kind of guy you might catch fixing his hair in front of a mirror. And it was an impression that I heard over and over again from other sources through the course of the campaign.

Now, ten years is a long time, and Gerard has obviously matured as a person and a politician. However, it would surprise me if someone didn't attempt to stick the "slick, pretty, city-boy" tag on him.

Hopefully, he has learned, or learned to fake, Humble.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Go Neil Young!

I am amazed at how much ink the news that Neil Young has penned a whole new album of "folk metal" anti-war songs is getting, but I guess if you manage to get the "right wing blogosphere" pissed at you it's worth a couple of weeks of free publicity.

I am a long time Neil Young fanatic, and am mostly happy about this news, but a bit anxious as well. His last stab at political music, "Let's Roll", let's face it, sucked monkeys. But the new album, called Living With War, has long-time collaborators Chad Cromwell on drums, Rick Rosas on bass, and Tommy Bray on trumpet. A "power trio" with trumpet, in other words. And one of the tunes is entitled "Impeach the President". Interesting. Or bizarre.

Anyway, just for the hell of it, here's my list of Neil Young's various gestures towards protest music. If anyone else has others to add, go for it.


A classic. If you can, try to find the Live version with Buffalo Springfield. Neil's solo in the middle puts it right over the top. It's on Journey Through the Past, which is mostly awful, so you might try to download it as an individual tune from the P2P networks.

Southern Man and Alabama

The two songs that spawned Lynyrd Skynyrd's famous slap back "Sweet Home Alabama". The vocal phrasing in the line "Sweet Home Alabama" echoes the chorus of "Alabama":

Swing low Alabama
Banjos Playing through the broken glass.

Anyway, Ronnie Van Zant from Skynrd and Neil eventually became great friends, and Neil was one of the pall-bearers at the singer's funeral. Interestingly enough, Neil wrote the classic "Powderfinger" for Lynyrd Skynyrd, but that big ole plane went down before they had a chance to record it. The history of their relationship can be found here at the website of The Drive-by-Truckers, one of the great musical heirs of both Neil and Skynyrd.


Not really sure if this one counts as political or not, though it does mention Nixon a couple of times in the chorus. Probably one of the prettiest, saddest songs ever written, it contains the lines:

Hospitals have made him cry
but there's always a freeway in his eyes
though this beach just got too crowded for a stroll

Hawks and Doves

This album was made in the early eighties during Neil's "Reagon" period. There are any number of countryish salutes to the American Working Man and a hawkish foreign policy, as well as a few weird nighttime pieces like "Captain Kennedy". Strange but very beautiful. One of his most under-rated records.

Lets Rolls

Let's Not. Sucks monkeys. What can I say.

So, what have I missed?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Can Progressives Go Nuclear?

Premier Dalton McGuinty says it might be our best bet. From The Star:

Nuclear power may be the best option to fulfill Ontario's future electricity needs, despite its obvious downsides including Chernobyl-type accidents and radioactive waste, Premier Dalton McGuinty said Wednesday.

Natural gas is too expensive, wind power is unreliable, coal plants pollute the air and Ontario's hydroelectric potential has largely been maxed out, leaving nuclear power expansions on the table for the province, McGuinty said.

I am beginning to come around to McGuinty's line of thinking. Solar is the one big source not mentioned in the article, and there are some really interesting developments on that front, but for the right-here-right-now, if you are serious about quelling the increasingly obvious effects of Global Warming, the fast out might be to build more reactors. After all, the big issue with Nuclear (other than Chernobyl-like meltdowns) is where to store the waste so it doesn't pollute a thousand years from now.

It would be a luxury to have only to worry about events that far in the future.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

It's "The Beaches", Fool!

From the TO Star:

The head of the Beaches business improvement area announced at the Beaches public library today that the east end neighborhood will officially be called "The Beach." - It's 'The Beach'

Terrible decision! When it was "the Beaches" all the tourists thought there was more than one! Now the jig is up! What? Only one beach? Might as well go to the docks, where they've apparently got a whole flipping variety!

I don't understand people nowadays.

Take 'em Down?

With a Grand total of 39% of the population ready to vote for him, Stephen Harper is making threats. From The Post:

BURNABY, B.C. -- The Tory election promise to give parents cash for child care will be included in the upcoming federal budget and will be subjected to a confidence vote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper says.

Harper challenged his Liberal, Bloc and New Democrat critics to take his minority government down over the pledge.

My first response is: if the Tories won't negotiate on this, take 'em down. Last I heard (and sorry I don't have a link), the vast majority of Canadians support Federal government attempts to work out something that might pass for a national daycare program over handing out cash and hoping for the best. And I would frankly look askance at Jack Layton and the NDP if they were to sell out the principle of National Daycare for nothing more than a bigger handout than the Tories are currently offering.

Now, what do I mean by negotiate? Well, the actual part of the Tory plan aimed at creating spaces (20% of the total budget), will apparently "go ahead after consultations." Harper says,
"It's going to take us a year to put the space creation plan in place. But as I say, we're willing to consult with parents on the best way to proceed over this year.''

Of course that's the part of the plan that will fall by the wayside. So lets see the space creation plan moved up, and lets see it rejigged so that the Canadian government is actually creating spaces, rather than merely passing out our tax-payer dollars in Corporate Welfare to the private sector if they create spaces out of the goodness of their hearts.

Now, how wise is confrontation at this point? Harper seems to want a fight, the Libs would be without a real Leader if a vote were called this summer. But on the other hand, nobody wants an election, and if it looks like Harper has forced one out of stubbornness, then he'll be the one holding the hot potato. After all, the nation gave him a minority; he is expected to compromise.

So, for the moment at least, this Toronto boy is ready to rumble.

Environment a Sore Spot, Voters Say

Mostly fair to middling news for the Harper Tories in today's Decima Research Poll, as reported here. Were an election held today, the Tories would garner 39% of the vote, a figure which hasn't moved much since they've been in power. Overall, 53% of poll respondents approve of their performance so far, with a breakdown as follows: 70% Conservatives, 40% Liberals, 25% NDP and 25% Bloc.

However, the poll also confirms what many have suspected (for example the inestimable Jason Cherniak here), which is that the Tories are falling down with respect to Environmental issues:

The polls suggest that more people thought the Conservatives were doing a good job of handling international affairs and Canada-U.S. relations than those that thought they were doing a poor job. Ditto for the economy.

But the reverse was true of areas such as child care, the environment and health care.

For example, 63 per cent of respondents said they thought the Conservatives were doing a poor job on the environment. That was before the news came out that the government was pulling funding for a number of climate-change initiatives.

Anderson said public opinion research suggests Canadians are becoming more focused on global environmental issues and that Harper should take note.

"It's important for them to position themselves as progressive advocates of environmental solutions domestically and internationally if they want to broaden their support base," he said.

As the article notes, this 63% figure is a record of public opinion before the announced cuts to environmental programs, and before reports of the Tories muzzling their own scientists .

In fact, Harper's behavior with respect to environmental issues has been bizarre. The Kyoto Accord, as it stands, has so many loopholes as to be a paper tiger. Further, the Tories could always follow the Liberal strategy, which is to endorse Kyoto but do nothing towards achieving its targets. Instead, Harper has chosen to make some rather gratuitous displays of belligerence. It is as though he feels the need to play to the global warming doubters and flat-earthers in the party base.

So, is there a strategy here: stroke the party faithful and write-off the rest of the population on this one issue, so as to seize the middle (and maybe offend the party base) on other "top tier" issues (economy, int. affairs)? Or are the Conservatives simply reverting to form?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Don Mills and Don Mills Center: Some History and Pics

It is interesting that Don Mills Center, slated for demolition in May (unless some last minute begging and pleading by local residents and city councilors changes a few minds, which I doubt), should come to such an ignominious end after such bright beginnings.

You see, the town of Don Mills, when it was developed in the early 1950s, was one of Canada's first planned communities. It was supposed to be, according to the newspapers of the time, a fully developed satellite community of about 6,000 souls that did not attach, "fungus like", to the body of the central city. In other words, it was meant to be self-sufficient, with both Residential and Commercially zoned properties in close proximity, the idea being to avoid becoming one of the sprawling "bedroom communities" that were springing up all over the place at the time.

The town outlines can be seen on the map below (dated about 1954-1955), with Don Mills Center occupying the lower right corner of the cross-within-a-circle near the middle of the map. (Incidentally, I noted in a previous post that the current population in the area is heavily slanted towards senior citizens. Many of these are located in multi-residential buildings on the left edge of the circle).

And Don Mills Center was meant to be something more than a mere shopping center. Architecturally, it took its cue from the concept of an Agora, an open space at the center of many ancient Greek cities. There's a picture of the interior below, from about 1967:
Note that the mall is open to the elements with canopies above the store-fronts, the point of this being to simulate the row of shops on ground level of a typical city street. Don Mills Center actually won a governor General's Award for architectural design in 1955.
In fact, the mall was the not the only structure on site with aspirations to architectural distinction. Bet you can't guess what the structure at the South end of the picture is.
If you said a curling rink, you would be right. This structure was torn down in 1986, and was replaced by a four story office building.
Unfortunately, in 1970 Fairview Mall up on Sheppard Avenue opened and, as winters were a bit harder back then, many people decided they enjoyed shopping under a proper roof. Sales stagnated until, in 1978, Don Mills Center was renovated and covered over, losing many of its unique architectural features in the process. So it goes.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Blair Won't Support Iran Strike

Today's Scotsman reports here that "government spokesmen" have indicated that Tony Blair will not back any strike on Iran "regardless of whether the move wins the backing of the international community". I think the important point is in the last line, as presumably "international community" means the U.N. So thats seems a pretty definite "No".

Furthermore, the rationale given (the emphasis on a lack of British military resources available for the strike) is interesting as well. It has become clear that the U.S. military is not the only force to be overstretched by its Iraq commitments. Britain is clearly looking past the current situation to what they might face in the aftermath of an American bombing campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities.

This is actually good news because, Seymour Hersh aside, an actual military assault looks less likely in the short term. For one thing the States would be acting alone (or perhaps with Israeli assistance), and would bare the consequences pretty much alone, through (at least) increased casualties in Iraq via clashes with with Shia militants in areas of the country that have been, until now, relatively pacified.

For another, I don't see how the timing would work out. The Bush administration has always conducted its military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan with both eyes on the domestic political calendar. For example, Fallujah was allowed to fester until mid-November 2004, after Bush was safely re-elected, so the news cycle wouldn't be filled with accounts of dead soldiers and bombed out hospitals during the campaign itself. Since mid-terms are coming up this November, and the GOP is looking vulnerable, a strike would not make political sense before that time unless it could be absolutely guaranteed to be a success, which is of course impossible. Otherwise the big election story is kids coming home in body-bags.

What I can see happening is an attempt at replaying 2002, when Bush and the GOP used a lot of chest-thumping to paint the Dems as weak on National Security in the run-up to the Iraq War, and gained in both the House and Senate. Attempts will be made to convince the U.S. electorate that the organs of the Federal Government must get behind a possible military strike in Iran (date to be announced sometime after the elections), and that, once again, any dissent smacks of disloyalty.

Whether that works this time around, and what happens after November 2006, I will not venture a guess.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Bye Bye Don Mills Center

I've never really had any particular warm feelings towards Don Mills Center, though I've probably walked through the place several thousand times in my life. It is still a bit weird to watch everybody pulling out in advance of its closing down and falling to the wrecking ball in May, to watch people line up to strip the last items off the racks in this or that clothing store. It's a bit like pirahnas removing flesh from a floating corpse. Not that I haven't done my bit. Thus far I've scooped up a half dozen Dilbert books for $5.00 a pop at Coles, and a nifty windbreaker from a place called Barclays for under $30.

For me, the highlight of Don Mills Center was a neat little bar called "Joe Bird's" (next to Diana Sweets), that was about the size of a phone-booth and a particular favorite of the local posties. And my wife and I used to visit Diana Sweets occasionally on mornings when she would teach skating at the rink next door. It was like a scene out of Little Old Lady Land, with all these elderly English types coming in for breakfast.

In fact, Don Mills is surrounded by senior's residences of one sort or another. Visit during the lunch hours and it was like everyone was pushing walkers. Until recently, that is, when technology improved and you would see 100 year old women driving electric wheel-chairs that could outrace a horse.

It's these people who will have the most trouble when the place is gone. Demographically, there is a ring of elderlies living around the mall (on The Donway), and for the next couple of years (until the new facilites are up), their main source of goods, services, and Community will be a big smoking hole in the ground. Furthermore, the new structure will be open-air, designed to simulate the main streets of a small town, and I can't imagine that an elderly population will appreciate this during the winter months.

I've actually got some historical photos and plans of the mall that I will try to post and comment on over the course of the next couple of weeks.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Rumsfeld Pesonally Authorized Torture!

From Salon Magazine:

WASHINGTON - U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld allowed an “abusive and degrading” interrogation of an al-Qaida detainee in 2002, an online magazine reported Friday, citing an Army document.

In a report a Pentagon spokesman denounced as “fiction,” Salon quoted a December 2005 Army inspector general’s report in which officers told of Rumsfeld’s direct contact with the general overseeing the interrogation at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The report, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, comes amid a spate of calls by retired U.S. generals for the Pentagon chief to resign to take responsibility for U.S. military setbacks in Iraq.

Report: Rumsfeld allowed prison abuse - U.S. Security -

Resign, Asshole!

Gagging Scientists!

First, we have SHRRC turning down Dr. Brian Alter's research grant to study the pernicious effects of Intelligent Design on public discourse. Now we have attempts to muzzle Environment Canada Scientists who dare to speak out on Global Warming. In fact, Stephen Harper has a little warning for them:

"We were elected on a particular platform. Our commitment to the people of Canada is to go ahead with that platform. That will include measures we're going to develop over the next year or so to deal with both pollution and greenhouse gases, and I obviously not only hope but expect that all elements of the bureaucracy will be working with us to achieve those objectives." - Ottawa muzzles climate change expert

The Scientist involved, Mark Tushingham, had been scheduled to speak in Ottawa about his book Hotter Than Hell--a futuristic account of Canada and the U.S. at war over water resources in a globally warmed world — when he received an email from the environment minister's office, warning him not to attend the event. He has also been "warned" not to speak with reporters, and fears for his job.

These actions are of a piece with the new government's communication clamp-down. I guess the only good thing about it is that contents under pressure invariably leak and, when they do, the results are not pretty.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Godfrey Bows Out

CTV Says:

Toronto-area MP John Godfrey announced Wednesday morning that he is pulling out of the Liberal leadership race, citing unidentified health concerns. Godfrey bows out of Liberal leadership race:

The article also mentions fundraising difficulties.

Iraq Miscellany

Casualties are back up this month. From the New York Times:

BAGHDAD, Iraq, April 12 - The death toll for American troops is rising steeply this month, with the military today announcing the deaths of two more soldiers, bringing the number of troops killed this month to at least 33. That figure already surpasses the American military deaths for all of March, and could signal a renewed insurgent offensive against the American presence here.

Deaths of U.S. Soldiers Climb Again in Iraq - New York Times

It could also be the result of the fact, noted here in Monday's Washington Post, that U.S soldiers are back on patrol in areas of Baghdad recently handed over to the Iraqi Army, in "a tacit acknowledgment that Iraqi troops have not been able to control violence between Shiites and Sunnis on their own."

Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich wants out: "It was an enormous mistake for us to try to occupy that country after June of 2003," Gingrich said during an informal question-and-answer session. "We have to pull back, and we have to recognize it."

Finally, due to the situation in Iraq, Pat Buchanan says an attack on Iran right now would be crazy, and suggests negotiation:

If President Bush is truly confident that time is on the side of democracy and freedom, what does he have to lose by negotiating a cold peace with the mullahs' Iran, a failed regime that does not dispose of 5 percent of the military or economic power of United States? We outlasted the British Empire, Stalin and Mao. Is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a bigger problem?

Perhaps, in Churchill's words, it is time for jaw-jaw, not war-war.

Not much for me to say here. More Cons are turning against the war.
The Newt Gingrich comments have not been widely reported.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Tories and Libs Disgrace Themselves

From CTV:

The debate, which opposition parties demanded, will be a largely symbolic exercise as there will be no vote on whether Canada's military role in the war-ravaged country should continue. The debate is sparsely attended by MPs. Here is CTV's count, out of 308 MPs:

14 Conservative MPs (44 left after O'Connor finished speaking)
10 Liberals (had been 21 at one point)
1 Bloc Quebecois (had been two)
20 NDP (started with eight) Afghan mission in Canada's interest: O'Connor

They are debating the lives of Canadian kids and the Conservatives and Libs have something more important to run off too? This is disgusting.

Update: Tuesday, 9:00 am

So, apparently, Harper didn't even bother to show up at the debate. Earlier in the day, during question period, he accused Jack Layton of not supporting the troops. Later, before the debate began, he appeared for reporters to say that Canada would be in Afghanistan "for years", and then pissed off into the night. Not too Prime Ministerial, if you ask me.

Iggy Strikes Out

A couple nasty fake Michael Igatieff campaign posters:

Now, to me, Iggy's recent "clarifications" of his position on torture seem to me to indicate that he was for torture before he was against it. But put that aside, I can just see him debating Stephen Harper:

Harper: It appears that Mr. Ignatieff, like myself, supported of our allies with regards to the Iraq war. However, my own position in regards to torture has never been ambiguous.

Liberals: don't like what I write on Iggy? D'you think the Tories will be any nicer? Do you want to fight the next election on the issue of whether or not your party leader was partial to the nut-cruncher?

Sunday, April 09, 2006

No Way, Bob Rae!

From the Globe:

Edmonton — Bob Rae signaled he is really in the Liberal leadership race with a series of broad hints at a panel for potential candidates Saturday.

Striding to the middle of the stage when it was his turn to make an opening statement in session with 16 aspirants, Mr. Rae, the former NDP Premier of Ontario, quipped: "Thank you, I'm much more comfortable in the middle." : Rae hints at Liberal leadership bid

There are two potential Lib Leadership candidates who, if elected to this post, will take the Liberals down in ruins with them during the next general election. One is Michael Ignateiff; the other is Bob Rae.

With Bob Rae, it is simply a matter of his record. He left the province of Ontario running an annual deficit in the neighborhood of 10 Billion per year. Now, alot of this was bad luck. Rae's NDP took office just as the 1990-91 recession kicked in, and in Ontario it kicked in hard. Nevertheless, you are judged by your results, and Rae failed awfully in returning Ontario to a healthy financial footing. The Tories will shell him like a peanut over this.

The second issue is a little less obvious: it seems to me that Rae is too much of a philosopher to function effectively as a politician. For example, it is all very well to approach massive deficits determined to "spread the pain equally", but instituting something like "Bob Rae Days" when your party has been largely built around Union support, was an act of political madness. Unionists tend to be left politically, but right culturally, and stiffing them in this manner made them ripe for some of the anti-intellectualism and veiled racism that Mike Harris served up in his 1995 campaign. Furthermore, in the run-up to the 1995 election, it was obvious that the NDP were going to get booted out the door, but it was not clear how far. I remember reading article after article as voting day grew closer, about how "above the fray" and "philosophical" Rae appeared. For me, I will always prefer someone who is ready to go down fighting tooth and nail.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Best Band in The Land

How to describe the Drive by Truckers?
Sonically, they range from "alt-country" to the kind of noise Steve Earle might make if he found a couple of Neil Young's guitars from the "Ragged Glory" sessions and embraced feedback. Their seventh album, A Blessing and a Curse is due to drop on April 18th and, since a few songs have begun turning up on the P2P networks, I thought I might take a break from reaming out Tories and write a bit of an appreciation.
The core of DBT is a three guitar attack a la Lynyrd Skynyrd, and no less than three great song-writers. The head Trucker is probably Patterson Hood, who looks a bit like Warren Oates from Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch".

Hood's songs are stylistically all over the place within the general "roots rock" framework. His lyrics are straight-forward yet highly poetic, and the whole rolling package is tied together with a voice that is, let's just say, gravelly as all hell. A kind of "Springsteen of the South", in other words.
It was finding one of Patterson Hood's tunes on Napster that really turned me into a DBT fanatic. The song was "Let There Be Rock" from Southern Rock Opera, and its about a young Alabama boy whose dreams of seeing Lynyrd Skynyrd are dashed by that fatal plane crash.

The song concludes with a list of the bands our boy did finally get to see, all of whom (it turns out) were later struck by tragedy in one form or another:
So I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd but I sure saw Ozzy Osbourne with Randy Rhoads in 82
Right before that plane crash.
And I never saw Lynyrd Skynyrd but I sure saw AC/DC
With Bon Scott singing, "Let There Be Rock Tour".
This really struck a chord for me (no pun intended) the first time I heard it. For one thing, it clued me into the fact that Patterson Hood must be around my own age (Fortyish). Even more importantly, it made me think back to the days when I was desperate to see AC/DC. They were just breaking big at the time, and were scheduled to open for (if I remember correctly) Van Halen. But then Bon Scott died of alcohol poisoning in that car and I ended up watching some pack of assholes from Seattle in pink spandex.
Patterson Hood's long-time band-mate is a guy named Mike Cooley (pictured left), who looks lean as a stick of beef jerky. He handles alot of the band's lead-guitar duties. Cooley doesn't do as much writing as Hood, but there's not much in the way of filler in his own catalog of songs. One of my favorite tunes of his, also from Southern Rock Opera, is called "Zip City":
Your Daddy was mad as hell
He was mad at me and you
As he tied that chain to the front of my car and pulled me out of that ditch that we slid into
Don't know what his problem is
Why he keeps dragging you away
Don't know why I put up with this shit
When you don't put out and Zip City's so far away
Another great Cooley tune is "Marry Me" from the follow-up to Southern Rock Opera, entitled Decoration Day, which contains one of my favorite lines from the band:
Well, my daddy didn’t pull out, but he never apologized
Rock and Roll means well, but it can’t help tellin’ young boys lies.
I guess sometime around Southern Rock Opera Patterson and Mike decided they needed a third full-time guitarist to help bring the noise, and found "the kid" Jason Isbell, who also plays lead and (at least I think its him) some nasty slide guitar. As it turns out, Jason can write as well! His tunes tend to be a bit poppier then his bandmates' (I detect strains of Tom Petty in some of them), and are probably the band's best hope for any kind of Top 40 success. One of my favorites is "Goddamn Lonely Love" from The Dirty South. It is beautifully played, beautifully sung, and goddamn poetry:
Stop me if you've heard this one before:
A man walks into a bar and leaves before his ashes hit the floor.
Stop me if I ever get that far.
The sun's a desperate star that burns like every single one before.
Rounding out the band are Shonna Tucker on bass and Brad Morgan on drums.
As for the stuff I've found from the new album through Limewire, it doesn't look like DBT has lost a step at all since The Dirty South came out in 2004. "Aftermath U.S.A." sounds a bit like the Stones crossed with The Faces, "Gravity's Gone" features Cooley and (I think) Isbell wailing away on slide.
Finally, if you ever get a chance to see these guys live, do it. They play a good, long time; the three guitars can blow out walls two clubs away; they solo like mad things; and (unlike many bands these days) they look like they enjoy their work.
I've just ordered their DVD Live at The Forty Watt. I've got a buddy whose marriage has just gone South on him, who's moving out into an apartment. He's planning one last poker party for his buddies where we'll get drunk, play this DVD, and trash the house before he leaves for the last time. The Drive By Truckers make music that's perfect for that kind of occasion.
Find out more about the band

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Is Intelligent Design Oozing its Way into Canada?

From the Montral Gazette:

A clash between McGill University and the key federal agency that funds social science research in the country is sparking a scholarly debate in Canada about the theory of evolution.

McGill University says the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council made a "factual error" when it denied Professor Brian Alters a $40,000 grant on the grounds that he'd failed to provide the panel with ample evidence that Charles Darwin's theory of evolution is correct.

Prof denied grant over evolution

The name of the rejected project was "Detrimental Effects of Popularizing Anti-evolution's Intelligent Design Theory on Canadian Students, Teachers, Parents, Administrators and Policymakers."

Okay, reading the article and glancing at the conversation on Slashdot, it is not entirely clear what is going on here. Grant proposals get turned down for alot of reasons, and Professors are not above venting sour grapes. The SSHRC claims that Dr. Alters is taking "one line in the letter out of context".

But it is McGill, not Dr. Alters, that has raised the complaint, and the one line he is supposedly misinterpreting says that Dr. Alter did not provide "adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent design theory, was correct."

Further, Janet Halliwell, the SSHRC's executive vice-president and a chemist by training, remarked on the situation by noting that there are phenomena that "may not be easily explained by current theories of evolution" and that the scientific world's understanding of life "is not static. There's an evolution in the theory of evolution."

I do not find these remarks particularly comforting.

I think several questions need to be asked here. The most important one is: what are the political affiliations of Ms. Halliwell and the other members of the SSHRC committee, who include Susan Bennett of the department of English literature at the University of Calgary; Lawrence Felt of the department of sociology at Memorial University of Newfoundland; University of Ottawa history professor Ruby Heap; Gilbert Larochelle from the department of human sciences at the Universite du Quebec a Chicoutimi; and Ruth Rose from the department of economics at the Universite du Quebec a Montreal. Are they Harper appointees? Are the Conservatives trying to sneak hard right yobos into the education system while maintaining a moderate front?

Now, again, Dr. Alter may well be maliciously misinterpreting a line from a letter informing him that, essentially, his research is unworthy. Given what I know of academia, that would not surprise me and, if so, shame on him. But on the other hand any encroachment of Intelligent Design into the Canadian education has to be fought tooth and nail. I could rant on and on about that, but won't right now.

We shall see where this goes.

Update Friday, 11:42 AM: SaskBoy is also writing about this back at Abandoned Stuff:

Update Friday, 6:22 PM: Another story in the Globe about this issue. A link gets you to the firewall. Instead, Google "Brian Alters Evolution Globe" and slip on through.

One thing that has become clear to me is that Dr. Alters is well-known and well-established in his field, and not the kind of researcher you would turn down lightly He was one of six expert witnesses called to the stand in the recent Dover, PA trial, wherein a local school board was taken to court for attempting to teach Intelligent Design as an alternative to evolution, and a short account of his testimony can be found here:

(Note: one day I will figure out how to work the link function on this fucking system so all my links aren't a mile long, but not today, apparently)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Harper Sees Light on Afghanistan

From CTV:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will allow a debate in Parliament on Canada's role in Afghanistan, however it will be a take-note debate and MPs will not have the chance to vote on the issue. Harper to hold Commons debate on Afghanistan

Don't have much to say on this, other than that it is good news. The debate will take place April 10th.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Minutemen Guard Against Canadian Illegals!

Haven't got much time to write today, but I couldn't let this one pass unnoticed. The Minutemen, that band of whacky American Vigilantes who last year set up shop on the Mexican/U.S. border with armchairs and shot-guns in an attempt to stop the influx of illegal immigrants, are now guarding the Canadian Border. They are now patrolling:

... along the U.S.-Canadian border in Washington state, New Hampshire, Vermont and New York.

Volunteers Refocus On Border

This is hilarious! What Canadian in their right mind would sneak South in an attempt to find a better life in Buffalo?

Reflections on the Rubber Chicken Circuit

If you read enough political commentary, you will occasionally come across lines like: "After six months on the rubber chicken circuit, Bob Rae surrendered to the inevitable today and abandoned his bid for the Liberal Party leadership." And if you do a quick google search, you will find any number of definitions of the phrase "the rubber chicken circuit". The best one, to my mind, is: "The endless series of public dinners and luncheons politicians must attend to raise funds and make speeches."

But what exactly is the genesis of the term? Why is the rubber chicken circuit the rubber chicken circuit? For many years I had highly eccentric and factually incorrect notions about this matter, which I would now like to share with you.

I'd heard the term "rubber chicken circuit" on and off over the years on CBC and PBS political shows. I had never really thought much about it, until one night I was watching a Brit-com during which an English politician gave a speech. The speech was received very poorly and, about a minute into it, he was pelted with a rubber chicken.

At around the same time, I began to watch the Royal Canadian Air Farce, where occasionally the Air Farcers would fire the chicken cannon at whatever celebrity or politician had most annoyed them during the past seven days. And the last ingredient loaded into the chicken cannon was always a rubber chicken.

Slowly, an idea as to the meaning of the term began to take shape in my mind.

But this idea was not firmly cemented until my university years, when I would visit a one room club in Victoria, British Columbia called "The Other Place". On Tuesdays and Thursdays, it hosted an open stage Blues Night, on Wednesdays an open mike Poetry Slam. These events ranged from okay to horrible (more on that in a minute), but the beers were a dollar a bottle and you could purchase a BIG bowl of salted peanuts for another fifty cents. I used to go there all the time after I moved out of my parents place; it was dinner for me, three times a week.

And there was a man there, a mystery man because I never knew his name or even for sure which one of the regular patrons he was, that used to hurl rubber chickens at the performers as a gesture of disapproval. If the chicken hurler plonked some sap playing shitty guitar, that could make the whole evening worthwhile.

Now, The Other Place was a single large square room under Fernwood Community Center. In fact it was owned by Fernwood Community Center, which is why they could sell beer but had to close up by 11 pm. Because of the cheap prices, it attracted both city-wide music fans and the local element, and on some nights there might be 150 people in the place. One of the other regulars was a Beardy Boy who wore thick glasses and rode around in a wheel-chair with a red blanket across his lap. He was a first generation IT guy from the sixties. His beard was always stained with last weeks' meals, and a big gut stuck out from under an over-sized, similarly stained t-shirt. Though there was supposed to be no floor service, Beardy Boy could whistle so loud that you could hear it over the music, and he would keep doing it until the bartender brought him beer and peanuts. He had been coming to The Other Place forever, so the staff knew him; nobody else ever got that kind of service.

This was who I suspected was the rubber chicken man.

As a matter of fact, though, I never actually saw him throw a rubber chicken, and neither to my knowledge did anyone else. You might have a couple of guys on stage trying desperately to bash out some twelve bar blues, and suddenly you would see a whitish, airborne object following a parabolic trajectory and pop! the "singer" would be staggering around wondering what hit him. It would be, of course, a rubber chicken. But there was never any moment during which you observed the chicken actually in or leaving Beardy Boy's grasp. Maybe he had a compact chicken cannon of his own in that wheel-chair. I never found out.

I especially remember one Wednesday night during an open mike poetry slam (which I attended solely for the cheap drinks, believe me), where a feminist chick was reading a poem entitled something like "A Song to My Vagina" (this was the 80s) and took a sharply flung chicken to the head. Her glasses fell off, and she spent a couple of minutes crawling around on stage trying to find them, and a couple more minutes collecting the scattered pages of her "song".

When she finally got to her feet this girl was livid. She began prowling the crowd waving the rubber chicken, asking "Was it you?" over and over. And she must have sensed something, because it didn't her long to focus in on Beardy Boy. "Was it you?" She waved the chicken over his head. At first Beardy Boy shrugged in the negative (he never seemed to speak), but as the girl persisted he kind of tilted his head forward until his face was almost submerged in his own facial hair. The girl snatched at his ever-present red blanket, but he held it close to his knees, and at this violation signaled the staffers with a quick whistle.

"He's hiding them in that chair!" said FemiNazi as the bouncer closed in.

"You can't touch him like that," the bouncer replied.

"He could hurt someone with those things!"

Beardy Boy remained submerged.

"With what things? I don't see anything?"

"Search him!"

"I'm not going to harass a cripple!"

And so the bouncer also took a rubber chicken to the forehead, and our poetess stormed out of the Other Place in a huff. The only thing you could see of Beardy Boy's face at the moment were his eyes, which twinkled as merrily as Santa Claus'.

"Be careful, Norman," I thought I heard the bouncer say, and he dropped the rubber chicken on the floor next to Beardy Boy's wheelchair.

Beardy Boy did not speak, just kept his eyes on the stage and watched as the next would-be poet approached the microphone. This one was not so bad, and I found myself listening closely. When I looked at the floor again, the rubber chicken was gone, and Beardy Boy had not moved.

So, in short, for a long time I came to believe that the "rubber chicken circuit" was a kind of cut rate speaking circuit where poor performances were rewarded by a rain of rubber chickens.

But the story doesn't end here, because as it turns out, I was completely wrong about origin of the term. In fact the circuit acquired its monicker through entirely different mechanisms.
Firstly, why is it the rubber chicken circuit? Well, at one of these endless paid political events the deal is that the paying audience gets a speech, a hand-shake, and a meal. Since the audience Members may be of different races and religions, the chef's dilemma is to cook something that does not run afoul with any of their cultural or religious food prohibitions. Chicken, it turns out, is one of the few dishes that everyone on the planet is allowed to eat.
Secondly, why is it the rubber chicken circuit? Well, at any large gathering, it is much easier to cook the food well beforehand and reheat it just before meal-time, which procedure often gives chicken a rubbery texture. And the same thing applies no matter how high-class the event is supposed to be. Former white-house chef Walter Scheib the 3rd once complained that his most pressing problem when he worked for President George W. Bush was not having all of his big occasion meals turn into just another stop on the rubber chicken circuit.
Incidentally, Walter Scheib was fired by Laura Bush because he could not meet the stylistic requirements of the Bush household. On many occasions he was asked to cook dinners using foodstuffs produced entirely by donors to the Bush campaign. For example, "Coca-Cola brined Pilgrim's Pride turkey with Dunkin Donuts old-fashioned cake doughnut sweet and savory stuffing".
For this and other Scheib recipes from his time with George W, visit:

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Backdown on Crackdown?

From Sunday's T.O. Star:

Portugal's Minister of State and Foreign Affairs says Canada is considering establishing a program that would allow illegal immigrants working in Canada's booming residential construction industry to stay here.

Diogo Freitas do Amaral told reporters gathered at the Portuguese Consulate in Toronto Friday night that he proposed the idea to Canada's Immigration Minister Monte Solberg during a visit to Ottawa late last week. He said it was warmly received. - New hope for illegals, says Portuguese minister

Monte Solberg apparently said the idea was "reasonable" and would be studied. Good news if true. We shall see what transpires.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Iggy Gets It Wrong, Strike 2

Earlier, I pointed out that Michael Ignatieff has made several inaccurate or downright bizarre statements in defending his stand with respect to Gulf War II and the employment of torture as a method of interrogation. Here is another, particularly egregious example, from his March 14, 2004 article in the New York Times Magazine entitled "The Year of Living Dangerously:

I supported war as the least bad of the available options. Containment -- keeping Saddam Hussein in a box -- might have made war unnecessary, but the box had sprung a series of leaks. Hussein was evading sanctions, getting rich through illegal oil sales and, so I thought at the time, beginning to reconstitute the weapons programs that had been destroyed by United Nations inspectors. If he were acquiring weapons, he could be deterred from using them himself, but he might be able to transfer lethal technologies to undeterrable suicide bombers. Such a possibility might have been remote, but after 9/11 it seemed unwise to trifle with it. Still, I thought, force had to be a last resort. If Hussein had complied with the inspectors, I would not have supported an invasion, but the evidence, at least till March 2003, was that he was playing the same old games.

What concerns me here is the last sentence of the above passage, which is demonstrably false. In fact, the claim it makes has become one of several false contentions that have been put forward by war supporters and architects in their own defense as Iraq has turned into a foreign policy debacle. Now what I have done below is cut and paste a number of passages from the Wikipedia article on the "Iraq disarmament crisis timeline 2001-2003". I am assuming it is generally accurate; certainly, it is in accord with my own memories of the events of those sad days. I have bolded several passages that seem particularly important, and have included some commentary at the end.

- November 8, 2002: The UN Council votes unanimously for resolution 1441, the 17th Iraq disarmament resolution passed by the council, calling for immediate and complete disarmament of Iraq. The resolution also demands that Iraq declare all weapons of mass destruction to the council, and account for its known chemical weapons material stockpiles.

- November 13, 2002: Iraq accepts U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 and informs the UN that it will abide by the resolution.

- Weapons inspectors arrive in Baghdad again after a four-year absence.

- December 7, 2002: Iraq files a 12,000-page weapons declaration with the UN in order to meet requirements of resolution 1441. UN weapons inspectors, the UN security council and the U.S. feel that this declaration fails to account for all of Iraq's chemical and biological agents.

- December 19, 2002: UNMOVIC Chairman Hans Blix tells UNSC members that the Iraqi weapons declaration filed on December 7 "is essentially a reorganized version" of information Iraq provided UNSCOM in 1997, and that it "is not enough to create confidence" that Iraq has abandoned its WMD efforts.

- January 27, 2003: Chairmen of the inspections effort report to the UN Security Council that, while Iraq has provided some access to facilities, concerns remain regarding undeclared material; inability to interview Iraqi scientists; inability to deploy aerial surveillance during inspections; and harassment of weapons inspectors.

- February 7, 2003: The chief United Nations arms inspector Hans Blix says Iraq appears to be making fresh efforts to cooperate with U.N. teams hunting weapons of mass destruction, while Washington says the "momentum is building" for war with Iraq.

- February 14, 2003: UNMOVIC chief weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei present their second report to the United Nations Security Council. They state that the Iraqis have been co-operating well with the inspectors and that no weapons of mass destruction have been found, but that the Saddam Hussein government had still to account for many banned weapons believed to have been in his arsenal. Mr Blix also expresses doubts about some of the conclusions in Colin Powell's Security Council presentation of February 5, and specifically questions the significance of some of the photographic evidence that Mr Powell has presented.

-February 26, 2003: Hans Blix states that Iraq still has not made a "fundamental decision" to disarm, despite recent signs of increased cooperation. Specifically, Iraq has refused to destroy its al-Samoud 2 long range missiles- a weapon system that was in violation of the UN Security Council's resolutions and the US treaty with Iraq. These missiles are deployed and mobile. Also, an R-400 aerial bomb was found that could possibly contain biological agents. Given this find, the UN Inspectors have requested access to the Al-Aziziyah weapons range to verify that all 155 R-400 bombs can be accounted for and proven destroyed. Blix also expresses skepticism over Iraq's claims to have destroyed its stockpiles of anthrax and VX nerve agent in Time magazine. Blix said he found it "a bit odd" that Iraq, with "one of the best-organized regimes in the Arab world," would claim to have no records of the destruction of these illegal substances. "I don't see that they have acquired any credibility," Blix said.

- February 28, 2003: Iraq is expected to begin the process of destroying Al Samoud two missiles on Saturday. Hans Blix, U.N. chief weapons inspector says "It is a very significant piece of real disarmament". However, the spokesman of the White House, Ari Fleischer declares that the Iraq commitment to destroying these missiles is a fraud that President George W. Bush had predicted, and indicates that the United States wants a total and complete disarmament of Iraq. He also repeats that if the United Nations does not act to disarm Baghdad, the United States will lead a coalition of voluntary countries to disarm Saddam Hussein.

March 1, 2003: Under UN supervision, Iraq begins destroying four of its Al Samoud missiles.

March 2, 2003: Iraq destroys six more Al Samoud missiles, bringing the total destroyed to 10 out of an estimated 100 missiles ordered eliminated by the UN. The White House continues to dismiss Iraq's actions as "part of its game of deception." Iraq indicates that it may halt destruction of the missiles if the U.S. indicates it will go to war anyway.

March 3, 2003: Iraqi technicians use bulldozers to crush six more of the banned Al-Samoud 2 missiles, bringing to 16 the number destroyed in three days.

March 4, 2003: Iraq destroys three more Al Samoud 2 missiles, bringing to 19 the number Baghdad has crushed out of 100 ordered destroyed by the UN. Iraq also destroys a launcher and five engines in a rush to prove it is disarming before a crucial U.N. report on March 7. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan calls the new actions "a positive development" while the White House remains unconvinced saying, "Despite whatever limited head-fakes Iraq has engaged in, they continue to fundamentally not disarm."

March 5, 2003: Two days before his scheduled update to the United Nations on Iraqi cooperation with inspection, Hans Blix credits Iraq with "a great deal more of cooperation now", although still expressing some skepticism as to whether or not the cooperation would continue. Among the examples of cooperation that he cites are Iraq's destruction of Samoud 2 missiles, which he called "the most spectacular and the most important and tangible". He added that "here weapons that can be used in war are being destroyed in fairly large quantities." In general, he states, "you have a greater measure of cooperation on interviews in general." These statements have helped to harden the opposition to the US-led war by several other Security Council members.

- March 7, 2003: Hans Blix reports to the UN Security Council. Blix said basically the same thing as he did in previous reports. Iraq has shown some progress, but has still not yet fully disarmed. Blix also filed a 173 page document with the Security Council which said that inspectors discovered an undeclared Iraqi drone, with a wingspan of 7.45 m (24 ft 5 in), suggesting an illegal range that could potentially threaten Iraq's neighbors with chemical and biological weapons. US satellites tracked test flights of these drones, which were mentioned by Secretary of State Powell on March 5. Powell claimed that the test flight far exceeded the legal range agreed to by Iraq under UN resolutions.

- Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, concluded that the documents the US and Britain offered as "proof" that Iraq had attempted to import uranium from Niger were in fact fraudulent. This "proof" was a key part of the US accusation that Iraq was restarting its nuclear weapons program. ElBaradei said, "Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded ... that these documents, which formed the basis for the reports of recent uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger, are in fact not authentic." He concluded, "We have therefore concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded."

What these passages clearly demonstrate is that, in the eyes of the U.N. inspectors (who were, obviously, in the best position to know), Iraq was indeed in the process of complying with U.N. resolution 1441. Further, while at the start of the process this compliance was somewhat grudging, the situation improved during the lead-up to the invasion itself. What they also demonstrate was that no act of disarmament on the part of the Iraqis was going to be good enough for the Bush administration, who were (as has become abundantly clear since) hellbent on launching a war.

And, thirdly, they show that Iggy has, here and elsewhere, been wildly disingenuous in defending his pro-war stance.

So why is it that the war's supporters, especially those of the "Liberal Hawk" variety, have been forced to resort to pretzel logic and obvious untruths to justify their version of events? Well, in Iggy's case, I think it has something to do with the fact that he is a professional intellectual. From my (admittedly cursory) examination of his writings, it would seem to me that Iggy has alot of theories: theories pertaining to nationalism, interventionalism, human rights, and so on and so forth. Iraq was a test case for these theories and, pretty obviously, they have not panned out. And Iggy, like a scientist who has too heavily invested in his own ideas, has chosen to deny the facts rather than abandon the theory--to say, in other words, I was wrong.

Now, in the case of a historian writing histories, such behavior is usually harmless. Trees die, books are written, and the discipline as a whole corrects itself and moves forward: the pretzel logic is proven faulty, and the empirical contentions are refuted. However, in the case of Iraq, Iggy (and the other Liberal Hawks) managed to make themselves dangerous, for they split the Left and offered help and comfort to an American administration that had theories of its own to test out.

And the danger would be even greater if Iggy should manage to ascend to the Liberal Leadership and then to the Prime Minister's office. Do we really want a politician who filters the world through a set of personal theories that must work because, if they do not work, this reflects badly on their architect and creator? Do we want a Prime Minister, in short, who is incapable of admitting error in the face of obvious catastrophe? I think and hope not.