Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Anti-War Stance Doesn't Stop the Dixie Chicks

From Yahoo News:

NEW YORK, May 31 /PRNewswire/ -- As Taking The Long Way debuts at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 best-selling albums chart this week, with first week's sales of 525,829, the Dixie Chicks have become the first female group in chart history to have three albums debut at #1, breaking the record the Chicks established in 2002 when the group's last studio album, Home, debuted at #1 and made them the first female group ever to have two albums debut at #1.

Taking a few more shots at the Bush Administration, and being dissed by Red State radio stations, doesn't seem to have harmed the Dixie Chicks. Mind you, even the last album, Home, seemed to have been moving from country towards rock/pop.

Meanwhile, despite all the controversy surrounding Neil Young's Living With War, it managed to move 60,000 copies during its first week, entering Billboard at number 15, all of which is about average for Neil these days. No word on what the on-line sales figures were (he released there first), but in the end I imagine another gold record for Neil.

A few weeks ago, I offered a quick review of Living With War here. Bottom line: pretty good album, lots of noise, feedback, and slopping guitar playing, and a couple of good lines of poetry as well.

Sea Surface Warming Linked to More, Worse Tropical Storms

Terra-Daily is reporting on some work by climate researchers at Purdue University that follows-up a recent study by Kerry Emanuel , which was reported upon and criticized here. This new work corroborates Emanuel's contention that:

...rising temperatures of tropical waters-- both on the surface and just below the surface - are causing more intense cyclones in the southern Pacific Ocean and hurricanes, their rotational opposites, in the Atlantic Ocean.

The research also supports a popular notion that warming global average temperatures are contributing to increasingly severe and more frequent tropical storms - such as Hurricane Katrina, a Category 4 storm that devastated New Orleans, La., and other parts of the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005.

What I think we are seeing here is a pattern typical of the claims and counterclaims being made in the global warming debate. A testable, empirical claim is advanced concerning the effects of global warming on some climatic or other pattern (the slowing of the Pacific trade winds, the spread of mosquito-borne diseases). The claim is then criticized, sometimes in scientific circles, but often through the right wing press. (In this case we have a bit of both, with the Washington Times, a highly conservative paper, serving as the vehicle for legitimate scientific counter-arguments.) Finally, the claim is, sometimes slowly and sometimes quickly, substantiated. In this case, Emanuel's original results were reported just last year.

This particular case is important, as the global warming = stronger/more powerful storms is an equation pushed strongly in Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. The political right has been attempting strenuously to debunk it.

So far, it looks like Al is right again.

Canada and Emissions Trading

Canada's Environment Minister Rona Ambrose is considering a system of emissions trading with the EU and possibly the U.S. as part of our "made in Canada" approach to cutting greenhouse gases. From this morning's Globe:

OTTAWA and QUEBEC--Canadian companies could end up buying greenhouse gas credits on the European carbon market as part of the Conservative government's made-in-Canada plan for the environment, says Environment Minister Rona Ambrose.

However, it is not clear whether companies would be forced to take part in such a system.

Speaking after Question Period, Ms. Ambrose said her government is looking at several options, including using the trading market established in the European Union in which companies in some sectors are legally required to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and, if they exceed their targets, can sell the credits to firms that have not. She also said a similar arrangement with the United States could be considered.

I am not entirely sure how I feel about the whole notion of trading in carbon emissions. On the one hand, if you bring in a legally mandated emissions cap, one strategy for a particular industrial sector (or nation) might be to let 'er rip and essentially pay for the right to pollute (buy purchasing credits from those who have done a better job cutting back), which seems highly immoral.

On the other hand, the desired result is that companies innovate so as to cut their own output, and make a ton of money selling credits to those who have failed. In this way, the Capitalist system is harnessed and directed towards confronting the global warming problem. You give entrepreneurss a chance to make money at it, and you get buy in, in other words.

Which is a nice theory. I have read that the European Emissions Market works, in that trading is done and money made. As for the broader result, who knows? They seem to be doing a slightly better job reaching their Kyoto targets than we are.

In any case, I can't see how you could make this work if the caps and reduction targets set for the various industrial sectors were not mandatory.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Are the Yankees About to Bail on Afghanistan?

Apparently, I'm not the only one who thinks so. From the U.K. Telegraph:

Nato's deployment is part of Washington's agenda to reduce its forces in Afghanistan. It is pulling 3,000 troops out this summer and possibly more later.

The Karzai government is angry with Washington, because many Afghans see this as the start of a full American withdrawal.

Also from the article, and as I've argued repeatedly over the past couple of months, NATO (and therefore Canada) have been sucked into our current mission in Southern Afghanistan under false pretenses:

Nato is now stuck with the consequences. To enlist more troops from more countries and increase its forces from 9,000 to 18,000, Nato billed its replacement of American forces in southern Afghanistan as a major stabilization and reconstruction effort. Instead, Nato forces...will have to fight their way out of an unprecedented Taliban offensive that has claimed 400 lives since May 17.

In fact, the Taliban may be on the verge of a takeover in the South.

This article should be an unpleasant wakeup call to those Canadians whose response to the Afghanistan mission has been to chant "Ready Aye Ready!" over and over again in a mindless fashion.

Victory May Never Be Clear

From CTV:

OTTAWA -- There may never be a clear point of victory in Afghanistan, Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay said Monday while painting an optimistic picture of "extremely significant progress" in the war-ravaged country.

So, like, how do you define progress if you can't define victory? Progress towards nothing is mere motion.

This heavy Zen moment brought to you by BigCityLib.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Even a Nat. Post Poll Shows 61% of Canadians Support the Science Behind Kyoto

Even a push poll done for the National Post by Ipsos Reid, which included such obviously biased questions as "...would [you] support Kyoto if it resulted in 200,000 job cuts and $16 billion in economic losses?" came up with the following:

"...39 per cent of Canadians don't support the science behind global warming, the poll found. They believe melting ice flows, hot summers, and extreme weather events around the world are the result of natural warming and cooling patterns that rise and fall. On the other hand, 61 per cent believe man-made gasses are heating up the earth."

What's interesting is there is no info in the National Post story concerning responses to questions like "Do you support the Kyoto accord?" asked au naturelle. I wonder if that number is being suppressed. There is also no regional breakdown given. I suspect that out in Alberta they're clutching their oil rigs, with cotton-baton stuck in their ears so as not to hear too many inconvenient facts.

A companion poll, also appearing in the Post on-line today shows that 52% of Canadian Business leaders:

" the Asia Pacific Partnership, which has voluntary emissions targets aimed at controlling global warming, while 24% of those surveyed said they support Kyoto."

As per usual, the nation can't count on its entrepreneurs to do the right thing.

SSM Debate to Heat up This Summer?

The Same Sex Marriage Debate will soon be coming off the backburner as supporters and opponents work to target undecided MPs in advance of this fall's promised "free vote" to repeal Bill C-38. According to The Hill, if Harper's vote took place today, it would fail 158 to 137, with 12 undecided. So even if all the undecideds tip to "No", C-38 looks pretty safe.

This is a big waste of time as far as I'm concerned, just a means for the Tories to fire up their redneck base without actually having to do anything for them. In any case, one of my favorite people on the "No" side is Gwen Landolt, founder and current vice-president of REAL Women of Canada. To read about Gwen's truly wingy views on homosexuality, the U.N., the One World Government, and abortion, go here.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Go Oilers! Go Buffalo!

So the Oilers are in after five games and a 2-1 victory over Anaheim (reported here). Now if Buffalo can advance, I'll be pleased as anything. In that case I'll be cheering for the Oilers, but just barely. Buffalo is a city in permanent decline. Believe me, they need a break.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

2005 Tied For Hottest Year Ever

From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

Global average surface temperatures pushed 2005 into a virtual tie with 1998 as the hottest year on record.[1] For people living in the Northern Hemisphere—most of the world's population—2005 was the hottest year on record since 1880, the earliest year for which reliable instrumental records were available worldwide.

And here's what the footnote means:

[1] The years 1998 and 2005 are so similar (i.e., within the error range of the different analysis methods or a few hundredths of a degree Celsius) that independent groups (e.g., NOAA, NASA, and the United Kingdom Meteorological Office) calculating these rankings based on reports from the same data-collecting stations around the world disagree on which year should be ranked first. Annual global rankings are based on combined land-air surface temperature and sea surface temperature since 1880.

Although this is shitty news for the planet, it should help put to bed the argument floating around in anti-Kyoto/Conservative circles that Global Warming stopped in 1998. This claim was based on the fact that 1998 was the hottest year on record (helped by a strong El Nino); therefore, the argument runs, the world has been cooling since that time. More to the point is the fact that 19 of the 20 hottest years on record have occurred since 1980.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Harper Retreats on Kyoto?

Several reports, here and here, suggest that the Tories have beat a mini-retreat on the Kyoto Protocol. The Canadian delegation either "agreed to the next step", that is to negotiate a second phase to Kyoto, or at least "kept a low profile" and didn't play an actively obstructionist role at the Bonn climate conference. Why? According to Greenpeace, the Tories "been taken aback by the international and Canadian response to their preposterous position on Kyoto."

Would that it were true, but I suspect this is a mere tactical retreat to repair some of the damage Rona Ambrose and Co. have done to themselves onthe issue. In the end, I suspect, the Conservative Policy will resemble the Liberal Policy under Paul Martin. They'll talk a big game but do nothing.

But I suppose we must take our victories where we can get them on this front.

So Cheers, Greenies.

West Nile, Global Warming, and Cyanocitta Cristata

I think I'm going to be on a bit of an environmental kick over the next week or so, and will try eventually to write something on the whole "in the 70's scientists thought we were on the verge of a new Ice Age" argument that gets flung at you by recalcitrant righties whenever the topic of Global Warming comes up.
But today's post is inspired by the sighting of a young pair of Cyanocitta cristata (Blue Jays) at my back-yard feeder this morning, the first I have seen since about 2002 or 2003.
I'm not sure about the rest of Canada, but anyone who lives in the GTA and cares about such things may have been wondered where all the blue-jays, and all the crows for that matter, have gone over the past several years.

The short answer is that West Nile Fever got 'em. Jays and crows are especially susceptible to the disease, and their numbers in and around Toronto were decimated when it arrived in Canada. So while the effects on the local human population seem to have been pretty mild (I think there were only a few deaths reported locally), two key players were almost entirely removed from the GTA eco-system.

Now with crows you might ask "Who cares?". But, personally, I admire them. To me a murder of crows is an impressive sight, the avian equivalent of a leather-clad motorcycle gang. They are extremely intelligent and have been known to occasionally employ tools. At one time (when such things were legal), if you got them young enough when, for instance, they had fallen out of the nest, they could be made into terrific pets.

But blue jays, on the other hand, I think everyone likes. They too are clever birds. If your feeder isn't big enough for them, they'll just shovel seed out of it with thier bills, then scare off the smaller birds and eat lunch on your lawn.

In any case West Nile severely depleted both local populations.

Now, one of the predicted effects of Global Warming has been that mosquito-borne diseases will gradually spread into more Northerly climes as warmer, more humid weather in those areas brings about an increase in potential hosts (ie more mosquito's). The appearance of West Nile in North America and Canada especially can be seen as evidence confirming this prediction.

So the next time someone asks you for proof of the deleterious effects of man-made climate change, you can point to your bird-feeder.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Global Warming on Slate

Not much time to write today. But there's a good article on Global Warming over at Slate Magazine. Good ammo for when you meet a anti-Kyoto kook at a cocktail party.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Republican House Leader Hastert...Bribed?

ABC's news blog The Blotter reports that the Republican Leader of the House of Representatives, Dennis Hastert, is "in the mix" in a FBI investigation seeking to determine his role in an ongoing public corruption probe into members of Congress. Looks like Jack Abramoff has turned on him.

Well Paint Me Yellow and Call me a Banana!

The National Post, according to CNN, has run an editorial apologizing for its article re. Iran forcing Jews to wear yellow ribbons! The extended grovel runs on page 2 of the print edition but does not seem to be available on-line.

No word on how many lashes Amir Taheri received, or who if anyone has been fired over the matter. So there's still more to blog about! Oh Joy!

Afghanistan Primer

Today's WAPO editorial gives a good For Dummies version of the situation Canadian troops have inherited around Kandahar. Other than the unsurprising observation that "Canadian...units have performed well", the write-up makes note of two important facts.

1) With winter on the fade we are entering the Afghan "fighting season". And for several years now the Taliban "Spring Offensives" have been building in strength, like a tide slowly washing higher and higher. For example, "Casualties in Afghanistan increased by about 20 percent in 2005 [over the previous year], driven by new insurgent tactics such as suicide bombings."

2) This year's Spring fighting coincides with the deployment of a 6,000 strong NATO force (including our guys) to replace the U.S. troops previously stationed in the area:

The result is a crucial battle for control of the south -- crucial for both Afghanistan and NATO. A decisive defeat of the Taliban offensive could help consolidate a still-fragile democratic government, and it could validate NATO as a military alliance capable of tackling the security challenges of the 21st century. The Taliban, however, is betting it can prove the reverse: that the new Afghan political order is unworkable and that NATO is a paper tiger that cannot substitute for the U.S. troops being withdrawn.

WAPO reports that, happily enough, this battle is being won by NATO forces:

The first results have been encouraging. Canadian and British troops have fought to clear a Taliban-infested area just 15 miles from the southern city of Kandahar; with U.S. air support, scores of enemy fighters have been killed and several senior commanders captured. A Canadian and two French soldiers have been among those killed in recent fighting, along with one American, who was the 37th to die in Afghanistan this year. Though the appearance of relatively large Taliban formations is itself an alarming sign of the movement's revival, any expectation by its commanders that they could roll over the new NATO units has been shattered.

I think, though, that WAPO reverses the importance of these two facts. After four or five years of fighting off Taliban offensives each spring and summer, the U.S. forces that have thus far failed to permanently clear the area are leaving. There is frankly no reason to believe that our Canadians and their English allies will do any better at this task, although they will certainly perform admirably in any concrete encounter with Taliban fighters. But is importantly to realize that the Taliban insurgency can win the war while losing all of the battles: "You have the wristwatches, but we have the time," as they (apparently) say.

In addition, the resurrection of the Tailiban in Southern Afghanistan has been predicted in places like WAPO and the NY Times for a couple of years now, and it is more then disturbing that U.S. ground forces should be bugging out just when these predictions are starting to come true. It frankly fuels suspicions (mine at least) that the timing of this withdrawal has more to do with the state of the American political calendar (specifically, too many U.S. casualties before the November mid-terms will look bad for George W.'s Republicans) than with any kind of sound strategic thinking.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Send in the Blimps!

If there has been, in the whole span of human history, a more useless invention than the non-rigid airship, then your own BigCityLib has not heard of it. Half the ones ever built caught fire and burned, or blew away and crashed into the ocean. In fact they've never been employed successfully as anything but flying billboards at sporting events.

So of course its entirely natural that America's military should turn to the hapless BLIMP in its attempts to master the Iraq Insurgency. As reported in the World Tribune:

..the army has been briefed on the use of airships equipped with sensors that could provide continuous surveillance over insurgency strongholds in Iraq. The airships would ensure real-time information on insurgency threats to army commands and ease the burden on the Army's unmanned aerial vehicle fleet.

Though doomed to failure (because, historically, every scheme involving a Blimp has been doomed to failure), the sums involved are truly eye-popping:

In September 2006, the Pentagon would determine which...[company]... would be awarded a $100 million contract. In the first stage of the project, the winner would build a 900-foot airship prototype. At a later stage, the U.S. military could order a fleet of the blimps in what could cost up to $11 billion.

Deeply involved in the effort are the folks at Blackwater USA, a company previously known for supplying thousands of security guards and bodyguards for the State Department in Afghanistan and Iraq (they're Mercs, in other words). Designing and building Blimps is an entirely new game for Blackwater USA, but they're willing to give it a go, as the choice for them right now is between making their guys something that will float them a thousand feet above the battlefield, or having them get their balls blown off in IED attacks.

And of course military contracts are like a license to overspend, forever.

A Symbol of America in Iraq?

Tory Majority?

Maybe, says Ipsos Reid. They're up to 43% nationally, due to inroads in Quebec, thereby "...recreating Mulroney's Western/Quebec alliance."

We shall see.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Da Vinci Code: Big Enough Opening? (BigCityLib Talks Movies)

According to Box Office Mojo, The Da Vinci Code took in $77 million over the weekend, or the 13th best domestic opening ever recorded. After the studio driven news of the next couple of days, I think you will see stocks in Sony fall, and talk start up of financial disappointment in the movie and this year's box office in general. After all, pre-release predictions were on the order of a domestic gross of $125 million, and even with the foreign numbers thrown in the mix, The Code didn't quite match Star Wars III (according to these guys), which it was expected to best easily. Given the reviews, I imagine next weekend the financial picture will look even worse.

Not that any of this matters squat to me. I haven't read the book and don't intend to see the movie. In fact I think last year the wife and I saw one movie, Wedding Crashers, and in 2006 the only flick I'd be willing to go to a cineplex to watch is X-Men III: The Last Stand. And I think I'm a pretty typical movie-goer, and as such an emblem of what's ailing the entertainment industry.

For one thing, when you can buy a used DVD at a second-hand place across the road for $8, why not just wait a couple of months? You can sit in your living room with no pants on, drink beer, stop the film when you need to take a leak, replay all the explosions eight or nine times, and if you've got one of those mondo 57 inch tv screens (which I don't, unfortunately, because the wife wouldn't let me buy one, but let that pass), it looks pretty much the same as in the theatre anyway.

And not only that, I've made a philosophical decision to the effect that I don't really want be part of the "cultural discussion" of The Da Vinci Code or King Kong or whatever. For that same reason, I haven't seen nor read The Harry Potter Series (though I probably will read the books when Rowlands has finished her last and faded from the news a bit). Its only when the hype has died that you can really judge the true worth of a book or a film--judge it in the plain light of day, in other words.

For example, I can tell you that, after having waited and bought my $8 used copy of Tom Cruise' War of the Worlds, it is a royally shitty movie. The whole "family values" aspect of it, how Tom becomes a good Dad when faced with adversity, nearly made me puke, and by the time the Martians arrived, I was cheering for them to kill as many Earthlings as possible.

In terms of Carnage, the movie probably rated a good 8. The Martians fried up a goodly number of Earthlings, and they also came up from under water and tipped a ferry full of Earthlings into the ocean, after which they grabbed a bunch by the legs and ate 'em right there on camera. There are a few other good scenes of a similar ilk, but they don't make up for the slow bits, and even on first viewing I was riding the fast-forward button. Apparently, about two-thirds of the way through Tim Robbins appears and does some serious "acting". I hung in for about the first minute and a half of that, then fast-forwarded to where Tom blows up some Martians with a hand-grenade.

There's absolutely no sex in the movie, and really not much in the way of foul language, so it could never be a ten. But I'm not sure I would even give it a 5, except for the carnage which gets an 8, as I mentioned previously.

And I'm getting the same disappointed feeling from a lot of the big-budget actioners these days. I love to see stuff blow up as much as the next Canadian, but its as though they haven't found anything new to blow up, or at least new ways to blow up the same old stuff all over again. Even the first Transporter didn't show me anything I hadn't seen before, and don't get me started on Brotherhood of The Wolf . Like, where did Mohawks from three hundred years ago learn Kung Fu?

So I am forced to retreat into Literature, where, I am happy to say, you can find a much better treatment of the War of the Worlds story in volume II of Alan Moore's graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This does have a few sex scenes, tons of violence, alot of foul language, and some cannibalism.

Or, if not Literature, at least into the world of Indie film. For example, Serenity, based on the short-lived "cowboys-in-space" tv series of the same name, was quite enjoyable, although the special effects weren't much above an episode of (the old) BattleStar Galactica. And probably my favorite movie of the last few years, American Splendor, first appeared on HBO. It tells the story of comic book artist Harvey Pekar, played by Paul (squid-face) Giamatti, the guy who should have got an oscar nomination for Sideways (which is also an excellent movie, and cost me $8 used at Block-Buster). American Splendor is hilarious. It has some foul language, but no sex except a few flashes of tit in some of the comic book stories that are worked into the movie. There's no violence, either, but nevertheless it qualifies as a classic (a bit like the first Matrix, where there was no sex or foul language, but two different kinds of violence--guns and kung fu--put it up over the top).

Is it an "Abortion" Bill?

From The Star:

OTTAWA--A Conservative MP has introduced a private member's bill that would make it a separate criminal offence to harm an unborn child in cases where a pregnant mother is assaulted or murdered.

The bill that pro-choice advocates say has implications for the abortion debate in this country "is not an abortion bill," says Alberta Conservative backbencher Leon Benoit, who describes himself as "pro-life."

I am skeptical of Mr. Benoit's claim, especially as in the U.S. Pro-Lifers have been attempting for years to employ Fetal Homicide billsas part of their quest to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the idea being that if you are willing to recognize that a fetus is a separate person with their own set of rights, it follows that abortion is murder. Something similar is surely going on in this case.

Despite Harper's promise to not "initiate" any abortion legislation during his first mandate, he always left open the possibility a private member's bill, and those of us who spoke of a Tory Hidden Agenda predicted something that like this would take place. While I suppose we are safe enough in a minority government situation, give Harper a majority and watch out.

Incidentally, I think that Harper's using a "free vote" to settle such issues is entirely disingenuous, as it allows him to (perhaps) legislate restrictions through private members initiatives and at the end of the day say "Oh Look! We've banned abortion, but its not my fault! Its just democracy at work! The Will of Parliament!" and other such nonsense.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Iran vs. Israel

Today will probably be a Lazy Sunday, and I don't know that I shall be writing much. So let me just point to a good commentary in the N.J. Star Ledger by Thomas Lippman of WAPO and Juan Cole re. any possible conflict between Iran and Israel (which they view as being very unlikely, even if Iran gets Da Bomb). Here is the money passage:

But what if, five or ten years from now, Iran has nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them against Israel?

Even if we assume that some people in Iran would then truly plan and intend to fire those warheads at Israel, are we also to as sume that the entire Iranian leadership -- military, political and clerical -- would acquiesce in such a plan? And are we to assume that these people in the leadership, whoever they may be five years or a decade from now, are collectively insane and suicidal, in ways that Stalin and Khrushchev never were? Are we to believe that they would initiate a nuclear catastrophe, a step no other nation has taken in the 60 years of the nuclear era? Do we think Iran is unaware that Israel has nuclear weapons and multiple means of delivering them? Do we believe the Iranians are prepared to shrug that off and plunge ahead to their own doom? Do we think the people and leaders of Iran are willing to give this whole new meaning to the term "suicide bomber"?

It is true that Iran menaces Israel, mostly through its support of terrorism. But the reason Iran re sorts to terrorism is that it has no other way of inflicting real harm on the Jewish state, which is capable of defending itself and has the full support of the United States.

Nuff said.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Only 44% Support Afghanistan Mission Extension

From a new Ipsos-Reid Poll, reported here among other places. A number which is bound to go lower. Support for the extension is highest in Alberta (66%), and lowest in Quebec (27%). Nothing too surprising there.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Someone at the National Post Should be Fired!

This morning, the news was flying around the Net: Iran was planning to make Jews in the country wear identifying badges! Wow! How Nazi! What a good reason to invade the place. It turns out the news came from Canada's own National Post! Briefly,

A news story and column by Iranian-born analyst Amir Taheri in yesterday's National Post reported that the Iranian parliament had passed a sweeping new law this week outlining proper dress for Iran's majority Muslims, including an order for Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians to wear special strips of cloth.

However, it turns out its all bullshit. From tonight's retraction in the Post:

Sam Kermanian, of the U.S.-based Iranian-American Jewish Federation, said in an interview from Los Angeles that he had contacted members of the Jewish community in Iran — including the lone Jewish member of the Iranian parliament — and they denied any such measure was in place.

Even the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, one of original story sources, is backing off:

Rabbi Marvin Hier, the dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Los Angeles, acknowledged that he did not have independent confirmation of the requirement for Jews to wear badges, but said he still believes it was passed.

And yet even our good PM, yankee Blo Boy Stephen Harper, talked of this today.

Mr. Harper said. “It boggles the mind that any regime on the face of the earth would want to do anything that would remind people of Nazi Germany.”

You know, somebody high up at The Post ought to get sacked for this. We saw a purported national newspaper suckered by what turns out to be blatant right-wing propaganda, which our right-wing government was willing to shamelessly exploit. Minimally, Mr. Taheri ought to be removed from the payroll.

Bosnian Pyramid Looking More Like a Real Pyramid

It appears that amateur archeologist Semir Osmanagic is right and his detractors wrong. There is a very large, very ancient pyramid-like structure buried under a hill in the Visoko valley, 30km north of Sarajevo, Bosnia. Or at least, he has managed to convince one Egyptian expert that there is something real to be uncovered on the site. From the Independent OnLine:

Sarajevo - An Egyptian geologist who has joined Bosnian researchers unearthing what are thought to be Europe's first pyramids believes they bear similar hallmarks to the ancient structures in his homeland, an official said on Wednesday. Aly Abd Alla Barakat, of the Egyptian Mineral Resources Authority, believes large stone blocks found near Sarajevo were man-made and polished in the same way as the pyramids of Giza, said the Bosnian Pyramid Foundation's Mario Gerussi.

I've blogged on the pyramid here, and the official website of the expedition can be found here, with some fairly compelling looking photos. I will try and check on the legitimacy of Mr. Barakat, but if this should prove legit, it will be quite literally the archeological find of the millennium. If its a fake (because certainly Mr. Osmanagic is a little wingy) then we'll all be marveling at those crazy Bosnians.

Polls Show David Miller Way Ahead

Just a quickie this morning. The Scarborough Mirror reports that Mayor David Miller is well placed in his quest to be re-elected as Mayor of the Toronto MegaCity:

According to a recent survey conducted by the Environics Research Group, a majority of Toronto voters would vote to re-elect Miller if the election were held today.

The mayor captured 54 per cent of voters, while Pitfield, who represents Don Valley West, received support from 20 per cent of those questioned.

Barring the surprise entry of a high-profile challenger (my wife is convinced Paul Godfrey will run), I think Mayor Miller has it locked up. He hasn't, for example, done anything so stupid as insult all of Africa while trying to bring the Olympics to the City (like predecessor Mayor Mel Lastmen once did). And he is currently negotiating a "new deal" for Toronto with McGuinty that I imagine he will be waving proudly in front of the electorate come November (watch for a municipal component to the Land Transfer Tax).

IMHO the guy's done a decent job. He killed the Island Airport, and has managed to keep the nuttier elements of the local left under a thick, wet blanket. He's more of a "downtown" guy, which means alot of the old suburbs (like North York) don't like him, but again they probably can't find a big enough name to rally around.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

O'Connor Stiffs Zinni

Anthony Zinni was the U.S. General who told Bush and Rumsfeld that a proper occupation of Iraq would take 300,000 U.S. Troops, not the current 130,000 and change. Rumsfeld sacked him for his honesty, but the Royal Military College of Canada was going to give him an honorary degree until Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor stepped in and, as reported here, had the whole idea quashed, because he " is more than committed to maintaining strong and positive relations with the United States -- our largest trading partner and closest friend."

These Harper Tories are Blo Boys for the Bush administration, no more than that.

Harper Shakes Iggy's Hand

For helping send Canadians to their death in a desert shithole a half a world away for the next two years at least! They say Harper was making a political move to help sink Iggy's chances in the Liberal Leadership race. Except that I don't know how the odds for Iggy could get any lower. Personally, after last night, I wouldn't piss on him if his heart was on fire.

Frankly, what sickens me most about Ignatieff is not just that he supports the extension of the mission. Last night's vote was entirely meaningless, since a "no" vote would have no absolutely no sway over Stephen Harper, who was bound and determined to extend the mission no matter what the will of Parliament or the majority of the Canadian people. The Libs should have cast "no" votes just because the whole charade was an insult to the intelligence. Yet Iggy was so determined to advance his own interests as a candidate "of principle" that he was willing to dance like a puppet on a string for Harper. He has damaged the Liberal Party immensely, done a Lieberman and made them look disunited and weak.

Spot the Liberal Turncoats!

Here is a list of the "Yea" votes from Hansard. For the most part I don't know who's with who. My gal (Ratansi) voted "Nay", thank goodness. Name the Liberals on the list and I will highlight them with a big black mark.

Abbott Ablonczy Albrecht Allen Allison Ambrose Anders Anderson Arthur

Bagnell Baird Batters Benoit
Bernier Bezan Blackburn Blaney Boucher Breitkreuz Brison Brown (Leeds—Grenville)
Brown (Barrie) Bruinooge

Calkins Cannan (Kelowna—Lake Country) Cannon (Pontiac) Carrie Casson Chong
Clement Cullen (Etobicoke North) Cummins Cuzner

Davidson Day Del Mastro Devolin Doyle Dykstra

Easter Emerson Epp Eyking

Fast Finley Fitzpatrick FlahertyFletcher Folco

Galipeau Gallant Goldring GoodyearGourde GrahamGrewalGuarnieri Guergis

Hanger Harper Harris Harvey Hawn Hearn Hiebert Hill Hinton


Jaffer Jean

Kamp (Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission) Keddy (South Shore—St. Margaret's) Kenney (Calgary Southeast) Komarnicki Kramp (Prince Edward—Hastings)

Lake Lauzon Lee Lemieux Lukiwski Lunn Lunney

MacKay (Central Nova) MacKenzie Maloney Manning Mark Mayes McGuire McKay (Scarborough—Guildwood) Menzies Merrifield Miller Mills Moore (Port Moody—Westwood—Port Coquitlam) Moore (Fundy Royal)

Nicholson Norlock

O'Connor Obhrai Oda

Pallister Paradis Peterson PetitPoilievre Prentice Preston

Rajotte Redman Regan Reid Richardson Ritz Rota

Savage Scheer Schellenberger Shipley Simms Skelton Smith Solberg Sorenson Stanton Storseth Strahl Sweet

Thibault (West Nova) Thompson (New Brunswick Southwest) Thompson (Wild Rose)Tilson Toews Tonks Trost Turner Tweed

Van KesterenVan Loan Vellacott Verner

Wallace Wappel Warawa Warkentin Watson Williams



No Iraq Drawdown in 2006?

Rumsfeld no longer thinks so. As reported here:

It may not be possible to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq this year, according to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's testimony before a Senate committee. In addition, Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the same committee it will be months before any Iraqi army units are ready to operate completely on their own.

There has been increasing evidence that the American military strategy of "Iraqification" has been failing, as the Iraqi military has been unable to cope with recent bouts of sectarian violence, and recently taken to fighting with one another. So when will they be able to "stand up", so American troops can "stand down"? Doomsday, or the day after doomsday.

Look closely, for Afghanistan is Iraq writ small. Our people will be there for a long, long time if we wait for the Afghan army to "stand up".

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Another Canadian Dead in Afghanistan

From CBC. A woman. It is uncertain whether she was killed in combat. Meanwhile the NDP and Bloc will vote against an extension of our Afghanistan mission. Liberals are still checking their stomachs to see if they have any guts left inside. I suspect they will find that the answer is "no" and vote with the Tories.

Quickie Update: is reporting that the Libs will allow their people to vote their conscience. Lets see who has one.

Update 5:52 pm So now Harper is saying that he will extend the mission by one year regardless of tonight's vote. Like, can he do that?

This one seems to be slipping rapidly out of control

Conservatives and the Gun Registry: Feeding Raw Meat to the Base

As I wrote yesterday, the cost overruns associated with the Gun Registry should be a non-issue when it comes to a decision as to whether it should be kept or killed. And this because, as the AG herself has noted on several occasions, including here, the current management team of the CFC (Canadian Firearms Centre) has performed competently and costs are now under control, whatever problems there might have been in the past.

In fact the cost overruns are a smoke-screen designed to conceal the fact that the Tories are after the Registry for purely ideological reasons, and so they may throw some red meat to their rural base. What has only gradually become clear to me is the loathsomeness and occasional near-illegality of the anti-Registry faction's tactics.

For example, they've been sending hate-mail to Miramichi, the main processing office for the CFC:

[Miramichi Mayor John] McKay said yesterday he has received dozens of letters in recent weeks from Western Canadians who feel he has no business defending the roughly 200 jobs created by the gun registry in the economically depressed region.

"It's hate mail," he said.

McKay said he always believed there was a disconnect between Western Canada and the East, but the letters he is receiving indicate a depth of hatred and disgust he never would have suspected.

Furthermore, the Tories have been instructing the CFC to ignore the legislation that governs the Registry, to ignore the law, in other words. As the CBCs Robert Sheppard writes:

But this is an issue that is not just going to fade away. Just over a month ago, the Canadian Firearms Centre sent a bulletin to the RCMP reminding them that the gun registry was the law of the land, and that it is the police's job to seek out those who have not renewed their licenses and get them to re-register or give up their weapons.

The government then promptly told the centre to "cease and desist" this tactic, according to Conservative MP Gerry Ritz. He told the Lloydminster Meridian Booster that there is "a tremendous fight" going on now between the government and the CFC, adding metaphorically, of course: "I think we're going to have to hunt a few of these CFC folks down and show them how serious we are. We're in control now."

One certainly hopes that Mr. Ritz comments were intended metaphorically.

Update 1:15 pm Best Blog post this morning on the issue is Red Tory's here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Gun Registry Getting Better, Says AG

A few tidbits from the From Sheila Fraser's audit re the Fire Arms Registry. If mentioned in the MSM, they will probably appear in small print, near the end of the story:

4.109 The Canada Firearms Centre has made satisfactory progress in implementing our 2002 recommendation on financial reporting, except in recording the costs of developing a new information system (CFIS II).

4.112 We note that the integrity of the contracting process has improved since the Centre was established as a separate agency. We found that earlier contracting practices did not comply with government policies and regulations that require competitive procurement.

4.114 In evaluating the Canada Firearms Centre's progress in responding to our 2002 recommendation, it is important to take several factors into account: The status of the CFIS project (late and over budget) is largely due to early decisions made in 2001 and 2002; the lack of compliance with good contracting practices goes back to 1997; and the current management team inherited an organizational structure that had not stabilized. These factors imposed real constraints on how much could be done in the period since our audit in 2002. The current management team has made notable progress on a number of issues, including the establishment of a new department.

I read these remarks as saying that the Gun Registry's darkest days are behind it, from a management/cost overrun perspective. It would therefore be a pity to see the AG's report used as an excuse to kill the registry, although this is what the Tory's will attempt to do.

Update 6:10 pm Just a quickie, more words from Ms. Fraser on the Registry as currently constituted:

Auditor General Sheila Fraser's report stated that while there were cost overruns in establishing the registry and the licensing system in the past years, the costs were now under control and the system is now well-managed."This is not about costs: currently the system is running for $80 million ayear, only $10 million of it is spent on registering rifles and shotguns."


From CTV:

OTTAWA -- A House of Commons committee has rejected Prime Minister Stephen Harper's star recruit to head the new public appointments commission.

Harper can still appoint Gwyn Morgan, but his minority Conservative government would be doing so against the will of the opposition parties.

The New Democrat MP who put forward the motion said she considered Morgan unsuitable because of his past controversial comments about immigrants bringing violence to Canada.

Specifically, Gwyn has said that

“...the vast majority of violent, lawless immigrants come from countries where the culture is dominated by violence and lawlessness. Jamaica has one of the world’s highest crime rates driven mainly by the violence between gangs competing for dominance in the Caribbean drug trade”

Jeez, can Harper find anyone who hasn't slagged natives or immigrants to serve in his government?

Update, 4 pm: So now, rather than look for someone who hasn't made racist remarks to run his public appointments commision, Harper is killing the whole idea, blaming the opposition, and claiming he needs a majority to clean-up government. What a whiner!

What a Thing to Wake Up To

I hesitate to write about this, because everyone else will, but the Tories have arranged a debate on Wednesday with the goal of authorizing a two year extension to our Afghanistan mission. On one level this sickens me, because the result will be that Canadian Troops will be dying in an unwinnable war (unwinnable for reasons given here and elsewhere) for at least another two to three years. On another level, its clever politics, an example of The Tories playing the opposition parties against one another, because while I can imagine the NDP coming down against an extension, and maybe the Bloc, Harper only needs one of the three parties on side to secure the vote, and in this case the Libs will provide.

A quick look at the political winners and losers, in descending order:

1) The big winner is obviously Harper and the Tories. Their political base wants a war, especially a war in service of their U.S. masters, and now we are committed for another two years.

2) Next on the list of winners is the Tory political base. In Alberta, for example, Canada's refusal to join in the Iraq invasion was widely blamed for the banning of Beef exports to the U.S. after BSE was discovered. Now that we'll be trading kids for cows, our cattle farmers will (they believe) be able to sell any number of skanky steaks to our Southern neighbors. Also, though the Tory base gets its war lets face it, no terrorist can even locate Mushaboo or Calgary on a map, and if they could there's nothing really to blow up but the SaddleDome and a lot of wheatfields. So they get their war, their chance to wave flags and call those opposed to the war cowards, and Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver get to eat any Al Qaeda bombs that go off in response. A perfect situation, really, cheerleading from a farmhouse thousands of miles away from the front line.

3) The Libs, who I am betting will vote to support the extension, get to put the issue behind them, which works because they snuck our forces into Afghanistan in the first place and feel that to reverse their position now would be politically unmanly. On the other hand, how this will improve their position in Quebec, where opposition to the mission is strongest, is beyond me. It will also upset a large portion of their political base (like me), who see the genesis of the mission as being an attempt at appeasing the States, and who see the whole mission (correctly) as being determined by events on the U.S. political calendar and, therefore, doomed to failure. On the other hand, consultants have told the Libs that the votes leading back into power lie in rural Canada, and so this helps them suck up to the hicks out in the farmbelt.

4) I imagine the Bloc and NDP will come down against the extension of the mission, but will it do them any good? For myself, I admire the NDP's standing on principle (as usual), but they still have a snowball's chance in hell of ever forming the government, and even after an open display of Liberal gutlessness (which is what I am sure we will see Wednesday), I would still be in a position where I wouldn't want to throw away a vote on the Dippers. As for the Bloc, apparently they don't have an official position on the Afghanistan mission, but I can't see them alienating their own supporters by voting in favor.

All interesting politics. Terrible for the country, however.

Monday, May 15, 2006

CIA Spying on ABC, NY Times, WaPo

From the ABC news blog The Blotter:

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

As one confidential source said, time to get new cell numbers, quick! The most frightening thing is that some of the commentors on this story agree with the CIA.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

More Crap News from Iraq

From Aljazeera, the appointment of Nuri Al-Maliki as prime minister-designate was supposed to hasten the formation of Iraq's "unity government", a process that had been stalled for four months after December's elections. Now Al Maliki has been in place for three weeks ago and talks on the formation of the government are "mired further" as the various factions bicker over cabinet positions:

An influential Shia alliance bloc member has threatened to unilaterally form a new government if rival groups do not scale back their demands.

As the 275-member parliament convened on Sunday, Bahaa al-Araji, a member loyal to the anti-American Shia figure Muqtada al-Sadr, denounced what he said was continued US meddling in the selection of ministers for the coveted interior and defense ministry posts.

He set a deadline of two days before the 130 alliance deputies act unilaterally.

In response, the Sunni faction has issued their own set of threats: member of the three-party Sunni Arab coalition that holds 44 seats in parliament threatening to walk out of the talks and the government.

Salman al-Jumali said: "If we do not get what we deserve, we will end our participation in the political process.

"Our representatives in parliament, and the officials already awarded ministerial posts will withdraw."

Since May 22nd is the deadline for forming the new government: may announce a partial cabinet and temporarily retain control of the interior and defense ministries until suitable candidates are agreed upon.

The December election was the last "deliverable" that the Bush administration had at their disposal to show an increasing restive domestic audience that there was "a light at the end of the tunnel" in Iraq. Now we have the resulting government near collapse, Iraqi army units shooting at one another , and another uptick in insurgent violence that has already claimed 41 Coalition soldiers this month. It's hard to imagine any significant draw-down of U.S. forces this year, but it is even harder to imagine their being in Iraq at the end of George W.s second term, given the way public opinion in the U.S. has gone and continues to go.

Either way, the end will be ugly.

"Living with War" Pretty Damn Good

Well, thank God, I've finally had a listen to (most of) Neil Young's Living With War, and my fears that it might be some kind of Trans-type horror, filled with shallow sloganeering to boot, have proven unfounded.

The album has received excellent reviews, and while some of the critical enthusiasm is surely due to the timeliness of the "message", it mostly seems an honest response to the music itself. For one thing, Neil has brought his old Les Paul out of mothballs, and its distorted, fuzzy "jet plane in a thunderstorm" sound dominates the album (albeit without the extended soloing of old).

Top tracks on the album, IMHO obviously, include:

"Looking for a Leader", which sounds like Crazy Horse minus the second guitar, and contains my favorite lines on the album:

Maybe its Obama, but he says he's too young,
Maybe its Colin Powell, to right what he done wrong.

"Flags of Freedom", which is about a family watching their son leave for Iraq, also contains some of the strongest lyrics on the album, and references the old Bob Dylan Tune "Chimes of Freedom".

"Roger and Out" and "After the Garden" also made a strong impression, although I've only listened to each a couple of times and can't say much about them yet.

Actually, my least favorite track on the album is the best known: "Let's Impeach the President". I'm not really a fan of choirs in Rock, and the whole thing comes off as a bit of a novelty tune. Not only that, when I first heard the song, the vocal line seemed annoyingly familiar. Turns out its copped from "City of New Orleans" by Steve Goodman ("I'm the train they call The City of New Orleans...") which, given Neil's constant criticism of the Bush administration's response to the Hurricane, is actually rather clever.

Anyway, "Living With War" is certainly no embarrassment, and if you yearn for some of that old distorted fuzz from Neil's Ragged Glory and Live Rust days, its definitely worth a spin.

It will be interesting to see the Soundscan numbers that come out next week. Living With War has received an enormous amount of attention even before it was released on Friday. On the other hand, it is supremely noisy, and most of Neil's success recently has come from his quieter, folksier tunes. In any case, it isn't like he needs the money.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Eastern Provinces Step up on Environment

While Alberta, Canada's richest province, wallows in denial and cheap Petro-dollars, Canada's "have-nots" are showing a little more balls:

NEWPORT, R.I. (CP) - Canada's eastern premiers said Friday they're willing to take a leadership role when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The premiers, during an annual meeting in Newport with governors from the New England states, said they're sticking to their previously stated target of reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2010. "A lot of us are trying to take a leadership role there, and hope our federal partners will come along," said P.E.I. Premier Pat Binns, the meeting's co-chair.

Frankly, it is a disgrace to our current federal government, a disgrace to Conservatives in general, and a disgrace to Albertans in particular, that they are willing to abandon the slightest semblance of social responsibility for money, while leaving the hard slogging in the fight against global warming to places like Prince Edward Island. I think "The West" has to learn that, as they say, "with great power comes great responsibility". Governing Canada is supposed to be about more than allowing the local oil companies that keep Calgary in cheap hooch and cowboy boots to go on a rampage at the expense of the rest of the nation.

Friday, May 12, 2006

THE TRUTH is in the TO Sun

...concerning the gun registry and Sheila Fraser 's upcoming AG report, in today's editorial, six paragraphs down:

Fraser is expected to document next week how problems with the registry continued after her 2002 report, although she is also said to have concluded administration costs are now under control.

Bottom line (for defenders of the registry) is that the Tories are just rehashing old bad news. What (non-ideological) problems that there might have been with the registry appear to have been fixed. Since the attitude of the vast majority of Canadians with respect to the gun registry is "mend it, don't end it", the revelations in Shelia will in fact be arguments for continuing the gun registry, not killing it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Sheila Copps on the Next Election

Sheila Copps spent some time yesterday taking questions from readers, and some of the results are reported here. Most interesting are her remarks on the timing of the next election:

"I think they have at least another year, because the appetite for another election is limited and the cash is simply not there in the coffers of the opposition parties to withstand an early election... I suspect Harper himself will pull the plug within the next 15 months."

This seems dead on, especially when you consider the advice the Tories recently received from Republican Pollster Frank Luntz to the effect that they will be able to lay blame on their Liberal predecessors for the first year of their term in government, and thereafter all troubles will land upon them.

More specifically, Auditor General Sheila Fraser will present one more report outlining the spending excesses of Paul Martin and his gang, and then turn her attention to Harper and the Tories. Expect much howling about cost over-runs in the gun registry and environmental programs, and an election call before Sheila can, as it were, strike again.

Also, note that Ms. Copps seems to be claiming that Harper will engineer his own defeat in Parliament so as to position himself advantageously for the election to follow. This too is, I think, an accurate assessment. It is interesting to speculate on the means Harper will choose to bring about his own end. The strategy in this kind of situation is to fall over some piece of legislation that is popular among the general public, but so against the principles of your political opponents that they cannot possibly support it. So perhaps something in the "tough on crime but ridiculously unconstitutional" department?

An interesting kink is that the Tories need only one opposition party to keep them afloat and, depending where the polls are, we might find that the opposition is more eager to keep the government from falling than the government is.

PS. This is my final post until at least tomorrow night. I am off to the nation's capital to raise heck for a day or two. Can anyone tell me where the best hot-tubs are?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Stephen Harper Contradicts O'Connor on Darfur, Says we Might be able to Send Troops

From Reuters, Harper's latest on the Darfur crisis:

"This government stands ready and is in consultation with our friends in the international community to do whatever is necessary to advance the peace process in Darfur," Harper told Parliament.

"If that involves sending troops, that will be an option that we consider."

You will not see me praising Stephen Harper very often, I don't think, but sending troops to Darfur as part of an international protection force is the kind of mission that the Canadian armed forces were built for. If he is serious, he deserves kudos (at least one, or maybe just half a kudos).

Furthermore, as reported here, an internal report to the Martin government last year stated that our military "had the capacity to supply a reinforced battle group of up of 1,500 soldiers, with its own transport capability and an ability to provide humanitarian support", thus contradicting defense Minister Gordon O'Connor's assertions that the military is too stretched to help in the war-torn Sudanese region.

I guess O'Connor joins Garth Turner and Peter MacKay in their shitty basement offices underneath the men's room in the Parliament Building. Honestly, it seems like Harper is running the Gov. like a one man band, hogging all the good lines and slapping down his subbies whenever he needs to change political direction. I guess that will work for awhile, but then when times go sour, what?

Vellacott Resigns as Aboriginal Committee Chair

From CTV:

Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott resigned on Wednesday as chairman of the Commons aboriginal affairs committee, after sparking controversy over remarks he made about judges and natives.

The Saskatchewan MP drew criticism for suggestions he made over the weekend that Supreme Court judges play god with the law.

Good shooting by the opposition! But they're still not happy:

On Tuesday, the Liberals called for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to ask Vellacott to step down.

It probably won't happen, but they should keep pushing. Nor is the Canadian Bar Association happy with Vellacott. They too want him to step down:

The Canadian Bar Association issued a statement Tuesday calling on Harper to force Vellacott's immediate resignation, saying his ill-informed remarks about the chief justice of Canada undermine public confidence in the justice system.

And finally, something I wasn't personally aware of with respect to the MP from Sakatchewan:

Vellacott's... had [once] defended two Saskatoon policemen convicted of driving a native man out of town and leaving him to find his way home in frigid temperatures.

I have no idea what Harper was thinking when he made this primitive redneck chairman of the Commons aboriginal affairs committee. And they wonder why Canadian's look at the Tories and think: "Crazy, scary!"

Is Man the Cause of Bird Flu?

Although the language and tone are sometimes what we used to call "hippy dip", this guy (Mike Adams) makes an interesting point re. Bird Flu:

When you take tens of millions of chickens and pigs and coop them up in little tiny cages, and you don't give them sunlight, you don't give them a balanced healthy diet, and you don't let them run around in the wild or have fresh air, you create the perfect conditions for the generation and transmission of infectious disease [like Bird Flu].

I don't buy some of the vaguely PETA-like sentiments in the article, but it is surely true that we are keeping millions upon millions of chickens, pigs, and cattle in conditions that, were we dealing with humans, we would immediately condemn as unhygenic and conducive to the spread of infectious disease. Mr. Adams also claims:

In other words, when you take these animals and you pack them together so closely, you accelerate the evolution and development of dangerous influenza. It's almost like having an influenza lab where you're trying to create a biological weapon of some sort. That's how bad it is. You speed the mutation of these viruses by at least a factor of 100. It's almost the perfect laboratory for creating dangerous infectious disease.

Just think of that when the Phlegm hacking bird-flu zombies come banging on your door, looking to eat your freaking brain. Then you'll be sorry. Then you'll be asking yourself: why didn't we go free-range, the ecologically friendly choice?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss (Except They're Tory)

From the National Post:

OTTAWA -- Accepting gifts, including free Ottawa Senators playoff tickets in luxury corporate boxes, continue to be acceptable for Conservative MPs in Stephen Harper's government, despite criticism of the practice when the Tories were in opposition.

So government whip Jay Hill watched a Senators game from a luxury box as a guest of Bell Canada. Not really a grievous sin, but it surprises me that the Tories would be up to this kind of thing so soon after gaining power as the Party of Accountability, Transparency, and so forth. Even more rich is the fact that Mr. Hill feels he is in the clear because ethics commissioner Bernard Shapiro--who two months ago, according to these same Tories, didn't have the mental capacity to tie his own shoe-laces--gave the okay.

I appear to hold to the minority view in that I am quite unimpressed by the Tories political performance in the time since the election. It seems that every time they stand on the verge of a political honeymoon, they manage to shoot themselves in the foot (flag flap, dissing Ontario). And what I see in this behavior is a resemblance to Mulroney's first term gang. A party long out of power, and not used to holding its reigns, quickly gorges itself on a diet or petty thievery, low level corruption, and generally thuggish behavior.

In fact, I am betting that we are no more a few months away from our first real Tory scandal. Given history, I suspect it will involve a back-bencher discovered t-boning a hooker on Parliament Building lawn.

Hide the silver-ware, people, the Tories are BACK!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Luntz to Tories: Investigate Libs, Dig up Dirt, Reference Hockey

Republican Pollster Frank Luntz came to Ottawa over the weekend and told his Tory brothers:

I want you to leave here committed to insisting that the Conservative government hold that previous Liberal government accountable, that you do oversight, that you do investigation, that you continue doing it for the next year so that every Canadian knows and will never forget and will never allow another government to steal more from them.

He further advised the Tories to sound "sad" when they were investigating the Libs, because "...if you express regret or sadness about how the Liberals have run the government it's not seen by voters as an attack." After this first year is up, Luntz continued, the Conservatives "...will be blamed for anything wrong that comes to light."

One last bit of advice: "If there is some way to link hockey to what you all do, I would try to do it."

So there you have it, the "pathway to a Majority".

Ignatieff Speaks Out on Afghanistan, Gets it Wrong

According to Monday's G&M, Michael Ignatieff was the only one of 11 Liberal leadership candidates to mention Afghanistan at this weekend's shindig in Toronto. Unfortunately, he said all the wrong things:

"We have got to be the party that stands for human rights everywhere, that does the tough lifting when it has to be done," Mr. Ignatieff told the crowd of about 1,500. "You ask us to do something hard and difficult and we can do it. We're doing it in Afghanistan. It's in the greatest tradition of our country and that's the kind of country we want."

My general reaction to hearing the words "Afghanistan" and "human rights" used together in the same paragraph is to get ready for some projectile vomiting, and I am so glad that, at least according to leadership candidate Joe Volpe, Mr. Ignatieff's comments "didn't go over well" with the Liberal delegates:

"There was a deafening silence in the room. There wasn't much of an uptake on the robustness of Canada's disposition, because the robustness of Canada's approach isn't matched by the robustness of the [public] support."

However, I think the Libs are going to have to start talking about the Afghan mission pretty soon and, crass as it seems, weigh the political pros and cons of staying the course as opposed to ending our participation in that country's occupation.

Obviously, I think Iggy's claim that the military must not be allowed to become "a symbol of the Conservative Party" is alot of baloney, a sign that he does not understand the country he wishes to lead, but how should the Libs be positioning themselves?

Since the next round of decisions re. carrying on vs. withdrawing from the mission will be made early in 2007 (February I think, but I will confirm that after a couple of coffees), the correct Liberal Party position is that these decisions will be made via a vote in Parliament. This should be a minimal consensus that the whole party can rally behind, as it is pretty clearly the majority view in the country as a whole and, I suspect, would even be supported by a fair number of Tory voters.

What ought to happen on the occasion of that vote, I am not yet prepared to say. However, the most likely scenario for Afghanistan over the course of the next year is that the situation there continues to deteriorate. Should this be the case I think there will be very little support in the country for pressing on and, if Harper wishes to extend our military commitments in the area, he should do so without Liberal assistance.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

City Dogs, City Dog Bylaws

Toronto's is currently trying to sort out its policy towards creating "leash free zones" where dog-owners can let their animals run loose and get some much needed exercise. Of course, many home-owners don't want to see untethered dogs eating their kids, so there is inevitably NIMBY-style opposition. But I think this attitude contributes to the very problem it is intended to prevent. Often, city dogs bite because they haven't learned to behave around anyone besides their owners. Leash-bound and house-bound as they usually are, there are relatively few opportunities for a city dog to pick up the necessary discipline.

Now, in contrast, when I was a kid out on the Left Coast, we lived in a semi-rural sub-division off the TransCanada. There was one road to the highway on our side of the creek, and one on the other. To the North side were cliffs, and South out beyond Phillips Road stood a series of foothills.It was a nice little enclave.

Everyone in the Subby owned a dog, and I swear 80 per cent of the dogs (I knew a couple dozen by name) never knew a leash.

In those days I had a paper route. I had fixed up an old golf cart to hold my Times-Colonist paper bag, and three days a week after school I would wheel it around the Subby delivering flyers. After our own dog died, a beautiful, full-sized poodle named Pepsi, I would pack around fistfuls of his dog-biscuits and make friends with the other neighborhood canines on our side of the creek. There was Duke the black lab, Ferguson the chihuahua, Caeser the Great Dane (who became a house dog after he was struck by a car and had a pin implanted in his right foreleg), and Sebastian the Basset Hound.

Of them Sebastian was probably my favorite, in that he never seemed to move unless he was eating. I'd bring a special treat for him if my mom had a couple of boiled wieners left over from lunch. He'd hear me coming, get up and sit patiently next to my golf cart while I dropped my flyers through the slot to his house. Then I'd take a wiener out of plastic wrap and WHAM! it would be gone in a gulp. You could barely see him move, and he nearly ate my hand on one or two occasions. Than Sebastian would lie back down on the gravel at the end of the walkway, or maybe right out in the middle of Belmont Street, and dream away the rest of the afternoon.

(Unfortunately, it was this habit that eventually got poor Sebastian killed. Some stranger that didn't understand Subby driving etiquette didn't notice him one night and ran him over. That was actually the most common demise among our local dog population. Pepsi went the same way: a black poodle run down at night by a drunk kid who was driving without headlights. Freedom has its price for a dog, I guess.)

By the time I was ready to cross the bridge and deliver flyers to the other side of the Subby, I was usually the center of a small pack, as dogs from the North side of the creek decided to accompany me and pay a visit to their canine brothers and sisters on the South side. And I'd always save a few biscuits for this part of my route, where I would bring snacks to Denim the Doberman, and Max the German Sheppard.

But I guess the point is, none of these were small dogs, and several (Max and Denim) would be on Toronto's "dangerous canine" list. However, nobody in the Subby worried about their kids. The dogs were a part of the neighborhood. Mom would call Sebastian's owners if he had rambled over to sleep on our front porch, so they wouldn't get worried. Mrs. Arsenault next door used to yell for Pepsi when her husband got drunk and amorous and chased her around the picnic table in their back yard. Pepsi would leap the fence and settle Mr. Arsenault down with a few snarls. And as a kid, I probably knew more dogs than adults.

City dogs, though, just don't have the same advantages, and leash-free zones are needed not just for their physical health but so that they have at least a few opportunities to become mentally mature, so they can learn how to behave in public. They're needed to help the dogs become better citizens, in other words.

That's why we should create as many of them as we can.

Bad News Poll for CPC?

A new Strategic Counsel poll in the Globe seems to be bad news for the Harper government. Support for the Afghan mission is down, with 54% opposed to our involvement in that country. However, the story also refers to more general poll numbers:

About 30 per cent of those polled in the [Quebec] said they would vote for a Conservative candidate if the election were held now, up from 25 per cent who actually voted for one in the January election.

In the rest of the country, about 36 per cent of respondents said they would vote for the Tories, down about four percentage points from the actual results of the Jan. 23 election.

Bit hard to parse this, because the story doesn't give further detail, but it looks like the Conservatives are edging away from majority government territory.

10:48 am update: Thanks to Diana for the link to the CTV account of the poll. Definite bad news for the Tories. Nationwide figures:

Cons: 35%, down four per cent.
Libs: 31%, up two per cent.
NDP: 16%, up two per cent.
Bloc: 9%, up two per cent.

And, as Diana also noted, the Globe story seems to contain factual errors.

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Toryban?

We all have pet names for one another. The Conservatives have one for us: Libranoes, which has, unfortunately, been partly earned. It's also not bad, about a six on the clever-insult scale of 10. So I think that, while we wait for a new hero to emerge and lead us out of the political wilderness, we should be inventing our own pet names for our dear Conservative brothers and sisters.

For example, one of the frankly bizarre results of the Harper election has been the resurrection of Brian Mulroney from the political dead. He seems to be everywhere, lurking in the shadows behind this new government and leaving his oily imprint on aspects of our poor country's trade and foreign affairs policy. Hence the name "Harponey" has been coined, to metaphorically indicate that this new, fresh faced Calgary economist who seems to lead the government is in fact possessed by the ghost of scuzzy Tory politicians past.

I can't really top "Harponey", although as an alternative I might suggest "RoboCon", which accentuates Stephen Harper's inability to project normal human emotions, and the way in which he mechanically emits Tory talking points when questioned by the Press.

But what about a name for the whole gang?

Well, another bizarre fact about this new Conservative government is how, with the slimmest of minorities in the House, they have so thoroughly pandered to the primitive, rednecked Yobos at the very base of the party. For example, they are looking at ways of ditching the gun registry; they've clamped down on government scientists speaking out on Global Warming; their daycare program seems to have been designed by R.E.A.L. Women; and the second half of it, the actual creation of daycare spaces, is starting to look more than a little faith-based; they seem even to have exerted subtle pressure on the promoters of Darwinism.

So my suggestion is, based on this: we should start calling them The Toryban!

Now, I want everyone to know that I have the copyright on this name, and if takes off the way I think it will, you'll have to send me a nickel every time you say it. Same with Robocon.

In any case, if you have any alternative names to put forward. Please feel free.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Did Harper Stiff the Military?

While the deficits of the early 1990s provide a partial excuse, I think you would find bi-partisan support for the contention that the last several Liberal governments short-changed our military in the way of equipment and training. As a result, I think you could find bi-partisan support for the increased funding that the new Harper government has promised. Certainly, Harper has talked alot about showing respect to our fighting men and women, and certainly he seems to want to use them more frequently in a combat role. However, a couple of stories out today suggest that there is far less to the Tory budget in regards to military spending than has been advertised. From the Calgary Sun:

The Conservative defense budget looks a lot like the Liberal defense budget, analysts say - long on promises and short on delivery.

"I was quite disappointed with the budget," said Elinor Sloan, a Carleton University political science professor who follows defense issues.

"I thought that there would be more specifics. I also thought that there would be more money made available."

"The budget they announced sounds not unlike the budget the Liberals announced a year ago.

"If you take the five-year forecast, it's a big amount of money, but if you break it down to what the forces will see in the next couple of years, it's not very much."

Indeed, the budget contains only one-fifth of the spending promised, with the rest being contained in an "internal plan" that defense Minister Gordon O'Connor hasn't bothered to show the public yet. There are even rumors floating around that General Rick Hillier is deeply unhappy with the new Conservative proposals, and that he may resign in the near future.

Look, in this one area at least, many of the Conservative proposals made sense. For example, the arctic ice-caps are melting, will probably be gone in 50 years, and other circumpolar nations are already planning to exploit an ice-free polar passage. An arctic port and new ships will be (if they are not already) an absolute necessity if Canada wants to maintain and exert its sovereignty in Northern waters.

And, on the other hand, it wouldn't surprise me if end up fighting water wars with our Southern neighbors in a couple of decades.

Therefore the promises with regards to our military would be the worst ones that the new government could break. They would also turn Harper's much touted trip to Afghanistan into a sick joke. He should be given shit over this issue until he coughs up the appropriate sums.

No soda in U.S. Schools

From CTV:

NEW YORK -- School vending machines in the United States are about to lose their high-calorie fizz.

In a deal announced Wednesday, the largest beverage distributors agreed to stop selling non-diet sodas to most public schools, where childhood obesity has become an increasing concern.

You know, you spend your days bashing the Yankees, and then they go and do something commonsensical like this...

I have read, although cannot find a link to, material suggesting that the average American child gets the majority of their daily calorie intake through soft-drinks, so I suppose that means Canadian kids aren't too far behind.

Mind you, the beverage distributors aren't doing this out of pure altruism; they are responding to "a wave of regulation by school districts and state legislatures to cut back on student consumption of soda amid reports of rising childhood obesity rates."

The ban will apply mostly to vending machines on school property, which will be required to sell either diet sodas, unsweetened juice, low-fat milk and water. Kids will still be able to get their fix across the street at the Quickie-Mart, but at least the fat little fuckers will have to walk a few meters to get it.

Now if they would only bring back the strap, I would be totally happy...

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Bush Hates America!

Because he sang the anthem in Spanish during the '00 campaign. Also found by Drudge .

Whereas last week the Bush line was that the Star Spangled Banner should only be sung in English. So he was for it before he was against it!

Taliban Threat Growing in Afghan South

While Rosie DiManno blithers on about the Taliban "gradually" laying down their weapons, the new York Times lays out a grimmer version of reality here:

TIRIN KOT, Afghanistan, April 27 — Building on a winter campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations and the knowledge that American troops are leaving, the Taliban appear to be moving their insurgency into a new phase, flooding the rural areas of southern Afghanistan with weapons and men.


The Taliban and Al Qaeda are everywhere," a shopkeeper, Haji Saifullah, told the commander of American forces in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, as the general strolled through the bazaar of this town to talk to people. "It is all right in the city, but if you go outside the city, they are everywhere, and the people have to support them. They have no choice."

The fact that American troops are pulling out of southern Afghanistan in the coming months, and handing matters over to NATO peacekeepers, who have repeatedly stated that they are not going to fight terrorists, has given a lift to the insurgents, and increased the fears of Afghans.


Uruzgan is not the only province teetering out of control. Helmand and Kandahar to the south have been increasingly overrun by militants this year, as large groups of Taliban are reportedly moving through the countryside, intimidating villagers, ambushing vehicles, and spoiling for a fight with coalition or Afghan forces.

Insurgents also have the run of parts of Zabul, Ghazni and Paktika Provinces to the southeast, and have increased ambushes on the main Kabul-Kandahar highway.

So the Americans are leaving, and the "British-led" NATO peacekeepers left behind (Canucks included) have no intention of "fighting terrorists" (but what have we been up to lately?). The Bush administration is "alarmed" because the situation is "worse than generally portrayed".

We are getting stuck cleaning up anAmerican mess. I guess their way of thanking us was with the softwood lumber deal.

And it seems to me that journalists like Rosie are still kind of enjoying our Afghanistan mission, because they get to run around in tanks and fly to exotic parts of the world--way better than sitting around in Toronto and writing about a lack of funding for Methadone addicts (or whatever). Hopefully, the thrill will wear off quickly enough and they can reclaim their senses.

Market's Verdict? Softwood Deal Still Sucks!

Here are the Tuesday's closing for four of the larger companies said to be especially affected by the Harper softwood lumber deal.

Western Forest Products ended the day at $2.20, down five cents or 2.22% on 7,800 shares.

Abitibi-Consolidated Inc. ended the day at $4.55, down 23 cents or 4.81% on 6, 654,768 shares.

Tembec Inc. ended the day at $1.70, down four cents or 2.3% on 593,986 shares.

Canfor Corporation ended the day at $14.12, down 22 cents or 1.53% on 852,249 shares.

So it looks like we are in the midst of the widely predicted short term downward move as investors get a closer look at the Harper deal and decide they don't like what they see.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

More on Star Spangled Racism

The stuff you hear from Bush and various American Conservatives, re. the anthem of an English speaking country should be sung only in English, is racist bullshit. The Star Spangled Banner has already been translated into Spanish by the U.S. government in 1919, see here (or visit Drudge). It's also been translated into German, Latin, and Yiddish, and has been sung in French by the Acadians of Louisiana for years without the country falling apart, and without any controversy. The horse of linguistic purity is out of the barn, for chrissakes! Hell, it's even been translated into Samoan:

O Roketi mumu fa'aafi, o pomu ma fana ma aloi afi
E fa'amaonia i le po atoa, le fu'a o lo'o tu maninoa
Aue! ia tumau le fe'ilafi mai, ma agiagia pea
I eleele o Sa'olotoga, ma Nofoaga o le au totoa [3]

Not even hard to find all this crap out. Just go to Wikipedia here.

Honestly, the immigration debate down South has turned disgusting. Once again, the American Right disgraces itself.

Good Old Drudge

...has uncovered a Spanish Language version of the American National Anthem here commissioned by the U.S. Federal Government in 1919. In fact, he points out that the U.S. State Department currently has four different Spanish Language versions of the Anthem on its website. Maybe the State Department hates America.

This is more than enough to convince me that the current uproar over "Nuestro Himno" is nothing but Racism and Demagoguery.

I also have to admit to a grudging admiration for Drudge. His politics suck, but he is too honest to be 100% partisan.

Caledonia Developer to Get Financial "Aid" From Province

I had wondered what happened to this story since it first appeared on CBC here. Apparently it has mutated into this (from CFRB):

CALEDONIA, Ont. (CP) - Financial aid will be flowing from the province to the developer embroiled in an aboriginal land dispute in southern Ontario, but the company insists the money is not a buyout.

It isn't a buyout because the company still "wants work to proceed on the planned 250 homes."
In addition, the Province will be sending $100,000 to Caledonia, to help offset business lost through the blockade.

Wikipedia gives a brief historical overview of the roots of the dispute here.

Monday, May 01, 2006

What a Lunatic Taught BigCityLib about the Canadian Income Tax System

When I came to Toronto as a poor student, I wound up living in the basement of one Roy Meadow, a retiree that owned a big old house near Sheppard and Victoria Park. He used to get the occasional letter from an English gentleman named James Jerrold, who some years previously had been institutionalized for a form of strange behavior that Roy never did want to tell me about.

In any case, when one of his letters arrived at Roy's place, you wouldn't believe the fear and loathing it caused. Olga, who came around three times a week to clean and tidy, refused to touch the envelope. She'd cross herself and gasp out loud when she saw Mr. Jerrold's distinctive handwriting. Even the postie seemed a bit superstitious with the thing, holding it by one corner. And he'd give you a pitying look that said Oh I'm sorry you're getting mail from a lunatic.

For this reason: Mr. Jerrold would cover the whole outside of the envelope with his own handwriting, first horizontally across the page, and then when he had run out of room that way, vertically so the lines criss-crossed. And he did all this in a wonderfully florid hand, using some kind of old fountain pen.

I pointed out that James Audubon used to write in this fashion, to save paper, but Roy told me that the asylum where Mr. Jerrold lived was "private, and pretty ritzy", and that Mr. Jerrold would not lack for paper.

Indeed, the actual letters inside inevitable ran to a good twenty pages of pink foolscap, all covered on both sides in the same fashion, with tiny stars and planets and wildflowers drawn in the margins. I couldn't make heads or tails of the content, and even Roy could only decipher a line or two, but I always thought James Jerrold's letters were incredibly beautiful objects, even if failures as attempts at communication.

And one year a letter arrived in Mid-April. By this time I was out of University, making a little more money, and I was thoroughly tired of filling out all the damned forms involved in paying my income taxes. It wasn't so much that I disliked the idea of giving up money. I'm a good Liberal, after all; if the feds had sent around some guy named Guido every year and he'd asked me to hand over my wallet, I would have been happy to do it. But I absolutely loath forms; every time I write on one it is as though my soul is being sucked out through the tip of the pen.

So the letter to me was like kismet. It inspired me. I immediatly took out my Revenue Canada envelope and began writing on it--bits of old essays I'd done, the type on the backs of cereal boxes, whatever. I didn't want to swipe Jerrold's shtick, so I didn't cross-hatch the lines. But I did switch pen and ink colors every couple of sentences, and used a dozen of those brightly hued ballpoints they sell to school-kids.

When I got to the tax form itself, I transcribed all the numbers I had written on my worksheets to it using roman numerals. Or at least my approximation of Roman numerals. I wasn't really paying attention. To justify my calculations, I included an elaborate series of footnotes written in multi-colored ink and employing an alternative mathematical notation that I invented as I went along. I don't know if it was logically sound, but it was quite pretty.

At the bottom of the form I wrote the figure $1,000 in big black letters, and the words "YOU OWE ME!" with an arrow pointing to the figure. I signed my name, "BigCityLib", stuck a stamp on the whole thing, and dropped it off in a post-box late the evening of April 30th.

About two months later Revenue Canada sent me a check for $45, and a supplementary letter informing me that the various tax forms existed in 45 different languages, and if English was not my primary language, I was free to order these forms in any of their alternative versions.

The next year I did the same kind of thing and, as Mr. Jerrold had died in the meantime, cross-hatched all the writing on the envelope. I got back a letter saying I owed the government $212 plus a small late fee, and another letter reminding me about the various languages that Revenue Canada material existed in.

The next year my wife moved in with me and canned all that silliness.

But the point is, no matter how crazy I tried to act, the Revenue Canada Bureacrats were twice as anal-retentive as that. I was, I suppose, trying to make them forget me, pitch aside my file or stick it in a pile marked Incorrigable, but they would not surrender.

They didn't care if I was a lunatic; they just wanted my money.