Monday, 31 December 2007

Think modern art can be a bit of a joke?

Harry Dodge and Stanya Kahn, US How many Bush administration officials does it take to screw in a light bulb? - None. There is nothing wrong with the light bulb; its conditions are improving every day. Any reports of its lack of incandescence are delusional spin from the liberal media. That light bulb has served honourably, and anything you say undermines the lighting effect. Why do you hate freedom?

Doug Fishbone, US An applicant for a job with the US federal government is filling out the application form. He comes to the question: "Do you favour the overthrow of the United States by force, subversion or violence?" After thinking about it he ticks "violence".

· Laughing in a Foreign Language, the Hayward gallery, London, January 24-April 13

Friday, 28 December 2007

Let's end all political dynasties!

The headline links to a Guardian article speculating on what Benazir Bhutto's sons might do. I hope they read the article and conclude that there are better ways of helping Pakistan than running for office on the strength of a name. (UPDATED I got that wrong - her son is running now.)

Historically, democracy was born out of dissatisfaction with the hereditary principle. Simply because someone was the heir to the family that had once organised a successful coup d'etat was not seen as a good indicator of their ability to rule. Or indeed their "divine right". Most successful democratic states have dispensed with hereditary offices - even Britain has finally got around to reforming the House of Lords, although I think they still have some way to go. (Canada's Senate is not hereditary - but that needs reform even more urgently.)

Yes, I am afraid it does apply to Our Own Dear Queen too, despite the fact that as titular Head of State she has done a Good Job. She still wields influence - and on the whole has been very discreet and sensitive in its use. But still, it is highly offensive to the ideals of liberty and equality that she does so.

What beggars belief is that Americans appear to buy in to the idea that relatives of former presidents are good candidates for office. The present office holder must surely dispel for all time the idea that "political dynasties" have any role in a modern democracy. Does that disqualify Hilary? Well, I don't know that she is running as Mrs Bill - she is her own woman - or at least enough of her own woman to get elected, so we cannot disqualify everyone who just happens to have had a relative in a top job.

Tony Blair did not have the right to pass on his job to his selected candidate - no matter what he promised over the dinner table. Brown is suffering not least because he has no discernible mandate - and seemed reluctant to get one when he could. We want to elect our leaders - and we also want to be able to get rid of them when they do not perform.

The US process for getting rid of a President is now so cumbersome and ineffective it needs to be reformed too. It is ludicrous that a President can be impeached over a tawdry affair with an intern, but not over the "high crimes and misdemeanours" that W - and his VP - have committed.

The idea behind democracy is that we trust the people. What is happening in Pakistan at present is that gangs who want to take control have no intention of trusting anyone. They cannot get a popular mandate but will happily seize power any way that they can. The way that the democratic process in most democracies can be held in abeyance is a warning. People talk about "checks and balances" but what is most noticeable is that the people who depend on them most could not win a popular vote - and most of them are not willing to try. They cannot resist the temptation to meddle with the system to their own advantage as our Premier of BC is currently demonstrating.

What people must learn - over and over again - is that just because someone has a familiar name or looks good on tv does not mean they can be trusted with power. I think the way to do that is to allow for more voting, not less. More direct decision making through referenda, but also more directly elected bodies - at all levels of government - with much shorter terms of office. Voting should not be a rare opportunity but something we get to do all the time. And then perhaps, if practice makes perfect, we might get a bit better at it.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

tugboat story

Actually a push tow

As a swing bridge operator myself, I thought the pictures that precede the story were extraordinary - but what makes the site worthwhile is the account that follows them

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

A Christmas Message from George Bernard Shaw

[from "A Preface on the Prospects of Christianity" (Androcles and the Lion): 1913]


"Not this man but Barrabas" Matthew: 27


The Alternative to Barabbas


But the mobs must be faced if civilization is to be saved. It did not need the present [World War I] to show that neither the iconographic Christ nor the Christ of St. Paul has succeeded in effecting the salvation of human society. Whilst I write, the Turks are said to be massacring the Armenian Christians on an unprecedented scale; but Europe is not in a position to remonstrate; for her Christians are slaying one another by every device which civilization has put within their reach as busily as they are slaying the Turks. Barabbas is triumphant everywhere; and the final use he makes if his triumph is to lead us all to suicide with heroic gestures and resounding lies. Now those who, like myself, see the Barabbasque social organization as a failure, and are convinced that the Life Force (or whatever you choose to call it) cannot be finally beaten by any failure, and will even supersede humanity by evolving a higher species if we cannot master the problems raised by the multiplication of our own numbers, have always known that Jesus had a real message, and have felt the fascination of his character and doctrine. Not that we should nowadays dream of claiming any supernatural authority for him, much less the technical authority which attaches to an educated modern philosopher and jurist. But when, having entirely got rid of Salvationist Christianity, and even contracted a prejudice against Jesus on the score of his involuntary connection with it, we engage on a purely scientific study of economics, criminology, and biology, and find that our practical conclusions are virtually those of Jesus, we are distinctly pleased and encouraged to find that we were doing him an injustice, and that the nimbus that surrounds his head in the pictures may be interpreted some day as a light of science rather than a declaration of sentiment or a label of idolatry.


The doctrines in which Jesus is thus confirmed are, roughly, the following:


1. The kingdom of heaven is within you. You are the son of God; and God is the son of man. God is a spirit, to be worshipped in spirit and truth, and not an elderly gentleman to be bribed and begged from. We are members one of another; so that you cannot injure or help your neighbor without injuring or helping yourself. God is your father: you are here to do God's work; and you and your father are one.
2. Get rid of property by throwing it into the common stock. Dissociate your work entirely from money payments. If you let a child starve you are letting God starve. Get rid of all anxiety about tomorrow's dinner and clothes, because you cannot serve two masters: God and Mammon.
3. Get rid of judges and punishment and revenge. Love your neighbor as yourself, he being a part of yourself. And love your enemies: they are your neighbors.
4. Get rid of your family entanglements. Every mother you meet is as much your mother as the woman who bore you. Every man you meet is as much your brother as the man she bore after you. Don't waste your time at family funerals grieving for your relatives: attend to life, not death: there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it, and better. In the kingdom of heaven, which, as aforesaid, is within you, there is no marriage nor giving in marriage, because you cannot devote your life to two divinities: God and the person you are married to.


Now these are very interesting propositions; and they become more interesting everyday, as experience and science drive us more and more to consider them favorably. In considering them, we shall waste our time unless we give them a reasonable construction. We must assume that the man who saw his way through such a mass of popular passion and illusion as stands between us and a sense of the value of such teaching was quite aware of the objections that occur to an average stockbroker in the first five minutes. It is true that the world is governed to a considerable extent by the considerations that occur to stockbrokers in the first five minutes; but as the result is that the world is so badly governed that those who know the truth can hardly bear to live in it, an objection from an average stockbroker constitutes in itself a prima facie case for any social reform.

Monday, 24 December 2007

R I P Oscar

The CBC is reporting the death of the great Canadian jazz artist, Oscar Peterson.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Night Train : Music Video

And what do you want?

Vampire Energy

Useful to know

I keep most of the things in my home on power bars with an overload device. This is because I live a suite that has no separate breaker panel. So in order to avoid having to bother my neighbour every time I inadvertently trip a breaker I got power bars with their own breakers. This means when I go out or go to bed with one push on a switch I shut everything down.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Joke

A guy is visiting San Francisco, and walks into a small store in Chinatown.

He notices a small bronze statue of a rat.

He asks the owner "How much?"

The owner replies "$50 for the bronze rat, and $1,000 for the story behind it".

The guy says, "Forget the story", and buys the rat.

As he's walking down the street he notices two live rats following him. As he continues to walk, more rats start following him.

He starts to get a little concerned, and heads for the waterfront. By the time he gets there there are thousands and thousands of rats following him.

He walks up to the end of the pier and throws the bronze rat into the Bay, and the rats all follow and leap off of the pier and drown.

The guy rushes back to the store and walks in. The owner says, "Ah!, so you're back for the story".

The guys says, "No, I was wondering if you have any bronze lawyers?"

Smut


The link to this animated version of the Tom Lehrer song was one of the comments to the opinion piece by Marina Hyde in the Guardian that the headline links to.

It is merely coincidence than it continues yesterday's theme. I will deny that I like pornography - why I do not even have a pornograph to play it on!

Friday, 21 December 2007

A final farewell to sex

The most obvious thing about moving into my 70s was the disappearance of what was the most important thing in life: I ceased to be a sexual being.' Diana Athill, 90, reflects on the affair that carried her into old age

Diana is 90 - I am only 58. So this is not anything about resonances with my experience. In fact very much the opposite. I have never met anyone - male or female - with this kind of attitude. I wish I had. It is also very good writing indeed.

Temp Hides Fun, Fulfilling Life From Rest Of Office

The Onion tries very hard to be funny - but every so often it just cannot manage it and writes something that is simply true.

The best thing that ever happened to me was losing my well paid job. Of course, I did not think so at the time and I bust a gut trying to get another one. It has taken quite a while for the truth to dawn on me. But having a much less demanding and lower paid job has given me some time to rediscover what it is I like doing. Which is a bit like work but not much. And the hours are great.

Myth, Myth!

Turkey does not make you sleepy

You do not need to drink 8 glasses of water a day

You use all of your brain (not just 10%)

Hair and fingernails do not grow after death

Reading in bad light does not ruin your eyesight

Shaving does not affect hair growth rate

Mobile phones do not cause hospital equipment to fail (and though the story does not say so I do not think there is any evidence of interference with aircraft navigation equipment either)

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Off the charts

You have probably done that political compass test. I am somewhere off to the lower left. No surprise - nearly every candidate running for US President is way over in the other quadrant. Which is probably why I live in Canada

Hummer: Now Everyone Will Know

Here's that guy again


I posted his first video - and now he has worked on the argument a bit more. Sorry, a lot more. And it is not about "is the science right?" It is about simple risk management. We have policy choices and it is clear that even George W Bush is beginning to twig that outright denial is not going to cut it.

BC Consumer Protection Authority

I have lived in BC for over ten years. This is the first time I have ever come across this body. I was reading Macleans story about a fraudulent funeral home they had closed down.

The Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority of British Columbia (BPCPA) is the only organization of its kind in Canada. The BPCPA of BC protects consumers and encourages fair business practices by:

* Responding to inquiries and complaints from BC consumers and businesses;
* Educating consumers and businesses about their rights and responsibilities;
* Licensing specific industries;
* Inspecting these licensed industries to ensure they are complying with BC's consumer protection laws;
* Investigating alleged violations of consumer protection laws and following up with progressive enforcement action; and
* Recommending enhancements to BC's consumer protection laws to the provincial government.
Good. I can think of a number of things they can do.

Thinking of visiting the US?


I did not reuse the headline from the original story deliberately. Her sex, age and hair colour should be irrelevant.

You must read this first.

This is what America has become. If you are American, you must understand what your government has done and is doing to destroy your nation's reputation.

If you are not an American citizen you need to understand that you have no legal rights at all. They can detain you and ship you to a third country to be tortured on the basis of nothing credible at all. They have already done that to many people including an innocent Canadian engineer who had no intentions whatever of entering the US but what was just changing planes in NYC!

There can be no possible justification for this behaviour as it is obvious that this young woman posed absolutely no threat to the US at all - and that is all Homeland Security is supposed to be about. The United States is becoming a fascist police state - if it is not one already.

Small Steps

David Suzuki, Special to the Sun
Published: Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It recently became time to change the two toilets in my home. I decided to replace them with dual-flush toilets, which should save my family huge amounts of water. Toilets manufactured before the 1980s usually require 15 to 20 litres per flush. Toilets sold during the '80s and early '90s use 13 litres.

For more information: http://www.on.ec.gc.ca/reseau/watertips/watertips_e.html

It is really quite hard for me to criticize David Suzuki, who has the status of a secular saint in Canadian environmental circles. And this advice may be very useful in some places. But not in Vancouver. We have no water shortage here. Vast amounts of water are spilled every day from our reservoirs and only in very dry summers, or when there is a major system failure of some kind, are we advised to conserve water. We restrict lawn sprinkling - but mostly because it is completely unnecessary except for newly seeded lawns - which are exempt. We flush our toilets and wash our cars in drinking water - which looks profligate to people who have to carry every drop in jerry cans five miles a day. And even though our watersheds are "pristine" the stuff that comes out of the taps smells so bad (due to chlorination) and is so often clouded with silt that most people spend a small fortune on filters or bottled water for drinking and cooking.

But the biggest waste is old water mains that leak. And the bureaucrats and politicians are quite happy about that because they do nothing to stop it. We do not pay for water by usage either in most homes - although water meters are gradually being introduced. If water wastage was a big concern, we would first fix the leaking water mains. That would produce a much better rate of return in terms of capital employed than any consumer oriented scheme. Some innovative buildings show that you do not even need water pipes or sewers: you can collect rain water and recycle it through several systems before allowing it to sink gracefully into the soil. Such buildings require exemptions from the local building code and are therefore exceedingly rare.

And if you really want to one up your neighbours you can buy a composting toilet. You can't get much greener than that.

But if water conservation in your toilet is something you want to do, you can either fiddle with the ballcock - or the smaller, neater filling valves that are replacing that ancient contraption - or put something in the cistern to displace some of the water. Or you can follow the advice of the Fockers

If its yellow, let it mellow
If its brown, flush it down

Cheap and nasty

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Spying claims rock BNP

Oh good

There may be a split
According to Nick Lowles, an anti-fascist campaigner from Searchlight, large sections of the party across the north of England and Scotland are now openly hostile to Griffin and the current BNP leadership. "This has become a very serious split and it is difficult to see how the two sides can be reconciled without one group leaving the party," he said.
We can only hope he is right about that.

They call themselves "nationalists" but what they are really is Nazis - and the weaker their nasty little cabal becomes, the happier we all shall be

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Jed vs The Doctor



I replay this every so often when the fundamentalists are getting me down.

Jed is the President the US should have had. And the lady is obviously "Dr Laura" - and you only win arguments like this when you have really good writers.

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Atonement


It is a very good movie - and the first time I have thought the movie better than the book. But the sight of her in her wet underwear is supposed to be what drives him to a later act of passion. But frankly, I do not think she has enough shape to promote anything but concern for her obvious undernourishment.

As old man Steptoe
was wont to remark "I likes meaty birds!"

Friday, 14 December 2007

Christmas card

BC Hydro has a card at the following site:

http://wwe5.bchydro.com/2007holiday/

They will donate to the BC Childrens hospital each time someone activates the site and ‘deposits a cyber quarter’. It is for a good cause, it's a cute Christmas card and it is fun!

Feel free to pass this one on.

B.C. lags behind other provinces economically: report

So much for "the best place on earth". And this report, please note, does not come from the lefties or the greenies but "a group of Premier Gordon Campbell's handpicked advisers"

For me the real kicker in our system is that we are the only place that deducts every cent of earnings that welfare recipients make from their cheques. Everywhere else it is recognised that not only is welfare grossly inadequate and has to be supplemented by charities like food banks (a temporary measure that was introduced to embarrass a BC government over 20 years ago) but getting any kind of job is the first step off walfare. Exactly what kind of incentive is it to lose all your earnings to the government? Can you imagine the howls at the other end of the tax system if the super rich had to give up all their unearned dividends after they got to a certain level?
"The most troubling social indicator is the proportion of British Columbians living below the low-income threshold," says the report, which calls the social condition category "one of the most compelling considerations" for judging a society.

The report says the proportion of people living on low incomes in B.C. has been greater than other provinces through much of the past decade.

And just in case anybody buys that argument about the economic "incentive" of attacking the poor, "B.C. dropped from second to sixth in overall economic growth" - even though we have oil, gas, minerals - and are giving away hydro to P3s

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The Michigan Left


I have never seen one of these

I stumbled upon it - and read it with growing disbelief. The lengths that American traffic engineers will go to avoid using a simple roundabout!

My boss is incompetent, what can I do?

Q I work in a public sector organisation, and the senior staff in my department have all been there for 30 years or more. People have been promoted on longevity rather than merit
I should not be doing this. I should be over it by now. But reading this cri de coeur and the response reawakened all the old issues.

The advice of course is get another job - but what is not said is how you explain why you want another job and what kind of reference will you get from your incompetent bosses. In organisations like this - and there are plenty of them - blame always trickles down but all praise gets trapped at the top. The boss takes credit for your successes and you take the blame for his failures.

I wish I had a better solution, since changing jobs can often be quite traumatic on families when relocation is involved. And getting a job in a new city means breaking into a whole new network unless you are widely known and have a strong reputation in your field. Maybe that is where the stimulus comes from for all those conferences and seminars.

Your career is your possession - but don't expect that other people will not try to take it from you if they can

Monday, 10 December 2007

Robert Latimer has been persecuted, not prosecuted

When Robert Latimer was refused parole, I felt that i should write about it. But for a variety of reasons I simply could not deal with it. I cannot imagine what it must have taken for this man to take the decision he did. But I have long thought that in the case of euthanasia, we treat our pets much better than our families.

This piece by Ian Mulgrew is far better than I could have managed, and I applaud his courage in printing it. I expect he will now get the full weight of condemnation to hell from the "holier than thou" crowd.
There is an unrelated judgment from the Supreme Court that says "a liberal and humane criminal law cannot hold people to the strict obedience of laws in emergency situations where normal human instincts . . . overwhelmingly impel disobedience . . . such acts are still wrongful, but in the circumstances are excusable. Praise is indeed not bestowed, but pardon is."

You can help urge cabinet to make that decision -- visit Latimer's website at www.robertlatimer.net or sign the petition at www.freerobertlatimer.ca.

There is also a group on Facebook called Free Robert Latimer.

I can think of no better case for mercy.

Conrad Black sentenced to 6 1/2 years in jail on fraud, obstruction convictions

Good

and acoording to the Sun Black was also fined $125,000 US, and ordered to forfeit $6.1-million.

And no club fed either
Because he gave up his Canadian citizenship to become a British Lord, Black cannot opt to serve his sentence in Canada, nor is he eligible for a minimum-security prison in the U.S.

Does he also get stripped of his peerage too?

Friday, 7 December 2007

The vegetable orchestra

More on the writers strike

How the stars manage without scripts (click on the title)

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

The secret of happiness

“It appears that spending time relaxing is the secret to a happy life. Cost-free pleasures are the ones that make the difference — even when you can afford anything that you want.”

New research from the University of Nottingham comes up with a completely unsurprising result

A bar of chocolate, a long soak in the bath, a snooze in the middle of the afternoon, a leisurely stroll in the park.

I am surprised that just spending time with your children, pets or significant other did not make the list

How to Be a Mensch

A mensch?

Someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being “a real mensch” is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.
Leo Rosten

Compassion -- the Richmond way

A letter to the editor of the Richmond News deploring the attitudes of those opposed to the proposed construction of a treatment centre for people with addictions

Last Saturday I attended what was billed as a "public conference" organized by the NIABY group in opposition to the proposed Turning Point facility on Ash Street. I found it saddening.

I had assumed that a "conference" would be a place of discussion, but the first piece of information that greeted us was: "It is not a debate and no questions or comments will be entertained on the floor." That, and the explanation of the name NIABY, "not in anyone's back yard" set the tone.

There followed a series of speakers who made statements containing many half truths, inaccuracies and false statistics. Quite remarkably the first speaker, a man with the title "Dr." who conducts research at UBC, spoke only in Chinese. It was clear the speakers were not knowledgeable about addiction or its treatment and they clearly regarded all people with addictions as bad and dangerous. This of course is fundamentally wrong. The vast majority of people with addictions are just like everybody else, often working regular jobs. When they reach the decision to stop using drugs or alcohol they should be supported.


And the letter ends

I call on all the citizens of Richmond and particularly the mayor and council, to resist this attack on Richmond and its lifestyle, and support Turning Point's application to build this very much needed facility.

Brian Wardley,

Richmond

Hanukkah reminds us of the need to end suffering


progressive thinkers see the story of the oil as a way to preach about the scarcity of natural resources and the need to conserve energy. In fact, according to an article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, The Shalom Center in Philadelphia has launched the Green Menorah Covenant campaign to promote energy efficiency in Jewish communities. The campaign is timed to coincide both with Hanukkah and with the United Nations-sponsored conference on climate change this week in Bali, Indonesia.

The leap from the Maccabees to climate change may seem long. But Hanukkah, like other Jewish holidays, has always embraced universal themes. As Jewish families light a candle every night for the next eight nights, they shine a light on the world for all to see its wonders, and remind us of our duty to drive out the darkness of human suffering.

Monday, 3 December 2007

Iran halted nuclear weapons programme in 2003

So, there were no WMDs in Iraq - but the White House and No 10 ignored that, fudged the intelligence and went in anyway.

In the case of Iran the intelligence community has decided to break with the conventions that made that possible.

Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, decided last month that the key judgments of NIEs should not, as a rule, be declassified and released.

But intelligence officials said an exception was made in this case because the last assessment of Iran's nuclear programme in 2005 has been influential in public debate about US policy toward Iran and needed to be updated to reflect the latest findings.


NIE = National intelligence estimates represent the most authoritative written judgments of all 16 US spy agencies.

16? Why do they need 16 spy agencies??

Anyway, there has been plenty of speculation that an invasion of Iran was going to be the next step - despite the crippling national debt and the inextricable morass of Iraq. So either this inspired production of what they must have known for some time is either a good excuse to back off - or a "pre-emptive strike" by the intelligence community before George dumps them in the brown stuff again. Your guess is as good as mine.

Note too how the spin credits GWB's "get tough" stance - and does not let the Iranians completely off the hook since they are still enriching uranium. For peaceful purposes - which they are entitled to do - but they still *could* make a bomb.

Just as every male is equipped to commit rape.

Green America

Just because the Bush White House doesn't get it, do not despair. A lot of Americans do, and are doing something.

Hundreds of American jurisdictions at the state, county and city levels have ignored Washington’s spectacular indifference to environmental crisis, which is what we see in terms of the international treaties, and are moving ahead by leaps and bounds to curb greenhouse gas emissions and forge a profitable green economy regardless of what goes on in Washington.
At last count, for example, more than 700 American cities had become signatories to the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which is meant to bring them into line with the emissions cuts called for by Kyoto. Collectively, they govern more than a quarter of the U.S. population.

And there are also a couple of useful links

worldchanging.com and treehugger.com, two sites out of Seattle and New York, respectively, that have become must-reads for people captivated by possibility rather than gloom.

So long, James



James Barber "The Urban Peasant" was an inspiration to many. He celebrated simple cooking with easy to find ingredients and - as the video clip shows - ingenious tools. He encourages everyone to experiment and improvise. And he went the way he lived - in his kitchen with a pot of soup on the stove. At age 84. I should be so lucky

And here is a much better appreciation from Angela Murills

In a race for mayor, Taylor would stand as a brand unto herself

Interesting think piece from Miro Cernetig this morning. Taylor herself has not declared, but her backers are talking. She would not run under the NPA banner but as an independent.

The story concentrates on the wheelchair factor - Sullivan as hero overcoming huge personal odds to wave the flag of the Olympics as Vancouver's Mayor. But that is not going to be the thing that most Vancouverites remember. Miro does not mention this so I will. There is a much more recent memory - months of a completely unnecessary strike - no garbage collection all summer, no libraries, no daycare. Other municipalities manged to get a deal really quickly with no disruption at all - and most people now remember the event as "Sam's strike": fairly or not, that is the lasting impression.

Meanwhile Carol supporters will
flash back to the finance minister's effective depoliticization of public-service labour negotiations, when she signed deals with every single union in the province, a historic first.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Tracking Santa

Nice little seasonal item on Google's own blog

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Bison

I was going to make an image for this post but I was too hungry. I have been smelling my housemate's roast pork for a couple of hours and that had really piqued my appetite. I do not recall eating bison before - and that could be that to me it does not tatste a lot different to beef. Well a very nice beef, I will admit. I bought top sirloin steak and just threw it into a hot Le Creuset griddle pan. Turned it (once laterally, flip, once laterally again, take it out) and put it alongside a baked potato (Washington russet) and half a spaghetti squash. Glass of Aussie red (Stanley Cabernet Shiraz from a 2l cardboard box) MMMMMM nice

I had to buy two steaks so I put the other one in the freezer for later. When I do that one, I will add a pic

Read the link, try the bison. You will thank me.

Pope blames history's cruelties on atheism

Pope Benedict, in an encyclical released Friday, said atheism was responsible for some of the "greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice" in history.
Atehists may have been responsible for some cruelties - but not because of their atheism, that was just incidental.The "theists" on the other hand have been, historically, responsible for much greater cruelties, precisely because of their beliefs - which can start with the crusades and the Inquisition and continues to this day with the sectarian strife in Ireland to the protesters in the Sudan who think a teacher should be killed because her students named their teddybear after The Prophet.

The Catholic Church really has a very poor record indeed in the area of cruelty - even leaving aside the activities of those it simply condoned or ignored - promoted by its doctrine. And with the conviction that God was on their side and the blessings of earlier Popes cheerfully burnt, tortured, beheaded and maimed many millions simply because they did not share the exact same interpretations of a faith that was supposedly based on "love your enemies". And, at the same time, amassed huge wealth and power - again somewhat in contrast to the teachings of the Jewish carpenter they claimed to be following.

I think there is a quote somewhere about motes and beams but as an atheist myself I will leave that to others. I do think that Benedict needs to read a bit more history to get a sense of proportion on this issue - and should rather concentrate on apologizing for the role of the church and making amends for the cruelties it has promoted and condoned, rather than lecturing others.

And as for "justice" lets just mention Gallileo and leave it at that shall we

Friday, 30 November 2007

Burnaby Hospital has worst death rate in B.C.

Burnaby Hospital executive director Arden Krystal said the numbers were a surprise.

"It doesn't feel consistent with what our experience of patient care is at this hospital, and frankly, not consistent with what the majority of our patients would say our patient care is," Krystal said.

Well, she would say that, wouldn't she? I am afraid I must disagree. And I can only offer one personal experience, but which was so bad, its trauma lives with me to this day.

I had a bike accident in Burnaby and was taken by ambulance to Burnaby Hospital. In the ER I was ignored for hours and no-one informed my wife where I was. I am diabetic, but I was put on 'nil by mouth' for over twelve hours - modern practise has shown this is not necessary to avoid choking under a general anaesthetic but this had not yet trickled down to Burnaby. I had an operation on my wrist. The orthopedic surgeon and the radiologist noticed that the broken bone they were examining was "mush"(the orthopod's word) but neither suggested to me or my GP that we check out my bone density. I had to work that one out for myself.

After I recovered from surgery, I found that I was unable to urinate. This is a common side effect of general anasthesia. I asked a male nurse for assistance. I was catherised, but he then encouraged all the staff on the floor to come and watch me fill the container - mostly female nursing and ancilliary staff. I was so relieved that it did not occur to me to complain at the time. I realise now I should have protested the lack of privacy.

I was also presented, not having eaten anything for 48hours, with what was said to be a "toasted cheese sandwich". It had been kept in a warm cart for most of the day and was simply inedible. I did not eat any of the food delivered to my bed side by the hospital, but like most of the people on my ward relied on the provisions supplied by visitors.

Now none of this is life threatening, but it does indicate a general lack of concern for patient care - which is what hospitals are supposed to be about.

I no longer ride my bike - mostly because I have an unreasonable fear - not of accidents but that I might once again find myself in a hospital like Burnaby. It probably did not help that in my 58 years that was the first (and so far last) time I spent a night in a hospital as a patient. For all I know this experience might well be common. It would certainly help explain some of the data that Arden Krystal thinks is surprising.

Mountie killed mill worker in self-defence, report concludes

So once again the RCMP investigate one of their own and conclude that one of their members cannot ever be held responsible for anything. A man has an open beer on the street - not a huge crime by any measure - and mucks about when the cop stops him, giving a false name. The next thing we know for certain is that he is in a jail cell with a bullet in the back of his head.
Koester, 28, says Bush sucker-punched him while being booked in an interview room. Koester, who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 180 pounds, said the six-foot, 187-pound labourer was on top of his back choking the life out of him when he managed to free his gun.

In a physical feat even RCMP investigators conceded was worthy of a contortionist, the constable got the gun up to the back of Bush's head and shot him. Koester refused to reenact what happened for investigators and the coroner's inquest.

But the inquiry concludes that he was reasonably in fear of his life and acted in self defense.

If this was an isolated incident it might pass, but it is part of an increasingly frequent pattern of poorly trained and ill disciplined mounties far exceeding the reasonable use of force, and people ending up dead as a result.

It is obvious that Canada needs an independent police complaints authority that has powers to investigate and to compel testimony. It must not be staffed by police personnel or ex police personnel. We also need to think very carefully about whether we need a national police force at all. The mounties no longer deserve our trust or support, and must be disbanded.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Documenting a not-so-beautiful B.C.

Two films at the Whistler film festival record the life of "aboriginal people on reserves and the crushing poverty, high-unemployment rates and too-few options that often go with that life."

I wonder if these films will get beyond the festival circuit and wider release. I hope so. These stories need to be told.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

The power of advertising

I never really understood how the internet could be both free and full of ads at the same time. Mind you I have been around the net for a long time now. I mean since Mosaic - did you have Mosaic? Windows 3.1?

Anyway back then the net was all about geeks and academics. And commerce was actually verboten, spam was still an unpleasant canned lunch meat. From what I can tell, this blog does not seem to get a lot of attention. The other one is on Wordpress where ads are not allowed unless you are a VIP like CNN. But Blogger is owned by Google, who make lots of money from ads, and they don't mind sharing. So they make it really easy to put Adsense in the frame.

I hummed and hawed about the acceptability of this for a bit, but since Google ads seem to be not only ominipresent on the net but also easy to ignore (except for the links you get to spam recipes on gmail (has anyone ever eaten Savory Spam Crescents and lived? I once had to eat Spam Fritters for school Dinner - I was about 6 - I threw up in choir practice first period after lunch - I have never eaten spam anything ever since)).

Anway they have been there for about a week, and, so far, no one has complained. And today, when checking my bank account I noticed a credit for 34c.

I don't think this is going to change my blogging style.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Politics 'stifling $100 laptop'

Dr Igwe Aja-Nwachuku said: "What is the sense of introducing One Laptop per Child when they don't have seats to sit down and learn; when they don't have uniforms to go to school in, where they don't have facilities?"
Absolutely, I could not agree more, after all my children had to go to school every day for their entire school careers and not for one day did they have a school uniform to wear. I do not know how they managed to do so well academically and socially under such trying conditions.

Undercover restorers fix Paris landmark's clock


I have to thank Eric Friesen of Radio 2 for bringing this story to my attention which I missed in yesterday's Guardian.

A team of guerrilla restorers have repaired the clock at the Paris Pantheon. It had been out of order since the sixties. They stayed in the building one night and found they could easily circumvent the security system. They installed a workshop under the dome and repaired the clock. It took a year. Then they had to decide whether or not to tell the authorities. After all, somebody was going to have to wind it regularly to keep it going.

The authorities were not amused, and the restorers were prosecuted but on Friday they were acquitted in a rare display of judicial common sense.

I have always liked the idea of random acts of kindness, and anonymous guerrilla activity to improve the place - like the secret gardeners who cultivate neglected public land. I cannot think of a better way of showing our "masters" what we think of them.

Deleted Scenes

The title given this piece on the site where I stumbled upon it (linked from my title) "Michael Moore cut this scene from Sicko because no one would believe it". But I am going to amend that. Michael Moore cut this scene because no American could believe it. It is also not really about their Health Care system - which is mentioned briefly - it is actually most interesting when it deals with their very successful penal system. And, just like the notion that socialised medicine could be good for you, the idea that a penal system should not be punitive but reformative is a direct challenge to the fundamental American belief system.

He also notes that Norway has a lot of oil (it shares the North Sea with Britain) but still is a world leader in sustainable energy. And the state owns the oil, not private companies.

And just for balance the clip opens with the mad righties frothing over Moore's temerity of questioning their "wisdom" - the view that they have so successfully imposed on Americans that people think they are paying for something better when in fact they are being ripped off for soemthing much, much worse than most of the rest of the world. Of course that does not mean the Norway, or Canada or the UK is perfect or their systems could not be improved. Just that they are streets ahead of a country where corporate welfare comes first.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

"They did this in Germany"



Naomi Wolf talks about "The End of America". There is a seven step process to convert a functioning democracy into a closed society. Ms Wolf draws parallels between what happened in Italy in the twenties, Germany and Russia in the thirties and more recently in Burma, Chile and, yes, the US of A.

Tyrants follow a recipe. It is entirely predictable - and the most dangerous time for freedom is just before an election.

We already have the hyped threats (terrorism) the loss of personal freedoms (the no fly list) the detentions without trial, the use of torture, the spread of surveillance, the accusations of treason against those who criticise the administration, the assault on the rule of law. Dictators still have elections - they love them - they just corrupt them - using the techniques that Jeb Bush used in Florida.

And Canada, under the heel of a minority right wing conviction style government, is going the same way. We hand people over - eagerly - for rendition - and now for possible execution too. Our cops just love their tasers and pepper spray. Lots of people fear losing their jobs if they criticise the government - and with good reason.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Pay as you wish restuarants

I would like to see a restaurant run on these lines here.

There are times when I have been close to the edge when my needs exceeded my income - or I did not have any income at all. Other times when I was at least temporarily quite well off. To be able to eat out and have it not matter what it cost would have been a great pleasure at either time. Somebody in front of me at a supermarket line up was worried that she might not have enough cash to pay for all her purchases, so the checkout clerk told her to watch the screen and tell her to stop when she had reached the available amount. I looked at what she wanted to buy, and resolved that if she did not have enough I would pay for what was there since they were all essentials that she clearly needed. It did not come to that, and it might have embarrassed her. But this idea in a restaurant seems to me to neatly resolve the issue.

Last night we had a great free night of food and entertainment. My kids came around to help me eat the free frozen pizzas I had been given last week at a supermarket as part of a promotion. And I had been to the library and found a movie I had not seen but wanted to - "Bennie and Joon" (highly recommended if you have not seen it either). So we were able to have one of what had once been a regular event - a family movie supper night. The fact that is it was free was incidental - but seemed to be a nice feature of "buy nothing day"

Thursday, 22 November 2007

B.C. will need more jail space for pot growers

B.C. will have to find space in its already crowded jails for about 700 more marijuana growers each year if new mandatory sentences announced by the Conservative government this week are enacted, an analysis of sentencing figures suggests.

"You basically need a new prison to facilitate that," said Darryl Plecas, a criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley who has studied marijuana sentencing. "You're going to have hundreds, if not thousands, of people going to jail who aren't going now."

On Tuesday, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson unveiled legislation that would create mandatory minimum sentences for a number of drug offences, including growing marijuana.

Under the law, someone convicted of growing between one and 200 plants would receive at least six months in jail.
Just to make things clear, someone who has a pot plant - one pot plant - is not a dealer, not any kind of threat to society. One pot plant is not enough to supply more than the grower him(or her)self.

A mandatory sentence of six months for one plant - that is supposed to make us all safer?

The war on drugs in the United States has not worked. It is not going to work here either. Grow-ops are a problem, because of the activities of various gangs who want to control the distribution of illegal substances. So we get home invasions and turf wars. This has nothing to do with someone who has some weed for their own use. And as recently observed, the new gang task force is simply dealing with the low level operatives, not the organizers.

I will declare myself here. I have never used any illegal drug - which includes marijuana and its derivatives. I think that caffeine, chocolate and alcohol adequately meet my needs - plus some prescription meds. But my reading and research supports the notion that marijuana use is not nearly as harmful as tobacco - a legal substance I ceased using some years ago because of its proven ill health effects. Because I live in BC I am well aware of widespread use of pot - the smell is everywhere. I have also read accounts of its medicinal use and, like the previous Government of Canada, am convinced that this use is legitimate. If it really helped glaucoma, I might even be tempted, if I could use it without breaking the law. As I do not break the law. Even when I think the law is asinine. I also think we need to be able to do something more effective about impaired driving - and that includes "recreational substances" as well as alcohol.

Of all the things we need in BC - of all the potential uses of public funds - building more prisons would be my lowest priority. Prison does not deter crime, nor does it rehabilitate offenders. It does provide an environment where the power of gangs can be made much more effective. Where criminal knowledge can be spread. Where criminal responses to threats and coercion can be learned and perfected. It also is very effective at creating a social grouping that is incapable of supporting itself independently in society - hence the need for half way houses and rehab programs. Because a criminal record is not going to help anyone get a good job.

My first priority would be housing - lots of it - for people on low and limited incomes. Well integrated housing to avoid the problems of the "sink estates". The sort of housing that was built on the south shore of False Creek near Granville Island. Housing co-ops and associations of all kinds. Lots of NGOs and voluntary groups involved. No for profit "screw the poor" operations that operate so successfully here - tipping out long term tenants on the pretense of refurbishment just so they can increase rents by more than the permitted annual maximum. Or the grotesque SROs which fail every inspection on safety and health grounds but continue to operate for profit as there is no alternative.

I would look at adult education. Not just skills training for jobs but education for life - which should be free and open for everyone. And include remedial reading and literacy, civil rights and law, communications and information technology.

I would also look at schools. Not to deal with "problem kids" who are acting out and dosed up on ritalin - but the kids who nobody notices, and manage to slip through the system without picking up anything useful on the way. As a former tutor to "adult illiterates" I know that there are far too many people who leave school without the basic skills they need to survive. Because it is these people who get involved in crime - because there is almost no other way for them. They become prey for the truly anti-social, who regard other human beings as their tools - or victims.

And mental health programs, to identify and treat the illnesses that our society has a hard time acknowledging - and does not treat the disease but simply punishes the ill.

We know that all these programs work to make a better society. We also know that prisons do no such thing. The education, mental health and raw intelligence scores of the prison population are well below that of society in general. The inhabitants of prisons are disproportionately distributed - in Canada there is an unusually high prison population of First Nations and metis, as well as those with drug addictions and mental health problems. This is not coincidence, but it directly linked to the employment, housing and educational issues in those communities. It is long past time to find a way to effectively tackle these issues. Building more prisons is just a way to prolong them.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Campaign urges parents to 'dump soda'

A big international campaign has been launched to get people off soda pop. The Dump Soda campaign (www.dumpsoda.org) is spearheaded by consumer groups on five continents in response to rising childhood obesity.
beverages that are nothing more than liquid candy

And so called Diet Sodas are even worse - most contain aspartame often identified by its brand name "NutraSweet". That stuff is poison. There is no other word for it.

Monday, 19 November 2007

US prison system 'costly failure'

No surprises here: like most good sociology, this study demonstrates what most thinking people had worked out for themselves.

The fall in crime rate is because of the decline in the number of young men as a percentage of society. Simple demographics. Risk takers with little stake in society and too much testosterone get into trouble - or the armed forces.

The "war on drugs" is not mentioned in this article but is also responsible for large numbers of incarcerations for petty offences. Legalising marijuana - just like ending the prohibition on beverage alcohol - would cut the number of 'offenders' at the stroke of a pen.

But prisons are popular. With legislators - because they think that "getting tough on crime" is a vote winner. With rural communities - who need the employment that new prisons bring. With corporations who have muscled into the corrections business and are making out, well, like bandits. With good people, who are increasingly worried by a media that insists on "if it bleeds, it leads", who do not believe that the crime rate is falling and feel threatened especially when they see young men in hoodies hanging around with nothing to do. Young black and latino men especially.

What is also not mentioned is the way the US appeals system works - or rather does not work. Many of those incarcerated have not committed the crimes they were accused of. But because a jury could be persuaded - or because they decided to "cop a plea" to get a lighter sentence - they are behind bars. Once convicted the burden of proof shifts: the convict is assumed to be guilty and must prove he did not do what he stands convicted of. That is a very hard test indeed - and there are men on death row, exonerated by DNA evidence who are still awaiting release. Apparently in the minds of US attorneys there is no such thing as an "unsafe conviction".

Stay away from aspartame

This video runs for about 90 minutes, but it is well worth watching for that time. If you use artificial sweeteners, or diet anything, you need to be aware that the FDA was sideswiped into approving a food additive that is known to cause cancer, and a wide range of other very unpleasant conditions. The man who engineered this process of acceptance despite the evidence was none other than Donald Rumsfeld.

Briefly, the science is unequivocal. Aspartame releases methanol into your system. This is a poison that your body cannot deal with or eliminate: it therefore builds up and inevitably causes health problems. Some people have a higher sensitivity to methanol than others but the more you consume the more damage it does.

Aspartame should never have been released onto the market. The process was distorted deliberately in the interest of making lots and lots of money. Corporate well being is more important than personal well being.

Health Items

Two pieces today in the "Breaking news" section of the Vancouver Sun's web page. So there is no link from the title but both are embedded below

Vitamin D may curb type 2 diabetes risk
- which is good news since I already take that to cope with osteoporosis. Of course what it doesn't say is that it has any therapeutic effect if you have already developed type 2 diabetes, and so far I cannot report any.

There has been a spate of articles on the health benefits of chocolate but one more won't hurt especially as this one takes care to point out that the stuff that has to be sold as "candy" because it has very little cocoa content is NOT good for you because of all the fat and sugar they add. Stay away from anything made by Hershey - who stupidly use sour milk and ruin the taste as well. Milk chocolate is a bad idea too. Look for dark chocolate with the percentage of cocoa declared - 75% is very good. 99% is less palatable, but works extremely well when grated on to the top of the foam on a cappuccino.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Am I to blame for his private war?


The photographer who took this iconic "Marlboro Marine" picture in Iraq, now brings us up to date on what happened to this young man when he got home.

Stunning, moving writing.

His is the third generation that this has happened to. Before this it was Vietnam, and before that Korea. In this story anyway. They did not recognise PTSD before that but my former father-in-law came home from the invasion of Normandy with it - and my grandfather (a marine at the Dardanelles) committed suicide after years of untreated problems.

How long before we put a stop to sending young men into harm's way for the sake of the greed of a few old men?

see also this item on suicides by US vets

Saturday, 17 November 2007

'Billboard poster saved my life'


The British Heart Foundation (BHF) campaign Doubt Kills, was launched 12 months ago, after research revealed that that 42% of people prefer to "wait and see" before calling the emergency services.
Don't wait. Call 911. (999 only works in the UK)

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Another border security story

I am sorry if this seems like an obsession but this story is too good to pass up.

Firefighters on both sides of the US/Canada border have been helping each other for years. But border security decided to hold up a fire truck - with bells and lights on - from going from Quebec to New York to help fight a fire.

It is wonderful how these officials think. Obviously firemen going about their job must be some kind threat. They are equipped with axes after all.

UPDATE

This is not an isolated incident: this story from today's Province tells how they stopped an emergency ambulance with a patient in need of urgent care - this time at the Windsor-Detroit crossing. Is there some rule that says border guards must have absolutely no common sense at all?

Airport Screeners Missed Bomb Parts

Did it ever cross your mind while you were standing in one of those long winding line ups and putting up with people rummaging through your luggage and wiping the inside with damp pads, that it is all a bit pointless? The GAO has produced a report which shows how ineffective airport screening is.

I have not read the report itself, just the AP story on it, but I cannot say I am surprised. Airport security here is largely handled by private contractors. The people they employ are not able to get better jobs than the mind numbingly dull routine of staring at a screen and trying to spot a pair of nail clippers. They are poorly paid, poorly trained and hard to motivate.

The bombers meanwhile have moved elsewhere. Transit is now one target of choice. There are no screeners, and it is a lot easier to get a back pack of explosives on to a tube train than hijack a plane or set light to your shoelaces. Of course the subsequent video is less dramatic - but the atmosphere of terror is pretty much the same.
The TSA agreed with the investigators' recommendation to introduce "more aggressive, visible and unpredictable security measures," as well as the recommendation to deploy new detection technologies.

I am not sure I like the sound of "aggressive" - these people are uncivil enough already.

Monday, 12 November 2007

'Welfare to Work' Didn't Work

No real surprises here. Also no real surprise that this gets covered by The Tyee and not by the mainstream media. Who will probably continue to publish the government's half truths and deceptions. Because they appeal to that "common sense" that "knows" welfare claimants are all simply lazy scroungers, and does not recognize barriers to employment until someone they know actaully hits one. A bit like racism - 'they' all conform to a stereotype except those known personally to the speaker.
Claude Richmond, the minister responsible for welfare in B.C., wrote a letter to the editor of the Times-Colonist stating, "Federal/provincial taxation data shows 81.5 per cent of expected-to-work clients who left income assistance did so for employment."

While the minister's letter assures us that 81.5 per cent of expected-to-work clients who left income assistance did so for employment, this is actually a small reduction from the past when 83 per cent declared employment income.

And so on. Lots of promises - not one of them kept, and absolutely no attempt to own up to failure. Just bury the bad news and hope nobody notices.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Canada's bogus welcome to talented immigrants

We're misleading too many skilled newcomers by luring them here and then denying them work in their field

Douglas Todd, Vancouver Sun
Published: Saturday, November 10, 2007

Canada aggressively pursues highly skilled people and persuades them to come here. Then they find that they are not allowed to work in their field, and have to take low paying jobs. In the case of doctors, the South Africans are furious that our greed for their English speaking doctors leaves many South Africans with no health care at all.

I will declare my interest. I am an immigrant. I still have a very strong English accent. Well, since I was nearly 40 when I got here that is not surprising. And I did get work here in my field. Except that it never seemed to last very long, and wherever I worked it was always a case of last in, first out. And I do not think that my current underemployment is due to my origins.

But I know far too many highly qualified individuals who have not been able to make it here - including an Egyptian oro-maxilliary surgeon who I met while working on the census, and an engineer from the former Yugoslavia who works for a taxi company.

It is one thing for us to go to poorer countries and take their brightest and best so that we get the benefit of their very expensive training. It is quite something else again when they end up working at 7-11.

Students learn about Holocaust first-hand from a survivor, 81

for years, survivors kept to themselves what had happened, he said.

"It was just too painful even to talk about it with our families. But all that changed in the '60s and '70s when the Holocaust deniers came on the scene. At best, they said the numbers were exaggerated; at worst they said the whole thing was a hoax," he said.

"Incidentally, I have nothing against the German people. The people who perpetrated this crime are dead or were killed. We can't hold the people of Germany responsible for what their fathers and grandfathers did. . . . We have to move along."

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Group RESP plans may not have your child's best interests at heart

I don't think there is any "may" about it. I am convinced that these plans are a rip-off based on vulnerability and lack of knowledge. And I could not believe, once I found out how bad these plans were, that no-one was regulating how they were sold, since they make mendacious claims. The advantage is created by the tax system. Given that government thinks we should be saving for our children's tertiary education, I was amazed that they take no interest at all in what was being foisted on their citizens.

We bought RESPs for both our children as a result of information collected at the hospital. We also got the Welcome Wagon treatment - free formula samples (even though breast is best) disposable diapers (I still think these are easier on babes and parents than washables and the energy/CO2 equivalent as far as I can see) and baby photos.

The RESPs came from USC. What I found out a couple of years later was that the plans had no actual value at all in their early years, since all of the contributions I had been making had been paid to the salesman as commission! In fact the only way to get anything like the value I was putting in was to stay in. Compared to the performance of my mutual fund based RRSP, the performance of the RESPs was dismal. In fact little better than a savings account.

What we could not have predicted is the way that provincial governments have shifted tuition funding onto students (or their parents), which in a knowledge based economy is pretty bloody cynical. Most students now end up in heavy debt - which of course helps to create a docile workforce, strongly motivated to keep their jobs in order to pay off their debts. And then we are surprised that family formation suffers: no-one can now afford to get married, buy a house and have kids straight out of university like my generation did.

If someone gives you a pamphlet from University Scholarships - or one of their competitors - throw it away. Talk to an independent financial advisor, and set up your own savings plan. Don't give your kids education funds to some smooth talking salesman - your kids need that money more than he does.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

That tax cut

the amount that all Canadians can earn without paying federal income tax to $9,600 from the current threshold of $8,929, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2007

I hope someone will respond to this post, since I cannot for the life of me make sense of this. Why does the federal government think it should take taxes from people below the poverty level?

If you were lucky enough to have a full time job paying minimum wage that would be 1950 hours (52 times 37.5) at $8.00 or $15,600 a year before things like EI and CPP and so on. But apparently the Canadian government thinks you should give up 15% of the amount over the tax threshold - or around $1,000 a year. I have been trying to determine what we think is the poverty level - and all I can find are arguments about LICO and a family of four. It seems to me that an individual at this level would be living in poverty - even if they did not live in a city where the vacancy rate is so small it can't be measured meaningfully and rent would take up most of this take home pay packet.

I am not going to get into an argument about what the LICO should be or if there is a better indicator. I just want to know why we think that poor people should pay taxes and rich people should not.

Since GST is levied on nearly everything, it is a regressive tax. That is to say, it impacts more on those with low incomes, who can least afford it. On the other hand a drop in GST clearly benefits those who are about to buy "big ticket" items, like plasma tvs, than those who spend most of their limited incomes on essentials. And as long as they belong to families, they won't be paying GST on food. (If you live alone and have no liking for stale baked goods, you will pay GST on your single muffin, but a family of four - who will buy six or more at a time, won't)

So Mr Flaherty's tax cuts will benefit corporations - who pay very little in tax anyway - and the wealthy. But single people on low incomes will not get much benefit at all.

Not only that but EI and CPP are taxes as well - there is no way they can be avoided by those on low income - and they all reduce the amount available for food, shelter and other basic necessities. Is it any wonder that the UN is in town looking at our shameful performance?

UPDATED I was just idly Stumbling when this link popped up and confirmed my worst fears

Thursday, 25 October 2007

A380 - the bad news


This picture shows the economy class cabin of the new Airbus A380 - the double decker jumbo - which has just entered service between Singapore and Sydney. While you can expect a lot of gushing about the double bed suites in first class (which apparently Singapore Airlines believes should not be used for sex), this is what the ordinary travellers can expect. As usual there is a distinct trade-off. Comfortable or cheap. If you cannot afford the high prices (that will mostly get written off against tax as business expenses), you could still get stuck in a dreaded middle seat (look beyond the far aisle). Singapore Airlines looks to have gone for the maximum seating 3-4-3 configuration. So make sure you spend some of the savings on the fare on those special DVT socks.

And apparently there's more room on Singapore's A380 than Air France's

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Is this the work of the world's worst forgers?


Its not even a very good forgery but the point is there never has been a real half million pound note - and yet they took it to the Bank!

A very public affair

The Guardian on the collapse of the French President's marriage - with all the salacious details

They opened their hearts on chatshows, they appeared on the cover of the increasingly popular - some say vulgar - celebrity magazines


And The Guardian, which once upon a time was a quality newspaper shows that it can be as vulagr as any of them. The only thing missing is the photospread of paparazzi product

I preferred the sophistication with which the French treated Chirac and Mitterand - they simply didn't care. The private life of the President was none of their concern. But Sarkozy courted the media attention and used his wife - so he deserves all he gets. Maybe she does too but I stopped reading. I felt like I do when standing in line at Save on Foods reading the covers of the tabs and peep mags. Ugh.

Drivers' pet peeves

Some of mine didn't make the list

- queue jumping: there's a lane closure ahead, and two lines of cars start the zipper process. As the zipper works, the closed lane is empty for some distance, and drivers begin to anticipate the need to merge, so the closure point of the zipper moves back. Until one smart arse decides to speed down to the end and jump in at the last minute. And the polite merging now gives way to push and shove and the line just gets longer. What part of "wait your turn" do you not understand?

- dazzling headlights: not on main beam, these extra bright lights are probably really useful on a deserted mountain pass - but on a well lit suburban street? And so often the vehicle they are mounted on has been jacked up, or has headlights mounted several feet above the ground. You can tell that its alignment is wrong as the interior of the car in front is lit up like day, and its driver is grabbing to flip the internal mirror - and adjust the door mirrors too. Yet the guy behind gets as close as he can, and keeps those lights a blazin'. The police do this deliberately with cars they have stopped, so I suppose this is where the practice has been learned.

- the sudden dart out into traffic: "I've been waiting too long for a break in the traffic flow so I will just force my way out"

- driving the wrong way round the traffic circle to make a left turn (a Vancouver favourite)

- driving with a flashing yellow light on - for ever - with no turn or lane change in prospect

- turning right from the left lane: a variation on the queue jump - this driver always drives in the left "overtaking lane" even though he knows it will be necessary to turn right in a short distance. But the left lane is moving faster so let's take a chance ...

- driving through red lights. Not content with keeping going through the yellow, this driver simply follows the car in front. The opposing flow now has a green but this clown doesn't care - just as long as he doesn't have to wait to the next green for his turn.

I could go on and on but the common thread is total selfishness and lack of concern for others

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Be good or be gone


Music video - drawn to my attention by Very Short List of singer-songwriter, Fionn Regan - in many places singing the same song

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Movie Reviews | Rendition

I haven't seen the movie. The Strait (print edition) sniffs about "sanitised torture". On the whole, I would rather not see the alternative. I get really worried about people who watch movies like Syriana (pulling out fingernails with pincers). I have a nasty suspicion that some movie makers and movie viewers get off on this kind of sado-masochism. Mel Gibson in particular.

The point about torture is not just that it is illegal, immoral and corrupting of the people who do it. It does not provide any useful information. As people like Maher Arar and William Samson have testified, under torture, innocent people will confess to anything - just to make it stop. So I simply do not believe the officials who say that we "need" to torture suspects, because post 9/11 the threat of terrorism is so much greater. The use of extraordinary methods of interrogation now employed on a daily basis does not seem to be helping very much in resolving issues in Iraq, does it?

In every major enquiry into high profile cases, investigators have to deal with disturbed people who come forward and "confess" to crimes they could not possibly have committed. Innocent people have been jailed on all sorts of evidence that turns out after the event (sometimes long after) to have been tainted. All torture achieves is that every one that gets arrested ("round up the usual suspects") now becomes disturbed enough to confess. Indeed, that is what the CIA manuals show is the intention of these techniques - the breakdown of a personality. It does nothing to further the cause of finding out what has happened - and even less about what is going to happen. If you do lift the right person, his contacts will know that his or her knowledge is now compromised. That is why terrorists operate in small cells - so they can only implicate one or two other people. The interrogator should assume that anything the suspect now tells him about future plans will be changed by those left in play. The most successful counterintelligence is conducted by leaving the suspect in place but feeding him duff information. Britain used this strategy very successfully against the abwehr.

But the worst possible effect (additional to the damage to the people tortured) is that officially you have sanctioned and encouraged people who take pleasure in causing others pain. And since we have laws against many other kinds of deviant activity, I do not see that our society benefits from sanctioning - or encouraging - this particularly nasty kink.

Another review in the Guardian is a lot clearer (and it doesn't like the film either) that the torture is not "sanitised"

These torture scenes are grim. No punches are pulled. The technique of choice is waterboarding, and the film demonstrates how this is done for those of us who weren't quite sure. It is a quasi-drowning ordeal achieved by strapping the victim to a board, putting a hood over his head, tipping him back and then pouring water continuously on to his face so that the wet material slops down into his mouth and nostrils and he is unable to breathe, and overwhelmed with terror and disorientation. (Robert Harris, in his new thriller The Ghost, says that in 1947 a Japanese officer was convicted of using waterboarding on a US civilian and sentenced to 15 years' hard labour for a war crime. Harris also says that waterboarding victims generally last 14 seconds before giving in; the record is 150 seconds by the alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, a feat of endurance that reputedly won the grudging admiration of his CIA captors. I wasn't timing it, but in this movie Anwar manages around the 14-second standard.)

But does waterboarding get facts, foil plots and save lives? Corrine Whitman angrily maintains that it does, but Douglas quotes Portia in The Merchant of Venice; rendition victims "speak upon the rack,/ Where men enforced do speak anything."

Friday, 12 October 2007

Bright idea

A really neat idea for micro power from the wind. Not a turbine - a simple belt under tension.

Why we curse

I recently was aksed to speak at a public meeting that was to be held in a Unitarian church. The subject matter was one on which I have very profound convictions - and in which the present provincial government is behaving very badly indeed. But my concern was that since I feel so strongly about these issues, profanity could well escape my lips, since I speak without notes or script. And I could no sooner swear in church than I could vote conservative.

This piece from the New Republic analyses why we resort to bad language, and what happens when bad words are deprived of their power.

As I think Michael Flanders once remarked, I am very much against the everyday use of swear words. If we use them too much, we have nothing left for special occasions. He was the lyricist of that archetypal song of the sixties "Pee, Po, Belly, Bum, Drawers"

I don't particularly mind the swearing but I know my mother, who was an English teacher, would say, "You're using the same word too often."
Margueritte Patten

And the CBC now reports that swearing at work can actually be good for you!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

POST SECRET


You know about this - but like me you forgot

There's a project. You make a homemade postcard and send it (anonymously of course) and it gets put on a web page and now in a book. Well actually this is the fourth book. I didn't know that.

Just read the screts and suddenly one will seem to be aimed at you - or could have been written by you

We crave privacy so we can do things that we do not want other people to know about. Which is why the internet became so popular and why so much of it is about sex. Considering what the word "intercourse" can mean, that in itself is sad.

So many people, so much shame and guilt and longing

So much desire for revenge - I just picked up Carl Hiaasen's "Nature Girl" and like so many of his other books the main characters are driven by the need to dole out their idea of justice.

Life isn't fair.

What is Stephen Harper reading?

Every two weeks Jan Martell sends Stephen Harper a book accompanied by a letter. Fortunately he is copying the letters to a blog (click the tile for the link)

So far there has been no response from the PM - or the PMO from what I can see. But the list is well wrth looking at and the letters are illuminating. And would be a good start the next time you find yourself wandering around the library wondering what to read.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

15 REASONS CANADA MAKES ME UNEASY AND CONFUSED

I think this is supposed to be funny. Anyway they don't allow comments on their blog (like I do) so here is what I would have written

It is a list of American misconceptions - or stereotypes - about Canada.
Canada has a whole province where the folks speak a different language and you don't hear Canadians bitching about "those dirty Frenchies", they just leave them alone to speak their own language.
It is, of course a lot more complex than that, though anti-anglophone policies in Quebec have led to a shift in population and business to Ontario. And New Brunswick is bilingual and the whole country is pleased to offer you service in the language of your choice - well the federal bits are obliged to and elsewhere we will also happily speak to you in Mandarin, Cantonese, Urdu and an increasing diverse variety of tongues. There are even places where some indigenous languages survive - though with great difficulty. And while we may appear tolerant now our history is not pretty and some of those prejudices still lurk in nasty little pockets - though we seem to be getting better at dealing with them.

Canada's Prime Minister? He's cute.
Possibly, matter of taste. Sadly he is also Mr Bush's poodle, and seems to forget that he is supposed to be running Canada for the benefit of the Canadian people not American corporations. As far as the environment is concerned he is an idiot - but then he does come from Alberta, which is Canada's version of Saudi Arabia - more oil than sense.

they do not even have a War On drugs! Canada doesn't DO war! And I'm betting their rate of alcoholism is also very low!
We were supposed to have four pillars of drug policy but thanks to the New Canadian Government (that's the idiot we were just talking about) we are going back to the Bush style prohibition and punishment approach. BC bud is supposed to be the best in the world but frankly we are getting a bit fed up with home invasions and drive by shootings, even if we have fewer of them than say, Oakland.

Our rate of alcoholism is fine, thank you very much, and is a real problem in many areas, despite our much higher taxes on booze. We also make terrific ice wine, stronger beer and better whiskey than you lot. And you probably will not be able to buy BC wine since all the good stuff never hits the stores but gets sold direct by subscription from the winery gate.

Canada never says a word about how stupidly geocentric we are.
Oh yes we do. I take it you have never tried to find any Canadian media on the internet. Did you know that the internet reaches beyond the United States?

You will also not be able to buy Canucks tickets - get on the waiting list or find a scalper - we don't deal with them as effectively as you do. How can write about Canada and NOT MENTION HOCKEY?

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Sen. Larry Craig to Remain in Senate

The Republicans are the party of "law and order'. They are the party that says it has the moral high ground. It is the home of the "moral majority", and it is also the party that tried to impeach a President - for nothing very much, and even then they didn't succeed.

They are getting a bit fed up with one of their members - I wrote about his case some time ago. He pleaded guilty. He then changed his mind and asked a judge if he could change his plea. No, said the judge. End of story you might think. Well, he is still there, and there are three pages of discussion about it.

I stopped reading after one. I think he is about as moral as some of the other recent headline makers from his party - the rules he makes are for other people. He thinks he is not only above the law but also that he does not have to abide by his own freely given undertakings.
... by far the harshest words came from Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in remarks many interpreted to be reflective of what Senate GOP Leadership as a whole feels.

"He said that if the judge would reverse his guilty plea he would fight on, if not he would resign from the Senate and remember -- that was going to be effective at the end of September," said Ensign. "He had his day in court, the judge ruled against him, and I'm calling on Senator Craig to keep his word," said Ensign.


And, apparently, his predelictions were well known long before his arrest

Update 2 December - and four men have come forward with details of their encounters with the Senator

Liquor stores to stop selling beer by the bottle

This is, quite simply, wrong.

A bottle or a can of beer is a package. With a bar code. No matter if it is bigger or smaller than a given size or a speciality or run of the mill beer. No one should be required to buy more than they want. Of anything.

Supermarkets sell pre-packaged meat. But if you do not want enough for four people all at once, they will - if you ask - give you just enough for one person. It is manifestly unfair but if I chose to buy myself a muffin for breakfast, I have to pay tax on it. If I bought six, I wouldn't have to - but why should I pay to store for more than I want. I only have a small amount of space - essentially a factor of this region's housing unaffordability. And anyway, freezing bread and bagels takes up too much of my small freezer as it is.

I encourage you to make your views known to

British Columbia Liquor Distribution Branch
2625 Rupert Street
Vancouver, British Columbia V5M 3T5
Switchboard telephone: 604-252-3000
Fax: 604-252-3044
E-mail: communications@bcliquorstores.com

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Supervised injection site granted 6-month extension

The federal health minister has told Vancouver Coastal Health that the city's controversial supervised drug injection site will be allowed to operate for a further six months.

Insite will be allowed to remain open until June 30, according to Viviana Zanocco, a spokesperson for Vancouver Coastal Health Authority.

"We understand that the extension is being granted to allow Health Canada to conduct, or gather, additional research on the impact of injection sites, on prevention, and treatment and crime," Zanocco told CBC News.

The federal government temporarily exempted the facility from the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act as a pilot project in 2003. After the initial exception expired, an extension was granted while federal Health Minister Tony Clement reviewed its operations.

Why just six months? There is now more than enough scientific evidence that supervised injections achieve all and more of what was expected. Deaths from overdoses, and infections from the use of dirty needles are both down. Users of the facility are much more likely to seek treatment for their addictions than those on the street.

This is one of the very few success stories to come out of the Downtown Eastside. This is one of the very few success stories in dealing with any drug addicted population.

So why cannot the Tories and the Vancouver Police live with it? Because it does not fit into their preferred "punish the sinners" approach. In that mindset, since drug use is against the law, therefore the only response must be to put the users into prison, give them a criminal record and make sure they are treated like social pariahs. The fact that prohibition and punishment has not worked - does not work - cannot work - must not be allowed to get in the way of this "moral imperative". The Police and Mr Harper know they are right: they do not want anything like science to get in the way. And, though they would not admit this publicly, they felt that the consequences of unsupervised injections "served them right". Aids and Hep C are thought by such people to be divine retribution for sin. The same mind set is playing out across the world, denying that prophylactics can reduce infections. It also interfered with the other successful initiative - exchanging free clean needles for used ones.

The "need" for more research is twaddle. There is more than enough available for those who have a truly open mind on the subject. For the indomitable "just say no" brigade, no evidence will ever be enough to convince them that they could be wrong.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

The whole story

Nine days late - but I only knew about the start of this case from StumbleUpon, and now I know the outcome I am very pleased to pass it along.

Please click on the link embedded in the title to read his whole statement. And note too how a local journalist spoiled the whole thing by making up a quote. That would seem to me to be qa dangerous thing to do when dealing with someone like Mr Righi - and I hope that his experience does not take the fight out of him.

In the last few years Canada, and the UK have become less free: the US looks more and more like a dictatorship. We need more people like Mr Righi to show them that they cannot do this to us.

Karzai offers to talk with Taliban

Whatever happened to that principle that you never negotiate with terrorists? What sort of message does this send - blow up enough people and we will give you a seat in the government? Why are we sending our troops into harm's way - to let these medieval fascists back into power? If Karzai follows up with this proposal Canada should withdraw. Immediately. The Afghans are clearly not willing to stand beside us while we fight for their freedom.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Dental rant

I have just returned from spending half an hour in a waiting room for a dental appointment that took all of two minutes. I was on time for the appointment. If I had broken the appointment I would have been charged for it anyway. It has been a long time since that happened to me, but I have once been very late for such an appointment - stuck in a train as it happens - and that dentist then refused to see me any more at all! (That was before the days of mobile phones)

Only the medical professions think that it is reasonable to treat their customers this way. If that had happened at any other office I would have departed and said that the secretary should contact me with a new time when she could be sure that the meeting would go ahead as planned. It was just for a final check on some gum surgery and in my appointments for today I had allowed for some time, as this particular office has been very bad at sticking to its schedule. My next thing to do was have lunch - and as a diabetic eating at the same time each day is actually quite important to avoid radical swings in blood sugar. But I could have been meeting someone else - and if I had been I would have had to rearrange something.

Why do we put up with waiting? Is is because we feel that other people who are really sick must deserve the attention - which is certainly true at the triage area of the ER. And I do know that with my GP I am pleased when he takes time with me - and I do not feel it's just a quick grab for the prescription pad and out the door, so if I am making other people wait, I must be prepared to wait myself.

I am also not going to get into an argument with a man who has sharp implements in his hands that he is about to put in my mouth.

But a periodontist is not actually dealing with life and limb. None of his work is covered by BC's Medical Services Plan. When I lost my private insurance coverage back in Ontario due to loss of a job, my periodontist there quickly lost any interest in me. We did not even talk about how he could provide some care - or what I might be able to afford. No Blue Cross, no root scraping! So how important is all this stuff anyway? Apparently I am doing a good job with my tooth cleaning - possibly because I now have no choice in the matter. The gum surgery has created more, and more effective, food traps - and I carry a miniature chimney sweep's brush to clear the debris after eating - tooth picks alone are NBG