Monday, 22 December 2008

Harper appoints 18 senators

“Our government will continue to push for a more democratic, accountable and effective Senate,” said Harper. “If Senate vacancies are to be filled, however, they should be filled by the government that Canadians elected rather than by a coalition that no one voted for.”
I have come to expect hypocrisy from politicians of all stripes - but Stephen Harper hit a new low this morning.

He knows that he does not command a majority in the House and that if he had not pulled off two very undemocratic stunts - cancelling an opposition day and getting the prorogation - he would be out of a job. More people voted for the other parties than voted for conservatives - by a ratio of 2:1. So the idea that "no one voted for" the coalition parties is just a lie.

Of course we need a second house - elected, effective and all the rest. And yes Mr Harper could have started that process - back when he was convinced that he had a workable majority and that the economy was fine thank you very much.

He has demonstrated in recent weeks that he has no more moral sense than the average skunk. And if we have an election next spring he should suffer for his perfidy.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Males of All Species Are Becoming More Female

For quite a long time now I have refrained from comment on those people who point to all our environmental ills and blame it on the exploding population. Malthus was wrong - or at least centuries ahead of his time - and population control is often a flag of convenience for various kinds of fascism.

It seems that humans may well have managed, indavertantly, to come up with a solution to population growth. It is indeed unfortunate that this applies to all the other species too. Since we do not appear to be capable of dealing with our emissions, and will therefore face a planet much more hostile to human life, this may be, quite literally, the end of human life on this planet. It would have been some comfort to think that the other species we have preyed on and brought close to extinction might have survived us, but that is not to be either.

In the fullness of time, I have no doubt that the planet will manage to regulate itself back to the point where life can resume. None of us - or our decendants - will be here to see it of course.

But meantime, we will remain focussed on re-starting the failed economy. The environment is just such a low priority these days.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Attacking Alzheimer's with Red Wine and Marijuana

Passed along as a public service.

The red wine thing is not surprising. What is depressing is that the researchers have to skate around the ridiculous restrictions placed on marijuana. The time for sensible drug policies is long past, and demonizing of pot is plain stupid.

Sunday, 30 November 2008


This image is itself an example of copyright theft. It is not mine. I have not provided a link to the source - though if you know what you are doing you can find out easily enough.

The FBI does not scare me since I live in Canada. And I always thought that reference to an aged statement by Interpol was laughable. But that does not mean that the greedy people and their lawyers won't try civil proceedings


Strasbourg, France, November 8 2008: MEPs discuss the EU response to the world fi nancial crisis and the G20 summit
Photograph: Vincent Kessler/Reuters

"Crisis? What crisis?"

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Mount Baker

Mount Baker
Originally uploaded by Stephen Rees
Cold clear weather and a stray beam of sunlight through the overcast. Remarkable clarity. Taken from the eastern end of Steveston Highway

This picture featured on the CBC Vancouver News at six on Tuesday November 25

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

CRTC to rule on Bell's throttling on Thursday

All internet users in Canada need to watch the results on this one.

Bell has been throttling "its own Sympatico retail customers [since] October 2007, and extended the practice in March to" smaller internet service providers. Bell is both a wholesaler, retailer and competitor. For instance it sells telephone services for which Skype is a direct competitor.

But many ISPs throttle their customers - did you know that Rogers and Shaw do too? This is mainly aimed at peer to peer file sharing which while it is famous for illegal file sharing is also widely used for perfectly legal file sharing

Regulators in the United States have taken decisive action against throttling by service providers. The Federal Communications Commission in August ordered Comcast Corp., the country's largest cable company, to cease its throttling of peer-to-peer applications.

UPDATE Bell won - but the CRTC is going to look at the whole issue of throttling next year

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Third Tuesday

Because someone I know was speaking, and some I know sent me an invite on facebook I went. Rebecca Bollwitt was speaking on Building Your Personal Brand

The meet up site has a link to what was said, and all I am going to talk about is the place - not the event itself. It was held in the Vancouver Room. Rebecca was standing in the middle of the long thin room with her back to the bar and managed to make herself heard. The bar did not have a working microphone - though it did have a very loud sound system which got turned up as soon as the meeting was over, which chased a lot of us out. They also had an espresso machine - and that did not work either, and an inability to deliver alternative non-alcoholic refreshment. Somehow I got tap water which was not even offered to one of my companions. I got the impression that this location may be unused to hosting this kind of event. Staff seemed overworked and generally unenthusiastic about this clientele.

Of course it does not help when the people who come to "meet up" do not really want to listen, and keep their conversations going even though that means all the questions were completely inaudible. Which I think is, at the very least, discourteous.

This end of Granville has always been the tackier end. And that I think is not coincidence that it is the section kept open to traffic. It is also now one of the highest densities of seats in establishments licensed to sell alcohol in the City. Which actually has lead to it being closed to traffic when the bars tip out at weekends. New developments seem to be trying to raise the tone. A couple of doors down, on the corner of Nelson, is a new Blenz which has a distinct "new coffee house" smell, nice furnishings and a state of the art computerised system for its display screens. These carry the menus, promos and a very large read out at the the till. One very prominent display was unfortunately also featuring a Windows update pop up in the lower right hand corner - which staff of course were unable to do anything about.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Dying of hopelessness: A case against assisted suicide

I am going to take the contrary view. I think that the good people of Washington were right to follow the example of Oregon. And whoever Leonard Stern might be, I somehow doubt that he is as caring as he would like to present himself.
The researchers discovered that in 2007, not one "of the people who died by lethal ingestion in Oregon had been evaluated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist."
I have been treated for depression for some years now. I have never "been evaluated by a psychiatrist or a psychologist" either. I suspect that is true of most of the people who are prescribed anti-depressants. They are evaluated by the use of a simple questionnaire, which can be administered by all kinds of people including counsellors. Many people live in very depressing circumstances - and the way out of those circumstances may or may not be clear cut. But by picking up on this one study, and indulging a bit of sleight of hand, the realities can get nicely sidelined.

He also picks a "hard case" - and as the saying goes "hard cases make bad law". A young athlete could not face life after a catastrophic injury. And his parents took him to Switzerland where he could die comfortably and legally. And of course we would all like to think we can be Christopher Reeve were such circumstances to afflict us. But he was an exceptional case too.

Euthanasia is something we have no trouble with when it comes to our pets. And indeed it may well be true that many people have a closer relationship to their constant companion than many of their family members. And it was not so very long ago that people with terminal illnesses were given a merciful overdose of pain killer by a sympathetic doctor. Of course, some more recent cases such as Dr Harold Shipman have made that informal practice much too risky for the average GP.

But a couple of years ago I had to watch my dog die by lethal injection - and also my brother died from an inoperable brain tumour. I know that I made the right decision in my dog's case. I also know that my brother did not have that choice. And that is a right I think we all should have. And people like Leonard Stern should not be allowed to keep that choice from us.

But, at the same time, I support the Samaritans and people like this

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Religious right requiem

I am an atheist.

But I quite like that famous quote from Ghandi: "I like your Christ. I don't much like your Christians"

And I really do not like the American religious right. Which has, over the last thirty years, demonstrably failed in its objectives, and at the same time kept in power some of the most incompetent administrations on the planet.

Cal Thomas used tp work for them, became disillusioned and has been writing about them for some time. This is in Friday's Washington Times and I Stumbled Upon another blogger's take on it. Here are his own words

If results are what conservative evangelicals want, they already have a model. It is contained in the life and commands of Jesus of Nazareth. Suppose millions of conservative evangelicals engaged in an old and proven type of radical behavior. Suppose they followed the admonition of Jesus to "love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those in prison and care for widows and orphans," not as ends, as so many liberals do by using government, but as a means of demonstrating God's love for the whole person in order that people might seek Him?

Such a strategy could be more "transformational" than electing a new president, even the first president of color. But in order to succeed, such a strategy would not be led by charismatic figures, who would raise lots of money, be interviewed on Sunday talk shows, author books and make gobs of money.

I think a lot more people (whom he might label "liberal" but I think of as "progressive") have also stepped up to the plate as the right wing rhetoric flew and disgraceful policies were introduced. For instance, food banks were introduced into BC as a way of disgracing the Social Credit government's welfare cuts. Sadly, we still have food banks and welfare rates well below the poverty level. Other people I know spend their retirement and their own resources on trying to make up for Canada's cynical withdrawal from aid to impoverished countries. Of course there is much less one person can do than a country as wealthy as Canada when it did devote a percentage of its GDP to international aid. And these people certainly do not live in Mansions and drive SUVs. Oddly enough enough, such people do not tend to talk about politics or religion. But you can judge their character by their actions, just as I judge Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

CBC Journalist released after kidnap

The CBC's Melissa Fung was kidnapped in Afghanistan a month ago. She has now been released safely - and no ransom was paid. The press was asked to keep quiet about the story while she was in captivity - and they did. The story linked from the Title explains why.

This unusual reserve and respect for the individual must be applauded and shows that not all journalists are devoid of ethical principles. Standards have definitely slipped in recent years - with more than one news organisation leading the charge into the gutter. This rare story restores my faith a little.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

US war on cocaine failure

A multi-billion dollar US anti-drugs programme has failed in its plan to cut cocaine production in Colombia. A US Congressional report says coca cultivation in fact rose by 15 per cent between 2000 and 2006. As a result Colombia remains the world's top cocaine producer and is reportedly the source of 90 per cent of the drug in the US. The report says the aid programme did succeed in reducing Colombia's kidnapping and murder rates. The programme, started in 1999, trained Colombian forces and provided equipment and intelligence to combat drug-traffickers and eliminate coca crops.
NO surprise there either. The whole "War on Drugs" has been a colossal failure in terms of its stated objectives, but it has been one of the major pillars of imposing ever more draconian restrictions on liberty and civil rights - just as the war on terror has been.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

McCain’s biggest mistake?

CNN have already closed the comments on Cafferty's blog. But I could not resist reusing one of my favourite quotes from Manny Shinwell here if not there

Cafferty wrote of McCain
"he quickly became his own worst enemy"

which of course needs the response

"Not while I'm alive he isn't!"

In all seriousness, he did produce a good concession speech. But of course the yahoos in the audience let him - and Republican Party - down. Maybe that was the big mistake. Playing to the worst elements of the ill educated, ill mannered and uncouth.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Ottawa plans to shake up duty-free shops

I must admit I was unaware of the byzantine rules that beset land border duty free shops - which are different from airports apparently.

The article says the idea is to make them "more consumer friendly" but that is not the case. Canada offers very little consumer protection compared to other places, and one of the weakest areas is labelling. For a start "duty free" means nothing of the sort. If the goods sold in these shops really did pay no government levies of any kind than they would be much cheaper. But of course governments have a monopoly in liquor wholesaling. The price for booze in a Canadian "duty free" shop may look a bit cheaper than a Canadian liquor store but that does not mean that government has forgone much revenue.

The proposed inbound duty free at airports is not so innovative either. London's Heathrow has had this for years.

What would be really good is if the stuff we can buy on the way to visit our friends and relatives really was local. All kinds of imported stuff is labelled as though it was of Canadian origin but that is simply not true in many cases. For instance, Chilean wine is bottled here and labelled Canada

For a long time I have wanted to take BC wines to my family in England - but all they had in the YVR store was Ontario wine. I do not know if they have ever responded to all the complaints I made since they never replied to me and I gave up going into the duty free at YVR. The variety of things I can buy outside the airport is much better and the prices not so different.

The best protection consumers have here is being market savvy and shopping around. Do not expect any government in Canada to care about you.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Sunday distractions

Nothing serious - just the fruits of some idle surfing.

Richmond's sister city is Wakayama in Japan. Which is fine, but I think we should have more contact with all the other Richmonds in the world - and there are plenty.

This piece of news comes from Richmond in South West London. TfL are finally going to do something about the computer screens in the stations there which have been misdirecting passengers for years. This comes from Your Local Guardian which I doubt has anything to do with the national paper who certainly would never go for the creepy animated hand in the heading, which I suppose is to celebrate Hallowe'en.

The other story comes from Dallas and advises that you may actually be able to carry a bottle of liquid through airport security soon. I have never thought that this "threat" was actually very credible - and the idea that you could start mixing up chemicals to make bombs on a crowded plane and NOT draw attention top yourself is highly improbable. And of course we will have to wait until everytbody buys new machines - which is what is, I think, really driving this nonsense. That and the fact that people who are scared are less likely to question authority.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

CBC Radio Orchestra to live on with new name and mandate

This is good news. The decision to axe the orchestra made no sense - and what is going to happen to it the CBC could have done themselves, and made themselves better off at the same time. Radio 2 is, except between 10 am and 3 pm weekdays, mostly not worth listening to any longer. Exceptions being the Vinyl Cafe, Jurgen (who is now on Sundays) and the occasional concert. There is streaming classical and concerts on demand from the cbc web page, but if you already have a program like streamtuner, why bother?

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Youngster kills himself with Uzi at gun fair

In the movie "The American President" Sydney Ellen Wade (Annette Benning) hurls abuse at President Andy (Micahel Douglas) for legislation to "keep Uzis out of the hands of 8 year olds".

In Real Life such legislation - if it exists - didn't work. But somehow if a "responsible adult" allowed an 8 year old to have a loaded machine pistol that's alright.

The US constitution does allow the "right to bear arms" but only to provide for a citizen militia. In any event the Bill of Rights is a series of Amendments - in other words the founding fathers recognised that the constitution being a human creation is imperfect. And thus mutable. It may not be always right and can and should be changed.

How many more innocents have to die before the NRA wakes up?

Friday, 24 October 2008

Carbon offset program a sham, says B.C. MLA

I just got back from Kansas. I booked the trip through the Air Canada web page and while I was there clicked the button that enables me to offset the carbon emissions. It cost me $10. Now I have read this story, I feel I have been swindled.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

The box and the battery

I got one of those cards through my letterbox today telling a parcel could be picked up at a local post office. The parcel would not fit through the letterbox. It contained a new battery for my pda. That's it underneath the packing box. It would have fitted easily in a small padded envelope - which would have cut the shipping cost and would have easily slid through the letterbox.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

The truth about Acorn

While I was in Kansas last week I heard a lot about Acorn. That is because CNN and FOX seem to dominate the public tv screens in USA airports. I do not know who decides which channel to tune these tvs to, but it is never PBS, for example. And of course it came up once again in the third presidential debate. It is an old and dirty trick to accuse your opponent of the very underhand tactics you are employing yourself. The Republican Party has always worked as hard as possible to prevent people from voting, if they come from the sort of groups who may favour their opponents. It is a long and dishonourable tradition in the US to try and stop people who are black or hispanic from being allowed to register to vote. Acorn has been fighting this and is now being smeared. The Republican Party stole the 2000 election. If they can they will steal this one too and if they can't they want to be able to discredit the result. The Republican Party cares nothing for truth, justice or The American Way.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Mobilien in Paris

I do not usually put transit stuff on this blog - but I liked this video but Wordpress is not happy with this embedded flash video

We were going to have something like this - we called it Richmond RapidBus - but it died the death of thousand cuts against intransigence from the City of Vancouver and a small but vocal band of citizens. The Province of BC likes promising this to outer suburbs who want SkyTrain but do not (in the MoT's) view justify that and something like this might happen in Surrey. Eventually.

I really liked listening to the Parisian engineer explaining why it works the way it does - all in plain English which is something most North American engineers cannot manage

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Bulking up Pentagon North

I have been taking the line "Anyone but Harper"

I take this view simply due to Harpers abysmal environmental record. Linda McQuaig produces another strong reason we need to get rid of this goverment.

He plans to spend $500 billion on defence: the plan is on the Department of National Defence's website – called Canada First Defence Strategy
In a 2008 pre-budget survey conducted for the finance department, Canadians were asked which of 18 different issues they considered a high priority. "Increasing spending on defence" ranked last.

There's a rich irony in this ramped-up military spending. In the election campaign, Harper has accused Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion of "reckless spending" for his plan to invest $70 billion in infrastructure over the next 10 years.

Meanwhile, Harper claims to be a thrifty economic manager, even as he quietly plans a massive spending spree on military hardware.

The Vinyl Cafe

Every Saturday morning I listen to Stuart McLean on the This week he was giving out his Arthur awards, and the one that caught my attention went to a gentleman in Edmonton. He owned a building that houses a restaurant where he liked to go to eat. A developer offered him a large sum of money for the building but instead he decided to sell it to the owners of the restaurant. I think you should be able to download a podcast of the show - it is quite the story.

So the restaurant is called The High Level Diner and it is at the south end of the bridge.

I had hoped to find out a bit more, so I poked around on Stuart's blog where I found an even better story on Tyler Aspin's Canada Tree.

Radio Two has been overhauled - and made much worse in my view. But Stuart McLean is a national treasure and at least they had the sense to leave the Vinyl Cafe alone.

This crash was predicted and could have been avoided

The link is to an article by Katrina van den Heuvel in The Nation - but the source is a piece in the New York Times. She decided to highlight the role played by
a woman you're likely never to have heard of, Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission -- a federal agency that regulates options and futures trading -- was the oracle whose warnings about the dangerous boom in derivatives trading just might have averted the calamitous bust now engulfing the US and global markets. Instead she was met with scorn, condescension and outright anger by former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan, former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and his deputy Lawrence Summers. In fact, Greenspan, the man some affectionately called "The Oracle," spent his political capital cheerleading these disastrous financial instruments.

Definitely worth a read

Friday, 10 October 2008

Palin abused power, violated law in firing commissioner

She is not going to shake this one off with a wink at the camera.
An ethics inquiry in Alaska has found Sarah Palin abused her power as governor and violated state ethics law when she fired the state's public safety commissioner, according to a report released Friday.

The news came shortly after Alaska lawmakers voted unanimously to make public a report about the abuse-of-power investigation into Palin, the U.S. Republican vice-presidential nominee.

Palin was accused of firing the commissioner because he refused to dismiss a state trooper involved in a bitter divorce and custody fight with Palin's sister.

It occurs to me that should the unthinkable happen, and the Republicans return to power, then there is at least an escape route. Once McCain dies and Palin steps forward, she can be replaced. The plot is laid out in a movie that starred Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. We simply replace Palin with Tina Fey - and just like that we have someone in the White House who is a real live sentient human being. Wouldn't that be a change for the better?

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Harper has the edge in economic management

At this point, it's pretty much all about the economy, stupid.
But possibly it should not be. The need to cut our greenhouse gas emissions dramatically and in a very short order has not gone away. The economy depends on the environment, not the other way around. Our current practice of simply ignoring "externalities" is not good economics - or even good business. It is willfully stupid, since costs to our health and well being - let alone of other species - is so apparent.
Polls show nearly two-thirds of Canadians now expect a recession and 70 per cent anticipate a budget deficit. Still, a plurality believe Harper would be the best economic manager. Indeed, there's something to be said for steady-as-she-goes and stability which may give an edge to the Conservatives.

Which just shows how stupid and gullible voters can be. The current recession is not simply a market being cyclical - it is the result of eight years of idiocy in the White House. A set of "policies" straight from the same right wing think tanks that Stephen Harper still listens to. Deregulation of American financial markets went too far, and the result was entirely predictable. Just as the earlier Savings and Loan crisis was produced by deregulation of that sector under Ronald Regan. The current banking crisis mirrors that of 1931 and the legislation that was brought in subsequently was repealed by Senator Phil Gram's bill so enthusiastically supported by the conservative ideologues. In fact Gram now works for McCain. If he gets re-elected expect more of the same.

When you are steering into a hurricane "steady as she goes" is not at all a sensible choice of course. Change is needed here as much as in the US. Drastic, dramatic change that abandons failed policies.

When you find that you are in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

War on Taliban can't be won, says army chief


In an interview published today, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said "we're not going to win this war" and the aim was not total victory but reducing the insurgency to a low level, something which could involve talks with the Taliban.

Carleton-Smith, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, said the objective was to enlarge the Afghan army so it could take over the security of the country.

While paying tribute to his troops in Helmand province, and describing successes against insurgents, the brigadier told today's Sunday Times: ""We're not going to win this war. It's about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that's not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army."

And the Taliban's position is that they will not negotiate until all foreign troops have been removed from Afghanistan.

Yes, they are indeed appalling - but so was the IRA. And indeed every other group of guerillas willing to impose their views on their own country by force of arms.

Canada's position is that we will stay until 2011 - and then someone else has to take on our job. In other words, tacit acceptance that occupation - as in Iraq - will continue indefinitely. This is not something we can afford to do, nor will the position in 2011 be very much different to what it is now. Our troops have been there4 for far too long and they are not a peacekeeping force. They are a token from our government to enable the US to keep more troops in Iraq, since we at least once upon a time had the ability and spine to maintain our own foreign policy.

It is time to bring our troops home. The Afghans need to determine their own future. It may well be not one we would like, but it is not our choice to make for them.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

And now a word from our sponsor

Another poke at Palin

Not original - just something that came into my in box

While suturing a cut on the hand of a 75-year-old rancher, who's hand was caught in the gate while working cattle, the doctor struck up a conversation with the old man. Eventually the topic got around to Palin and her bid.

The old rancher said, "Well, ya know, Palin is a 'Post Turtle.'"

Not being familiar with the term, the doctor asked him what a post turtle was.

The old rancher said, "When you're driving down a country road you come across a fence post with a turtle balanced on top, that's a 'post turtle.'"

The old rancher saw the puzzled look on the doctor's face so he continued to explain. "You know she didn't get up there by herself, she doesn't belong up there, and she doesn't know what to do while she's up there, and you just wonder what kind of dummy put her up there to begin with."

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Financial Bailout: America's Own Kleptocracy

The events of the last couple of weeks have been amazing. Amazingly bad that is. The deregulated trading in securitized debts has brought America to its knees - and threatens the world's economic system. But instead of all that free market discipline that was supposed to protect us the "hidden hand" remains hidden - and it is the people who pay taxes who are on the hook - not the crooks who engineered the collapse.

But don't take my word for it - click the title of this piece to read what Michael Huddon has to say about it. Who's he?

President of The Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends (ISLET), a Wall Street Financial Analyst, Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and author of Super-Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1972 and 2003) and of The Myth of Aid (1971).

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Hong Kong is world's most free economy: Fraser Institute

There is something endearing about how the Fraser Institute continues to bumble along blissfully unaware of the pillars of the free market economy collapsing around it as it pronounces. There is a network of these right wing "think tanks" across North America. Except that they are not supposed to think too deeply - or indeed question the wisdom of the right wing agenda. "the importance of letting people get on with their lives" i.e. without interference from government.

Except they don't really mean that either. It is not people they are concerned about but corporations.

The collapse of Wall Street - and related financial institutions in other countries too - is the direct result of deregulation. During the Bush administration almost all the regulatory framework surrounding banks and other financial institutions were either relaxed or removed altogether. Many of these rules had been put in place in the wake of the last great crash (1929) and the subsequent banking crisis (1931) with a view to preventing such events recurring. So it should come as no surprise that recent events on Wall Street bear a very strong similarity to what happened then.

And, of course, the only solution to these financial problems is for the government to step in and prop up these worthless banks and insurance companies with taxpayers money. The government is expected, always and everywhere, to come to the rescue of the free market titans when they demonstrate their herd instincts and basic foolishness.

Deregulation has now been shown to be a very silly thing to do - and even John McCain is advocating tougher rules. He really couldn't do anything else, could he. And while we get to watch AIG pulled out of the muck, and Lehman Brothers' assets get snapped up at firesale prices by Barclays (how much longer before they need to rescued like HBOS?) there is the Fraser Institute bleating on about economic freedom.

Crisis? What crisis?

Friday, 12 September 2008

Medical Service Plan Premiums

I got a bill in the mail today. I get the same one every month and it is not trivial. $54. Everyone in BC has to pay this fee. Many people have it paid for them by their employers - who often will also chip in to a private plan to cover the essential healthcare costs that are not covered by our public health care plan. Prescription medications, dental and eye care. All of which are not some kind of bonus benefit but essential to maintaining good health.

We Canadians like to think that our system is better than the Americans. Which is true, but hardly remarkable. The Cubans have a better heath care system that the Americans!

It is not as if BC is desperately short of money - we have even managed to find our way out of being a "have not" province and every year, isn't it marvellous, we have another budget surplus bigger than was expected. Yet seven (out of ten) other provinces levy no fee at all. Because we have a publicly funded system that is based on taxes, not flat fees. Because income based taxes are progressive. Those who have plenty pay more than those who have little. Yes there is "premium assistance" for those who cannot pay - but that is not the same as health care that is free to everybody but paid for out of taxes.

There is a provincial election coming up next year. Any party that promises to scrap MSP premiums will get my vote

Monday, 8 September 2008

Federalists welcome to vote for the Bloc: Duceppe

This could only make sense in a place like Quebec.

By definition, someone who is a "federalist" supports the idea of Canada from sea to sea to sea. The BQ thinks that Quebec should separate. So as far as I can see if a "federalist" votes for the Bloq then they have switched sides and are now a separatist.

This is not just semantics - separation is a principle - but not one that federalists share. And I think it shows that Duceppe is really not thinking very clearly right now - probably too much coffee and not enough sleep.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

New weekly treatment for type 2 diabetes works better than twice-daily injections, say researchers

A weekly treatment for type 2 diabetes has proved safe and effective for patients in a trial involving 259 volunteers.

The formulation is a version of a previously available treatment called exenatide, which mimics one of the body's hormones. The existing version must be self-injected by patients twice daily. The trial showed that the slow-acting form was more effective than the original at keeping glucose levels in the blood under control, and more convenient to use.

"There is currently no available therapy for type 2 diabetes that patients can receive once a week," said Dr Daniel Drucker at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto. The new formulation will need further clinical trials before being licensed for use by patients.

Penalties for partners who block child access

About time too.

Fathers have been campaigning for this for a long time. The courts nearly always give care and control to the Mother. And while there are stiff penalties for fathers who default on their responsibilities - usually payment of child support - there have been none for mothers who do not allow fathers to see their children. And sadly use of the children as tools in post marital disputes is only too common.

Of course community service is the last resort, but that these women need is a better understanding of what the absence of their fathers does to their children. It is essential to the children's well being that they are not in the middle of a fight. But some people are too wrapped up in their own concerns to see that

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

New Radio 2

So far pretty much as expected. From 1000 to 1500 you get almost continuous classical music from a somewhat predictable play list, with much less talk than before. "Here's to You" was requests and Eric Friesen loved the sound of his own voice. So this is now probably an improvement over old Radio 2 in terms of "audible wall paper". Not particularly original or engaging, and not really "company". Eric did get regular studio guests who were worth listening to, and regular live performers too. One of the good things that radio can do is introduce you to people and music you have not heard of before - like Gabriella Montero. Somehow I do not see this happening now. And while I am talking about company, Tom Allen former host of "Music and company" is still on the morning show - but what a load of old pop - and again there are much better sources if that is what you want. Rock 101 would be my first choice here.

Outside of those times it seems classical is not tolerated but any other "genre" is as long as it is Canadian. Sadly, there seems to be very little quality control. And even as a nice noise while driving I find myself pushing the off button. I really do not understand why Country and Western music should get so much air time. There are plenty of stations that do that already, aren't there?

"Disc Drive" is of course gone. And in it's place, the unimaginatively named "Drive" - playing a much less diverse collection of music (though mercifully no Boutine Souriante) and no humour. Perhaps they forgot the L at the end of the title.

But for me today the good news is that London Drugs got a new stock of USB turntables. So right now I am listening to an old LP of John Williams playing some lovely guitar music - it is an old CBS three record box set and somehow the "liner notes" are missing - at least the English ones anyway. It's Villa-Lobos Etude No 8 in C sharp minor. And I am going to have to find some instructions for Audacity to clean up the snap crackle and pop before I burn it to anything. But it is nice to have playing through the computer speakers while I type.

The Passport Office

Most people write about their dealings with bureaucrats to complain. Not this time.

The process for renewing your passport has been streamlined - and it worked very well for me. You can download the form and instructions on line. You can get anyone not related to you to be a reference (no need to go looking for a registered professional) and if you are just replacing a current or recently expired passport you don't even need to get the pictures signed.

One puzzler for me was that the office in Richmond has moved - something I could have checked on the downloaded form. But I know where the passport office is - I've been there before only a little while ago (in my mental map) - but all there is now at that location is a big hole. Fortunately the photo shop that used to do a brisk trade in passport snaps has a sign on its door telling you where to go.

I was in and out of the passport office in ten minutes precisely. I did not have to wait in any line up and was seen immediately at two separate counters. I don't know why it cannot be done at one, probably some seniority thing. And while there was capacity to deal with lengthy line ups, today at 3pm there were none. And the service was polite and efficient.

Well done.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Amy Goodman Arrested

Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman was unlawfully arrested in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota at approximately 5 p.m. local time. Police violently manhandled Goodman, yanking her arm, as they arrested her.

Following on the earlier post about the seizing of a permaculture bus. The police in the US seem to have taken leave of their senses - or are enjoying the new powers that they have been given. Holding journalists on the specious charge of "suspicion of rioting" would not stand up in the worst banana republic. "a clear violation of the freedom of the press and the First Amendment rights"


In Germany, they came first for the Communists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist;

And then they came for the trade unionists, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist;

And then they came for the Jews, And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew;

And then . . . they came for me . . . And by that time there was no one left to speak up."

Martin Niemöller

The good Pastor explains why a Canadian in BC is concerned about the behaviour of a bunch of police officers in Minneapolis - which just happens to be the place where the Republican convention is happening.

Similar overreaction to perceived "threats" also marred the Democrats convention. Mostly all this does is confirm our worst suspicions about what has happened to the "Land of the Free" in the last eight years. Try telling someone that "In God We Trust" is a useful guide to behaviour is a supposedly free and democratic society, when you are apparently not allowed to travel by bus to teach about permaculture near where an unpopular President may or may not be speaking.

A little bit of tax evasion seen as OK, study finds

There is of course a double standard at work here. People who run their own business think "small business pays too much tax, government wastes the money it collects anyway and small business people deserve compensation for working long hours." They see it as "their money" that they are entitled to keep. Of course the law does not support this belief.

But exactly the same people are absolutely certain that cheating welfare, or fare evasion on transit, must be severely punished. But that is about the same - or often much smaller amounts - of public funds. If you do not pay your taxes, the public till has less in it. If you get an overpayment from some public source, a tax refund that you are not really entitled to, or EI for a week when you picked up a few hours casual work, or something similar the loss to the public till is exactly the same. And the fact that someone on very low income, on welfare rates that are too low to survive on, when they have to chose between eating or getting a bus ride feels equally "entitled" is not an excuse that would get accepted either.

One of the silliest notions that has emerged in recent years on the far right edges of the political spectrum is "zero tolerance". This appears more south of the border of course, but is based on the notion that every broken window pane or graffittied bus stop sends a message about lawlessness. Canadians in general, and our legal system, seem to be able to survive a small amount of law "bending". We do not go apeshit over possession of small quantities of pot. We think we can tell the difference between a toker and a dealer. People speed all the time - but usually stay at around 110% of the posted speed. Indeed back in the days of photo radar they were told that was alright.

People do not so much "obey" the law as comply with it - mostly. That is not to say they think it is right. For instance, most airline passengers wonder how on earth you could hijack a plane with a pair of toenail clippers, but realise there is no point in arguing. But that does not mean that they do not try to get stuff through - meaning the practice of confiscation of personal property without any due process at all occurs every hour of every day. Most Canadians also will bring stuff back across the border and not tell the agent about it. There are plenty of malls just south of the 49th parallel which depend on people who make day trips - and I doubt if more than a handful actually pay any Canadian taxes at the border on their way back from their day trip.
Catherine Jolicoeur, spokeswoman for the CRA, said the study will help the agency inform and educate businesses about the "risks and consequences" of participating in the underground economy and to refine its strategies for addressing the problem.
Yes it's all about "messaging" and "optics". Ethics, morals or legality are of no concern at all.

Friday, 8 August 2008

It's time government reined in payday lenders

Not the first time I have higlighted the yellow storefront crowd.
But, "In the common parlance," the [Manitoba Public Utility] board said, "payday lenders could be considered loan sharks, albeit minus the intimidation factor associated with the definition. How else would one describe lenders charging rates ... 100 times and more than that of banks and credit unions, to borrowers reportedly unable to obtain credit elsewhere?"
The answer seems to be that it is accepted that their costs are higher than banks and credit unions (which is why they won't touch these kind of loans) AND
"We need to rein in these guys, but not to the point where we drive these services into the hands of organized crime."
Which is the real problem.

So only Nova Scotia has set maximum rates - and BC is looking at it but not doing much other than consulting the industry. Not, so far as anyone knows, actually setting its own house in order, since it is often government's policies towards payments to the poor that creates the need for such loans in the first place.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Limits to China's pledge of change

There is a thread which joins the Chinese Communist Party, Gordon Campbell's BC Liberal Party and Tony Blair's Labour Party. They all won an Olympics venue - and thought, just as Adolf Hitler did - that it would be a propaganda triumph.

This BBC story uncovers some of the uncomfortable truth behind Beijing's games. In all three cases the chance of a two weeks or more of international tv coverage has distorted priorities. The only thing the media really picked up on this week as a result of the rock fall at Porteau Cove was "what if it happens during the Olympics?"

From our comfortable distance now the most memorable moment - or perhaps the one most replayed on tv - from Berlin 1936 was Jesse Owens win - the Furher stamping out. I don't know if that was the most played scene on the newsreels then. Probably not in Germany. We all know about Tianamein Square - I suspect most Chinese don't.

I wonder what the "unintended consequences" will be this year, 2010 and 2012. As long as there are reporters like John Sweeney, and real news gatherers like the BBC, there is hope that the modern day poseurs will be shown up yet again.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Warning over blood-taking method

I have blood taken every three months. The techs nearly always complain that they cannot find a vein. I am always told to clench my fist.

But not only is this bad practice which "has been known since the 1960s" - but have you tried talking to a tech at a commercial lab? All the labs in this region are operated by the same company so there is literally no choice in the matter, though I have to admit that in recent months they seem to have increased their staffing. There were not long line ups on the last two occasions - unlike the long established practice hitherto.

I have never been told of high potassium levels.

Monday, 21 July 2008

The weird science of stock photography

A while back, a friend of mine—a guy who does a lot of directing work—was asked to shoot some rather odd film footage. It was all brief scenes of people ignoring each other. Families talking on cell phones, couples tapping at adjacent laptops, everyone looking in opposite directions.

I wish I had known about this last week. I do not usually take pictures of people, but I have been trying to get into it more. And while in Paris, I had a go at some candid shots (like this one)

But if I had known there was demand for a shot like the one described above, Monday lunchtime I could have obliged. We were climbing the Butte in Montmatre and stopped for lunch half way up. All we needed was to sit down and a cold drink, but since it was that time of day added a croque m'sieur. My daughter likes to sit outside, so we squeezed in to the only available table, which was a bit like sharing. The couple (early thirties, smart) had a small child in a stroller. They ignored each other - and the child - and spent most of the time talking on their cell phones, and juggling more than one caller at a time too.

All I thought was that if I was that guy I would spend a lot more time talking to my spouse and baby - and being a holiday the calls could go to voice mail - at least until the kid went down for a nap. She was a stunner - and he had not even bothered to shave.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Monday, 30 June 2008

The end of the PDA

I first got a Sony Clie - which in 2003 was a Big Deal. Everyone had a PDA. If you went to a meeting, people pulled them out and coordinated their meetings - beaming their details where once they would have swapped cards. One keener had a little kid's lunch box in which he kept his fold out keyboard, and he plugged that in to his Palm and started tapping away at every meeting. The first one got lifted from my pocket in Green Bay WI, and was promptly replaced - and of course the new one was even better. But Sony could not stand the pace of competition and pulled out of the North American market - so when the second one fell from a table on a train - face down onto a metal bracket, cracking the screen (Nottingham May 2006) it could not be replaced like for like so I got a Palm Tungsten - mainly because it came with a hard metal case. I even got the fold out keyboard, but I must confess I did not use it very much. And I tried wireless network cards in its expansion slot, but they never worked very well. (And anyway most places now use 8012.11G: Palm doesn't.) And the screen is far too small for most web pages not optimised for a PDA. There are some very useful applications - maps and passwords being the most useful - Freecell the one most used, I confess.

But the hard metal case is not all metal and the critical bits are in a type of plastic that gets brittle with age. So two years on and the case is literally falling apart. The metal body is fine of course. But tiny bits of the critical hinges have come off.

Retailers no longer have displays of PDAs like they once did. London Drugs has a few in a back room - and even fewer accessories. BestBuy has one PDA. And Staples has a few - but no accessories at all other than those which could also be used with a GPS or similar box.

What really gets up my nose is that Palm still sell the case - but twenty dollars extra here compared to the US, even though the dollar is at par. And you have to order through the Canadian site even though I am sure it uses the US inventory and database. And with shipping the cost comes to a cool $80 - compared to an advertised US price of just under $40.

The death of the PDA is because phones have become smarter. Once you have a Blackberry or an iPhone a PDA seems quaint. And it is not the utility that matters - it is being at the leading edge.

I had a similar experience back in the 1980s with the Microwriter - which had a really neat 5 finger keyboard - the only one I have ever mastered for touch typing. Sadly the UK company that made it never survived the head to head with Sharp. But it was a lot easier to learn than Graffiti - and you never needed to go hunting for a store with the right size of stylus (a whole lunch hour in Calgary, July 2005 was wasted on that). You can still buy the 5 finger keyboard from CyKey

I am not yet ready to give up my PDA. It is easier to use on a plane than my EeePC - and its battery lasts longer. Its cards switch with the EeePC and my camera too. I suppose one day I will have camera, PDA and phone all in one. But just for now I will buy another case. Familiarity being a comfort. But I do not expect to find anything more in a real store and I am going to boycott Palm's on line store and hang around EBay or Craig's list if I need any other bits and pieces before then

Monday, 23 June 2008

Tuesday, 17 June 2008


There is a short and very even tempered piece by Mr Arar in today's Globe and Mail.

The American government is now in full "cover your ass" mode. It knows that what it did was indefensible and totally unjustified. The grounds for suspecting Mr Arar were "nonsense". The process he was subjected to was illegal, and should never even have been contemplated in a country that claims to be a bastion of liberty. There was no reason to detain him in the first place since he was merely passing through New York on his way home. There was no risk of any kind.

The Canadian government has now investigated and apologized for its own disgraceful role and given Mr Arar some money - though no amount could be enough to repair the dreadful treatment he received.

The Bush administration in continuing to stonewall is simply confirming the view that it is incompetent, stupid and guilty as hell.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Worse Than Fascists: Christian Political Group 'The Family'

Jeff Sharlet's new book, "The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power," offers a rare glimpse of this remarkable network, which is known variously as the Family, the Fellowship and the International Foundation.
Apparently to get the Kingdom of Heaven on earth it is no good dealing with the poor and the hungry. What you really need to do is get the rich and powerful on your side.

I have never liked the right wing "christian" fundamentalist point of view. And now it turns out that all that stuff some Jewish carpenter 2000 years ago was spouting was wrong and what God really means was the you should be anti trade union. Someone in Seattle had vision in the thirties.

This is my problem with religion. All of them. You have to take someone's word that the voices they hear are to be trusted. Now we tend to regard people who hear voices as at best eccentric or at worst dangerously psychotic. Quite why the Norwegian evangelist does not fit that role is hard to say. I suppose you have to buy the book. Or maybe he was just another skillful marketer identifying what his target market segment wanted to buy.

Equally, people who keep digging up conspiracies tend to be regarded as paranoid. But just because you are paranoid does not mean there are no conspiracies.

And that APA book that comes out at regular intervals with newly discovered mental illnesses will have all of us pigeonholed and medicated soon.

But I still refuse to believe anything that cannot stand up to rigorous intellectual and scientific investigation. If there is a Creator he endowed me with commonsense and a capacity for critical thinking and I do not see why He would want me to abandon them as a condition for everlasting life - which is something I think I would rather do without, thank you very much.

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

German tabloid mocks UK tourists

Actually this is useful information for others. Becuase what they are pointing to is the archetypal package deal tourist who just wants sun, sand, beer and fish & chips. The sort so ably defined by Eric Idle.

"Yes, I quite agree with you, I mean, what's the point of being treated like a sheep? I mean I'm fed up going abroad and being treated like sheep. What's the point of being carted around in buses, surrounded by sweaty mindless oafs from Kettering and Boventry in their cloth caps and their cardigans and their transistor radios and their Sunday Mirrors, complaining about the tea, 'Oh, they don't make it properly here, do they, not like at home', stopping at Majorcan bodegas, selling fish and chips and Watney's Red Barrel and calamares and two veg and sitting in cotton sun frocks squirting Timothy White's suncream all over their puffy, raw, swollen, purulent flesh 'cause they 'overdid it on the first day', and being herded into endless Hotel Miramars and Bellvueses and Bontinentals with their international luxury modern roomettes and their Watney's Red Barrel and their swimming pools full of fat German businessmen pretending to be acrobats and forming pyramids and frightening the children and barging into the queues and, if you're not at your table, spot on seven you miss your bowl of Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, the first item on the menu of International Cuisine, and every Thursday night there's bloody cabaret in the bar featuring some tiny emaciated dago with nine-inch hips and some big, fat, bloated tart with her hair Brylcreemed down and a big arse presenting Flamenco for Foreigners, and then some adenoidal typists from Birmingham with diarrhea and flabby white legs and hairy bandy-legged wop waiters called Manuel, and then, once a week, there's an excursion to the local Roman Ruins where you can buy cherryade and melted ice cream and bleedin' Watney's Red Barrel, and then one night they take you to a local restaurant with local colour and colouring and they show you there and you sit next to a party of people from Rhyl who keeps singing 'Torremolinos, Torremolinos' and complaining about the food, 'Oh, it's so greasy, isn't it?', and then you get cornered by some drunken greengrocer from Luton with an Instamatic and Dr. Scholl sandals and Tuesday's 'Daily Express' and he drones on and on and on about how Mr. Smith should be running this country and how many languages Enoch Powell can speak and then he throws up all over the Cuba Libres, ...

One of my coworkers once described how he chose where to spend his holiday. "We get off the plane in Athens and take the first ferry - no matter where it is going to. We then repeat the random ferry selection process until we stop hearing English spoken."

I would also try to avoid organised groups of any nationality. Not because of any xenophobia but because I do not want to be herded about, nor subject to those who like that sort of thing.

But of course anyone who has taken a cheap package tour always complains about how the Germans always claim the best spots on the beach, or the most favoured sun loungers, by getting up early and leaving their towels on them before they go and line up for breakfast. They still are determjed to claim their place in the sun. And the sight of gaggle of fat naked hausfraus slowly frying themselves on a concrete slab is one that I have no wish to see again.

"Don't mention the war!"

Monday, 2 June 2008

Activia and the probiotics scam

To help further their health claims, the marketing team at Dannon, which makes Activia, took things a step further. Banking on the power of suggestion, they came up with new names for two strains of bacteria found in their yogurt: bifidus regularis, which supposedly helps regulate your digestive system and L. casei immunitas, which, you guessed it, supposedly strengthens your immune system. Probiotics may have some benefits, but most yogurts contain them—the reason why there is a class action lawsuit accusing Dannon of a false advertising campaign promoting the benefits of their yogurt over others. The suit charges that the claims merely convince consumers to pay more.

I pass this along so that you do not get taken in - as I admit I was.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

A New Declaration of Independence

As a Canadian I cannot sign this. If I were an American I would follow the example of John Hancock and write my name as big as possible.

It is a long document but worth reading - here is a sample
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that the entirety of humanity, the entire creation, constitutes one family in which no individual has been given the right to hoard wealth while the remainder of the family dies for lack of a handful of grain; in which no individual has been given the right to mass murder, in the name of perverse patriotism, for a small piece of this planet; in which no individual has been given the right to exterminate countless animal and plant species in the pursuit of profit. Rather, we affirm our commitment to fulfill our responsibility to every member of our family as part of our human family values.

Saturday, 31 May 2008

Another reason I am glad to call myself Canadian

Fewer than three-quarters of Canadians believe in a god, suggests a new Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey.

"Religion in Canada today is not a particularly divisive subject and tolerance levels for different beliefs are high," said Harris-Decima president Bruce Anderson. "This is evident in the fact that one in four people feel comfortable saying they do not believe in a god."
This is, of course, is contradistinction to our neighbours to the south, where the figure falls to 8% - mostly due to political pressure.

The separation of church and state that is enshrined in the Constitution, and the freedom of religion (which included freedom from religion) was one of the most important things the Founding Fathers were fighting for. While intolerance is generally frowned upon, that does not apply to atheists. You do not have to spend very long on the web to realise that.

As far as I am concerned people can believe what they like. But they have no right at all to demand that others believe the same things that they do - or make that a condition of any services or accommodations. Yet it would be far harder to get elected in the US for any office, let alone that of president, by declaring that one is an atheist than being black or female. Indeed it wasn't so long ago that Americans were telling themselves how enlightened they were for electing the first Catholic - John F Kennedy.

And we don't do stupid things like printing "In God We Trust" on our money or forcing kids to learn creationism - or fighting court battles over plaques with the ten commandments on them in court houses.

Monday, 26 May 2008

And you think *your* job's bad

One of the men who played Jack Sparrow at Disneyland spills the beans on his former employer.

You’d hear that it sucks to work for Disney. They’re Nazis in Mickey hats. But I’d thought, “How bad could it be?” By the time I got fired, half of me was relieved. I was getting sick of constantly being barked at about what to do.
I did go to Disneyland, once. As a visitor it wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, and I quite enjoyed it. Though the family refused to go on Magic Mountain. We had the sort of ticket that gets you special early morning entrance - which sounds great until you realize that a lot of things do not open early. And many people have the same type of ticket. The lineups are long - and the locals who have season tickets always bring someone in a wheelchair as part of their group so they can skip the line. And the food isn't bad, and there are no outrageous rip-offs as there are at every other fair or amusement park. And a lot of Disneyland is about transportation, so it was like a busman's holiday. They really understand queue management.

But at the back of my mind all the time was this feeling like I was in "The Prisoner". But then, just because I am paranoid, doesn't mean they weren't watching me closely all the time.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Love is ... a good job and a hefty salary cheque

With redundancies looming, trophy wives start planning to cash in and get out
Not just trophy wives and senior City executives either.

The piece in the Guardian talks about the top end of the market, but more women now regard marriage not as a relationship for mutual support through "sickness and health, richer or poorer". They take richer and health as preconditions - and there is no such thing as unconditional love. Marriage is so that they can answer their biological imperative - which means not just a potent mate but one with earnings. And even after the child rearing years are over, there is a calculus going on about "is this relationship worth it?" endlessly discussed with friends and relatives as well as the agony columns. Commitment is a quaint historical relic, confined to fiction.

The piece also is confined to jobs, but of course the big bait in all of this has been the huge equity built up in the family home in recent years. As soon as the market starts to look a little wobbly, people start to bail. And that is happening in this region now. Prices have not fallen, but the fear is that they will, so the home is unloaded as fast as possible. There are now more sellers than buyers which makes a price fall inevitable if sales are to be completed. The rule here now is that the equity is split 50/50 - and as most women earn less than their spouses this is as good as finally getting paid for all that housework and child rearing.

And then of course, the imperative is to hang on to what you have got, as women live longer than men. So all those sites that claim to pair up the newly single are full of women looking for "financially secure" men. Not those knocked sideways by the ruinous divorce settlement.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Court Rules That Paper Money Discriminates Against the Blind

This is one of those "told you so" moments.

My first trip to the United Sates was in 1984, and that was the first time I has a walletful of this strange green money. And compared to the British banknotes I had used up until that moment, I immediately noticed that you could not tell the notes apart unless you were sighted. Though in recent years newer "bills" have got a bit more colourful, they are still all the same size.

Of course when this arose in converstaion with my new in-laws they looked at me like I was barmy.

Just like the waitress at the Holiday Inn at Charlotte NC. I had asked for marmalade at breakfast and she said "This is America, honey!"

Eat your Wheaties, but hold the coffee

According to the study by University of Guelph researchers, blood sugar levels in people who ate low-sugar cereal were 250 per cent higher if they drank caffeinated coffee before or with breakfast, compared to decaf.

Earlier research has shown that, "whether you're a healthy individual, obese or a Type 2 diabetic, when you ingest caffeine and then follow that with some food that's carbohydrate-based, for a prolonged period of time -- certainly six hours at least -- your body becomes insulin resistant," says Terry Graham, professor of human health and nutritional sciences at the University of Guelph.
So now I know what I have been doing wrong. I tend to have two large cups of cappuccino in the morning -one before and one after eating breakfast. And although I like the eggs and bacon, the lack of good back bacon (why is that?) and the fuss and mess often means I go for something easier - often oatmeal or an oat based cereal. Or, like this morning, a bagel.

There are some good decaf beans out there - I have some - but I have never been clear why caffeine is so demonised. It had seemed to me to be one of those knee jerk responses that you are always told to stop drinking alcohol, and caffeine, no matter what the condition. And people still go on about foods being "high in cholesterol" when all that I have read demonstrates that you make your own cholesterol and it is fat - and type of fat too - that actually matters.

And also I have learned that an espresso has less caffeine that a regular filter ("brewed") coffee, as the ground beans are on contact with the water for a lot shorter period of time.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Communist party membership no longer a fireable offence in California

Americans - or perhaps I should clarify that to Republicans - seem to have a huge problem understanding the simple concepts of the Bill of Rights.

There is no value in a version of liberty which means you can believe what you want and say what you want as long as the party in power agrees with you. The whole point of the concept of freedom of speech and freedom of association is that you will defend to the death the rights of others to hold opinions that you find abhorrent. Including the violent overthrow of the state. Because that is exactly what the founding fathers advocated.

The American Revolution was an act of violent uprising against the legal government of the day. Its leaders, if caught, would have been hanged for treason. The 13 colonies were part of the British Empire and thus subjects of the Crown. Indeed last night I watched a fascinating interview by Charlie Rose with retired British General Sir Michael Rose, who has just published a book drawing parallels between the Revolutionary War and the mistakes the Americans have been making in Iraq. (And on his web page you can watch it yourself if you like.)

And it is unbelievable that oaths of allegiance are still a requirement of state employment that continues to be used against Quakers and Jehovah's Witnesses. What ever happened to freedom of religion and separation of church and state?

"Land of the Free" - no, not really.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

U.S. lists polar bears as 'threatened' species

The U.S. government has decided to list polar bears as a threatened species under its Endangered Species Act because of the effects of global warming — a decision that could deal a severe blow to the lucrative sport hunt in Canada's North.
Good. Of course you do not hunt a species threatened with extinction.

Hopefully polar bears will begin to adapt to changing circumstances. They are closely related to other bears that are better equipped to deal with a warmer climate, so eventually we may see a different kind of bear. Or we may have to face up to the fact that when we destroy a creature's habitat it starts to adapt its behaviour in ways that inconvenience us. Like urban foxes and skunks.

But if we actually care about protecting species, and having an ecosystem which can adapt, we must stop people from killing for "fun" or "sport". Indeed, it might be a good idea to consider listing the desire to go hunting among urban males as a psychological disorder. Is there really that much difference between someone who likes - as a recreational activity mind - to shoot bears and one who likes to shoot people?

Monday, 12 May 2008

Vancouver Olympics security cameras raise privacy concerns

I can understand why these concerns are being raised, but they are beside the point.

The British experience (and they have more CCTV than anybody) is that they do not work. Crime has not been reduced and cctv footage is used in only 3% of cases.

It is a waste of money.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Tree Frogs

There is nothing to see here. Just listen. At night our ditch is alive with frogs. You can hear them but not see them. My first attempt was poor quality as I was not close enough. So in this take I try to approach a particularly vocal group. I cannot see them but they are well aware of my presence. And half way through this take they shut up as I get too close

Monday, 28 April 2008

Loopholes keep Windows XP alive

Mr Ballmer said: "If customer feedback varies, we can always wake up smarter, but right now, we have a plan for end-of-life for new XP shipments."
M$ had better wake up. Vista is not necessary, and its "features" add sizzle but no steak. I will not upgrade the machine I have that currently uses XP as a back up for the few functions that Ubuntu does not do as well. But that is few and growing fewer.

Microsoft has extended the life of Windows XP Home until 2010 on low-powered PCs, such as the Asus Eee, that might struggle to cope with Vista's power demands.
This Eee user is very happy with the Linux version it shipped with. I have no intention of changing it to an OS which I know does not work as well. The whole point of machines like the Eee is that they are designed to produce a good computing experience without needless bells and whistles, which helps keep the price low and the machine small. "Power" has nothing to do with it. It is functionality that is important and a cheap small Eee is far better than much more expensive, larger laptops that ship with M$ clunky systems and software.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

It Takes 90 Years To Grow A Box Of Kleenex

I really did not know that. I had heard about the reluctance of tissue makers to use recycled paper. But I have never switched away from old fashioned hankies - and I know I am in the minority. I note too that if you want to buy recycled paper products they are often more expensive, which seems counter intuitive. But I do use tissues when I have a streaming cold - because I run out of hankies too quickly.

Is this an argument like disposable versus washable diapers?

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Homeland Security and the High School Robots

This story was on Global BC TV News at 6 tonight. Some BC high school children won their way through intense competition to the finals of a competition - held in the US.

When they got there they found that the carefully packed robots were not with their baggage. They turned up later - wrecked.

Global's report suggested that this was due to "post 9/11 paranioa" but I think there is a much simpler explanation. This contest was very much publicised and there was only one Canadian team that got through to the finals. It may even be the case that parents of high school children work at the airport - maybe even for Homeland Security. What better way to ensure that the home team wins than some extra thorough attention to the competitor's equipment?

When you consider the number of cases of parents behaving badly at sports events, is too much to think that an over eager parent would be low enough to stoop to this kind of action?

Sorry, no link, the story is not on Global's web page

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Whose fault is the credit crunch?

The DG of the CBI says it is the bankers themselves - and more specifically their bonus payment systejm that rewards risk taking but seemingly carries no penalty for failure.

Solution? Stop paying the beggars in cash but make them accept pay in shares - uncashable for 5 years!

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Brenda Martin "guilty"

Brenda Martin was a chef for
Alyn Waage, who was convicted of fraud in 2006. He is serving a 10-year term in a U.S. prison.

Martin maintained her innocence.... Waage has testified Martin was unaware of his activities.
The burden of proof in Mexico is that you are guilty unless you can prove you are innocent.

In other news, it has been suggested that NAFTA may be re-opened. If that is the case, we could put some other things on the table. As Stephen Harper says, we are now in a stronger position than we were 20 years ago. The model we might like to look at is Europe, which has a very stringent "harmonisation" procedure. This produces much better protection for issues such as the environment and consumer protection. Unfortunately for my example, much of Europe also still uses the Code Napoleon in criminal cases. But if we are at the bargaining table and the US and ourselves have the British, common law based jurisprudence system and a charter of rights/constitution, maybe we should push the Mexicans to get into line with us. It might help their tourism business too. Right now I have no desire to spend any time there.

Robert Baltovich goes free - finally

Yet another miscarriage of justice is corrected - after a lot of very obvious reluctance.
The verdict came Tuesday, moments after the Crown stunned a Toronto courtroom with the announcement that it would not bring any evidence or witnesses forward in Baltovich's trial, which had been expected to last as long as eight weeks.

Prosecutors, who had planned to call 50 witnesses to the stand, said on Tuesday they had no reasonable prospect of conviction.
So now we need much, much more in the way of explanation.

Witnesses to what - since he did not do it? Has anyone asked Paul Bernardo if he did it? Since the Scarborough rapist went undetected for a long time while police forces indulged in their usual inter-jurisdictional rivalries, and young women's lives were lost as a result, maybe it is time the whole rotten system is finally opened up to some real reform, and there should be a lot less self righteous posturing and cover up.

We should also be thankful that the siren call of the vicious, vengeful capital punishment brigade has not been heeded.

Monday, 21 April 2008

"Steve is not happy"

My Vote's for Obama (if I could vote)

Michael Moore puts it so well there is nothing more for me to say.

If the Republicans return for the third time, we are all doomed - not just the Americans. They believe in "the rapture" and are doing all they can to hasten it.

The rest of us have to pay for their delusion

Harry Potter star seeks mystery Australian girl

Reuters reports that Daniel Radcliffe saw a girl staring at him.
"She stared at me all night and I was going to get her number and then I couldn't find her," Radcliffe told the newspaper.

"I must have walked around that party for an hour trying to look for this girl, like some sad pathetic dweeb, but it would have been worth it."
No Daniel, it wouldn't. Chances are she's a stalker - at the very least. You are a very lucky lad, and all sorts of females would be delighted to have your company. Very few of them are so gauche as to let you catch them staring at you.

Trust me on this one.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Why the great British breakfast is a killer

lunch ebpt oj

You never see anyone with a degree eating a fry-up; they're too intelligent to consume it, says Times restaurant critic
Wrong. I have two degrees.

Certainly not someone with a 2:1 or better in a humanities subject from a university founded before the invention of the iPod. That's because they are smart enough to know better.
My 2:1 dates from 1970 from a university founded in the 1920s, and my MSc(Econ) from 1976 is from LSE. Not exactly a new university either.

Unusually, the Times prints its own rebuttal on the same page from Ross Anderson

As for the notion that only stupid people eat fry-ups, this would be news in Martin's coffee house in Cambridge, where generations of geniuses have been getting it down their necks for decades. Or in Maria's caff in Limehouse, where some of the nation's finest financial brains shovel in the carbs before trotting off to make more millions at Canary Wharf. Equally risible is the suggestion that any of this is unhealthy. Tell that to the NHS's beleaguered GPs, their waiting rooms packed to the rafters with nonagenarian coffin-dodgers who for their entire lives have been packing away the Full English, the Full Scottish, the Ulster Fry and whatever they call it in Wales, and still have nothing more wrong with them than an ingrowing toenail. Tell it to the pension funds, struggling to pay out cash to people who, if any of this healthy eating claptrap were true, would have burst an artery years ago.

Your breakfast advice, Mr Coren? As we say in Scotland: save your breath to cool your porridge.
And of course go check out what Russel Davies has been up to

Saturday, 19 April 2008

The disgrace of the ABC debate

Mother Jones has a copy of an open letter from more than 40 journalists appalled by the behaviour of their colleagues at ABC

I heard some of this on CBC radio's "As It Happens" but I wasn't surprised. After all I have seen "The American President" too many times. And it was more like reality than the tv spin off "West Wing"

Friday, 18 April 2008

This is true

Two true teen tales from Randy Cassingham

Get a subscription - or try it for free

Randy Cassingham's Blog: Two Teen Tales

More on the EeePC

When Asustek Computer launched its Eee PC, Acer had doubts about its market opportunity. However, after just two months of sales, Acer quickly realized that low-cost PCs are to become an important turning point for the PC market, and have a chance to open up a new era for the current PC industry.

Taiwans DigiTimes

"They are not just replacement machines" - well it depends what you mean by "replace". I wanted to do mobile computing and note taking and it turned out that a PDA can do that - just not very well

Monday, 14 April 2008

Another quick and easy supper

NZ medallions of lamb with piccolo potatoes and mixed veg. I deglazed the pan with a little port left over from Christmas. The veg were from one of those prepared fresh bags, and these little potatoes need no washing or peeling. The whole thing took 20 minutes to prepare. Since the medallions were frozen, they were still nicely pink in the middle.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Cross-Canada protests decry CBC Radio changes, orchestra's end

Well done CBC News reporting on an issue which ought to be causing your organisation acute embarrassment.
CBC Radio programming head Jennifer McGuire defended the decision to feature "a broader, richer and diverse spectrum of music: classical, jazz, folk, world, R & B, singer-songwriter and roots."

But it is not clear that the classical Radio 2 needs to lose air time to achieve these aims. It is obvious that "folk, world, R & B, singer-songwriter and roots" appeals to a different demographic - and needs its own space. Now that may not be best distributed over the air on FM radio. Why not just expand CBC Radio 3?
Breaking New Sound. Showcasing Canadian independent music to the world. Listen to us live on Sirius Satellite on channel 94.
and of course podcasts. The people who like to listen to this kind of music use headphones and ipods. They will not be found at home with a radio on, but they will be on line downloading.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

1,775 boil-water advisories in Canada require action: report

Remember Walkerton?

We are not talking about a third world country here, and we are not talking about short term problems. Some of these advisories have been in place for years.

Canadians have more fresh water than anyone else. Some of use are paranoid that we might be somehow forced to give it to Americans - though since we give them everything else I don't know that water is so special.

But if they knew how bad our water is, would they want it?

And just to be clear, the problem is the lack of municipal spending and supervision of potable water supplies. We do not like paying taxes to get clean water apparently. And we put up with it - but howl like banshees if we have to pay more for gasoline.

Monday, 7 April 2008

Pricing cars

I followed a link at the Tyee to a Yahoo page on the top ten hybrids - and was amazed to see a price of $21,100 (MRSP). Then it occurred to me that the Tyee may not have realised that this site is for them not us. Despite near parity between the US and Canadian dollar, Canadians are required to pay much more for their cars - and some dealers and manufacturers try to make it as hard as possible for us to go down there and pick up a cheap car. I recently bought a Toyota, and if I could have found at this price, I would have bought a Prius like a shot.

So I went to the Toyota web page for Canada and priced a Prius. I ignored all the options and have not added taxes. The price is $30,870 before taxes and government rebates. This includes freight and delivery ($1240) battery tire and ac levies ($130 in all)

Is there any justification for a 50% price premium for a car here over the price in Blaine WA?

Sunday, 6 April 2008

The end of Vista?

Once upon a time I used to read Victor Zhorza in the Guardian. He was the expert on what was happening inside the Kremlin. And how he got his information was not usually questioned. Tek to do is a blog which watches Micro$oft and seems to have similar abilities

My contact with Vista was a month last year. My sister bought a new laptop that had it pre-installed, that we could use while we were in London clearing my late mother's estate. There were times when I would have thrown the thing out of the window had it been mine. Vista has all the hallmarks of the M$ philosophy. It is a space hog. It has all kinds of hidden activities that use band width. It is full of security holes and incompatibilities. For someone who has grown used to the reliability and security of open source, it was pain.

No one will will weep for the end of Vista - but the price of replacing it is too high. I will keep XP for the few things that I cannot work in Ubuntu. But I will never ever again pay for an operating system. And neither should you.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

History's verdict on G W Bush

“No individual president can compare to the second Bush,” wrote one. “Glib, contemptuous, ignorant, incurious, a dupe of anyone who humors his deluded belief in his heroic self, he has bankrupted the country with his disastrous war and his tax breaks for the rich, trampled on the Bill of Rights, appointed foxes in every henhouse, compounded the terrorist threat, turned a blind eye to torture and corruption and a looming ecological disaster, and squandered the rest of the world’s goodwill. In short, no other president’s faults have had so deleterious an effect on not only the country but the world at large.”

“With his unprovoked and disastrous war of aggression in Iraq and his monstrous deficits, Bush has set this country on a course that will take decades to correct,” said another historian. “When future historians look back to identify the moment at which the United States began to lose its position of world leadership, they will point—rightly—to the Bush presidency. Thanks to his policies, it is now easy to see America losing out to its competitors in any number of areas: China is rapidly becoming the manufacturing powerhouse of the next century, India the high tech and services leader, and Europe the region with the best quality of life.”

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Looking at Mount Fuji 'can cure depression'

Certainly seems likely to me. Whenever I see Mount Baker my spirits lift - but that is probably because the weather is better. For much of the time my favourite mountain is hidden by murk and gloom. It becomes visible when the clouds lift and the smog clears out for a while.