Saturday, April 29, 2006

That softwood lumber deal

Well, as Emma pointed out, my last post mentioning the lumber issue went out just before the proposed deal hit wide circulation. Oops.

Symbolically, it's very bad that even the 20-odd percent negotiated away (about $1,000,000,000 - just to be clear) stays in the US, half of which will subvent their lumber industry and pay for their now successful Congressional lobbying. All of the money should have returned to Canada, and the rest of the negotiations should have started from this point. This is Harper's billion dollar boondoggle as the gun registry and HRDC were for the Liberals.

However, it's interesting how the Liberal governments in QC, BC and ON, initially against it, came around to accepting the deal (Alberta is said to have done so "reluctantly"). One wonders whether Harper mentioned that failure to bring in the chunk of the $4bn the government would accrue via taxation would have implications for provincial transfers... but that would be bullying and totally unworthy of a Canadian PM... yeah right! There is also the matter of the agreement giving the US a veto over internal provincial lumber policy if they feel it is designed to mitigate the effects of the conditional levies.

I'd love to say that this will teach Canadians that a properly formulated free trade agreement with the European Union should be expeditiously pursued in order to lessen our cross border dependence, but if we didn't see that the first 20 times we were spanked in NAFTA trade we're never going to. However, as soon as the cheques are cashed, Boeing and Lockheed should be told that National Defence will be sourcing its strategic and tactical lift from Antonov and Airbus - we thought we were going to have all these spare US dollars but we got mugged on the way home from the lumber mill.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Next NHL season - Nuestro Star Spangled Banner?

Watched the Montreal-Carolina playoff game at the Bell Centre tonight, begun with an excellent rendition of O, Canada in French and English (and a fine American anthem too).

However, any amusement Americans get from the Franglish anthem when Ottawa and Montreal are in town will no doubt be tempered by this development: Nuestro Himno, the American anthem translated (with some changes) into Spanish.

The Decider feels (naturally) that the anthem should be sung in English only. Lou Dobbs probably had to go lie down in a dark room with soothing music when he heard about this. The Red Staters are raging.

Having listened to it, it's a bunch of overwrought mush - a melting pot if you like :)

Lyrics via the Chicago Tribune and ocregister.com.

Fun with Google

Found via the Gift Grub Podcast on Today FM. Kudos to "Jay".

I don't know which is funnier - the "Did you mean" suggested hit or the first hit underneath... it was a sea of colour all right, just not blue.



(from ercrugby.com)

Limerick on track?

With all the fuss that's made about the politically fuelled folly known as the Western Railway Corridor (the bit between Sligo and Claremorris specifically), there are a few parts of it that make sense. The Ennis-Athenry link offers the possibility of Ennis passengers gaining extra links to Dublin in addition to the existing Limerick services. Tuam-Galway traffic may also justify some peak service. But the Limerick area, with four rail lines running into it but woefully underutilised, is now getting some attention with the announcement that a feasibility study for a Shannon Airport link will be undertaken.

One has to feel that some of the motivation must be the impending loss of compulsory stopovers at Shannon for North American traffic - that this is Fianna Fail's attempt to retain seats in Clare. False dawns have been seen before in relation to this project.

One proposal is essentially a spur perpendicular to the existing single track line at Sixmilebridge. This seems to me a roundabout route for travellers albeit requiring the least new line length and a busway would probably be cheaper and more effective. Instead, a line beginning from the existing line near Cratloe travelling via Bunratty, Shannon Town, Shannon Airport and Shannon Free Zone and continuing to the Ennis line northwest of Sixmilebridge seems worthwhile and brings several destinations onto the rail network rather than just one.

Shannon town, Ireland's first attempt at a "new town" has developed very slowly. Not only could a passenger rail link help the development of Shannon town and relieve commuting traffic to the free zone and the airport for workers there, but in the early stages of service it could act as an alternate route for existing Ennis-Limerick traffic so that the older line can be refurbished for higher speeds without cancellations - the existing Ennis-Limerick line is limited to about 50mph, slower than the nearby Limerick-Galway road. To make the times reasonable full 75mph grade separated alignment is crucial.

The Rail Procurement Authority is focusing on workers rather than passengers for the Dublin airport metro - this is (unusually) sensible of them given that passengers encumbered with bags will usually opt for a door to door service. Passenger ratios using transit at major airports are generally low. Workers can be attracted by tax deductible rail tickets as easily as their Dublin and Cork area counterparts, which is why the town and the free zone should be either destinations in their own right or linked with shuttle buses free to those with tickets/passes.

Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come for Limerick, which also needs Iarnrod Eireann to follow through on improvements to the Nenagh service. The City and County Councils need to lean on Bus Eireann to provide service between Castleconnell Station and the University of Limerick to make commuting viable for students and staff, as well as workers in the Technological Park. Unfortunately the lack of local authority direct input in transportation means national politics will ultimately dictate regional needs, since some capital investment will be required to improve speeds and comfort on this somewhat worn out line.

The Limerick Blogger has some more on this.

Why the wait for the GST cut?

Apparently the GST cut won't be until July 1st. Canadian small business owners claimed they needed time to convert over. The election was the end of January - you've had three months to prepare already! Some argue that it will depress economic activity as people hold off big ticket purchases. I suspect that's more likely than whatever the hell the Bank of Canada is playing at with interest rate policy.

By contrast, the Irish government announced a 1% VAT cut on 6 December 2000 which they implemented 25 days later - a cut that was reversed the following year (with three months notice) due to revenue shortfalls. However, giving notice makes sense when you're raising rates as people can bring forward expenses and thus tax revenue but giving notice when cutting makes no sense.

hat tip - Maple Leaf Politics

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Liberal bloggers need priorities too

Yes, with all the crap hitting the fan right now we should worry that the Government of Canada home page has some blue in it. Maybe the Liberal Party should give up red and white to take partisanship away from the national colours? No? Didn't think so.

You see, you start wondering if the Liberals have had enough of a time-out and then they remind you why they were kicked out. This is why Harper will get away with his schemes - Layton can be bought and the Liberals are fighting the wrong battles. Meanwhile the Bloc supported Harper's stance on the flag...

Forgive me for coming over all Don Cherry (what'd I tell you eh?), but I predicted Rick Mercer would give Harper a kick after cancelling his ads. Here he is on the flag issue. (Hat tip Saskboy)

Here's my second Cherry moment: according to CTV, Stockwell Day is considering 10 year passports. I'm surprised that with all of the dread of Stock being made Foreign Minister that he has kept his head down and made few waves while Peter McKay has been awful in his first few months.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Another selfish S.O.B.

I hate these stories (Belfast Telegraph) where the guy takes the kid to his foreign birthplace and the mother has zero recourse. Here's the website for the appeal. Maybe we could kid ourselves that if enough attention was drawn to this the Algerian government would make him do the right thing.

Found via "shitty first draft"

Monday, April 24, 2006

Harper you cretin, the dead are nothing to be ashamed of

It's so hard to try and see any tiny upside of this government. I try and I try but they really are the pits. I mean, is this what 13 years of opposition to the Liberals and their waste and their schemes gets you? "Five (and only five) priorities", a tax hike, no softwood lumber money, the environmental cuts, Emerson/Fortier, control freakery and now this?

I could understand the flag thing - during World Wars when Canada was losing hundreds of men a day the flag would been stuck at half-mast if the Liberals had their way, but this is different - the banning of the press from Trenton stinks of Bush image management after the media ban from Dover.

These soldiers died for Canada, not to be sneaked in the back door! Look at how Don Cherry shows the picture of each and every one on Coach's Corner. The indymedia types must be laughing their asses off - they call Canadian soldiers complicit in Bush's criminal schemes and our government bring them home in a manner which is less flag on the coffin and more "coat over the head of the accused on the way into court".

One of the first times I came over here was the funeral of the Princess Pats bombed by USAF Major Schmidt. I couldn't get over the ceremonies accorded to these soldiers, seeming so much more public that those of Irish forces killed on active duty and with Jean Chretien front and centre as his role as the head of democratic government which must direct the Canadian Forces.

The sight of these soldiers arriving home should strengthen the resolve of bring some order to Afghanistan, not weaken it, because to leave now will not bring them back and will not make Afghanistan a better place. Unfortunately this weakening in the face of casualties has been deemed the only outcome by the political-media bubble in Ottawa and thus their sacrifice will now be buried along with their bodies. This was not Harper's conflict, it was Martin's, but when Harper brought down Martin's government he made it his.

(hat tip: Galloping Beaver)

Yes, we really care about our waterfront.

This is what annoys me, all the yipping about the Portlands power station and the Island Airport and then the likes of this can be let happen - or at least we can only hope that now the cat is out of the bag it can be stopped.

If the owner of the Palais Royale was willing to pay $120k upfront and $25k per annum for the use of the car park, and more to shuttle people to free car parks nearby, then surely the majority of that sum should be been paid to TTC to operate a service along there. Councillor Sylvia Watson's "clarification" doesn't use the word transit once.

This is not surprising when the Gardiner and rail corridors cut off Lakeshore from the streetcar line and people try to organise private buses because TTC service is so dire. The nearest bus service (route 80 to Keele subway) has no Sunday service which I imagine would be a peak period of activity and unless a sub-service came eastward from Parkside Drive, the walk would be prohibitive for those of limited mobility.

According to Spacing's graphic a city official has claimed there's no money. Well, after Royson James' eyeopener about fences being built around city police stations, I know where the city can find an extra in $400k in 2007 and $500k in 2008 (I expect it's too late to save the allocation for 2006 at this stage).

The ward consultation was tonight but if you want to e-mail the councillor, here's the address.

Classless

Dunner is celebrating the Liverpool victory which takes them to the FA Cup final. The Scouse horde in the final always brings me back to fond memories of white suits and Eric the King.

Old Trafford is not celebrating, and not just because United won't have a chance to Scousebust them this year (the plastic Cup doesn't count, obviously), but because of the damage caused in the ground during the semi-final against ChelsKGB. Toilets smashed, graffiti mocking the tragedy of Munich only days after the usual remembrance of Hillsborough and 24 arrests.

To move back to this side of the Atlantic - I agree wholeheartedly with Dunner's take on the media reaction to the Quinn sacking.

Did Aer Lingus take Leinster to win?

Seems like Dermot Mannion believed the bookies who had Leinster to win - Aer Lingus are offering extra flights for the Heineken Cup final - from Dublin. Nice.

Meanwhile Michael O'Leary has to come up with 24,000 "free" flights with Leinster's late capitulation. No doubt the small print will say he only had to come with 24, in the manner of the flights for life fiasco.

It would be nice to think to soon the travelling hordes could come up with another song, given that Athenry is not quite in Munster...

Now if only I could persuade Ted Rogers to carry European Cup rugby instead of NPC/Super 12.

Mañana

I seem to have picked up a certain procrastination since my return from Mexico - apart from updating with pictures of my vacation I haven't really done any blogging except the odd comment here and there.

The satellite TV at the resort tended mostly to channels in Spanish which sadly I have maybe 20 words of. Of the few English ones, the CNN coverage during my trip was wall to wall illegal immigrant stuff. In fairness, Lou Dobbs got well boring with hist ranting against the immigrant marches, with a guaranteed daily soapbox to ridicule even those with reasonable compromises to offer. Just because he isn't as offensive as O'Reilly doesn't mean we should use the latter as the outer bounds.

I imagine the 0-0 draw between United and Sunderland was as rubbish in English as it was on ESPN in Spanish.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Fin 634

Our last morning in Xcaret.


On the road back to Cancun International, it occurred to me that there are so many bloody speedbumps - little round things - in this part of the world even Michael Walker would be happy, the smog-causing git that he is.

Our transport home - Air Canada C-FMWV, a 767-300ER. How do I know? You can see "634" at the very top of the tailfin when you zoom right into the original of this photo, and the Air Canada website supplies the rest. Pretty impressive from about 200 feet diagonal distance from the foot of the forward airstairs. This has less detail to speed upload to Blogger so it's probably not clear on this one.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Xcaret Park part 2

There is a horse show every evening for about 25 minutes.

The Park is almost fully open but parts are still being rehabilitated after last year's hurricane season.

The Park also incorporates several sets of ruins, as does the resort next door.

Some local performances doing traditional music outside the park's auditorium, the 6,000 seater Grand Tlachco.

The show they put on inside the auditorium is spectacular, beginning with various portrayals of Mayan myth, history and games. It was followed by Mexican music and dance from various States. Very little English translation it's easy to figure out what's going on. The packed house of locals who sang along to many of the Mexican songs made it an electric atmosphere nearer the end. The Mayan games were a little weird - think hurling played with a fireball, and playing soccer using your bum.

Xcaret Park

Some photos from Xcaret Ecopark attached to our resort. As Good Friday is a local holiday as it is in Canada a lot of the local people were in and it got quite busy from about 11am on. Given the heat it's the kind of place that's best to get in early, see a bit, take a rest and go back again.

The Park has various endangered plant and animal species, for some of which it undertakes breeding programmes. It also farms mushrooms, orchids and fish (in tanks) some of which are used in the Resort. There's a flamingo pen and on the seafront two areas where you can swim with dolphins. There's a turtle breeding programme, though to Nicole's distress we missed feeding time. Some manatees were transferred to the Park from Tabasco State where they were in danger of being wiped out from pollution.

Here's a view from the short river loop which you can take on a viewing raft.

The jaguar pen, which has a jaguar, a panther and a puma in residence.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

5th Avenue

Playa del Carmen's shopping district is the pedestrianised Quinta Avenida, or 5th Avenue, where shops have people posted outside to encourage people in. Mariachis and native performers are also found in the late afternoon. Silver, pottery, blankets, hot sauce, tequila, vanilla and the usual tourist tat to be found here.



The town also has ferry services to Cozumel Island but we didn't bother going over this trip.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Tulum

Tulum is a major Mayan archeological site and Federal park about 45 minutes south of our hotel in Xcaret.


As well as the ruins themselves there are good beaches. All seafront beaches in Mexico are public.



These are the Pole Flyers or voladores - they climb a pole about 50 feet high, spin around at the top and descend, upside down, by ropes spun outward from the drum at the top. It's as mad as it looks.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Escape to Mexico

Off to Xcaret for a week. Xcaret (approximately pronounced sh-karet) is near Playa del Carmen, about 45 minutes from Cancun International Airport, in the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Although that state name does sound more Australian to me...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I'm calling the Dobbs

Jon Stewart's reaction to Lou Dobbs' declaration that there shouldn't be a St. Patrick's Day parade. Stewart was reviewing the media coverage of pro-immigrant rallies and on CNN Dobbs was making reference to an immigration rally where Mexican flags were flown, and said that only American flags should be flown in America. Stewart warned Dobbs of the effect on "New York's parade based economy". Starts at 2:25 on the QuickTime version.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Jack Layton's first victory of the 39th Parliament.

So, as I've written before, my local MP's been banging on about "the need for an Afghanistan debate". This is usually referred to with the addition "especially as the casualties mount". Now, I think everyone possibly except Jack anticipated that the Kandahar deployment was going to be a tough mission for the CF and that casualties are likely - casualties that would be desperately hard on their families and comrades but sustained in an effort to help that country. The time for "debate" has passed and it is Layton's failure as much as anyone else's if the matter is insufficiently clear at this point.

Why? Because if Jack did have a problem with the deployment or wish to tease it out in some way, he could have tackled Paul Martin who authorised the mission without a vote in the last Parliament. He could have attended the Take Note debate on 15 November. He did neither, and instead he waited for the election of Harper to demand a debate on the Afghanistan mission. Ever since his first intervention post-election it has stunk of attempting to pin the move from Kabul to Kandahar on Harper when those decisions were made late last year.

Harper has just announced the holding of... a Take Note debate. The same kind of debate (with no vote at the end) as he skipped on 15 November and only two NDP MPs (Siksay and Blaikie) attended. NDP Bloggers are naturally declaring victory (in a very "George Bush on the carrier deck kinda way) here and also here.

If these are the kind of pretend victories that will keep Jack happy I suppose we can live with them, since they don't seem to cost much. I just wonder what flights of historic speechifying we can expect from Layton in this debate - if he turns up.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Stupid things that annoy me #1168

When I hear it on Dogfood FM, courtesy of my wife's morning listening preferences, I grind my teeth but put it down to the congenital idiocy it seems to require to be a Canadian morning radio host. But when I see it in the bloody Star, a paper that fancies itself as actual journalism, it really gets my goat.

In Canada today, at no time was it 01:02.03 4/5/06.
However, for 1/100th of a second, it was 01:02.03 05/04/06.

Wait a month, it will happen... bit of patience, eh? [For those computers say it's 4/5/06, your computer may be set to English (United States). Unless you are actually in the United States, you may want to fix that].

All that hoopla about the 21st century when it wasn't (01/01/2000) as opposed to when it was (01/01/2001) was bad enough, but now they're just taking the michael.

On the run Republican receives no amnesty

Denis Donaldson, former Sinn Fein chief of administration at the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont, was found dead in Donegal with a gunshot wound to the head. He had been outed as a spy for the British and subsequently left Belfast. Unlike the Levee Breaks who was stunned by it, I found it all too depressingly easy to believe.

My initial reaction on reading it via Google News was "you stupid gowl" - if I was in his position I'd be expecting President Bliar to fly me to somewhere far far away, like the Falklands, or Ascension Island, or even Gibraltar (an unhealthy spot for Provos). But Donegal? Idiot. I also wonder if the Sunday World journo, Hugh Jordan, who tracked him to that cottage and identified it as being in the Glenties area, feels in any way uneasy - nah, fat chance.

The next time Grizzly Adams brings up amnesty for the killers of Jerry McCabe, Bertie should tell them the only release from their sentence they can have is the same one Donaldson got.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

More signs the Tories haven't got a clue

They're chopping the funds for the One Tonne Challenge. The same Challenge fronted by Rick Mercer with ads that people might have actually watched and taken in rather than reacting with reflexive remote jabbing. The one guy apart from Don Cherry anyone watches on CBC. If Mercer doesn't have a cut off Harper for this (possibly with one of his ads) I'll be very surprised - bet he feels bad after praising Harper's Kandahar speech last week.

Is OTC money being misspent - almost certainly. Then again, when isn't government money misspent? I do agree with one Globe commenter who pointed out that when Canada is pumping sewage into watercourses, something the EU has been cracking down hard on Ireland for, having a single windmill on the Toronto waterfront makes us feel better even when the beaches underneath it aren't safe to swim in - something OTC money does little for.

Regardless of the merits, these stealthy throttlings merely reinforce the perception of Tories as having an agenda which is not transparent. If the OTC isn't working, they could have been upfront with a policy plan to replace it before implementing cuts, but it's so much easier to have officials cut off funding at minimal notice in the guise of "review" than do something positive, especially if that funding was, say, reducing GST rather than being redirected to environmental concerns.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Note to RTE

If you're going to put up a matchtracker for a game involving an Irish team, people expect you to update it faster than a British service. Next time just link to the BBC's one please. My anger that yet again the Medium Wave service isn't streamed, meaning we abroad got Gerry Daly after the Angelus, hasn't died down yet either.

Passports please

Huge fuss going on over Shrub's summit with Fox and Harper, the principal issues being softwood and passports on the Canadian side. Maybe I just don't get it, but I don't see the need for this "secure document" alternative. It is one of those often quoted statistics that 23% of Americans hold a passport (US State Department) and 40% of Canadians (Toronto Star) and many of those are immigrants wishing to visit home but since Canada, Mexico and many Caribbean countries allow entry with a birth cert many people choose to holiday where they don't need a passport.

The answer - make passports cheaper, valid longer and quick to obtain and there's your "secure document" rather than faffing around with some driver's licence on steroids.

In Canada, adult passports only last 5 years, and a lot of countries refuse passports with less than 6 months left - increasing this to 10 years, like Ireland and the United States is essential especially given the increasing processing burden from more applicants. At present, each application is pretty much as if you were applying for the first time, although Passport Canada say this will change. Cost wise, a Canadian one is C$87 whereas an Irish one which lasts twice as long costs C$106 (75 Euro) and a US 10-year costs C$113 (US$97).

Making it harder for Americans to visit will unquestionably hurt Canadian business and tourism, just as the strong Canadian dollar has. Canada must put plenty of money and resources into border crossings to make sure Americans who do visit pass through speedily in the main but keeping checks for weapons trafficking which causes Toronto so many problems.

No pictures, please

I decided to try a few new podcasts from the iTunes Store, including the Torygraph's. I see they show pictures of the contributors as they're speaking. Hope Newstalk 106 doesn't go down this road - poor old Dunphy has a face for radio, especially after a night in Lillies or whatever the club of the moment is.

Metropass Affinity Programme

Unlike Ireland, there isn't a tax benefit to a transit pass (although the Tories did promise one). Having a Toronto Metropass is not really of much use to people (like me) who mostly use the system 20 odd days a month going to work and back as it's more expensive than 40 tokens. However, there is now an alternative - the Metropass Affinity Programme. The principle is that you show your Metropass and you get a discount at supporting stores.

Sadly, this is yet another innovation, like the Spacing buttons and the Rider Efficiency Guide, that did not come from the TTC's tendered out PR/marketing operation - they're too busy making stupid posters. Moscoe claims they will listen but historically TTC staff don't want to know if it comes from the public.

If they did support it openly then more partners might get involved as opposed the rather limited list so far. It might be an idea for MAP to update their website too, since Olivia Chow hasn't been TTC vice-chairman since she resigned to run for the Federal seat well before Christmas.

(Seen at BlogTO)