Sunday, December 31, 2006

The lynching of Saddam

All of those who think the process by which Saddam Hussein met his end shows Iraq's maturity as a developing democracy should really watch the video available on the internet, complete with the taunting by the al-Sadr militiamen, not Iraqi government forces, dragging Saddam to his death. I don't know if it showed the actual hanging as I found it revolting and turned it off. Shouldn't be surprised - it's cleaner than how the West's friends in Saudi Arabia do it, after all.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Is Assisted Human Reproduction Canada's board stacked with social conservatives?

The Globe and Mail seems to think so, quoting former Liberal leadership contender Dr. Carolyn Bennett. The article by Gloria Galloway notes that in addition to providing Dr. John Hamm, former Premier of Nova Scotia, with a nice little retirement earner, the new board appointed by Tony Clement includes:
a professor of Jewish studies who has written of his opposition to abortion unless life of the mother is being threatened, a social anthropologist who is director of research for the Catholic Archdiocese of Toronto, a Montreal oncologist who has spoken against euthanasia at an anti-abortion conference, and a Halifax bioethicist who opposes using fresh embryos for stem-cell research -- an opposition commonly voiced by those who believe life begins at conception.
Stem-cell researchers, for instance, are nowhere to be found on this board despite its role in approving more than 20 Assisted Human Reproduction Act regulations controlling testing unborn children for genetic diseases, IVF embryo storage and parental consent to stem cell research.

Dr. Bennett, a family physician and Public Health Minister in the last government, says she can't see in this board those who seem to be interested in pushing the science of reproduction forward.
"I don't see anybody there who's looking out for the needs of couples needing extra help to conceive,"
"I only see people on there who are interested in rolling the science all back."
However, Dr. Bennett should also recall that the AHRA has been in effect for two and a half years - if Paul Martin wasn't dithering maybe they could have stacked it their way instead.

Rick Mercer on being a Christmas gravy server in Afghanistan

Rick has posted on his blog a long write-up about his trip which he made with the Chief of Defence Staff and several entertainers to Kandahar and the various Forward Operating Bases, including how he ended up going in the first place:
Gen. Hillier is a very persuasive man. He is also a Newfoundlander. And while he is the chief of the Canadian Forces it has been suggested that he might think he is the chief of all Newfoundlanders. He'll call you up and suggest to you that on Dec. 25 there is only one place you should be and it's so special that by agreeing to go there you render your life insurance null and void. You aren't asked so much as you are voluntold.

Polar bears to be designated "endangered" - boo hoo, NU?

Over the next year the United States Fish and Wildlife Service will be considering a proposal to designated polar bears as endangered. At first glance this seems a no-brainer, given that polar bears have been suffering a multi-whammy:
  • a decline in their sea ice breeding areas,
  • a decline in their foodstocks,
  • the release of manmade toxins normally stored in fat due to their lower food intake and
  • their objectification by Coca-Cola every Christmas.
The Nunavut territorial government doesn't think this is a good idea, according to the CBC. My first thought that this is a Inuit traditional rights issue, like the hunters in B.C. allowed to use hunting rifles at night because night hunting is a tradition of First Nations. But the USFWS doesn't have jurisdiction over Canada anyway. No, this is about US fatcats coming north for "sport" hunting - $20,000 for a guarantee to shoot a polar bear - for extra you can shoot an elk and have the meat shipped to your home. According to the USFWS the west Hudson Bay bear population has substantially declined and they are acting to prevent a similar decline in Alaskan populations.

In the Northwest Territory, meanwhile, hunting outfitters oppose decreased "harvest size"of the Bathurst caribou even with a 73% reduction in the herd size in the last twenty years. Sometimes responsible government includes telling you your job is not good for the society you live in and maybe you need to find another one.

Much as though I like the thought of relieving stupid Americans of their money, as traders in Killarney have done for generations, I think it's time to put an end to the polar bear sport hunt and if that means compensating the government of Nunavut with federal money to turn the bear guides into federal wildlife officers and Arctic Rangers and to increase radar coverage to track illegal helicopter hunts then so be it.

Death and unfeeling in the Beach(es)

Last night Nicole and I took in The Departed at the Fox Cinema on Queen Street East. We both agreed that Leonardo diCaprio did an excellent job even though he's not an actor either of us usually like. Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen were their usual immense selves and Mark Wahlberg was incredibly (and amusingly) rude. I did feel Alec Baldwin's character was too much like an extension of a 30Rock/SNL sketch. Personally I would have liked to watch it in a small theatre a couple of rows behind Matt Damon with Ben Affleck making fun of Damon's character through the movie.

This morning I read that the same neighbourhood, which had to have a plebiscite to figure out what to officially call itself, was going to have an Out of the Cold shelter set up in a local church until a group of concerned residents hired a lawyer, who tells us
"The program itself is very praiseworthy, although it might be questioned on the level of whether or not this is the best way to use ... very limited resources to look after this type of thing."

Uh-huh. The shelter was announced in October but has now been delayed until after January 16 until a mediation arranged by the local councillor is held - isn't it lucky we haven't had a hard December? I agree that some social services need to be sensitively placed - why a centre to medicate drug users is on Danforth Avenue rather than in the nearby East General Hospital escapes me - this is a successful programme in Toronto and every neighbourhood should be playing its part.

UPDATE: On the soundtrack to "The Departed" - "Gimme Shelter", "Nobody But Me", "Comfortably Numb".

Is there anything Americans won't eat?

The FDA has approved cloned meat for unlabelled sale to the public. US food can now, it seems, be any combo from genetically modified, cloned, growth promoted and antibiotic-laden. Sadly with NAFTA and the flow of livestock across the border some of that food will probably end up on Canadian tables. So it's okay to eat this stuff but not clone stem cells? All of a sudden Soylent Green is looking appetising.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The mail-in rebate scam

To most Europeans coming from the system of VAT where tax is shown on the "sticker price" to North America where you have to do mental arithmetic to know how much you would pay at the cash register is a bit frustrating. Buying electronics is swiftly making that transition even more annoying. The latest scam is the "mail-in rebate".

You open a store flyer and see that a $159 camera is marked down to $70. Good news you think, with tax that's about $80. Then you notice that only $9 of that is "instant savings" and the rest is a mail-in rebate. Well, that's not so bad - you just pay the $150 and tax on the $70 price and you get $80 back in the post.

Well, no - in Ontario tax is 14% of the price you paid at the till after store discount. Your "$159 down to $70 camera" means you pay $150+$21 - $171. Then you have to put your receipt in an envelope and send it somewhere. But your rebate may not be what you were promised, since the fine print of some flyers note that the rebate is in US funds and thus "approximately $80 Canadian". That depends on how optimistic an exchange rate the flyer is using to calculate the return. Even if you get it in Canadian you've now paid $101 for your "$70 camera". If you're like me and forget to photocopy your rebate application you then have no recourse when it doesn't show up. If you're a tourist you probably can't claim the rebate as the manufacturer will probably point to small print somewhere.

This is a ripoff to strongarm people into disclosing their address that previous wheezes like warranty forms couldn't persuade them to. Ontario should force advertisers to disclose the price after tax on promotional literature when mail-in rebates are used and to force the payment of rebates in Canadian funds for purchases made in Ontario stores. There should also be a mechanism to apply for rebates in all large stores and not merely at Staples.

Penny wise, Euro foolish

I notice Slovenia will join the Euro zone on 1 January. Last time I went to Slovenia I needed several currencies to get from Cork to Portoroz via Stansted, Treviso and Trieste. Now I would just need two with the UK holding out. Why oh why do they pick such stupid exchange rates though - 239.640 tolars to the Euro. Would rounding it to 240 really make that much difference?

When Ireland joined it was 0.787564 punts/Euro - 1.55% short of a nice round 0.8 but the Slovenia gap is an order of magnitude less at 0.15%. The increase in hassle and resentment caused by a ratio only a Brussels econocrat could love is something you'd think they'd have learned to avoid from the last conversions.

What would Jesus do about that courthouse Christmas tree?

The removal of a Christmas tree from a Toronto court building has many people exercised. This piece which I saw on one of my rare checks of novelist/tech writer Jerry Pournelle's website seems on point. A little late, obviously, but maybe Dalton McGuinty and Judge Marion Cohen should save it for next year.

(Letter from Jesus about Christmas)
It has come to my attention that many of you are upset that folks are taking My name out of the season. Maybe you've forgotten that I wasn't actually born during this time of the year and that it was some of your predecessors who decided to celebrate My birthday on what was actually a time of pagan festival. Although I do appreciate being remembered anytime.

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don't care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth, just GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER.
(snip)
If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn't allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn't be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.
(snip)
Don't forget; I am God and can take care of Myself. Just love Me and do what I have told you to do. I'll take care of all the rest.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Heat recovery saves restaurants 30% of their energy costs

An interesting article in the Toronto Star details the systems some local restaurant chains are installing to recover cooking heat to pre-heat cold water en route to hot water and heating systems. A sophisticated variant had a payback period of 21 months.

The system is supplied by a company that used to install bar and restaurant smoking room ventilation prior to smoking rooms being outlawed in Ontario. In summer when no heating is required the hot water supply water can be preheated to 120F/49C prior to entering the boiler. I've sometimes wondered whether the hot air in a Toronto summer, where nightly lows can exceed 20C could be used in a similar way to integrate into hot water systems downtown, especially given the apparent success of Toronto's Deep Lake Cooling System.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Nollaig shona daoibh

Joyeux Noël. Happy Christmas.

Well, that's all the official languages taken care of both over here and over there. I hope all my readers have a great day (including the ones for whom this is a day to go out on the town).

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Did the former head of TSN get the CFL the best deal?

At present, the CFL is broadcast on both TSN and CBC but the Grey Cup Final is shown on CBC. The Grey Cup is billed as a Canadian national institution (the foray into the US notwithstanding) and gets national network coverage as the FA Cup Final does in the UK. Under a new deal, TSN links up with fellow BellGlobemedia stablemate CTV to provide coverage. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it is odd that an outgoing Commissioner would negotiate it and the Globe infers that Argonauts executive and former TSN president Keith Pelley was the one doing the talking.

The result was a sole-source bid with the CBC who had planned a bid with Global being shut out. Obviously Keith Pelley's broadcasting experience was a big deal when he joined the Argonauts staff given the dependence on TV revenue by professional sports but one has to wonder whether he really did influence the choice of going sole-source and if this did not form something of a conflict.

The CBC's lack of a sports network seems to be dooming it in the face of the CTV/TSN combo which allows the latter to cater for both regular season programming on TSN but move the more "national events" to CTV which reaches a more national audience. CBC should be concerned that they have now lost curling, the Olympics and Canadian football to TSN. However the competition to the BellGlobemedia monolith need not necessarily be the CBC - should CanWest-Global be opening its wallet for the Score to become the sports alternative? Will CTV-TSN forgo a Hockey Night bid to avoid exposing their increasing monopoly of major Canadian competitions?

The cast of Scrubs "reloads" a Charlie Brown Christmas

If you like Scrubs, you'll love this (seen at Troll Baby). If Charlie Brown was an integral part of your childhood you may be crushed. Fortunately for me I fall into the former category. Apparently it was done for a cast Christmas party a few years back. It's 10 minutes long and a little rude in parts - i.e. just like the regular Scrubs :)

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Arms dealing - so easy kids could do it

When I saw this on Keith Martin's site I thought "this has to be a joke", not least because Mark Thomas was a frequent guest on one of my favourite British comedy programmes when I was in secondary school, "the Mary Whitehouse Experience" on BBC Radio 1. Apparently arms brokerage is so easy school kids from the UK and Ireland have been test driving the arms and torture tools market legally via companies they set up called Williams Defence and Seachtar Associates. At the time the UK's legislation existed but with loopholes whereas Ireland had implemented none of the 2003 EU Common Position on arms brokerage.

On April 3rd Channel 4's Dispatches broadcast Mark Thomas' documentary.

Apparently legislation in Ireland has been forthcoming since but as the UK experience shows that legislation must be vigorously tested for loopholes. How many Yuri Orlovs have plied their trade in Ireland?

Don Cherry - the Grinch that stole Rory Fitzpatrick's All-Star?

On Coach's Corner tonight Don Cherry laid into the online effort to get Vancouver Canucks defenceman, Rory Fitzpatrick, a berth in the All Star game through the online vote. Now I think All Star games in mid season are lame to start with but they're a big thing over here. Cherry has a problem with the ASG going back his time in Boston but he tells Fitzpatrick that he should not go if selected.

In Ireland we are well used to these kind of efforts. There was the time Ronnie O'Brien, now of Toronto FC but then a fringe player with Juventus first had a vote stack for the Juventus Player of the Year but then later Time's Person of the Century until Time yanked his name from the poll. The Wolfe Tones' "A Nation Once Again" was the BBC's World's Most Popular Song. Email has created a way for the Irish diaspora to mess with the world's heads.

Personally I voted for Fitzpatrick - why the hell not. There are no criteria for entry and anyone disappointed by not making the cut is clearly not having enough fun in showbusiness. As for Cherry, Ron McLean was right to remind him that without the internet-based rally to defend both of them a few years ago neither of them might have jobs. Jeez Don, it's Christmas, show some charity.

First Mirabel, then Pickering?

The Harper government has announced that 4,450 hectares of land expropriated to create Mirabel Airport will be sold with priority given to existing renters of the land, most of whom owned it prior to the forced sale in 1969. The mayor of Mirabel is unhappy as he was looking to expand the industrial sites at the airport but that is something he can take up with the new owners. The Kanesetake Mohawks have filed a land claim on the land - I'm going to pass over that one because I don't understand how indigenous land claims work in Canada, and the bigger problem is that it seems to me nobody else does either.

Mirabel itself still exists as a cargo airport and occasionally a film set. Apparently Montreal Airport Authority covets it for flights between Dorval-Trudeau and Mirabel (a distance of 32km as a noisy old cargo plane flies) which seems environmentally dubious to put it mildly - is this the hand of Bombardier who still maintain a factory at Mirabel?

The next question is what to do about the federally expropriated land at Pickering, Ontario? At least no airport has been built there yet unlike Mirabel, but despite local opposition the Greater Toronto Airport Authority seems to want to push on with the plan to create a "reliever airport" in the middle of what is currently rented farmland.

A similar sale-back in Pickering with a concurrent expansion of Hamilton Airport (most importantly its transit links), the improvement of ground links to Pearson allowing the reduction of regional flights to Kingston and London and the retention of Toronto City Centre, Oshawa and Buttonville Airports could steal a march on the Liberal MP in Pickering-Ajax who is also opposed to the airport development and make the next election competitive assuming the Tories don't select another wack-job as their candidate.

Stockwell Day and the "spear chuckers"

Whatever did Stockwell Day mean? And if he meant what I thought he meant when I read the quote, could this be a 10 day wonder like Peter McKay's "bitch" or a career killer like Mel Lastman's cannibals or George Allen's "macaca"?

Some people don't think it's a big deal - unless Stock wants to join Rona Ambrose in Harper's doghouse he better hope more people agree. Some Tory supporters think otherwise.

The Economist rebukes Amnesty International over Estonia campaign

In a story I bookmarked a few days back entitled "an excess of conscience" the Economist hammers Amnesty for leading a campaign against Estonia's cultural laws by saying they were going after the little guys who were doing their best anyway on ideological grounds while letting the real offenders (like Estonia's former occupier) off the hook and alienating those non-leftists who used to form a large part of its support.

It's facile to say 1st and 2nd world countries shouldn't be held to high standards - of those who achieve much, more is expected and rightly so - but too often the atrocities of the third world are written off as solely the product of colonialism and that if only people felt guilty enough about the sins of their forefathers that would help more than criticising the parade of despots that litter the African landscape for instance, particularly that homophobic racist headcase in Harare.
To save Jüri Kukk and other inmates of the gulag, people of all political views and none joined Amnesty’s campaigns. That wouldn’t happen now.

Amnesty should take the warning seriously or risk becoming a marginalised force rather than a relevant, much needed one.

Battlestar on the move

I wondered why Space was moving BSG to Sundays at 10pm for the second half of the season but it seems SciFi in the US are moving it from Fridays to Sundays at 10 and god forbid we'd see it first. It's rare that that happens - a day head start with the CTV viewing of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip is the only one I can think of lately which might speak more to NBC's desperation to sell the show. Admittedly the existing BSG slot did suck as it clashed with Hockey Night in Canada but that was a problem solved by our new gadget.

I'm interested by the slight difference in promotion of Season 3 - the Canadian/US ads tend to accentuate the romance and action bits teamed with music by Nickelback (season 3 premiere) and All-American Rejects (season second half promo) but I've just seen the Sky One promo for the UK Season 3 premiere on the 9th which pushes the political - you would barely notice the sci-fi bits until the basestars show up in the final frames - emphasising the comparison with the situation the UK is encountering in Iraq and Afghanistan pretty blatantly.

For me the score is a big part of many of the shows I like - I found Richard Gibbs music in the pilot miniseries jerky and discordant (like the camera work) but when Bear McCreary took over as lead composer for the TV series his work late in season 1 made me a regular watcher. I find it an integral part of the experience as Mark Snow's scores were in the X-Files and Millennium and perhaps for the same reason - that they can accommodate both the serious and the whimsical.

One last thing - the casting for this show is so bloody good, especially some of the second tier characters played by Dean Stockwell, Lucy Lawless, Aaron Douglas and Tahmoh Penikett and unexpectedly Richard Hatch although the extra pounds he's gained since 1978 avoids confusion with his "classic series" role.

As for Season 3 - I hope there is no "season 3.0 and season 3.5" dvds this time. That's a money grab on the scale of the Lord of the Rings standard and premium disks having different extras to get you to buy both.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Planting trees to save the earth? Maybe not unless you live in Panama

In the "more harm than good department" the Register notes that not all "carbon offset schemes" are alike.
New research presented at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union suggests that the carbon reducing benefits of the trees is outweighed by their tendency to trap heat close to the ground - especially when they are planted in the normally snowy, higher latitudes.

So while they cool the planet by taking carbon out of the atmosphere, they also warm it, like a winter blanket. Ecologist Govindasamy Bala of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told the BBC: "What we have found is in the so-called mid-latitude region where the United States is located and majority of European countries are located, the climate benefits of planting will be nearly zero." For the trees to have an impact they need to be planted in the tropics, he said.

Maybe some of those corporations claiming to be going carbon neutral should be asked where their offsets are going.

The Toronto Star and the meaning of Chri... I mean "the holiday season"

This is the time of year when the Toronto Star prides itself on highlighting the plight of vulnerable people, the homeless and so on. It runs a Santa Claus fund. It even tells the story of 85 staff of various parts of a major media company canned just before the Chri... I mean "holiday season". No wait, that wasn't the Star that reported it, it was the CBC. The Star ran a Canadian Press piece with a headline in teeny type on the business page. One can't help but feel 85 jobs gone at the Post would have given rise to a special from Antonia Zerbisias.

According to comments on a Torontoist post Torstar are supposedly giving NASCAR branded blenders to the ejectees. Sounds like a re-gift eh?

Never mind, the website's been redesigned. Ooh, shiny!

Monday, December 18, 2006

In New Brunswick, "support the troops" or lose your job

When I'm away for a weekend to relax, I hate getting roped into activities I don't feel like doing. I call it "compulsory fun", an obvious oxymoron. The same goes for enforcing patriotism or support of things like the military. I really hope what I've written about below plays out very differently.

I don't know Jacques Beaulieu, the coach of the Quebec Major Junior league Saint John Seadogs but I can safely predict his name being mud on websites like rabble.ca and on various left leaning websites before the night is down, because he fired winger Dave Bouchard, a 20 year old left wing, for failing to sign a flag being sent to a Canadian Forces detachment in Afghanistan. Said M. Beaulieu:
"Morally, we have standards with this hockey team and that's a standard that we believe in." "I mean, if Dave doesn't believe in it, that's fine. But he won't be part of it. He won't be part of this organization. That's the standard that we set."
I'm sure someone out there believes Beaulieu when he claims the player was fired for performance reasons. Maybe M. Beaulieu's parents, if they are living. Bouchard will be labelled a "war resister" despite his rather lame stated reason that he "thought someone else signed his name" and his previous participation in a photo-op at CFB Gagetown - his name appearing in lights on the anti-Afghan blogs will generate bile from right wing bloggers as a rotten French traitor. We can only hope Don Cherry stays well away from this.

UPDATE: The league has given the coach a suspension but fudged the issue of the player's dismissal. Also, it turns out nobody should be signing flags anyway.

I support the Canadian presence in Afghanistan. I'm not sure we're doing the cleverest things out there - like buying the local marijuana and opium to dry up the supply heading to Europe and North America rather than trying to destroy (and not having much luck and annoying the locals who depend on the income). We're in there now and we should prove the Afghans who doubt the commitment of Westerners wrong. But I don't propose that anyone else be forced to believe that unless they sit in the Federal Cabinet.

Even if M. Bouchard was truly mistaken about the flag, how many more of these mementos are out there with false professions of support because of the wish to keep the signer out of bother? How many antiwar petitions have names on them for equally selfish reasons?

Is there something Liberal about robotics?

The rationale for this (CBC, seen at James Bow) escapes me. Space robotics is a field when Canada can truly claim to be a world leader, where the Canadarm and Canadarm2 are integral parts of current space missions, but the Harper government has just refused to permit the Canadian Space Agency's participation in a European Mars Rover project even though no additional funds were required, just permission to reallocate existing funds. The Europeans appeared to regard it as a formality and are now scrambling to find a replacement.

Is it because Marc Garneau ran for the Liberals? Were the funds being reallocated originally destined for Quebec and thus Minister Bernier couldn't abide it? Who is going to get answers to these questions?

Via Hassenpfeffer, New Scientist's David Shiga writes:
For a country with a relatively small population, Canada has made some very respectable contributions to spaceflight, producing several astronauts and a robotic arm for the space shuttle.

But if the country wants to do more than rest on these laurels, it will have to step up, and building the ExoMars rover would have been an ideal project to make Canadians proud.

Instead, Canada has jettisoned what looked like a done deal, leaving its ESA partners in the lurch. I can only hope that the government will change its mind and salvage some Canadian role in the project before it's too late.

Truly "a penny wise and a pound foolish". More and more Canada's word is not to be trusted.

Should we worry about the air quality in the subway?

I saw this post which largely reproduced this article and wondered about the Toronto subway where in summer the heat and humidity alone can be oppressive at peak, especially since some cars don't have air conditioning. Now I wonder whether the conditions observed in Sweden are true here.

If so, I think they increase the case for installing full length screens at all subway platforms. Not only would they increase the efficiency of air conditioning on platforms by reducing leakage into the tunnels but they would be an impediment to suicides and accidental track incursions while permitting the operation of shorter subway cars in offpeak times in a safe manner.

(Note: there are operational impediments to 3/4 car operation but that's another matter.)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Questions to TSN and the NHL

TSN: Why do you promote hockey via the "my NHL" advertisements... during hockey games? Surely if you want to increase the reach of hockey you should be advertising during non-hockey telecasts or on other channels? I'm just asking.

NHL: Still think it was a good idea to mess Jim Balsillie, respected and VERY RICH executive of Blackberry, around just to try and force him to keep the Penguins in Pittsburgh? Now you appear to be stuck with (a) loudmouth Mark Cuban or (b) a guy who even the CFL wouldn't give a franchise to and who employs drug cheat Ben Johnson in ads for his Cheetah brand.

Harper's "so-called gravitas"

During the Liberal leadership campaign, the argument against Ignatieff was that he shot from the hip and was too liable to gaffes. Harper, Time Canada's Man of the Year, was the opposite, too in control of his agenda and those of his subordinates. Well, it turns out Harper's "Qana was a warcrime" may turn out to be "so-called greenhouse gases". As usual, Youtube provides...

"We have to pollute the water in order to save it"

This is one of those posts I read that would be funny if it wasn't deadly serious - that not only would Simcoe County build a rubbish dump on top of an unusually high purity groundwater supply but that they would deliberately divert some of that water into the dump with a view of keeping leachate from leaking into said water supply. Enough clean water to supply 250,000 homes is being dumped into a creek to allow the dump to be built. The Province of Ontario has approved this apparent lunacy.

The federal Liberal Party may have found "environmental religion" but Dalton McGuinty sure hasn't, if the complete mishandling of power generation policy hadn't already given that away.

More information can be found at the Stop Dump Site 41 website. It has a stupid Java scrollbar which slows the pageload but I suppose it's in a good cause. It also has a song (bottom of page) which does weaken my support a little more.

CART for Cork?

Via Archiseek among other places I learn the Railway Procurement Authority are looking at a light rail system for Cork.

The routes most likely would be on the southwest of the city, taking in UCC and Ballincollig via the "straight road", a candidate for light rail if there was ever one given its bullet straight alignment, with a spur to CIT and the Regional Hospital - perhaps a loop along Wilton Road, Curraheen Road, Melbourne Road and a new alignment in the area between the industrial estate at Model Farm Road and a junction with the other line at Carrigrohane Road.

The tricky part, as has always been the case when discussing south side light rail in Cork (north side is all about steep gradients and rock throwing louts) is what to do about getting it into/out of the city centre and its narrow streets. I'm thinking especially about the bridge here and the route between there and Washington Street which is currently parallel one-ways in part. Then do you route it to Patrick Street, the traditional centre or along the South Mall which hasn't been dug up and replanned? There would be uproar if the multiple dig-ups of Patrick Street were repeated. To me, a Washington Street-Grand Parade-South Mall route is possibly a runner but would require serious disincentives to bringing cars into town - and then where do you terminate/join with other routes? Running into the railway station would be tempting but tricky from a traffic management perspective.

The other routes could be along the South Link to a park and ride (though the steep grade almost certainly rules out the airport without serious tunnelling) and the old Passage West line which would have the advantage of serving Pairc ui Chaoimh and Mahon Point - however is it wide enough and would there be opposition given its current designation as pedestrian/cycling?

Excellent transit map

I came across this google mashup via various blogs including Torontoist.




The map includes York Region's VIVA, TTC routes and GO Transit routes. This is just another example of the community stepping in where the TTC and other transit agencies fail to provide, such as the Subway Rider Efficiency Guide or the Subway Buttons. Sometimes this participation comes at risk from snarls from the Commission's legal rottweilers.

No sign of Google Transit for Toronto yet despite the TTC discussing it in March. The GTTA will probably spend a billion dollars on consultants and tenders to produce the same thing, as they are bound to with the Smart Card project.

UPDATE: Spacing has a post on this, the comments of which include a link to a Toronto Star article which seems to indicate the TTC will not proceed with Google Transit before developing its own solution first. Figures - TTC "made in Toronto" is all too frequently like Tory "made in Canada" environment policy - reinventing the wheel, badly. The article also links to Mississauga's popular trip planner.

WestJet - the new Canadian Airlines?

BA CEO Willie Walsh was in Calgary for the launch of the 5-weekly Heathrow-Calgary service. Apparently he wore the mandatory stetson, though I haven't run down a photo - you can bet there would be one if Michael O'Leary was doing it. While there he had a lot to say about Gordon Brown's increase of aviation taxes, such as that the increased total tax at STG400m was far times more than if BA had paid the current market cost of CO2 offsets (STG87m). Obviously the environmental impact of aviation such as noise is more than just CO2 - there's nitrogen oxides, noise, high altitude vapour and so on but Brown should answer whether the money will actually go to ameliorating environmental effects.

He paid a visit to WestJet of whom there have been persistent rumours of joining the OneWorld alliance, especially once their new reservations system comes on-line. WestJet would straddle two major OneWorld partners in AA and BA as the former Canadian Airlines once did and also provide links to carriers like Cathay Pacific out of Vancouver. The question is whether a lowcost without business class on any route is a good fit for OneWorld or a desperate attempt to prop it up compared to the steady growth of Star Alliance. It is curious that WestJet sees an upside in joining just as Aer Lingus are pulling out.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Martin Sheen's college days

Martin Sheen (or as his student registration names him, Ramon Gerardo Antonio Estevez) has just finished a four month stint at University College Galway. During that time he apparently chaired a debate at the Literary and Debating Society which somehow seems more impressive than the parade of celebs to Trinity or to pick up so-called "Fellowships" in UCD being a celebrity and a student member rather than an Honorary. He also took up the cause of underpaid workers in mushroom farms.

Having enjoyed the hospitality of UCG several times over the years I had to smile at the anecdote recounted in today's Irish Independent (free rego required) - I could actually imagine it happening in Galway.
Despite his instantly recognisable features, there were a few students who did not recognise the actor, but one of his favourite anecdotes concerns one who obviously did:

"Is it yourself?" the student inquired when he came across Sheen wandering around the campus, apparently lost.

"It is," said Sheen.

"Where is your minder?" the young man demanded.

Sheen said he didn't know what a "minder" was. "Your bodyguard," came the reply. "I don't have one," said the actor.

"More power to you," said the student and off he went.

Get a night's sleep, catch a bad guy

Twenty Major nails it:
I love when people say... "We will not rest until the killer has been found".

Come on, if they're really serious about finding the killer then staying awake for weeks and weeks is not the answer. Lack of sleep causes hallucinations, paranoia and distorted thinking.

What they want to do is get a good night's sleep and re-examine the facts the next morning over a hearty breakfast. I guarantee you they'll see the benefits of it.

Leafs get the brain back

I have had a theory for some time that there is only one sporting brain in Toronto and the various franchises have to share it, given their notorious inconsistency. Nicole called me on this the other day since the Leafs and cRaptors were both sucking. I pointed out that so were the Jays in trade terms but the Argos clearly possessed the brain but it being the offseason weren't using it.

With the defeat (slim though it was) of Tampa perhaps the brain has returned to the Leafs. What's worse is that next year they'll have to share with another franchise in an American league, Toronto FC.

Britain's nuclear deterrent - time to let it go?

Britain is one of the countries that maintains a nuclear deterrent at present. Since the RAF's final withdrawal of air launched nuclear weapons in 1998, it is wholly composed of four Vanguard class submarines, built between 1993 and 1999, at least one of which remains at sea at all times. (Having four maintains redundancy for maintenance etc.) On board those submarines are up to 16 Trident II D5 intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying multiple independent warheads.

When Tony Blair looked likely to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom there was a certain anticipation of a move to scrap Trident before the 2018 missile life expiry and 2020 submarine life expiry (if not refitted) given his past as a CND supporter. Not only has he maintained the deterrent force but has proposed to extend its life to 2040 by joining the US D5 Life Extension Programme. This I find surprising and probably unwise.

In the past I could see reasons why foreign policy options might cause nuclear deterrence to be play a role. In Britain's case, the advantages for scrapping the Trident system at end of life but also moving to a fully non-nuclear stance might outweigh the perceived disadvantages and lead to resolution of potentially tricky economic and political issues at home, eliminating a naval expense which forms little part of Britain's pressing military taskings, as forming the basis for a new view of the term "world power" if the first permanent member of the UN Security Council voluntarily renounced the nuclear option.

First - this is going to cost 20 billion pounds sterling (given usual overruns in projects of this type, not least the original procurement of Trident-Vanguard, we can assume that's for starters) at a time when the Royal Navy in common with the other Services is being bean-counted into oblivion despite huge increases in recent conventional taskings associated with Lebanon, Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone. The replacement of the Invincible carriers and the VC-10 and Tristar air transport fleets as well as stopping the rundown of the surface fleet will provide necessary assets to peacekeeping operations - all that will be needed then is the political nous to stay out of non-UN backed operations which is beyond the military's control as a creature of a democratic state.

Second - The Vanguard class does not fire tactical weapons in support of conventional operations as the existing Swiftsure, Trafalgar and forthcoming Astute classes do, thus they have played no role in operations such as Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq where Tomahawk conventional missiles were fired. Refitting Trident for conventional operations to justify an continued role for the Vanguards would lead to confrontation with Russia who want to know how they are expected to react to an ICBM launch if they can't be sure it doesn't have a nuclear payload - an objection similar to that levelled at proposals to fit nuclear weapons to Tomahawks to merge the deterrent and tactical forces that way. Refitting Vanguards to an Tomahawk/special operations role is possible as with the US Ohio-SSGNs but given the likely cost procuring more Astutes is likely to be a better long term solution.

Third - the fact that the Vanguards are based at Faslane in Scotland will provide a thorny issue in a future independence referendum and could lead to proposals such as a Guantanamo Bay arrangement which even if successfully negotiated as part of a secession arrangement will lead to friction and possibly organised resistance.

Fourth - instead of being afraid of losing their UNSC seat by leaving the nuclear club, the British could show a lead in doing so and pressurise the French via the European Union to do likewise. The European Union in return could reduce their efforts to take over the British (and French) seats until all the Permanent Members agree to a new structure which recognises all continents and major states properly and which improves the governance of the Council especially in matters of vetoes.

It's curious that Blair is committing to this given his "lame duck" status and the lengthy commitment renewing Trident will entail. What does Gordon Brown think? Blair can follow his original political conviction, refocus military spending, avoid confrontation with nationalists who use Faslane as a wedge issue and be a world leader in disarmament - following his present course will sink money to the bottom of the ocean for little return.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ontario won't join the fight against Big Tobacco

According to the Star, Mike Harris was more hardline on taking cases against tobacco companies than Dalton McGuinty. Could it be that McGuinty is afraid of making an enemy of yet more Ontario farmers?

That said, going into business with someone - as governments did with tobacco companies by licensing their drug business - and then turning on them has always seemed wrong to me. Have smoking bans, advertising bans and sales restrictions by all means but taxing the hell out of tobacco and then suing the distributors stinks of double dipping and general hypocrisy since by licensing their business the governments were complicit in their business dealings.

UPDATE: BCer in Toronto has something on this too.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Adobe Reader 8 - worth the upgrade?

I just upgraded to Reader 8 to solve this security advisory but it seems to perform a bit less than an asthmatic slug compared to versions 6 and 7 too so that's a bonus. For some reason the new logo reminds me of AutoCAD but Autodesk seem to have moved on to blues and greens these days.

Here's the link from adobe.com to the dynamic installer but if you're a sysadm you'll prefer the static installer which Adobe hide away in their FTP site. You may also want to check out this advisory regarding the Adobe Download Manager in case it applies to you.

Changes

This is a temporary template - am fully migrating to Blogger Beta so will be adding back Newsline (or maybe something else, who knows) in due course. Best to start with a near-clean slate though.

8 points up

United Position 1/Played 17/Points 44
Chelski 2/16/38
Liverpool 4/17/28
Arsenal 6/16/26
city 12/17/20

God knows how we're doing it. Fergie is still considering 4-5-1 the SAFE option even though we keep conceding goals! At any other time (well, any time before he left Celtic say) Henrik Larsson would have been hailed as the solution to the fragility of United's front line but we already have Giggs and Solskjaer so we don't need any more aging legends.

His reluctance to use 4-4-2 stinks of a threadbare squad and a tightfisted board than tactical nous given the success it generally brings when he is forced into it by another lone striker fiasco. The Ginger Prince's vision was reported to be a lot less than 100% and Giggs is having that kind of great season which usually builds up to a climax of a debilitating injury.

Big tests await in 2007, including Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea away. That said, I have generally respected Arsenal as opposed to the reflexive disgust I hold for Liverpool and Leeds and the disdain for the Yankee-esque ChelsKGB. I thought it was about Brady and Stapleton and was surprised that Wenger's headgames hadn't turned me off them more, that respect still remained. Results like these help, obviously.

UPDATE: Following Steve V's comment, I checked out Essien's equalising goal for Chelsea on Youtube. I have to agree with Andy Gray - "oh my goodness".

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

That fence Dick Cheney sits on must be very sore on his bum

Especially now that he's going to be a grand-dad. (New York Times - rego required)

Time to abolish the Children's Aid Societies of Ontario?

I have written about Ontario's dubious policies in respect of children before and the reports by the Auditor General of Ontario in respect of financial and operational mismanagement just reinforce for me the need to immediately begin a process to "nationalise" the CAS and CCAS.

It's time Ontario ends the outsourcing of vulnerable children under the 1990 Family and Child Services Act and instead makes the Ministry of Children and Youth Services directly responsible for Ontario's most vulnerable citizens.

Stephane Dion and dual citizenship

I wonder what Pat Martin's game is. After all, NDP policy, enunciated only a month and a half ago, is that dual citizens are a bonus to Canada. Bill Siksay who announced it still thinks so but Jack Layton now thinks maybe the PM should be Canadian only. I'd love to hear what Olivia Chow's opinion is - or Libby Davies' or even Svend Robinson's. Certainly some other bloggers seem surprised with Layton's stance, like Politique Vert, blevkog, idealisticpragmatist, where'd that bug go?

It seems that some feel denied the opportunity to question the patriotism of the Leader of the Opposition by world-traveller (or more importantly in terms of venom, former resident of the US) Michael Ignatieff's failure to close the deal, and therefore have turned their guns on Dion.

It has been noted elsewhere that while Ezra Levant might have been the first to demand Dion renounce his citizenship of France, he was not the first to report it by any means - the September 6 Globe and Mail reported it, as well as the fact that Dion had never possessed a French passport or voted in a French election. Funny how it's only an issue now he's won.

As for Dion and divided loyalties, the only one I can think of offhand is a future border dispute between St. Pierre et Miquelon and Newfoundland. It's difficult to credit that his loyalty can be questioned given the sheer ferocity of his devotion to keeping Canada united over the last decade and a half.

The Tories should watch their step on this, because it might focus attention on their own foreign born MPs, such as Grewal, Obhrai, Toews, Clement, Thompson and Ablonczy - particularly the latter two given the visceral reactions in the Star to the thought of an American Prime Minister.

I wonder did English-born John Turner face the questions asked of Quebec City native Dion when he became leader of the Liberal Party?

Meanwhile dual citizen Arnold Schwarzenegger keeps getting asked (most recently by Tim Russert on Meet The Press) if he'd run for President if the natural born citizen clause was revoked.

Dion should stand firm. His citizenship was unsought but rather the gift of a parent, a gift I hope one day to bestow. I'm sure Michaelle Jean is watching carefully too.

UPDATE: CTV's David Akin has a list of foreign born MPs.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Run Dion out of Montreal... for his own good.

Gerard Kennedy talked about moving to Quebec during the leadership campaign to improve his French. Dion should move to Ontario (Ottawa doesn't count - has to be Toronto for at least some of it). I don't think his French needs to improve - I think he needs to meet more Ontarians and stay out of the line of sight of Quebecers.

What now for Ignatieff and Rae? Anyone who thinks they should fade away, including themselves, has far too high an impression of the putative Liberal front bench. Frank McKenna should be recalled to duty at an early opportunity too, though not necessarily in the Commons.

TTC told clean up its act on bathrooms

This was in yesterday's Post and I agree with every word. A policy of making it more obvious where the bathrooms are in each station, as well as not leaving a gap of, say, 5 stations without a bathroom would be good too. At present the policy as I understand it is to have toilets at terminal stations like Finch and junction stations like Bloor - although the last time I needed it damned if I could find the Bloor one. Some more public bathrooms in other parts of the city would be nice too.
Friday, December 01, 2006
BANISH THIS: AN OPEN LETTER TO MOSCOE: CLEAN THE BATHROOMS

Dear Mr. Moscoe,

I am a Thornhill resident and TTC commuter. On behalf of bathroom-using women from all over the GTA, I am now going to give you an earful about the TTC washrooms.

I would like to ask why the TTC bathrooms are so revolting.

Have you been in any of the TTC bathrooms recently? I am familiar with the bathrooms at Finch Station, Eglinton Station and Bloor Station. They are always dirty and smelly, and appear not to have been renovated since the subway was built. They are dank with poor ventilation. There is rarely toilet paper or soap available and some bathrooms are even closed in non-peak hours.

I have complained to the TTC previously, but have had no response. It's incredible that the TTC offers you the chance to complain in five bazillion languages (see TTC posters on the subway) but when you do, they never respond!

My plan is actually to write another e-mail to the TTC, copy the local press and Home Depot. I'd like to suggest that Home Depot renovate the cash-starved TTC bathrooms in exchange for great publicity.

Frankly, I've used cleaner bathrooms in the middle of the Negev desert than on the TTC.

Sorry I don't have digital pictures to send to you. I'd love to hear back from you about this issue. It's simply a disgrace. For the number of commuters using the system, the ratio of bathrooms (and I can only speak for the women's bathrooms) seems insane. I have to put up with the delays, the "signal problems" and unintelligible garble over the PA system, but at least -- for the love of humanity -- the miserable TTC could have clean bathrooms.

Thanks very much,
Laura Rosen Cohen

P.S. In the redesign, please consider that some members of the population actually travel on the TTC with children. ONE changing station somewhere in the bathroom would be very progressive of the TTC to install.

A voice cried out in the wilderness, "40% and majority government"

Previously on "fun and frolics at the Palais de Congres" - only one Liberal still really understands politics. Jean Chretien. Winning's not everything, it's the only thing (since only Ministers get to make patrimony appointments).

The format for the speech portion was led off a flashy introductory video for each candidate, undoubtedly made by the ad agency friends who get government money shovelled at them when Liberals are in government as with the federal Adscam and the Ontario trillium logo and government website "oops they accidentally came out looking Liberal" fiascos.

I didn't see all the speeches (and occasionally hit MUTE on some of the ones I did) but most led off with a intro speaker. Dion must have regretted having Glen Pearson, who beat Elizabeth May in London North Centre (a homophobe and a backstabber were also on the ballot), do a well-intentioned though laboured intro as it led to Dion himself being cut off before his peroration.

I didn't see Brison's speech but I did see one line which the news picked up later. Can we please have an end to "It's the ------------, stupid!" (Brison used "green economy", by the way) The reason it was persuasive when Clinton used it was because it was novel, pithy and skewering the visionless Bush I years. Now it's just hackneyed and poorly delivered.

Kennedy (who isn't an MP) had Justin Trudeau (who isn't an MP either) lead him off. Justin should lay off the hair products (it was pretty shiny) unless it was Rogaine to overcome his paternal heritage - maybe Jose Theodore suggested it. Kennedy just reminds me of the Irish adage "he's too sweet to be wholesome". Maybe it's his food bank background, or that his first seat used to be Bob Rae's, or that his recent political ground is the leftier-every-day Parkdale-High Park but he seems like he'd almost be more comfortable in the NDP - and in that case why pick the apprentice when the master is running too?

As a side note, the way his first name is pronounced just reminds me of when Gerry Collins became Minister for Foreign Affairs (and thus "Ge-rard" not "Gerry") leading to several digs from the Scrap Saturday team.

I don't think Rae or Ignatieff had an intro speaker which was wise - if I was pitching to be prime minister I would (a) have been introduced about 200 times at chicken suppers by now and (b) should want to use every second available to me. In fact I would also have eschewed the video - if I wanted to show off my endorsements I could bring them on stage like a rapper at an awards show.

Rae recycled the "what about the vegetables? They'll have steak too" joke on Harper which has been used for Margaret Thatcher and Charles Haughey, even Dick Cheney, although tying it to the Michael Chong resignation might have updated it at least. He looked like he had forgotten his next point at one moment but he pulled it back and it was a pretty impressive performance - not so much a speech as a talk. He couldn't forgo a subtle dig that "his faults are known" leaving the reminder of future Ignatieff "gaffes" to come.

As for Ignatieff I will defer to Andrew Coyne in the Post:
"Mr. Ignatieff spoke with the cadence of a slightly annoyed first-year history prof."
"did he have to repeat every cliche twice?"
"If Mr. Dion's speech was overstuffed, Mr. Ignatieff's was almost entirely, indeed ludicrously, content-free."
Those cliches came, incidentally, once in each official language (although his safety-first delivery meant that the translator didn't actually flatten the French version since the English version was equally limp). His expression seemed somewhat pained in contrast to Rae's chilled out, let's talk as equals demeanor. It does not bode well for someone being pitched to beat Stephen "I take my kids to hockey games" Harper - he was the one who needed to go skinny dipping with Rick Mercer, not Bob Rae.

[Incidentally - check out Rick Mercer's own view on the top two from his blog]

Liberal sound and fury, signifying... not much.

The federal Liberal Party conference is going on at the moment and it's the worst of all worlds - partly Canadian, partly American. Thursday night's content was execrable - mawkish tributes to Bill Graham and Paul Martin, interminable speeches. It also warned of the "CPAC TV" to come - the incessant Franglish made even more unbearable by the translators. There was Howard Dean because apparently none of the 33 million living Canadians could be trusted to be a keynote speaker without being seen to favour one of the candidates.

As for Friday, say bye-bye to two hours of CBC and CTV prime time (although this probably constitutes an INCREASE in CBC viewership). The hoped-for absence of thundersticks was not to be and undoubtedly as I type on Saturday morning balloons and confetti are being hoisted to the rafters for a proper Republicat/Democran finale.

Can't politicians speak English then French, or French then English then French? Why must it be Engfrenengfrenengfrenlish? Why can't closed captioning be used to avoid the flat tones of the translators? Why can't they even use male translators for male speakers and vice versa?

Why must there be an immediate pundit scoring of how much French was spoken and whether Quebecers (not Acadians or Franco-Ontarians mind, Quebecers) will be okay with it? Will Bob Rae's failure to speak the required amount increase the odds of a separation referendum?

This muddled and bland content delivery is all fine and well for the Supreme Court of Canada or the announcement of more EI for Atlantic Canadian fishermen but isn't this supposed to be about oratory?

This conference has dragged 4,942 people from all over the country at $1,000 a head plus travel - and now they have to stand in two lines, one to get their ballot in the name of their mandated candidate and one line to cast it. The last system I heard of matching this level of futility was Moscow retail circa 1982. Constituency delegates stood for two hours (one delegate collapsed) while "ex-officio" delegates (MPs, senators and party nomenklatura) got a bypass - pick up a blank form and mark it for who you want.

Why were the mandated delegates voting in the first round at all? Their numbers are already known - even if you want to exclude delegates who didn't show up, they had to be registered by 9am anyway (although apparently alternates were still being registered at 3pm which delayed voting). This meant the result of the first round was announced at midnight eastern time - you know, where three quarters of the voters live. The Party hacks are pointing out the vote also selected members of the national executive - let's just say it's best not to try and walk while chewing gum when the cameras are rolling.

If the candidate speeches were to mean anything, the only people voting should be the uncommitted and ex-officio delegates - better still they should vote after the speeches because you'd still get the votes counted by midnight anyway! Instead the speeches are largely moot because many of the people who actually can make a first round choice have already voted!!

That's it for the pre-game, read on for the speeches...

If Microsoft designed the iPod box

I saw this referred to in a review of the new Zune player. Apparently Zune itself is designed quite well but Microsoft do have a history in terms of its cluttered design philosophy, especially for packaging. Apparently some Microsoft employees thought so too and fired a warning shot. The video is three minutes long - the music is well chosen too.



Still - not everything has changed. The Ars Technica review (second link above) noted:
When that three-inch screen burst to life, I thought to myself, "Self, you have got to give credit to Microsoft for a great out-of-box experience."

And that's when it crashed.