Sunday, December 23, 2007

Toronto's expansion of property taxes: no panacea for urban financing?

Toronto's assumption of a land transfer tax places the city's financing doubly dependent on the peaks and valleys of the property market. The take looks attractive given the strength of a booming market in the City at present. It looked attractive in Cape Coral, Florida too:
(The Mayor) was keen to build a new high school. He hoped to widen roads and extend the reach of the sewage system, limiting pollution from leaky septic tanks. He wanted to add parks.

But then the US property crash happened, and property revenues crashed with it. What's it like in Cape Coral now?
Last month, the city eliminated 18 building inspector jobs and 20 other positions within its Department of Community Development. They were no longer needed because construction has all but ceased. The city recently hired a landscaping company to cut overgrown lawns surrounding hundreds of abandoned homes.

“People are underwater on their houses, and they have just left,” Mr. Feichthaler says. “That road widening may have to wait. It will be difficult to construct the high school. We know there are needs, but we are going to have to wait a little bit.”

Waiting, scrimping, taking stock: This is the vernacular of the moment for a nation reckoning with the leftovers of a real estate boom gone sour.

"Waiting, scrimping, taking stock" - the definition of Toronto in the last decade. Are we in for more of the same if people realise in 2008 that the 75 year old house they are looking at really isn't worth $500,000, as they thought in 2007?

Toronto needs access to a tax not tied directly to the property market and which rewards additional industrial and commercial activity which currently is almost entirely remitted to the federal and provincial governments. To my mind that tax should be a share of PST, and the sooner the better.

"Who will take the honour out of these killings?"

From the Daily Times in Lahore, Pakistan, Farrukh Saleem addresses the murder of Aqsa Parvez in Mississauga, Ontario by her father. Here's an excerpt from a stunningly direct analysis:
Honour killing is our export to Canada. Women who do not wear hijab are not virtuous. Hijab is a Muslim woman’s identity. Hijab is religion. Hijab is the sixth pillar. Hijab symbolises sexual modesty. The West is conspiring to crush Islamic identity. Fact or fiction?

Here’s a fact: Aqsa has been murdered. For us, denial is not an option. According to the United Nations Population Fund more than 5,000 women worldwide fall victim to honour killing. Denial is not an option.

According to the UN’s Special Rapporteur “honour killings had been reported in Egypt, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Pakistan, the Syrian Arab Republic, Turkey and Yemen”. Egypt is 90 percent Muslim, Iran 98 percent, Jordan 92 percent, Lebanon 60 percent, Morocco 99 percent, Pakistan 97 percent, the Syrian Arab Republic 90 percent and Turkey 99 percent. Of the 192 member-states of the United Nations almost all honour killings take place in nine overwhelmingly Muslim countries. Denial is not an option.

More recently, honour killings have taken place in France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. Intriguingly, all these honour killings have taken place in Muslim communities of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Canada. Denial is not an option.

In reading some of his other work, he pounds the drum for better education and does so here also:
Illiteracy and honour killings are correlated. Jacobabad District has a literacy rate of 23 percent, the lowest in Sindh. Jacobabad has the highest rate of crimes of honour; 91 honour killings in 2002. In illiteracy, next to Jacobabad are Ghotki and Larkana. Both Ghotki and Larkana have high rates of crimes of honour: 67 honour killings in Ghotki and 62 in Larkana. Hyderabad, on the other hand, has a literacy rate of 44 percent and there were 5 honour killings in 2002. Denial is not an option.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Ontario Liberals Family Day means no extra day off for some.

When the OHIP "Premium" was introduced with a name designed to spin the impact of an extra tax, many people noted that unions with collective agreements retaining a provision to pay the old OHIP Premium would make claims. The Liberals said "we don't think that will happen" but declined to outlaw the possibility. Now TTC (among others) is paying the OHIP Tax on behalf of their unionised staff, at a cost of $6 million annually to the Commission (that's over two million TTC tokens, Dalton).

Before the last election, the Liberals promised an extra holiday - Family Day - in February, which will cost Toronto taxpayers $2.3 million but some private sector workers are finding out that they will lose a non-statutory holiday in August in return. Typically, the Labour Minister's response is a shrug - "no big deal".
"I think it's a terrific initiative and 83 per cent of Ontarians agree it's something this province should be doing," said Duguid, "Well the holidays outside of the nine public holidays are negotiated municipally or between employers and employees."

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Red Hot Chili Peppers likely to lose to cannier Showtime?

The Red Hot Chili Peppers recently launched a lawsuit against Showtime's show "Californication" claiming that they had lifted the title, a character name and some dialogue. The Register notes some possible icebergs on the horizon:
Showtime Networks is expected to argue that the band did not coin the word, a portmanteau of California and fornication. It first appeared in print in Time Magazine in 1972, in an article called The Great Wild Californicated West.

Time reporter Sandra Burton wrote: "Legislators, scientists and citizens are now openly concerned about the threat of 'Californication' - the haphazard, mindless development that has already gobbled up most of Southern California."

Kim Walker, head of intellectual property at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, said the band should have registered Californication as a trademark. Instead, the only trademark application was filed in April in the US, by Showtime Networks. The mark has not yet been registered.

"Successful songs, albums and movies can become brands in themselves. What's really surprising is how few songs and albums are properly protected," said Walker. "The Chili Peppers could almost certainly have registered a trademark for 'Californication', notwithstanding Time's article. They made the word famous, but it doesn't automatically follow that they can stop its use in a TV show.

"If they had registered the title as a trademark covering entertainment services, I very much doubt we'd have seen a lawsuit. The TV show would have been called something else," he said. "As it is, the band faces an uphill struggle."
Couldn't happen to nicer hypocrites, not least when you recall Tom Petty's assertions of musical plagiarism against them.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Soldiers with guns, in our schools, in our city... should we make this up?

I am grateful to Bob Tarantino for directing me to John Lorinc's feature, "Deadly Lesson" in this month's Toronto Life.

It points out the central problem with some Toronto schools - that political considerations have led to some of Toronto's schools being largely uncontrolled and that students with serious behavioural problems are being left in those environments with foreseeable consequences to their peers. Shuffling problems from place to place didn't work for paedophile priests and it doesn't work for disturbed and criminal teenagers either. To be in control of a school you must know who is on the premises and be able to quickly eject interlopers. It's not enough to have conduct standards - they have to be taken seriously, enforced and action taken when they are breached.

I can't help but think that the "progressive educators" who refuse to admit that leadership and security are the cornerstones of winning back our troubled campuses should be brought face to face with someone who will give them Trudeau's October Crisis routine. Kathleen Wynne sure as hell won't do it.

Unfortunately the union backed lobby groups mostly ensure human lettuces get elected as trustees, who only want to see problems kept quiet enough for their run for Councillor or MPP to come up. Teachers who try and stem the tide are undercut by their fellow educators, their supervisors and those elected to run the school system. Is it any wonder that the public school system is so ill-regarded, and that so many non-Catholics choose Catholic schools because of a perception of better discipline?

As for Bob's suggestion that proposed separate schools for violent students be patrolled by ninjas, I am waiting for Jack Layton to propose returning our troops from Afghanistan to provide security, given that he was a city councillor when Mel Lastman got them to shovel our snow.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

New York slang - it's the Micks' fault

The New York Times have an article on "How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads" by Daniel Cassidy regarding how many American slang words appear to originate either phonetically or via translation from Irish. (Hat-tip Slugger)
The word “gimmick” seemed to come from “camag,” meaning trick or deceit, or a hook or crooked stick.

Could “scam” have derived from the expression “’S cam é,” meaning a trick or a deception? Similarly, “slum” seemed similar to an expression meaning “It is poverty.” “Dork” resembled “dorc,” which Mr. Cassidy’s dictionary called “a small lumpish person.” As for “twerp,” the Irish word for dwarf is “duirb.”

I think a few of those listed in the NYT are a stretch but still aren't as bad as "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" where Gus explains the Greek roots of the word "kimono".

Well said, your Majesty

Found this from Paul Wells' blog.

While I fully subscribe to the failings generally inherent in a hereditary monarchy, there is no question that the King of Spain has brought his country successfully through a potentially disastrous post-Franco transition to democracy, and that he would know a fascist if he saw one. The advantage of not having to worry about election cycles means you can face down bullies in a human rather than calculated, nuanced, triangulated way.

Here he is in Santiago, Chile, telling the ludicrous, anti-democratic, puffed up on his sulphur laden petroleum leader of Venezuela to "just shut up". Chavez, having accused the recent prime minister of Spain, Aznar, being a "fascist", continued to rant with his microphone off as Prime Minister Zapatero reminded him that he was in a democratic forum and that some respect wouldn't go amiss.

¿Por qué no te callas?

Sadly the following day Nicaragua's Ortega gave some of his time to back up Chavez prompting the King to leave the summit in protest - no doubt a tanker was dispatched to Managua by morning in payment.

This at a summit which will provide millions to South American countries by remitting social security contributions paid by migrant workers in Spain and Portugal. If this is how you treat your friends, your enemies have no incentive to meet you half way Mr. Chavez.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Google Reader gets a blogroll... sort of.

When I switched from Bloglines from Google Reader I decided to remove the Bloglines roll rather than maintain two sets of feeds or mess around with OPML. The addition of "shared items" was something but didn't substitute.

Today I happened across this post on the Official Google Reader Blog announcing that a roll feature was available, and as you can see from the mess on the right I have tried to implement it. Unfortunately the roll seems to not work sometimes and I have temporarily subdivided it, and not all blogs I read and would like to share are listed (I also read some comment feeds which would be a redundency to add). I'll poke at it some more anon and hopefully it will be refined and look a bit nicer over time.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

"We're going the wrong way!"

The teaser for Battlestar season 4.0 is on youtube...

Hopefully the deferral of the start of the season to April 2008 means that when it does come it will run as a proper season and not "half-seasons" as before.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Wouldn't we all like to be let off the hook?

Myriam Bedard is requesting an unconditional discharge from a charge of abduction so that she can continue as a member of the International Biathlon Committee without the conviction impeding her travel. While she is described by CBC as a volunteer, her stated reason is that so she can "continue to earn a living".

She also wants to continue travelling with her daughter. Personally I hope this request is refused - it would be unconscionable to give Bedard a free pass and permit to take her kid abroad when she has proven she will not adhere to her conditions of custody.

UPDATE: The judge imposed a conditional discharge, which does involve a criminal record.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Sinead Kissane vs. Comical Eddie (and Matt Williams)

Only just came across this - TV3 reporter Sinead Kissane's touchline post-match interview with Eddie O'Sullivan after the Argentina game. The youtube clip includes Jim Glennon's attempt at humour slapped down by Matt Cooper. [Hat-tip Waffler]

Unfortunately I can't find a clip of the reaction by "sacked Scotland coach" (as Matt Cooper's column in "de Paper" described him) Matt Williams on Setanta, describing Kissane as a "work experience girl" and not "showing respect". At least she has a decent job Mr. Williams. A good reporter asks reasonable questions the public would ask if they got the chance, and she did just that - and it's not like he hadn't time to consider the possibility.

The IRFU's decision to award a 4-year extension prior to the World Cup (a mistake the FAI made with Mick McCarthy, let's not forget) was shown up big time here - not least because of the warning signs during the pre-Cup camp. If they do sack him, Eddie leaves with a ton of cash but they shouldn't - I'm not sure there's a good replacement on deck yet. Perhaps looking the alternates in the eye will be punishment enough.

Tom English asks some very pertinent questions in his Limerick Leader column, like
  • "Does he remember saying that his predecessor Warren Gatland had got distracted by contractual negotiations in his final days as Irish coach?",
  • "Does he remember criticising Matt Williams for (his obsession with his first XV)"
  • "Four years ago, after beating Argentina in the 2003 World Cup, he said that every international coach loses their nerve sooner or later. Through his reluctance to change his starting line-up when it was obvious many players were struggling and his apparent aversion to making early switches while games were underway is it not possible to interpret that as a loss of nerve?"

Keith Wood's column in the Torygraph had an interesting tale of the aftermath of another campaign sunk by the Argies - Lens, 1999. [Hat-tip Fear of God]
After that game in Lens, we stopped off in a pub in Roscrea, Tipperary, on the way back home to Limerick. It was almost as if the guilt of the loss was too much for us to travel any further. It was the middle of the afternoon and the few guys in the pub hushed as we entered. I knew that they had been talking about us and asked if there was anything they wanted to say.

One finally got up the courage to speak and when he started he couldn't stop. He couldn't contain his anger and, in many ways, forced us to face the heartache we had caused up and down the country. I apologised for our performance, for how we had let down ourselves and the country, and I didn't make any excuses. Their reaction to this absence of spin and honest admission of failure broke the ice and pints were immediately issued. It was a lesson learned about the impact we had on our supporters; facing up to them became the start of the recovery as it will have to be for this squad.

I'll finish here with an excerpt from Cooper's column linked above:
There remains considerable affection for the players among the rugby public, based on their past performances for Ireland and for their provinces when they showed they are better than they played in the World Cup. O’Sullivan would do well to remember that they remain much more popular than he does.

And that's all of them - not just Eddie's 15 Untouchables and the Ulster Token.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

English instruction in Quebec schools so poor parents send their kids to U.S.

St. Mary's Academy, a Catholic school in Champlain, NY, is currently teaching 33 Quebec schoolchildren out of 102 total enrolment because their parents, many of them francophones, are unhappy with the amount of English taught in Quebec schools. The US school, with fees one-third of Quebec private schools, is even cheaper these days with the strong dollar.

Much like the Mennonites recently forced to leave Quebec or have their schools closed, these parents might have legal action taken against them by the Quebec authorities who regulate education for more strictly than the Ontario system which permits private schools and home schooling to operate with less regulation.

The upside for the American school?
the cross-border students from Quebec have also brought advantages to St. Mary's, the principal said. With so many young francophones, some of the American schoolchildren are learning French.

This is what happens when your budget depends on land transfer tax

One of the reasons I have been sceptical about the land transfer tax (or "moving tax") is that it's hard to budget revenues for a sector that is prone to booms - and serious busts. David Miller should heed the following warning, based on the latest reports from the Irish Department of Finance who call LTT "stamp duty":
"The bottom line is that this will be the most difficult budget Brian Cowen has had to preside over," said Alan McQuaid in Bloxham Stockbrokers.

The problem is slumping revenues from the reduction in house building and stalled house sales.

Stamp duties brought in €400m less than expected and taxes on profits from property sales are more than €100m below estimates.

It makes one wonder how much of the current Ontario surplus is built on the Toronto property boom and the land transfer tax take that went with it, and what happens if that boom levels off, or worse still slows down.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

From the "you gotta be kidding me" department

Independent TDs given "party leaders allowance" - 39,000 untaxable, untraced Euros each.

This should be abolished immediately and factored into the public funding per vote parties receive - it's a recipe for more and more single issue candidates.

"The Home of Good Cheese" has been razed.

Another chapter in the demolition of the agri-food industry in Mitchelstown. This is another blow for my home region which has been under threat pretty much since the original Mitchelstown-Ballyclough merger to form Dairygold I think. The only thing keeping things afloat is the new road to Cork.

Let's hope that "Breeo". the vehicle Dairygold created to distance itself from the industries that built the brands, will at least consider some local buyout of the facilities to keep the jobs in local hands but is the entrepreneurial spirit there? History would suggest it's a long shot.

Too much ethanol? More subsidies!

The answer to every question in the overcoddled state of Iowa seems to be someone else's money, and because of America's simply bizarre method of selecting its First Citizen, what Iowa wants it all too often gets. The last season of the West Wing described buttering up Iowans by promising subsidy as "taking the pledge".

First they wanted subsidies to build ethanol plants, and despite increasing evidence that not only is corn a poor feedstock and ethanol a poor biofuel but making ethanol from corn is a greenhouse gas polluting process, they got the money. Now too many distilleries have been built, the price of ethanol is plummeting because of poor distribution and the corn farmers answer is, you've guessed it - "mo' money!"

My solution to the Steve Downie situation: keep him "up"

As predicted, the Philadelphia Flyers have reacted to the 20-game suspension by sending Downie to the AHL, where he may or may not be banned for the term depending on review. Recently Chelsea were brought up by the Football Association for a charge of "failing to control their players" and it strikes me that the Flyers are getting off pretty lightly here. Downie was playing pre-season under an existing suspension after all, not to mention a well known series of other incidents starting with an on-ice finale to an off-ice hazing ritual.

Indeed, the OHL and Hockey Canada might have their own case to answer on how Downie got in his current situation, since his former coach claims to have recommended Downie be told to enter counselling but nothing came of it.

So what's the solution? If a player receives a suspension, even in pre-season, he may not be released, traded or sent down for the duration of the suspension, and while pay could be docked it could not be counted against the cap. This would impact the teams roster spots and cap room and make them think twice about how they advise their tough-guys trying to make the team.

Closing the circle

Paul Wells, writing on Gordon Brown's settling in as Prime Minister again:
Brown isn't Blair. But neither is he Paul Martin. He let his predecessor pick his own departure date. He hasn't felt the need to purge the party of its old guard. He is so sure of who he is that he needn't go on about who he isn't.
Stephane Dion could use some of Brown's discipline, not just for himself but for his team. Jamie Carroll's loose talk about Liberal hiring this week would probably have more severe consequences in a Brown setup, especially for someone who had already damaged the Dion brand with his blurting out about his "sleepless nights".

But then there's this bit at the end:
In 1805 Horatio Nelson told his fleet: "England expects that every man will do his duty." Nelson was hard to beat, too.
I'm having the oddest sense of deja vu...

Shouldn't this have been thought of before now?

The Irish Minister of Defence, having announced a commitment of 350 troops to Chad, now wants the UN to tell him they'll be safe. I'm hoping that what he means by that is that the troops will have sufficiently robust Rules of Engagement and that when he meets the Sudanese Foreign Minister he will receive assurances that the latter's visiting oil workers (and alumni of the People's Liberation Army) will stay near to their rigs rather than freelancing with the Janjaweed.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Striking down adoption disclosure law probably the right call

Societies change and so do laws but it should be a priority of government to avoid retrospective actions, creating difficulties for citizens who made good faith, legal decisions only to find the law changed adversely in a way that compromises those decisions.

The decision by Ontario to disclose the identity of adoptees and birth parents without the safeguard of a veto by either side was set aside by the Superior Court of Ontario this week. The change in the law was pushed by Marilyn Churley, a former NDP MPP who had gone through a lot of anguish to find the child she gave up.

Unfortunately she pushed Ontario law up to and past other jurisdictions who recognised that adoption is one of the ultimate "hard cases make bad law" situations and gave little recognisance to the bargain which women made decades ago in the form of a veto.

The only safeguard offered to either children or parents was to levy massive fines against the party who refused to stop attempting to make contact to the party whose identity was disclosed with a "no-contact" stipulation - only in exceptional issues of security were disclosure vetoes permitted.

Rather than push on to the Supreme Court with a decision that was bitterly opposed by many including the Province's Privacy Commissioner, the government should lower its sights, restore the veto for adoptions existing prior to the passage of the legislation and ensure that parents giving up children in the future are adequately informed of the possibility of being contacted in the future.

Dan Michaluk has written about this too, and being an actual lawyer his post just might make more sense :)

Now THAT is a pimped ride...

During the 2006 Commonwealth Games, a Melbourne tram was "made over" by a Pakistani group as a showcase of their culture. Check it out.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Should Councillor David Shiner stand aside?

David Shiner, a Toronto city councillor and former budget chief, is the Conservative candidate for the Provincial seat in Willowdale, a closely contested match-up with incumbent Liberal David Zimmer. Some members of council and the Mayor's man-in-the-hallway and deputy communications director Stuart Green have called for Shiner to either resign or take unpaid leave on the grounds that while campaigning he is not representing his constituents and that Olivia Chow and Sylvia Watson did likewise when they ran.

Now if Shiner stood aside unpaid, his constituents aren't represented for the term of the campaign, and if he resigns neither a by-election or an infill process would be completed by election day so once again, his constituents go unrepresented. So basically Willowdale has inferior representation whichever way you slice it, and he does seem to be still dealing with some city business (any that gets him media coverage anyway).

Then there's the issue of drawing salary - except the Mayor and other councillors are not on solid ground to criticise here. It is my understanding that elected councillors are paid up to election day, whereas city staff have to take unpaid leave to challenge them, like Shaun Bruce, a student and part-time City Zamboni driver who challenged Hizzoner last year.

A more equitable situation would be if council incumbents wages were terminated on the day the election began, or if city staff were allowed to campaign while on paid leave or on their own time. Once the equity of City Council elections was decided, perhaps then they could worry about councillors seeking new jobs. If City Council wants to legislate councillors into unpaid leave they should do so, and not just whine to the press about "tradition" and depend on media pressure to produce a result.

Sunday Independent: make Staunton walk the plank

The webmasters at the Duckworth School of Journalism have an annoying habit of not putting writers names on copy published on line, so I don't know who wrote this open letter to FAI Commandante John Delaney, but it is reflective of the state Irish international soccer finds itself. Here's some excerpts to give you the idea.
there can be no greater indictment of both the current manager and his predecessor than the oft-repeated statistic about Kilbane's remarkable run of starts in the Irish jersey.

It would take a very creative film editor indeed to produce a memorable collection of highlights from the million or so caps the Wigan midfielder appears to have amassed. We'd have him doing the thing where he pushes the ball between a couple of defenders and falls over, the one where he puts his head down and runs the ball out over the line, the one where he kicks the ball too far ahead of himself and loses possession. The crowning glory could be the moment on Wednesday night when he jumped up in the air and turned his arse to the ball as Marek Jankulovski set about engineering the winner.

Nobody likes criticising Kilbane, he's got a lovably helpless set to him like a willing and affectionate dog you can't train to do anything you want.
To be fair, Staunton is only the latest to see talent in Kilbane invisible to the population in general.
Forget that canard about him being limited by our lack of world class players. While we were trying to take some solace from our latest gallant defeat, Scotland were beating France 1-0 in Paris. The Scots currently lead a group that contains the two teams which contested the last World Cup final, France and Italy, not to mention the Ukraine side which reached the quarter-finals of that tournament and are greatly superior to the flaky Czechs.
You see, John, the reason most of us are impatient with your appointee is that nobody had much faith in him when he was appointed. His complete lack of managerial experience made him look like a man who didn't deserve the job. The only encouraging thing we could find to say was that old Hollywood line, "This idea is so crazy, it might just work." It was crazy. But it didn't work. The burden of proof was on Steve Staunton and he merely proved himself incapable.
Then our anonymous accuser delivers the coup de grace:
Forget all that populist crap about managers not being able to go on to the pitch and do the job for the players. Managers matter. Look at the miracle Lawrie Sanchez achieved with Northern Ireland and how quickly everything returned to ashes when he was replaced by Nigel Worthington. Nobody, but nobody, argues that Steve Staunton is an addition to the Irish set-up. The best his supporters can do is claim that he's not an actual hindrance.
EM Forster once said: "If I had the choice between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the courage to betray my country." Those are noble sentiments but you don't have that luxury. Steve Staunton happens to be a friend of yours but you are charged with the well-being of soccer in this country. If you want to behave in an honourable manner to your friend, I applaud your integrity. But you'll have to be honourable on your own time. The really honourable thing to do in those circumstances would be to step aside and let someone who can make this difficult decision take over.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

McGuinty talks hydrogen, emits methane.

In a speech to Bombardier employees in Thunder Bay, Dalton McGuinty floated the idea of powering the next generation of GO trains by hydrogen rather than electricity. This is surprising considering his recently launched MoveOntario2020 plan proposed to use... electric locomotives. Bombardier don't care which technology is used - the passenger cars they make will probably be identical either way.

The accompanying analysis included one stunning mistake:
"Most trains in the world use either greenhouse-gas-emitting diesel engines or electricity, which is cleaner but is still often generated using greenhouse-gas-producing coal plants. A train that uses a hydrogen fuel cell to combine hydrogen with oxygen to create the electricity needed to run its motor would essentially be a zero-emissions vehicle, producing only water vapour, proponents say.

The trains might run on hydrogen produced by Ontario's nuclear plants.
Point 1: Ontario's nuclear plants do not produce hydrogen - they produce electricity. You can produce hydrogen from electricity by cracking water, but the source of the electricity can be nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, incineration or... coal. You could even use the Portlands Energy Centre if the station wasn't designed to be peak rather than baseload and it wasn't a stupid use of natural gas.

Point 2: All of our nuclear plants are either northwest or east of Toronto. To fuel the trains would require massive shipments of hydrogen to the trains originating in places like Bradford and Hamilton. Can't see that being popular.

Point 3: There are no hydrogen fuel cell passenger trains in service. The nearest equivalent are small 17kW engines used in mines and a Japanese prototype fuel-cell/battery carriage with 2 x 65kW motors. (GO's new diesel engines will be about 3000kW)

But then, it wouldn't be the first time Toronto commuters were guinea pigs for untried technologies at Ontario's behest, not to mention the short lived running of natural gas buses in Toronto, all of which were either sold or converted to diesel as soon as the TTC thought no-one was looking.

Steve Munro, who previously eviscerated the notion of running hydrogen buses from the Exhibition wind turbine, takes a similarly jaundiced view of this proposal.

Belinda Stronach's cancer choice IS a big deal

Considering the turbulence of her career as an MP, it seems nothing short of cruelty on Fate's part to add breast cancer to Belinda Stronach's woes. Perhaps after the defection, the McKay Meltdown and the Domi Affair the media collectively decided to cut Stronach a break when she chose to seek part of her treatment for DCIS from an American physician. We are assured that it was merely the best choice suggested by her doctor, that the American physician was likely to provide a better outcome and that there wouldn't have been any difference in the timeline for her care if provided in Ontario.

In the normal course of events, any MP who bypassed the sacred covenant of Tommy Douglas for a private facility would have been accused of betraying healthcare, but everyone has the right to preserve their health no matter what the political fallout. The question is not therefore whether Stronach was wrong to pursue a course her medical professional advised.

The question is why was she obligated to leave Canada at all. We pour hundreds of millions into cancer charities to fund research into new therapies. Our roads are worn out from walking and running feet raising money for one cause or another - not least the Terry Fox Run. We have, as today's Star points out, two separate health taxes in Ontario - the Ontario Health Tax/Premium and the Ontario Surtax as introduced by Mike Harris.

At the same time, our health system doesn't seem to be able to afford to fund physicians to be conversant in the most advanced techniques already developed. Ms Stronach should request the Federal Ministry of Health to fund as a matter of urgency a joint programme of training so that where a patient in Canada is obligated to receive treatment in the US due to a lack of skills, to expeditiously fill that gap so that future patients can be referred to at least one location in Canada under medicare.

It is alarming enough that in certain areas we seem to be depending on our neighbours to cover up gaps in our patient capacity without them covering gaps in our capability too - especially when the next patient might not be able to afford the California option.

Would "internal exile" survive a Charter challenge?

How are we to resolve the situation in respect of sex offenders released at end of sentence? The latest furore is in British Columbia surrounding the case of Thane Moore, recently arrived from the end of his 14 year incarceration in New Brunswick with an assessment of likely violent re-offence. He had been asked by the Mayor of Dawson City, Yukon, not to go ahead with his plan to resettle there. Due to release conditions which forbade him from contact with his victims leaving New Brunswick and PEI was imperative and wisely he didn't choose to give Ontario AG Michael Bryant yet another overwrought media cycle.

He then left for his next choice, which under the terms of his release conditions had him accompanied by police officers:
When his flight touched down in Vancouver, police arrested him under Section 810 of the Criminal Code, which permits them to arrest someone for a crime they might commit.
Interestingly, despite his police escort the BC authorities make it look like Moore was wandering at will:
"(The police) had understood that he was going to be going to the Yukon and instead he changed his plans and went to Vancouver," said spokesperson Linda Mueller.
What's likely to happen next is that the media will find the guy, pester him until he hits a photographer, and land him back in jail. If indefinite tariff is barred, contriving the same result by paparazzi must surely be just as wrong.

In this case, even the guy himself admits that he's likely to re-offend, but can't stay in jail and doesn't appear to have an option to voluntarily check himself into a form of supervised treatment. He's just sent out into areas of Canada he hasn't got around to hurting people in yet.

It doesn't really matter because regardless of his re-offence assessment, his offence's abhorrence means no community would stand for keeping him having been informed by police of his presence - and in the unlikely event they would accept him at first, that would last until the media and opportunist politicians had drummed up enough hysterical headlines and in Moore's case that hysteria would probably have solid foundation.

We need to find a legal way to allow offenders classed as likely to re-offend to serve their sentence and be placed in ongoing treatment in an non-punitive setting thereafter, even if a Dangerous Offender designation was not previously sought. If we don't, then the lynch mobs are going to turn violent and the death penalty will have returned to Canada.

Why not send Lee Clegg to Afghanistan?

Apparently the families of Martin Peake and Karen Reilly who were shot by then-Private Clegg at a west Belfast checkpoint in 1990 don't want him posted to Afghanistan. Convictions for murder and attempted wounding were set aside in 1998 and 2000 respectively. Mark Thompson, from Relatives for Justice declared:
"It is an insult to have people like him there. Those countries need to establish their own legislative framework and at the head of that needs to be human rights.

"It is a contradiction to send people like him."
Well, his current post is as a combat medic, no-one said he was going to re-write their constitution or give lessons to their armed response squad. On the other hand, I bet the guys who drive the first truck down IED Alley wouldn't mind if now-Sergeant Clegg took those duties off their hands.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The McGuinty hypocrisy on education - for equal treatment before he was against it

"Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise, and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law ; judgment, and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to leave those undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel." (Matthew 23:23-24)
Even though I was educated by primary and secondary schools controlled through the Catholic Church back in Ireland, I am a believer in unified education, at least when publicly funded. I believe that state funding used to fund the same curriculum in a school with a religion's name on the door should be used to promote diversity in education provision.

This would mean taking the money which currently funds duplicated bureaucracy in the Catholic School Board system and putting it towards under-resourced areas such as trade apprenticeships, guidance counselling, after-school programmes and special needs teaching as well as ensuring that buildings are properly maintained in order to create an environment where pupils feel valued and where any attempt by anti-social elements to degrade the school's facilities are quickly and comprehensively repaired as shown in New York's "broken window" thinking. Catholic schools would not be closed by fiat, but they would have to paddle their own funding canoe, so to speak, and their fees would be deductible with the existing federal tax credit.

This is an issue because the Conservatives pledged to bring faith based schools into a state funding scheme to put them on par with the Catholic schools. The Liberals and NDP favour the status quo. I think they are all wrong but for the reasons below I think the Liberal stance is especially odious - at least in the NDP case you know they were always under the thumb of the unionised Catholic teachers no matter what.

John Tory was a minion of Bill Davis when full funding beyond Constitutional mandate was enacted in Ontario, and has pledged to put Davis in charge of further extension (not withstanding that the Davis gambit was remarkably poor politics at the time). Having made a fairly good appearance on TVO's the Agenda during the week (video available from this page), he completely blew the only question that mattered at a later interview: how would schools handle the question of creationism? He answered using the line on page 1 of every socially conservative Christian who advocates creationism as part of mainstream education - that evolution is just a theory and that there are others. In a single line, Tory managed to destroy any credibility with people wavering towards accepting his line on fairness and equity.

However, rather than sit back and watch his stand crumple, assisted by cartoons in the Toronto Star, the Liberals are not only rowing back on their previous position but telling what I consider bald faced lies cloaked in verbal escape routes while doing so. On Saturday, the Toronto Star published a pro and con on the issue, with the pro side being promoted by Bernie Farber of the Canadian Jewish Congress:
But that changed in December 1998. Dalton McGuinty, who two years earlier was surprisingly elected to lead the Liberal Party of Ontario, wanted to find a way to set himself apart from the usual humdrum politics of staid Ontario. So on Dec. 3 of that year, McGuinty, then the opposition leader, addressed the executive of the Canadian Jewish Congress Ontario Region. Joining him that evening were his legislative colleagues David Caplan, Mike Colle and Monte Kwinter.

McGuinty spoke of health care, safety in our streets and the blight of poverty. He was asked about the continuing unfairness faced by parents who send their children to Jewish day schools. What, the questioner wanted to know, was McGuinty's position on funding faith-based schools? A hush descended on the meeting room. Said McGuinty: "I have no ideological opposition to ensuring that public funds support Jewish day schools." Yes, he wanted to first reinvigorate public education, but he recognized the inherent "unfairness" in the present funding policy and was prepared to do something about it.

This was no flash in the pan. Over the next three years, McGuinty would continue to herald this position, as noted in an interview he gave to the Ottawa Citizen on June 1, 2001. When asked about whether he would provide funding for faith-based schools, he responded, "If we're looking at equity, yes, somewhere down the road. I would have all kinds of strings attached when it comes to public dollars."

He went on to explain, "The ideal here is equity with the Catholic system. Let's understand what that means. First of all, it means you shall admit any child of any faith. Number two, it means you must hire Ontario-certified teachers. Number three, you must participate in all standardized testing. Number four, you must be subject to all the usual inspections, qualifications and regulations to which all publicly funded schools are subject at the present time. That's what equity means."
This would hardly have been shocking, since McGuinty is a product of a Catholic education, his wife teaches at a Catholic school and he has lauded Catholic education to a conference of Catholic teachers - it is essentially identical to Tory's position. But when Tory advocates this former McGuinty position, he calls it segregation. One can only account for it in the light of the tax credit offered by the Eves Tories in the 2003 election and the Liberals desire to oppose at all costs rather than on nuance.

Now Health Minister George Smitherman is quoted by the CBC as saying that this position of McGuinty's essentially never existed:
He also rejected Conservative claims that several prominent Liberals, including Premier Dalton McGuinty, had previously supported the idea of providing funding to faith-based schools.

"(I've) never, I'm quite sure, done that," he said. "That'll be another example where they'll say anything and don't think it through."
He gives the impression that the Liberal Party has never considered this but leaves enough ambiguity in how he says it to allow himself to row back when confronted by the truth - that he was only speaking for his own position rather than his Leader's past commitments. He can hardly have been unaware of them, not least because Farber had been quoted in the Ottawa Citizen earlier in the week and no doubt elsewhere. I have written previously about Mr. Smitherman's rather sneaky way of doing business.

In the Toronto Star he is quoted as saying that rural schools are under threat if religious schools in their area "peel off" pupils - but that's already happened with the Catholic schools! Again, a prinicipled position would be to uphold the public system and defund the Catholic one to bolster these "schools in danger".

He had also failed to notice Education Minister Wynne's discomfort with the status quo from 2001 which the NDP have just dug up. A letter to NOW magazine included the following (with emphasis added):
A higher-level and, perhaps for some of us, less vital issue is the fact that in Ontario people of one faith get preferential treatment in the school system. This situation is historical and, as such, has become part of the fabric of our society. Because it is part of our history, however, does not mean we cannot question or examine its validity. That is precisely what the United Nations has asked us to do, and that is exactly what I advocate.
McGuinty's "new" position, that Catholic schools are historically significant with the consequent "grandfathering" through the Constitution has been rejected in 1999 by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (at 10.4, emphasis added):
The Committee begins by noting that the fact that a distinction is enshrined in the Constitution does not render it reasonable and objective. In the instant case, the distinction was made in 1867 to protect the Roman Catholics in Ontario. The material before the Committee does not show that members of the Roman Catholic community or any identifiable section of that community are now in a disadvantaged position compared to those members of the Jewish community that wish to secure the education of their children in religious schools. Accordingly, the Committee rejects the State party's argument that the preferential treatment of Roman Catholic schools is nondiscriminatory because of its Constitutional obligation.
If the Harris Tories had dealt with the issue rather than Janet Ecker handling it in a "Mel Lastman vs the WHO" fashion disdaining the UNHRC's jurisdiction, the issue might have been settled eight years ago - now the pendulum has swung (mostly) back in the Davis-ite direction. While Tory will not gain anything from this he won't lose from other constituencies, McGuinty may have shaken a number of his MPs in communities where this is a live issue. But the greater issues should be McGuinty's failure of principle, Smitherman's economy with the truth and Wynne's failure as Education Minister to start the debate she called for from opposition.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Brother Garvey, you should not be shocked - ashamed perhaps...

The Village has published the 1962 report from Chaplain Henry Moore to Archbishop McQuaid on conditions at the Christian Brothers-run institution at Artane.  Bruce Arnold, who somehow plugs away at the Independent Group, mentioned this in his column a couple of weeks ago and reminded Archbishop Martin of his commitment to openness - indeed it seems Martin himself was a witness to conditions at the school.

It's interesting that in a modern era when McQuaid is portrayed as something of a tyrant that he seems to have been extremely concerned about Artane and yet somehow powerless to impel the Brothers to improve matters. In this he does not appear to have been assisted by the Department of Education, according to Arnold's more recent dispatch, who it seems had no desire to believe Fr. Moore given that it would have exposed the bureaucracy's inadequate supervision.

I don't know if the GAA have made any mention of their relationship with Artane and the conditions they must now know were suffered by members of the Boys Band which is integral to the history of Croke Park - if someone has info on this I'd appreciate it being left in the comments.

The head of the order, declaring himself "shocked and dismayed" at the release of Moore's report, seems more concerned about throwing doubt on the report, clinging to the Department's inspection reports (there isn't an Irish schoolchild who doesn't know in advance that An Cigire is coming, with consequent temporary smartening up on all fronts) and basically throwing more salt in the wounds of those who endured his former colleagues' dysfunctional regime.

This article by Paddy Doyle sheds some light on the proceedings of the tribunal into the former institutions.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Heinze, we hardly knew you - and now we hate you

If you were a lad growing up in Argentina you might not have fully appreciated the hatred between Liverpool and Manchester United. You become a decent player and get picked up by United after Valladolid and PSG and show some promise at full back - Old Trafford being partial to an "Argentina!" chant since 1998 - and voted fan player of the year in your first season but have awful luck with injury since... but apparently you never noticed how the fans felt about the bin-dippers, how loudly they sang "Gary Neville is a red, he hates Scousers".

You might have remarked on how Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is now 20LEGEND but there's always the niggle that he used to support the dippers as a kid. Sure we took Rooney but Everton were never as much of an irritant as the other shower. Then there was "big time Charlie" Ince who went from United to Liverpool, but via Inter Milan and a two year gap - and nobody's forgotten Charlie's goal at Anfield in 1999, or forgiven the celebration that followed it.

So you put for a transfer to Liverpool regardless and when refused try to strongarm your way out. Maybe right was on your side with that letter, maybe not, but morally it was always wrong. Now you're out anyway, gone to Real Madrid, hardly a bad posting but remember one thing - if you darken Old Trafford's door in the Champions League, you won't be hated one iota less than if you had actually signed for Liverpool.

Safari yields up Myspace's secrets

Been a bit quiet here lately, mostly because of some lengthy appearences in the comments sections of other blogs, notably Spacing Wire.  However, this was very interesting in the Register today, which referred to this blog post.

While the described method of extracting streamed mp3s to a file is all very interesting (and dubious from a legal standpoint) it does point up the activity monitor as a very interesting aspect of Safari - and a new challenge for the maintainers of trailer and other sites which obfuscate content via Flash and other technologies.

Monday, August 06, 2007

They haven't gone away, you know

While the newspapers have been trumpeting the conclusion of Operation Banner, it has been noted that while the reduced British Army presence (5,000 regulars reduced from a peak of 28,000) is now subordinated to the civil police, they retain powers not available to their counterparts in Britain when they are requested.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Aer Lingus to end Shannon-Heathrow service

This will cause ructions in the West. It had been fairly widely rumoured that Aer Lingus would start flying from Belfast International (BFS-Aldergrove) to Heathrow and that Cork and Shannon might lose a frequency each to free up Heathrow slots. According to RTE Aer Lingus will announce that Shannon will lose all of its Heathrow service which will be redeployed to Belfast.

As long as Clare County Council fails to develop Shannon as an major urban centre and refuses to come to an agreement with Limerick City Council about a boundary shift on the west of the Shannon to expand the city towards Shannon, the catchment will never support the level of service that is wished for and with the improvement in rail and air service from Cork, Kerry and Galway to Dublin that problem is set to get worse rather than better.

Ignatieff and judgement

Michael Ignatieff has a (lengthy, naturally) article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine which is reprinted in the Globe and Mail today. He talks about the difference between academic and political speech - and it's interesting that someone who taught political science admits floundering when confronted with actual politics.
I've learned that good judgment in politics looks different from good judgment in intellectual life. Among intellectuals, judgment is about generalizing and interpreting particular facts as instances of some big idea. In politics, everything is what it is and not another thing. Specifics matter more than generalities. Theory gets in the way.
He quotes Burke who in 1774 told the electors of Bristol that he would never submit his judgement to their opinion. Like most who quote Burke he neglects to mention that Burke did not retain his seat in 1780 due to his (unpopular) support of Catholic emancipation and free trade, and the rest of his parliamentary life was spent in a rotten borough.

He also offers an interesting take on Bush's apparently lack of doubt in his agenda:
It was not merely that the president did not take the care to understand Iraq. He also did not take the care to understand himself. The sense of reality that might have saved him from catastrophe would have taken the form of some warning bell sounding inside, alerting him that he did not know what he was doing. But then, it is doubtful that warning bells had ever sounded in him before. He had led a charmed life, and in charmed lives warning bells do not sound.
Steve V discusses the article further at Far and Wide.

Edit: here's the Star's rather bitter take, which I can't believe is entirely unrelated to the Globe landing the exclusive Canadian rights to the piece. Certainly its characterisation of Ignatieff's regret as "tardy" is cheap, given that Ignatieff is on previous record as having regretted his stance. The article goes into why he adopted that stance and certainly strikes a personal chord since he, like me, saw the 1992 Halabja massacre as a point where the Saddam Hussein regime crossed a line and unlike me had visited the area and seen the aftermath. Certainly we all have acquaintances to various conflicts who colour our view of them and Ignatieff is no different.

It also claims that Americans have no interest in hearing where he regrets his choices, but earlier notes how "a cynic" (Linda McQuaig?) "might suggest Ignatieff continues to look reflexively toward the United States, and where nothing prevents his eventual return. "

A stopped clock is right twice a day

I'm rarely a fan of John Barber but every so often he hits the mark - today he turns his fire on the City of Toronto's multiplying in number and decreasing in effectiveness "integrocrats".
As for David Mullan, the new integrity commissioner Mr. Miller promised, he can talk for 45 minutes before revealing his actual position on the trivia brought before him by squabbling politicians. Through no fault of his own, what was supposed to be a pioneering office with broad responsibilities has become irrelevant. But quiet.
Torontonians paid millions of dollars for a judge to tell them the city needed strict new controls on lobbyists to re-establish the legitimacy of local democracy. But David Miller, mayor at the time, was already on record promising that. Several years and an election later, there is still no lobbyist registry - and the one that council approved but chose not to implement is so riddled with exemptions and carve-outs as to be incomprehensible.

Friday, August 03, 2007

"they're taking pictures, I don't like it"

Michelle Madigan, Associate Producer at NBC Dateline, was outed at the hacker conference Defcon having lied about her position as a member of the press, instead registering as an ordinary attendee. Signing for a press badge entails a code of conduct - i.e. don't try and entrap 13 years olds who are making claims they aren't close to being capable of, and don't endanger the identities of federal agents with ties to the security community. Hidden cameras are a no-no, but it is suspected she was utilising a pin-hole device.

What she and Dateline forgot is that unlike your common or garden paedophile, that show's bread and butter, hackers are wary types and intrusion detection is their stock-in-trade. Some reports indicate Defcon were tipped off by their own source within Dateline. After being offered a press badge four times, Madigan was outed and chose to flee the conference despite an offer to remain - with a badge. Plainly upfront journalism isn't the kind of sensational story she was after.

She gained her own flock of paparazzi en route to her car and hopefully gained an understanding of what having a camera shoved in your face feels like from the opposite side. Here's the video:

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Apparently not an April Fool's Joke - a plan for cable cars down the Liffey

Somehow I missed this back in early 06 but apparently there is a serious proposal to put cable cars through central Dublin above the Liffey. I was for London's Eye and was pleased when it got an extension because while it was visible from a lot of London it never took up much of the vista but there's a bit of a difference between a fairly localised if tall structure and running cables over the river past the Four Courts.

The best part is that this week they are applying for Strategic Infrastructure planning status to fend off pesky objections! Jesus Mary and Joseph - cop on to yourselves lads! A cable car might be an interesting idea to link the north and south sides of Docklands or something but this is just nuts - an unbelievably intrusive visual blight and for what? If you want a view of Dublin go to the Guinness storehouse viewing area, don't go wobbling in the wind over the Ha'Penny bridge and pretend it's a transit mode like the LUAS.

Public wifi insecure - even for secure sites?

The Register reports from the Black Hat Conference that even when surfing to an SSL-encrypted site using public wifi, if not all of the site enforces SSL, enough information can be intercepted to reveal Gmail and other personal websites:
The hack caught our attention because it shatters a common assumption concerning secure surfing on public access points. Up until now, we felt relatively safe using hotspots to access email as long as we logged in with an SSL session. Yes, we knew that any subsequent pages that were not appended by "https" in the address bar were were susceptible to snooping, but intruders still had no way to access the account itself.

Now we know better. Any session that isn't protected from start to finish by SSL is vulnerable to the hack. And because session IDs generated by most sites are valid for an indefinite period, that means intruders could silently access our accounts for years - even if we regularly change our passwords.
The Register suggests the Firefox extension CustomiseGoogle which, among other things, can mandate that rather than some Gmail traffic be encrypted, eliminating the information currently sent "in the clear".

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Harper Tories use Mounties to enforce Bush-style "free speech zone" in Charlottetown

H/t Paul Wells - apparently the press are being confined to a drip feed in a room across the road from the caucus shindig and interlopers to the hotel lobby are being tossed by the RCMP detachment.
While tour bus groups freely wandered the lobby of Charlottetown's Delta Hotel, plainclothes Mounties rebuffed reporters who had convened for the Conservative party's three-day summer strategy session.

“There's a time and a place for the media,” a Mountie told a small knot of print reporters, making it clear the issue was not a matter of security but of communications strategy.

The unnamed officer said he was acting on orders from the Prime Minister's Office.

The reporters were nowhere near the actual caucus meetings, which took place behind a set of closed doors and somewhere down a long hallway in one of the hotel ballrooms. But that was too close for the Conservatives, who set up a media room in a federal building across the street and promised to bring MPs for interviews “where appropriate.”

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Minnan-Wong and Stintz's cackhanded website

The Globe and Mail mentioned this hacked together website cooked up by the aforementioned rightwing councillors - it's like a mix of "How'd they vote" melded with Conservapedia.

Even though I agree with how they voted on the land transfer tax deferral, believing as I do that taxes should not be levied merely on the basis of a budget hole and a taxing power but on the basis that the tax seems fair to those it is imposed on, I would prefer they had removed the "issues" boxes, at least in so far as they referred to councillors who voted the other way - it seems like putting words in their mouthes.

I would be surprised if a few websavvy types on the mayor's side of the fence, the kind of people who produce professional looking sites such as Spacing, didn't take a crack at representing the alternative view - Minnan-Wong and Stintz mightn't find that so funny.

China: no talking about AIDS

China has decided that talking about a medical condition in its country is not a good thing. After all, a code of silence worked so well with SARS, and everyone's already forgotten about the non-existent melamine contamination, right?

If Ontario adopts BC-like computer tax, we should probably do it differently.

I first saw this on Slashdot - on the first of August, British Columbia is to follow Alberta and Saskatchewan in introducing a surcharge on computer equipment and contracting Encorp to do the recycling. The problem is that there are recyclers and reusers in this sector already whose customers will say "why should I pay you when I've already paid the recycle tax". While I don't quite share the same hysteria over smelting the discarded equipment as this site, I completely agree with the quoted reusers who think they should get first crack at what is returned.

It also seems likely that even if a computer is transferred out of the jurisdiction or alternatively disposed of, Encorp gets to keep the tax anyway, if the province follows their current contract for bottle recycling.

Ontario is considering such a tax but should remember that reuse is above recycle in the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle hierarchy. That said I fully expect a similar cashgrab and corporate welfare arrangement to be replicated here - that's the easy option.

Wii-ly stupid

Another commandN hat-tip: from the makers of the Microsoft Surface parody, the Wii-Fit Parody.

Smitherman isn't helping

One of the more minor irritants of life in Toronto is the uniform nature of street vendor food which basically consists of various kinds of fried sausage. For a long time, Councillor John Filion has been pushing the idea of expanding this. All of a sudden Ontario Health Minister George Smitherman, in whose power it is to amend the necessary regulations (once again, the City of Toronto Act keeps us crawling to Queen's Park) decided to announce a relaxation at the Taste of Lawrence event but didn't invite the guy who had done the spadework to share the limelight. In a rare move by a pol, Filion turned the other cheek and welcomed the relaxation regardless - what's odd is that apparently Filion normally identifies as Liberal.

However, he appears to have been worried that the province are trying to relax the regulations before the City has hired the inspectors to police them and that the choice will merely expand as far as burgers as well as hot dogs. His moves to ensure an orderly and diverse expansion were noted in the Globe and Mail, along with the Minister's hissy-fit:
Smitherman waved off Mr. Filion's concerns as a tempest in a teapot, noting the regulations simply open the door to municipalities making their own rules after Aug. 1. Nor does he have much patience for what he calls Mr. Filion's "nanny state" objections to burgers being sold on the street.
This from the guy whose department is responsible for the original, highly nannyish regulations and who should at least notionally be interested in expanded food choices being healthy ones? No, he's just concerned that if the City doesn't move fast enough, new types of cholesterol carriers won't be available for voters on election day, October 10th, not least since the most concentration mass of vendors are in his downtown riding.

Microsoft "embraces" peer-to-peer downloading.

Not that we need the new client Microsoft is previewing, since a perfectly good one already exists, but that would punch a rather large hole in the movie and record companies insistence that torrents are evil and Microsoft has been busy touting its "unpirating" ideas which will mostly benefit these companies.

I suppose I could give someone of my bandwidth to Bill Gates in exchange for a faster download, but the download I want (Windows XP Service Pack 3) Bill won't give me so I guess he'll just have to live with me downloading patches directly. The thing to watch for will be peer-to-peer Windows Update sneaked in - that would drastically reduce Microsoft's bandwidth requirement.

Note to TTC: your surprises aren't that funny

Apparently TTC are making big changes to Broadview and Kennedy stations this week. But hey, why bother telling anyone on the Service Disruption page (which seems to be down anyway), even if it means people who didn't bother getting transfers to Kennedy now need one. Apparently the powers that be don't even tell the drivers.

Can we please hire whoever does passenger information at GO Transit? At least they seem to be trying. Meanwhile months after Adam Giambrone solicited ideas for the TTC website, no progress to report.

Should Toronto news helicopters be discouraged?

In Phoenix, Arizona two helicopters operated on behalf of KNXV and KTVK following a police pursuit collided killing all four crew.

In Toronto, Global, Rogers and CTV all operate news aircraft. The Toronto Police wanted a helicopter for years under Fantino's regime, which may have cut down the number of fatalities occurring during these same pursuits and assisted control of large events, but while moaners, er... "concerned citizens" refused to countenance it citing noise and cost, the media organisations have expanded their fleets without much notice being taken.

At the moment, the TPS seem to be able to get by for their own needs by borrowing York Region's helicopter, but to my mind it's time they had a hotline to Toronto Air Traffic Control with the power to close airspace to visual traffic such as private aircraft rather than having tellychoppers hanging overhead a crime scene causing a racket while officers are trying to deal with incidents for nuisance value alone, given that hopefully we will not see a repeat of the Phoenix incident any time soon. Given that helicopters are notoriously fuel hungry the environment might be better served by a shared resource rather than each network operating its own, if it's necessary to have such a thing at all.

This arbitration report concerning a 1998 incident involving two aircraft operating to provide information to Rogers is quite interesting, not least because the names of both pilots are still familiar ones on Rogers traffic reports to this day.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Was Brian Burke asleep for a month?

This seems like a portrait of blind-sided outrage, right?
Burke said he wasn't actually angry at the offer sheet, but rather the amount of money offered – Penner will go from making $450,000 a season to $4.25 million a year.

"I have no problem with offer sheets, they are part of the CBA," Burke said. "I think it's a tool certainly a team is entitled to use. My issue here is this is the second time this year in my opinion Edmonton have offered a grossly inflated salary for a player, and it impacts on all 30 teams and I think it's an act of desperation by a general manager who is fighting to keep his job."

The way it all came down also bothered Burke.

"I was not notified of this until an agent faxed it into us," he said. "I thought Kevin would have called me and told me it was coming. I thought that was gutless."
I mean, if someone had told him it was coming, he could have negotiated a new contract with Penner and avoided this unpleasantness. Someone like this guy:
Now, will Burke have to deal with an offer sheet for Dustin Penner? [July 3]
or maybe this guy:
If I was Kevin Lowe, I would sign Anaheim's Dustin Penner to a mammoth offer sheet. Brian Burke doesn't have the cap room to match. Burke would drop "F-bombs" from Ft. McMurray to Redondo Beach. Screw him. If Lowe thinks it would make the Oilers a better team; when then, let's be doing it. [July 7]
Well maybe he wasn't monitoring the Sportsnet or CBC but surely the Edmonton media, right?
A restricted free agent in the average salary range just below $4.9 million a year costs two first round, a second round and a third round choice. And they have to be your own picks. The others were in place.

Look out cap-heavy New Jersey and 31-goal scorer Zach Parise? Heads up cap-heavy Anaheim and 29-goal-scorer Dustin Penner? Look out budget-poor St. Louis and 27-goal-scorer Lee Stempniak? [July 7]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chilean soccer fans - get over yourselves or get out of town.

I was out of town over the weekend and while I had heard of the violent incident between Toronto Police and Chilean Under 20 soccer players and the subsequent diplomatic kerfuffle, I expected an investigation to closely query what happened to put our city's international reputation in the spotlight (drawing far more overseas media coverage than the tournament was getting I suspect) and the decision making of the police officers on the scene - this is not the first allegation of police overreaction at BMO Field.

However, on the way back into town, 680 News brought us their top story - a bunch of whiners protesting outside the 3rd place playoff game. Heads up boys and girls - Sepp Blatter refused to link this to any future Canadian bid for a FIFA tournament and if FIFA won't pick Chile over Canada we can't have been that far offside. But the infuriating bit was when protesters linked the incident with the policies of Augusto Pinochet:
"For many people, even for me, it was a kind of flashback to what happened to us," said Patricio Bascunan, president of the Casa Salvador Allende Cultural Society of Toronto.

He was referring to the brutal dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, who ruled Chile with an iron first from 1973 to 1990. Many of Toronto's 10,000-plus Chileans, Bascunan said, came to Canada as exiles during Pinochet's regime.

"There are so many people here for political reasons. And we remember the repression of the police and the army," he said.

"The disappointment of the people is unbelievable. People say, `That reminds me what happened to me with the police in Chile. And I never thought it would happen here.'"
[Hat tip - Far and Wide]

Mr Bascunan, if you lived in Pinochet's Toronto you would have been "disappeared" for protesting this incident and the media would be forbidden to report what you were complaining about. Many of your compatriots living in Toronto are here because of Canada's grant of asylum to those who supported the Allende government.

This matter deserves and must get the fullest attention of the Police Services Board, and no doubt Ottawa has already "invited themselves" to the review given the diplomatic protest, but you honestly think you live in a Canada, even under the Harpocrite, which resembled the endemic corruption and disregard for justice that was perpetrated under Pinochet - there's the door. Don't let it hit you on the ass on the way elsewhere.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Who said the neocon bloggers had a monopoly on insensitivity and cowardice?

I'm with Kinsella on this one:
July 18, 2007 – Wow. "F*** you and your grief." Just when you think the blogosphere can’t get any more hateful, someone comes along to surprise you. Amazing.
In subsequent posts, Canadian Cynic, who describes him/herself as "progressive", demands Blogging Tories and hard-rightwing bloggers generally apologise for posts about Cindy Sheehan and for generally being dinks. Well, you could have done that before you decided to tell a mother whose son died that she wasn't entitled to express her grief as she pleased in her own country and before you stooped to the level of those who rant against Muslims and anyone who believes in even the slightest social interdependence.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Irish gay couples to get "separate but equal" rights, real soon now - Ahern

Do we thank the Greens for this? It will be interesting to see how the votes in the Dail go, and how soon the bill is introduced, especially since the FF-PD government refused to assent to Labour's "half-a-marriage bill" last year. There's probably enough votes to pass civil unions as a government bill, but the telegraph wires between Rome and the Nuncio in Dublin must be red hot and a "belt of the crozier" can't be ruled out.

An improvement in the status of LGBT citizens in Ireland can't come too soon, it seems.

St. Patrick's Day moves to March 15 - official

Just for 2008, due to the early fall of Easter and its superior place in the Catholic Church hierarchy of observed days. The first date proposed was April 1, and the distance from the usual date notwithstanding that would have caused uproar.

More from and RTE News.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

One Potter down, one Potter (and one Tolkien) to go

Saw "Order of the Phoenix" yesterday - not the best of the five but that's probably due to Imelda Staunton's nails-on-chalkboard portrayal of Dolores Umbridge (i.e. spot on) and the limited amount of time for Maggie Smith's Professor McGonagle.

I confess to being disappointed with the scenes in the Ministry, which seemed to be more about effects than plot much of the time, but it could be I need to re-read "Order" again - and a quick scan of "Half Blood Prince" before "Deathly Hallows" arrives early (one hopes) next week. I could have gotten the express shipping but I wouldn't have been able to read it this weekend, and going with the el-cheapo Amazon shipping meant I had an excuse to buy "Children of Hurin" too - for a mere $8.97 hardback!

Sid Ryan issues election literat... er... union press release.

While it's right to point up the hypocrisy of a Liberal government who railed against the Tory school funding formula in opposition while merely tinkering with it in government, one does have to wonder whether CUPE are ever going to get a fair shake with a repeatedly defeated NDP candidate at its head.

The NDP going after Minister Kathleen Wynne and splitting the anti-PC vote would be great news for her impending challenger in Don Valley West, John Tory. I imagine that as Wynne is one of the few LGBT MPPs, not a few NDP members will worry about opposing Wynne. But one seat for each major party in Toronto is the only way the 416 is going to get the love from higher governments in the way 905 does.

Toronto Star backs land transfer tax

A wrongheaded stance, in my view, but their right to be wrong, etc. What got my goat though was the reference to the property market last month:
The Toronto Real Estate Board is opposed to the tax, but it recently reported that June's sales volume was the highest ever for that month, with the average property selling for 5 per cent more this year compared to the first six months of 2006.
Well, yeah - it would when the tax hasn't come in yet, and I fully expect sales to be as brisk if not more so between here and the year's end - as long as closing dates precede 31.12.2007. A surge in consumption usually precedes the onset of a tax, and a decline in advance of a reduction. Don't try and book a moving truck this Christmas.

Toronto is providing at insufficient compensation things that are not its proper responsibility such as social welfare and does not have access to taxes directly linked to growth it creates. A Toronto success is really a federal and provincial success unless it can cause a property tax reassessment. Until the province stops doling out nickels and dimes and the right to tax in an inherently illogical fashion, our structural financial woes will not recede.

The reason Canadians won't get 10 year passports - money.

As I have noted before, the increased need for Canadians to use passports to avoid hassle at US crossing points brings into focus the poor deal they get for their money - a "five year" passport for nearly the cost of a 10 year US or Irish document. I put "five year" in quotes because in many cases the last 3-6 months are moot since countries demand that much validity remain on a presented passport on the date of entry, leading to an inevitable period "lost" since passports are renewed on date of issue not date of last passport expiry.

Now Passport Canada says that not only are they losing money with the current rapacious regime, they won't be able to issue RFID passports when they promised (not necessarily a bad thing) and they oppose 10 year passports because...
doing so under the current funding model would not save the agency money but rather see losses skyrocket to $106 million annually by 2012-13.
Here's the point - it will save Canadian citizens money. If Passport Canada can't balance the books even while gouging its customers, it should find ways to save money when countries bigger and smaller can manage to issue a 10 year passport without going broke.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

"I heartily endorse this event or product"

I wonder how much Krusty the Clown (no, not that clown, I mean this one) got for those... anyway, today I heartily endorse - the Toronto Real Estate Board's website against Toronto's new and throughly regressive tax grab.

Transferring land from one owner to another doesn't cost the city any extra facilities. Building new houses does, which is why development charges are fair. Ironically, one of the few exemptions for first time buyers is purchase new homes - which do add to the strain on city infrastructure. However, only the first $2,000 is exempt on new homes and the tax on an average priced house is about $3,890. If you bought a condo box a few years ago and need more room to start a family, well you better look for a crib that can hang off a balcony railing like a planter or something.

I had meant to write about Mike Smith's "if you believe in property ownership you deserve to have the government take your money away and spend it for you" spiel in last week's NOW, but just found it too depressing, especially with Gwynne Dyer's terrorism tutorial in the same week.

Monday, July 09, 2007

In the old days, laws were built to last

The Magistrate's Blog returns from holiday and Bystander is already on his game:
I have complained time and again over the Government's habit of passing new (and usually useless) laws every time that something alarms the tabloids. Now we have a serious, albeit bungled, attempt to blow up a lot of people and what do we read? The first man to be charged has been charged under the 1883 Explosive Substances Act. I rest my case.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Remember when Americans were insurgents?

I may safely assert that the insurgents are very few in comparison with the whole of the people
Vice-Admiral Lord Howe, 1775. 

I read with interest this review of General Sir Michael Rose's book "Washington's War" in the Spectator over the weekend, which highlighted perceived similarities between the conduct of the British campaign against the Americans with the coalition of willing's tactics in Iraq. Rose called for the impeachment of Tony Blair in January 2006 over the Iraq war and rejected the view that NATO bombing directly caused political breakthroughs in the former Yugoslavia in 1995 and 1999.

The review mentioned a Newsnight interview by Jeremy Paxman between Rose and former Bush legal adviser David Rifkin who put it that only "lack of stamina and lack of political will" stood in the way of victory in Iraq.
Paxman: There are going to be a lot of people in this country General, who are very distressed that a senior distinguished military officer arguing like that and knowing that the consequence may well be the death of British and American Service personnel.
Rose: Well I reject that completely, I mean it's the soldiers who have been telling me from the front lines that the war they are fighting is a hopeless war, that they cannot possibly win it, the British nor the Americans can win that war, and the sooner we start talking politically, as Mr Rifkin said the sooner we start talking politics and not talking military solutions the sooner they'll come home and their lives will be preserved. Far from sacrificing their lives, realism would actually save their lives.
Paxman: So admit defeat.
Rose:Of course we have to admit defeat! The British admitted defeat in North America and the catastrophes that were predicted at the time never happened. The Americans were defeated in Vietnam, the catastrophes that were predicted after Vietnam never happened, and the same thing will occur after we leave Iraq.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Is Reputrace trawling your blog?

I came across these log entries recently:

This is Reputrace's home page and at time of writing it has a "trace the threat" logo which seems quite threatening for what seems to be essentially a clipping service dressed up as security. Hopefully the visitors from OPG found things to their liking...

Reaction elsewhere ranges from cautiously intrigued to, well, nuclear.