Saturday, March 31, 2007

Historical Jesus, Hysterical Church

Much ink has been spilled (and many more pixels have been rearranged) over the chocolate Jesus sculpture. What's wrong with it? Zuzu explains:
"So. I looked at this photo, and I couldn’t see what was wrong. It’s not defaced. It’s not a caricature. It doesn’t have elephant dung on it, and it’s not immersed in urine. Chocolate is an unusual choice of materials, sure, but if God created the cacao bean, I don’t see the problem. In fact, it wouldn’t look out of place hanging above the altar of your average Catholic church.

Well, except for one little thing, which is apparently the thing that has Donohue in such a lather:

He’s naked."

Uh-oh. I was shocked! Shocked!

Then I remember what my friend Jam might call a minor detail: nudity was part of how the Romans did crucifixion. Romans, and if you read some of Terence you will know this, had a really, really crude streak. To crucify someone naked would be nothing for the Romans, they wanted to humiliate the criminals they were killing. In that regard, aside from a curious selection of materials, the artist who created this piece was more historically accurate than the church's now-sullied golden boy, Mel Gibson.

Of course instead of using this as a time to reflect on what the humiliation of crucifixion meant or - even better - simply get on with the work of helping the suffering, many church groups have instead chosen to react with hysteria to a piece of art they do not understand. In the meantime, cheer up:

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A Scoundrel Recants

It now looks like Harper will let opposition leaders play a role in the Vimy commemoration. Nice to know that Steve can be shamed into doing something once in a while. Of course there may not be much of a role left for the opposition at this stage. I wonder what Conservative party hack had to give up his seat?

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Unintentional Humour from David Horowitz

After The Poor Man mis-characterized David Horowitz as a former Maoist (a mistake since corrected), Horowitz goes on a tirade in which, among other things, he asserts that only conservatives are allowed to compare people they do not like to Hitler. Among the things that Horowitz asserts:
"Leftists are religious fanatics who believe they are going to change the world. Therefore they look on their political opponents as evil and treat them accordingly. Conservatives are willing to give their opponents the benefit of the doubt (often far too generously) and when they make mistakes in characterizing individuals, they are ready and willing to correct them."

Oh really, what a splendid generalization. Thank you for that set-up, David, here's the punchline:

And if that didn't do it, here's Michael Savage:

Great examples of striving for really accurate characterization there.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

When Markets Go Bad II

The latest pet food recall (ht: Bourque) hit a lot closer to home. It now seems that Hills' Prescription Diet m/d Feline dry cat food is to be recalled as well. My cats eat another type of Hill's dry food, so that's really unsettling.

The breadth of this recall is really alarming, and while it's awfully premature to say for sure, the fact that pet food isn't regulated in Canada (where Menu Foods, the source of this fiasco is based) may well prove to be a major cause. All this reminds me of a common cry among free-marketeers: deregulate, and let the market sort out the winners and the losers. The problems is that this sorting process can be fatal.

Regulation is not a guarantee of anything, but the alternative is almost certainly more dangerous. I'm glad there's regulation of human food, I'm glad that restaurants have to pass inspections in Toronto. There are a number of things that markets do and do very well, but when it comes to an issue of safety, blind faith in the free market is not an acceptable option.

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Harper Exploits WWI Veterans

I just read this post by Saskboy. What a disgrace, using Vimy Ridge as a partisan political photo-op, something Martin did not do at the 60th anniversary of VE Day. What exclusive right does Stephen Harper have to this commemoration? On behalf of my late great-grandfather who was wounded at Passchendaele (fighting for Canada, not Conservative party photo-ops), fuck you Steve, you are scum.

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Preaching to the Choir

Newfoundland's Premier Danny Williams has put some ads in newspapers across this country where he talks about how Harper screwed him over on resource revenues. Or something. Either way, he would like more money I think. Anyway, I got a smile out of seeing this in the Toronto Star. See, Toronto didn't elect one single Conservative MP, we already had our suspicions about Mr. Harper.

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Showdown of the Under-Qualified Premillenialists

This is what seems to be happening now between Ahmadinejad and Bush, or at least Bush's proxy, Tony Blair. Or not.

The office of president in Iran is rather unlike the office that goes by the same name in the United States. Ahmadinejad is not the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and he therefore may not have a whole lot of say in the fate of the British sailors held in Iran. Ahmadinejad may be a terrible person, but at least his power is limited under the Iranian constitution.

Moreover, it appears in an article that Juan Cole linked to that Iran is simply looking for the British to admit wrongdoing in the affair, i.e.: admit that they were in Iranian waters. It is also worth remembering that the waters in question have been subject to boundary disputes, and that makes me wonder whether the maps that are constantly put in the newspapers and on TV are of the Iraq territorial claims, or of the Iranian territorial claims. Are they some melange of both sets of territorial claims?

Of course, it may be that the British were indisputably in Iraqi waters, but the question of where the boundary is has been cast aside - perhaps in the hope that we'll just start assuming that the British were correct. The Iranian offer to free the soldiers may be a ploy, but regardless, it's interesting that that element of the story has been far less reported than images of Tony Blair looking indignant on TV.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Or He Could Do Both

John Ibbitson (apparently this is my week to pick on him) set up a false dichotomy in Wednesday's paper (subscription required):
"Mr. Dumont could use his new power to prod Liberal Premier Jean Charest into revolutionizing Quebec's economy, or he could drag Quebec society back toward its dark past."
So in Ibbitson's mind, this is an either/or proposition. Either Dumont will weaken Quebec's unions and attempt to increase economic competitiveness or he will attempt to return the province to the parochial vision of Maurice Duplessis.

It may come as a surprise to someone who hasn't studied politics ever, but many right-wing politicians have managed to package free market reforms, social conservatism and parochial nationalism into a single package. I see no indication that Dumont would somehow feel bound to choose between economic policy and social policy.

To put it another way, I hardly think that Dumont feels the need to choose between the parts of his platform that Ibbitson likes (economic reforms) and those that he does not like (social reforms) in order to allow Ibbitson to more easily characterize Dumont as "good" or "bad" for Quebec.
Picture: Maurice Duplessis

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Who Are You Gonna Believe?

"Straight Talk" John McCain, or your own lying eyes? Digby has the exchange here. Money quotes from McCain:
"There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods today."
And from CNN correspondent Michael Ware (who's actually in Baghdad):
"To suggest that there's any neighborhood in this city where an American can walk freely is beyond ludicrous. I'd love Senator McCain to tell me where that neighborhood is and he and I can go for a stroll."
Between this and the condom fiasco, I think McCain's Straight Talk Express has been revealed to anyone who cares to look as a total sham.

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The US Army's Errand-Boy?

Is that what the police are in Canada under Harper now? Given how bad the situation in Iraq is, can the desire to desert the US Army be anything other than an act of clarity and sanity? Why would Canada be in any particular hurry to round up deserters?

I think deep down, no matter what he says now with the advantage of hindsight, Harper wanted us in Iraq. Not because it was a moral or wise place to send our troops - we can now see that this war was neither moral nor wise - but because Harper's foreign policy priority is to keep Washington happy. Since Harper could not send in troops now without his government falling in a matter of weeks and being reduced to a rump in a subsequent election, he will do everything to provide aid and comfort to those in the US government - let's call them dead-enders - who want to stay in Iraq.

Canada cannot, in Harper's mind, be a haven for deserters - much less a platform from which they may critique their political masters.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

How Does This Work Again?

For the first time tonight I saw a band of Guardian Angels on the streets of Toronto. From what I could see, they were a group of 5 or 6 guys in their 30s and 40s standing around in the Bloor and Dovercourt area.

How does this prevent/reduce crime? One would assume that most of the criminals would have the good sense to move one or two blocks away from the Guardians. Do the Guardian Angels prevent crime or simply relocate it? Some supporters of the Angels were upset that David Miller didn't exactly put out the welcome mat for them, but if they don't make a difference then why bother?

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

John Ibbitson's Imaginary(?) Foes of Tolerance

In reading all the Quebec election fallout I came across John Ibbitson's column (subscription required) on prejudice in Canada. His opening words are thus:
"If there's one thing that yesterday's Quebec election proved, it's that intolerance remains a force in Canadian politics. To their everlasting disgrace, too many urban intellectuals have chosen to reinforce it."
Okay, yes, intolerance has always been a political force, and yes Ibbitson is right to suggest that it played a role for Mario Dumont. The other part of his column is a bit more confusing. Who are these "urban intellectuals" anyway? What are they doing? He cites elsewhere in the article unnamed "feminists" who might oppose Muslim women in traditional dress. He is unable or unwilling to name any specific organizations or individuals. Instead he puts up this incredibly weak suggestion that "too many" of these "urban intellectuals" reinforce rural intolerance. Who, John? And how?

This is the sort of thing that fits with the worst stereotypes of urban-dwellers. We don't sit around figuring out what values to reinforce among country-folk. We're in Toronto - we're too busy being self-absorbed, remember?

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What Were They Doing There?

Juan Cole has linked to an article by Craig Murray that points out that the British sailors and Marines were looking for smuggled automobiles(!) Murray's article is worth reading for a review of why this boundary is disputed. Additionally, he wonders why on earth the Royal Navy was checking for car smugglers (not the same as interdicting, say, arms smugglers).

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Have a Nice Day

I don't know if I'll write too much today, it's March and I'm wearing sandals outside. In Toronto. Go outside, enjoy life.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

When Markets Go Bad

This piece by Malcolm Gladwell is an interesting look at Enron. Gladwell makes the point that it wasn't a Wall Street player that figured out that Enron was a dud, it was a newspaper reporter.

The idea behind free markets is, in part, that you give people massive incentives to get something right and they work very hard to get it right. You need to have these very generous incentives because people will work very hard to attain them. Gladwell writes:
"Reporters were, a group who—at least in theory—you’d think were in the least advantageous position. They aren’t partial to the proceedings. They have no money at stake. (Compared to their Wall Street counterparts, in fact, they barely make any money at all.) They aren’t (relatively speaking) as well-trained as financial intermediaries. They have to serve a general audience, which disposes them against highly technical examination. There are real limits on how much space and time they can devote to a particular story, and their rewards for doing well are almost entirely internal and professional: good reporters are rewarded, largely, by having their status elevated among other reporters. On Wall Street, seeing truth gets you a million dollar bonus. At a newspaper, it gets you a slap on the back."
But why, in this case, did a lowly reporter break this story ahead of the hedge fund types and whoever else is paid millions to know everything about the market?

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I won't be up late enough to see the bitter end of the Quebec election (I have to be up early tomorrow). Is anyone else going to call it before the polls close tonight?

In the end the big winner in this election may well be the rest of Canada. It seems as though Quebec may be standing down from the idea of eternal referendums.

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Ask. Believe. Deceive.

Torontoist sums up how I feel about The Secret. I suppose my question is, if it's really that simple, why do I need to buy a book?

The real secret is this: get Oprah to endorse your project.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007

War with Iran? What War with Iran?

So it appears that Jason Cherniak has now clarified his original post. He says that it was just a simple question that has since been clarified for him by Michelle Oliel in his comments section. A quote from Ms. Oliel's comment:
"I doubt that the British can make a claim that attacking the nuclear reactor is imminent or proportionate to what the Iranians did."
Indeed. I think why so many of us were concerned about Jason's question was that we took such an assertion for granted. It was that taking for granted that caused me at least to question what exactly Jason was trying to say here.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

Godwin's Law: Tom DeLay Edition

More on Cherniak's War

Erik Abbink has a great post on the topic breaking down the rhetoric used in the original. Erik (like me but with better articulation) is aghast that Jason seems to be looking for a war.

The Canadian Observer suggests that Jason sign-up for such a reprisal on Iran himself. This is perhaps a bridge too far. Like I said in my prior post, I'm not sure how bellicose Jason is being here. He hasn't posted any clarification, so let's give him at least some benefit of the doubt. Besides, there are plenty of others who should strap on boots ahead of Cherniak, Ezra Levant, I'm looking at your sorry ass.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

"And so he dialed back on the bears."

Another great creation story:



I can't see the comments link for that last post. Where did it go?

Oh well, they work fine on this post, maybe Haloscan hiccuped there. Oh well, just post your comments for the last post in this post's comments section I guess.

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Oh! What a Lovely War!

It's really very difficult to grasp tone online. I hope I am wrong here, but I fear that I detected a note of excitement in Jason Cherniak's reporting of this incident as being an act of war. When he adds in the comments section of the post that maybe the British will respond with a strike against nuclear targets, it sounds again like he's hoping that will - or ought to be - the solution.

As others point out, the waterway where this all happened is disputed territory. Additionally, if you read the original CTV posting, you'll find that a similar incident had happened in the past. I suppose I should add that the US-led coalition in Iraq has no problem with arresting members of the Iranian diplomatic corps. Nor does the IDF - since we're talking about the middle east - have a problem with murdering sort of inadvertently yet somehow deliberately firing missiles at Canadian soldiers. Iran's actions, unpleasant as they may be, are more or less par for the course in this region and hardly a reason to touch off widespread airstrikes. Why would anyone want them to be a reason to do that?

I had thought that we had learned our lesson about finding flimsy pretexts for military attacks. Either way I suspect there will be a week of intense negotiations, followed by the release of the British soldiers. So I like I said, I hope I misread Jason's tone, if not that of some of those in his comments section. Iran wouldn't be any more of a pleasant place to attack than Iraq.

Edit: I'm not sure why the comments don't work on this post.
Edit: Fixed it!

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Kicking the tires on Chrysler

I think the FP is right in thinking that a Magna bid would be a prelude to a break-up of Chrysler. (HT) Quote:
"Mr. Stronach has stressed, however, that Magna does not want to risk losing the business of its major customers, namely Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. by competing directly with them. Taking an ownership position in Chrysler may put it in that situation. A more likely outcome is that Magna would invest in Chrysler’s vehicle production operations in a way that’s palatable for Magna’s main clients."
This whole move has made me question whether this is more than simply one company picking over the carcass of another one. The auto industry is home to some of the most powerful brands in the world - nameplates from Lexus to Chevrolet bring an instant association. In many industries though, big brands don't make anything anymore, it's all contracted out. The only things that Nike owns (aside from its offices and retail outlets) is the swoosh and the name. Same thing, so I understand, with most apparel manufacturers.

Is it possible for the auto industry to be divided similarly. On one hand there'd be the brands and their dealer networks, on the other hand, there'd be manufacturing and distribution networks. Some companies might remain vertically integrated, but most of them would simply contract out their manufacturing. Magna already does this for DaimlerChrysler in Austria where they assemble SUV's. I'm not an economist, or a business major, but is this plausible? What are the implications for all those unionized auto-worker jobs in Ontario? What are the implications for new vehicle prices?

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Don't Show This to The Roan

Metal is apparently good for you in certain situations! Moreover, bright children tend to resort to metal in times of stress. Even worse, the researchers who found this were working out of the University of Warwick! I am not making this up. (Clarification: The Roan is a notorious metalhead known to both Keith and me, Warwick is also the name of company that makes bass guitars often favoured by metal types.)

So, uhh, take two of these if you're stressed:


The War and Conservatism in the US

It appears that launching an illegal war with no exit strategy tends to be a drag on the rest of your platform. Small "c" conservative views on a whole range of subjects are now profoundly unpopular among the under-25 set.

Of course this forces us to ask the question, if the Iraq war had gone swimmingly, would gay marriage now be less popular in the US?

People tend to sign up for a political party or activist group because they believe strongly in one or two things. The might be ardent about abortion rights, lower taxes, health care, affordable housing, a strong military, family values - anything. What happens though, is that once someone buys into a party because of their stance on one issue, they tend to adopt that party's stances on a variety of issues.

People who were driven from the Republican party by this administration and its war, may now question the entire GOP platform.
Picture: Could the preserved head of Nixon save the GOP?

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Water Supply

I worry about this trend.

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History Lessons: Mulroney Edition

Stephen Harper has just delivered a windfall to Quebec. A windfall that will be converted to tax breaks by Jean Charest (assuming he wins). Let's go back in time 15 years or so: Why was Mulroney so hated by the end of his tenure as Prime Minister? Well there were lots of reasons, certainly his arrogance, his buddy-buddy relationship with US Presidents, but one of the things that really boiled blood in Canada was his perceived softness on Quebec.

I suppose maybe a Calgary-based guy like Harper can get away with some Quebec gifts (Nixon to China, blah blah) but I think he'll really be on thin ice if he's seen as being too nice to soft nationalists in Quebec.

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Mind the Gaps

The US Justice Department scandal is now turning on a sixteen-day gap in the White House and DOJ emails that have been released. Gaps are one of the things that ultimately chased Nixon from office - in his case those in the transcripts that he released to Congress. Nixon left when he had to turn over the entire tapes under order of the Supreme Court.

The questions that are being obscured by that gap sound an awful lot like "What did the President know, and when did he know it?" Plus ca change...

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Godwin's Law Award

Fiddling while the Industry Burns

Atrios has a pair of posts on how badly the music industry has been doing over the past couple of years. His analysis:
"Instead of exploiting the desire of people on the internet to promote their stuff for free, they're obsessed with royalties and DRM. It's bizarre to me that an industry notorious for its payola scandals - paying radio stations to pay their crap so that people can hear it for free - simultaneously obsesses about the possibility that people might actually throw up a song on the internet so that people can hear it for free."
I'd never thought of music sharing in the context of payola, but it's a hell of a contradiction, isn't it? Besides, these days so much of radio is repression by boredom - but maybe that's what the industry wants. There's no reason to embed this video here:

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

John Bolton on The Daily Show

First of all, yes, he's an asshole.

Bolton apparently thinks that anything that undermines the president's authority is anti-democratic. Why? Because it undermines the will of the people who voted for him.

Uhhh, John, voting for someone is a hell of a long way from wanting all his (or her) ideological soul-mates run things with uniformity. Personally I usually end up voting for the lesser of two or more evils.

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Hoisted by his own Petard?

Conrad Black has always loved big words. I mean really, alarmingly big words. He often comes off as an irritating university sophomore eager to show off. His word usage mixed with his name dropping gets irksome - and this is coming from someone who probably name-drops and deliberately uses flowery language way too much.

All this leads to this gem. Conrad-loving Mark Steyn points out that:
"[Prosecutor Jeffery Cramer] took the opportunity to reiterate to the jury over and over that “four men in this room stole 60 million dollars”, and to bolster it he produced some quotes from Conrad Black’s memos, unusually loquacious by corporate standards and at least potentially damaging for jurors unfamiliar with his ornate rhetorical style."
So outsiders might view this "ornate rhetorical style" might do what? Give jurors the impression that Conrad is an obfuscating asshole who is pleased to talk down to others? Gee, Mark Steyn, I wonder how anyone could get such a distorted view of this man?

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Dennis Perrin fuses anger and irony as I think only he can. Not for the weak.


No Tax Break For You!

I suppose I could call this the Soup Nazi budget, because, I don't think that I personally get anything out of it. In many regards, that's fine, I'm a simple man not pining for tax breaks or other goodies. There is however one thing that particularly sticks in my craw:

Everyone who has kids gets a tax break (yes, poor families need it, I don't begrudge low-income single moms one cent of what they'll get). Does everyone with kids need such a break. The census just came out and Canada already has one of the fastest growing populations in the industrialized world. Sure our growth comes through immigration, but growth is growth.

Either way, what bugs me is that every household gets this. Go past an affluent suburban high school and see what the parents (or the kids) are driving. What does a family that bustles about in a Porsche Cayenne really need in the way of child tax breaks? What will a few hundred get them anyway? A tank of gas?

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Monday, March 19, 2007

More Widgets!

There's a site I found, that has one to show books in your collection. Look to the right on this page to see it!

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Harper Can't Get an Election

It looks like the Bloc is going to support the budget. This is probably actually a blessing in disguise for the Liberals and the NDP. There are some hard right undercurrents in the budget and they still won't take away their income tax increase on the poor, but I don't think that it's the sort of thing that can get the bulk of Canadians really worked up. There's just as much a risk that the electorate would punish the opposition parties for dragging them to the polls again.

The opposition parties need to make the government fall on a flash of deep blue. I'm convinced that the Stephen Harper who fawns over the GOP and who ran the far-right National Citizens Coalition is still lurking behind Mr. Nice-guy hockey dad. The trick is to get Harper to tip his hand, get him to show how he'd really govern if he got a majority.

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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Corporate Graffiti Part II: Sue me, you bastards

Via Saskboy, today I find out that Clear Channel wants to sue anyone who has the temerity to point out that their signs are illegal. The reason that Clear Channel uses is that its licensing agreements are between itself and private property owners, therefore its no one else's business if the signs are in fact contravening by-laws.

This is the prevailing attitude among those who want to put up ads on every square-inch of Toronto - they think it's their God-given right to do so. Clear Channel has already ruined radio, I'd prefer that they not ruin my city.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Canada's Newspeak Government

In James Travers' column today we learn that one of the forces impelling Harpers' foreign policy (which, incidentally, was a topic he hardly mentioned on the campaign trail) is a foreign policy book by some guy named Roy Rempel.

Travers describes Rempel's argument thusly:
"Rempel's assumption, shaped by compelling facts about Canada's deteriorated defence, development and diplomatic infrastructure and undermined by his less convincing analysis of Ottawa's foreign policy options, is that this country is in danger of becoming a de facto U.S. protectorate. His answer is not for Ottawa to distance itself from Washington but to move ever closer."
So, in order to have foreign policy independence, Canada needs to be in lock-step with Washington? Canadian conservatives have for the most part (aside from having a strong monarchist streak in some quarters) wanted Canada to act a lot more like the US for a long time. It's pretty convenient that they found someone to justify it by saying that our options are to be dependent on the US or align ourselves with the US completely.

Fealty to the US is an independent foreign policy! Freedom is slavery!

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Happy St. Paddy's!

What better way to do this whole thing than a Pogues video:

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Oh no he didn't!

Conrad tells the press to talk to the hand! What's next, Barbara doing the whole snap-snap-snap-head-bob thing with her fingers. Seriously, I see his daughter is his new fashion accessory. I didn't know he had kids until this trial. I suppose now he's trying to be Mr. Family Man so the jurors will be sympathetic. I don't know if Black will be convicted of any crimes, but we should never forget that he's an insufferable douche either way. He talks down to Canadians one minute and the next begs to have his citizenship back.


Friday, March 16, 2007

A Big Idea for Toronto?

In the decade-plus that I've been driving (where did the time go?) traffic in Toronto has gotten significantly worse. While I can recall times when the DVP would be fast during off-peak hours, now there is no guarantee. The same can be said of certain stretches of the 401.

In that time period I have done my share of transit commuting and I can say with some certainty that there is nothing worse that the purgatory of TTC trips that go very far beyond the subway lines that are the backbones of its system. Buses don't come, or they come late, when they do come they're overcrowded. All that traffic build-up that I mentioned above, makes the bus trips seem interminable.

A couple of my friends live right on Queen St. and I guess if you live and work along a 24-hour streetcar line, this is all theoretical, but most of us don't (even if we really, really want to). Most of Toronto's residents are out in the vast tracts of housing beyond downtown. And out there, the TTC is often a wretched way to get around.

All this is a prelude to saying that something like this is really encouraging. Check out the website here.

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Corporate Graffiti

Like A Preacher Stealing Hearts

Heh, this is just some live concert footage, what did you think it was?


Maybe it's a stretch but...

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Changing Narratives

It seems as though the Prayer Palace is bringing in a forensic accountant to fix the slight image problem that the Star gave its millionaire pastoring team. I imagine that the church can probably spin the audits whatever way it wants - and I suspect unless someone is blatantly caught with their hand in the till, that the leadership will declare the problem solved.

Why? Well, it appears from the above articles that the Melnichuks have the congregation believing that a pastor is sort of like a CEO - complete with the compensation package. So an audit will turn up that the Melnichuks are getting paid an outrageous sum - with the full knowledge of the overseers of the church's financial affairs - and the congregation will accept it.

What needs to be challenged in this situation is the underlying notion that church leaders are entitled to ridiculously wealthy lifestyles on the backs of a poor congregation. Meanwhile the church cannot meet even a minimum of charitable obligations. This may not be illegal or even in breach of GAAP and so an audit may well be a clever way to hit back for the church. They are attempting to change the question from one of morality to one of legality.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Connecting the dots on Bush's book club

Glenn Greenwald has an expansive post (well worth reading) about W's "book club." This is the same meeting that I posted on the other day. It seems, from reading Greenwald that this is nothing but a meeting of the neocon usual suspects. The fact that Bush reads a book by a conservative anglophile about history somehow makes him appear well-read to people like Mark Steyn. It's astonishing that, as a sort of follow-up Karl Rove invites over some neocons (Greenwald has a fairly comprehensive list) and makes sure Bush has learned the right lessons from the book.

I wonder what would happen if some slipped, oh, say, Manufacturing Consent into the dust jacket of the next paean to imperialism that is tossed into Bush's lap. It would take something like that, it seems, to break up these exercises in group-think.

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I want this film to be good, not Oscar good, but entertaining summer fun really good. I want it to be at least good enough that I can justify owning the DVD. That said, I know - not fear - but know that Michael Bay will mess it up. All I wanted from Pearl Harbor was to watch planes attacking ships and vice-versa, but no, he couldn't even do that right. I had to endure two hours of the worst, most leaden love story ever in order to get to it. It made the action scenes hardly worthwhile.

Anyway, here's the new trailer, so that you can hope, along with me, that this isn't completely terrible. I hope Michael Bay realizes that these are precious childhood memories he's playing with here.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Bush's Doctrine of Infallibility?

Maybe I'm overstating it, but David Kaiser reports on a conversation that Bush had with historian Andrew Roberts:
"The president confided to Roberts that he believes he has an advantage over Churchill, a reliable source with access to the conversation told me. He has faith in God, Bush explained, but Churchill, an agnostic, did not. Because he believes in God, it is easier for him to make decisions and stick to them than it was for Churchill."
While Christianity does promise believers quite a bit (eternal life, et cetera) I was unaware of any scripture or church tradition that says believers have an easier time making decisions or that the decisions believers make in their jobs are inherently more likely to be correct. Of the many consolations offered by religion, I am not aware that "making decision is easy" has ever been one of them.

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Point-of-View vs. Outright Lying

Yesterday I posted on the impossibility of achieving the mythical "balanced" newscast. Today though, I am reminded that we need to distinguish between a point of view and outright lying. I have no problem with Fox News operating with the mentality that they are correcting some kind of left-wing bias (I think they are incorrect in assessing that bias, but it's not my place to say what their approach to news ought to be). What does concern me is not so much when their token liberals are marginalized and weak like Alan Colmes, it's when they lie outright to advance their political agenda.

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American Fascism(?)

I'm uneasy with comparing movements or people to fascism. One of my hobbies is invoking Godwin's Law in internet debates. The use of the word fascism in today's society is still remarkably similar to how Orwell characterized it 60 years ago:
"The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies 'something not desirable.'"
All of this made me uncertain about Chris Hedge's new book, American Fascism. That said, despite my misgivings about the title, I'm really interested in this book after watching a few interviews with Hedges on YouTube. I'm too tired to embed the video, just click the link.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Prayer Palace Update

The church with the impoverished congregation and the millionaire pastors has now caught the attention of Richard Dawkins' website. It seems as though the Melnichuks are impervious to shame - a condition shared by Benny Hinn and Peter Popoff.

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Media Bias: The Stephen Taylor Edition

Stephen Taylor of the Blogging Tories is up in arms about some report on the CBC. From what I'm able to tell the problem was that Tom Flanagan didn't get a chance to comment about the story. Thus, in Taylor's mind some kind of artificial balance was thrown out of proportion.

I'm somewhat concerned by balance fetishists because balances of opinion are artificial. Everyone's idea of a "balanced" news report is shaped by their own sense of what constitutes "balance" in the media. I'm sure that Flanagan has other reasons to be upset with CBC, and to him this is another in a long list of grievances. What is fascinating about Flanagan's letter to Taylor is that the one thing that the media needs for better balance is more Tom Flanagan.

Of course it's not as though Tom Flanagan (or Stephen Taylor for that matter) are silenced by the media. I've read lengthy Flanagan Op-Eds in the Globe and Mail and I see that Macleans has anointed both Flanagan and Taylor as two of their 50 extra-special opinion-shaping people. It is evident that there are lots of opportunities for both Taylor and Flanagan to get their opinions out there. So what if one reporter ditched Flanagan's shimmering pearls of wisdom on one story? I've seen plenty of one-sided articles emanating from both Macleans and the CanWest Global empire that I vehemently disagreed with.

What did I do?

Well, I didn't waste time trying to dig up some journalism code of ethics with which to sully these institutions. No. I accept that everyone is biased, you, me, Stephen Taylor, everyone. I criticized and/or mocked the pieces that I found disagreeable instead. There is nothing wrong with an editorial board having a point of view - in fact the media that I consider most suspicious are those that swear up and down that they are unbiased. It's humanly impossible to be unbiased, when some outlet says it's unbiased it likely means that the bias is more insidious than in other cases.

On a side note, what happened to the whole conservative pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps mentality? I mean this seems to be an appeal to have someone else fix a problem for you. Shouldn't true conservatives busy themselves using entrepreneurial energies to create a leaner, more innovative market-driven competitor to a big mushy government apparatus like the CBC?

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Home Security isn't a Warm Gun

I found this to be an interesting post explaining the flaws in the "Ah gots me a gun tuh defend ma property from burglars!" argument. Money quote:
"I've never understood why anyone would keep a gun in their home to protect themselves from burglars. If you has a violent stalker ex, or someone who was was bent on invading your home in order to hurt you, I could see the rationale for being armed. But buying a gun to protect against burglars is no protection at all. It's not like you're going to stand guard every night to deter them.

Turning on the lights to find the gun is enough scare off the average burglar. I know at least a half-dozen people who have scared off burglars (deliberately or involuntarily) just by alerting the would-be thief to their presence. The burglar isn't there to fight you hand-to-hand for your iPod. Confrontations with the homeowner go against the whole burglary business model."

Yeah, the reason that burglars tend to tiptoe in during the night is because they are fixing to confront you. If they are, then they are the sorts that you don't want to tangle with anyway.

I imagine this line of reasoning won't get very far with gun fanatics. Notice, I didn't say gun owners, I'm just talking about the guys that have this fantastical, almost pornographic, relationship with their firearms. I understand a farmer with .22 keeping wolves or whatever away. The gun fanatics I mean are those (mostly) guys who, every time there is a crime committed with a gun argue that, if only there was lawful gun owner, he would have stopped the criminal.

What these nuts are saying is, "if only I had been there with my gun to save the day." Likewise I think they feel the same about their own home. They feel like their guns are at the ready so they can save the day! In the rare case that someone can actually do that, they are probably an off-duty cop, or an ex-marine, or someone else trained and mentally prepared to use deadly force. No, Halo 2 does not count. No, shooting at paper targets does not count.
Picture: The Boondock Saints were fictional vigilantes, you are not them.

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

Blogging Notes

Keith is taking another kick at the proverbial blogging can.

Last week I was able to meet Ron (thus concluding with some finality that he isn't a Suncor-owned computer program generating random bits of html code) and show him some interesting bits of Toronto.


300 Redux

In the Star today there is a much more comprehensive article about the historical Spartans and how 300 does not depict them. From what I'm reading, the movie essentially sets up the Spartans as supermen and everyone else is either a freak, or gay, or both.

Thinking about this further, it should tell you something though about the Spartans that the only legacy they left was a fearsome reputation. While the Spartans were creating a warrior state, the Athenians were building, thinking, and writing - in addition to having a superb military.

I don't want to do this to slam 300 or ruin your movie-going experience generally, as a rule I try not to let historicity ruin historical fiction for me. Gladiator had more than a few embarrassingly bad historical interpretations of ancient Rome, but I'll still tell you that I enjoyed the film. Why? It was (I thought) a well-told story with decent actors and superb visuals. Just don't use it as a study aid.

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Gay Porn Stars Heart Republicans

I sort of wasn't paying attention to this, but apparently some fellow by the name of Matt Sanchez is the new Jeff Gannon. I think Dennis Perrin had the best/funniest summation:
"I love how reactionaries suddenly find their compassion when one of their own is forced from the closet. They become as PC as the libs they hate, engaging in victimspeak while touting the power of redemption, just so long as the closet-case they're defending remains stoutly rightwing, or better yet, has "learned" from his or her "mistake," and is now a flag-waving, God-fearing heterosexual, devoted to adding new members to the tribe via missionary sex under a photo of Ronald Reagan on a horse."
I hope that mental image makes your Sunday.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007


I'm watching Idiocracy right now. Brilliant.


How (not) to watch 300

I've read mixed reviews of the new Frank Miller adaptation. The truth is, I liked Sin City enough that I'll probably go to see 300 anyway. One of the things that some people are reading into the film is that it is a sort of apology for the Iraq war. This is anachronistic, as 300 was written in the 1990s. I hope that 300 is compelling historical fiction, but I would urge (particularly neocons) to treat it as nothing more. Here are a couple points that I remember from sundry history classes of my past:

The Spartans were slave-owners
I don't know if the film will mention the Helots, but they were an ethnic group that was subservient to the Spartans. As part of military training I seem to recall that Spartan boys had to kill a Helot. The "free men" and the "freedom" that Sparta fought for was of a rather limited sort. (I suppose if you're one of those types that get all warm-and-fuzzy about the Confederacy, this won't bother you).

The Persians were not all bad
They allowed the Jews to return to Jerusalem to rebuild their religion and culture a generation before . By contrast, later Hellenic powers attempted to ban Judaism.

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Baffling Incoherence

This week in Macleans, Mark Steyn writes:
"A 'social conscience' obliges the individual to act. Today we call for action all the time, but mostly from government, which is another way of excusing us and allowing us to get on with the distractions of the day. Our schoolhouses revile the Victorian do-gooders as condescending racists and oppressors -- though the single greatest force for ending slavery around the world was the Royal Navy."
One moment Steyn is chiding those who would call on the government to solve society's problems as essentially copping-out. The next moment, he praises a government agency - the Royal Navy - for ending slavery.

The troublesome thing for a lot of conservative hawks I suppose is that they want to lionize the military while saying that government is bad. The rest of the article is Steyn's usual complaints about why can't things be like they were back in the olden days as well as a cheap shot against Jean Chretien.
Picture: Anti-slavery activist William Wilberforce called on the government to end slavery.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Who's Afraid of the Vagina Monologues?

Come on, it was a big theatre event some ten years ago or so. Are people still worked up about this? Moreover, how can they teach health classes in a school where you aren't allowed to say "vagina" out loud.
Picture: Eve Ensler, author of the Vagina Monologues, is caught using an anatomically correct word to describe a body part that at least 50% of the world has - lock up your children!

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Coulter's Guide to Insults

Warning: Contains inappropriate language - unless you are at a conservative convention.
Ann Coulter, as you are all surely aware, caused a bit of a stir this past week by calling John Edwards a faggot. Apparently her justification is that, well, Edwards isn't actually gay and therefore couldn't possibly be offended by such a harmless taunt. Coulter says:
"It is a schoolyard taunt, and unless you're going to announce here on national TV that John Edwards, married father of many children, is gay, it clearly had nothing to do with that. It's a schoolyard taunt."
Oh, so when a slur is applied to someone who is not actually in the category of people that said slur is meant to insult, it's okay. What's next? Maybe Ann will refer to Bill Clinton as a "nigger," it couldn't possibly be offensive, since Clinton is White. Ann's critique of an American with Italian ancestry like Rudy Giuliani could never include hateful words like "wop" but maybe she could call Mitt Romney a "wop" - simply as a schoolyard taunt.

Barack Obama's multiracial heritage makes him a bit of challenge, both "honky" and "nigger" are off the table for Ann. I suppose she could recycle "faggot" but that's getting a bit old. I guess it's part of Coulter's job to figure out this conundrum.

In the meantime, I think I will refer to Ann Coulter as a horrible mutant offspring of Skeletor, Barbie, and Barbie's horse. Remember she could never take offense, because it isn't true - or that's what I'm told.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Work Camps

Eugene Plawiuk dug up this story about efforts by a Calgary business to create labour camps to deal with Alberta's labour shortage. I can only wonder at the consequences of such a program of labour camps over the long term. Of course the company, Lehigh Inland Cement, is insisting that this won't be like the bad old days of the 1930s when labour camps were dreadful affairs - no they insist this will be totally different.

By the sounds of this quote, it looks like it will be some kind of trailer park:
"There is a location down south of where we are that really has already a structured facility and had been permitted for trailers, I believe."
Great. Now, this company is doing this because it believes that people are turned-off of moving to Calgary because of high housing costs. What about, instead of making a work camp, actually paying such a wage that people could afford housing? This company seems to be taking the decision that it is actually cheaper to construct some kind of living quarters where workers would be housed than it is to pay them. I can only imagine what kind of living conditions one might enjoy in such a work camp.

If one's employer is also one's landlord, what kind of other conditions might one expect in the camp? This looks like a play for control over the lives of employees. If you live in a work camp, can you drink? Is there a curfew?
Picture: Julian, Bubbles, and Ricky contemplate whether Lehigh's trailer park would treat them better than Lahey's

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Does this apply to Sarah Connor?

In South Korea there is a proposal to create a code of ethics for human interaction with robots. I'm not sure how serious this is given that one of the "experts" on the panel is a sci-fi writer. Isn't that like having the writers of Indiana Jones on a panel that's writing a code of ethics for archaeologists?
Picture: Sarah Connor contemplates whether her actions would be in violation of a robot code of ethics.

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Partition Nonsense Again

I really don't blog a lot about Quebec politics, because, well, I don't know a lot about the topic. That said, here I go again on Quebec politics. Charest apparently got caught in some sort of gaffe over partitioning Quebec after a hypothetical "Yes" vote on a referendum (HT). He says it was a slip of the tongue, but who knows? Once again I'd have to reiterate my point from yesterday: it might be emotionally satisfying for federalists to talk about partition of Quebec, but I cannot see it working.

What regions, municipalities, neighbourhoods would get to stay in Canada? How could the governments of Canada and a sovereign Quebec manage territory that would look like a bunch of patchwork farms on a political map? There are a variety of things that federalists can do to create disincentives for separatism, partition is not one of them.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Who is Pure Laine? Does it matter?

Paul Wells has pointed out a quote that might embarrass Stephen Harper with his new buddies, the soft-nationalists in Quebec:
"'Obviously, given the ethnic and sociocultural make-up of modern Quebec society, only the pure laine Quebecois could arguably be considered a people,' Harper, who was then the Reform Party MP for Calgary West, told the House of Commons on Dec. 11, 1995, during a debate on Quebec's right to self-determination.

"While they constitute a majority of the Quebec population, they do not constitute a majority in each region of Quebec. This produces a curious result, that if the Quebecois pure laine are a people and if they have a right to secede, they could not claim the right to territorial integrity."
Oh, well I can see how much fun that would be, sorting out what Montreal neighbourhoods we would need to partition. What constitutes a "region" in Harper's mind? Is Montreal a region? Is Westmount a region? Is every house where English is spoken a region? What about non-Pure Laine separatists? The BQ can win in Haitian neighbourhoods now, they have visible minorities as members. What about Maka Kotto, the Bloc MP who was born in Cameroon? Partition is a tempting tit-for-tat response to separatist threats, but that's about it.
Picture: Maka Kotto - Stephen Harper's head asplode!

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Colbert Last Night

He had this gem about Joe Lieberman, the man who could not countenance any political debate (HT). For someone who is supposed to be hawkish, Lieberman seems awfully conflict-averse when it comes to harsh words on the floor of the US Senate.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

U.S. History (and Canadian Prophecy?)

Atrios has a post today on the mainstreaming of radical right-wing ideas in the US. Money quote:
"Over the last few decades we've seen just about every radical conservative idea be completely mainstreamed into our politics and discourse, while at the same time the Noble Defenders of the Left Flank like Joe Lieberman Weekly and Joe Klein have valiantly fought to ensure that every political idea or thought to their left on the rough political spectrum is declared to be "extremist." It's marginalization rhetoric which paints those who those who have those ideas as not just wrong, but actually ineligible to have a seat at the debate table."
This is, I think, a fair assessment of the success of far-right groups in the US in the past two decades. I can't help but think that this is exactly what Stephen Harper wants to import. It's been said that he wants to shift Canadian politics so that the Conservatives are the new "natural governing party" of this nation. The new cadre of editors at Macleans, the alarmist (and alarming) Ezra Levant and his rag, as well as a variety of think-tanks (Fraser among others) are more than willing to facilitate this mainstreaming of radical right-wing ideas.

Conservatives of both the small and big "c" variety are feeling ascendant in this country. The challenge will be to respond to their attempts at driving national discourse. In the US they were aided and abetted by a complacent and sometimes sympathetic media, we have no reason to assume the media will behave differently here.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Not a great day for Jesus

First there was the wealthy pastor and his impoverished flock, now this pithy observation from Andrew Sullivan:
"The religious right base actually seems to believe in torture. Along with making lots and lots of money, and losing weight, torture is now apparently a one of Jesus' core teachings."
There is no limit to how human avarice and cruelty can contort any philosophy - be it religious or secular - to satisfy the basest of desires.

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I wasn't the only one disgusted by this piece in the Toronto Star this morning on the Prayer Palace. If you've ever driven up the 400 and wondered what that saucer-shaped thing around Finch Ave was, now you know, it's a den of thieves parading as a church. The pastor and his family seem to live very comfortable lives - something that cannot be said of many of those attending the church. What's more, it appears that so many of the poor folk in this congregation are very generous:
"After worshipping at the Prayer Palace this morning, Hyacinthe Houghron will, as she does every second Sunday, stuff her tired green minivan with a small feast: six coolers of homemade soup, a mountain of sandwiches, cakes and sweets.

Loaded down with second-hand clothes pulled from the ceiling-high piles in her hair salon, she'll give out the goods to homeless people on downtown Toronto's grittiest streets.

Missions like this aren't cheap for people like her and other volunteers at the church. "We're poor folks," says Houghron, describing the majority of the 3,000-strong congregation who attend the spaceship-shaped church at Hwy. 400 and Finch Ave."

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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Twitchy Cops In Boston

It's not just the Mooninites that are doing this either. Ron's got a story about some other dude, his crime was standing around wearing a backpack - in Boston.

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Group Think on Global Warming

One of the right-wing blogosphere talking-points on climate change is that it's a result of "group-think" that scientists won't challenge for fear of ostracism. Maybe they were talking about themselves:
"Of 63 blogs queried, we get survey results like this:

Do you think mankind is the primary cause of global warming

Yes (0) -- 0%
No (59) -- 100%

The last one strikes me as astonishing. Some skepticism is warranted in climate change science. But the fact that the scientific community overwhelmingly believes that humans are primarily responsible for current climate change and none of the right-wing bloggers does suggests to me another sign of severe conservative meltdown. (Hat tip: Ann.)"

63 blogs is not the largest sample, but still, it's significant that they are in lock-step on this topic. It looks a lot like group-think and a fear of ostracism to me.

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Guided By Voices

Rock on, Glad Girls:

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The Man-On-Dog Report

The Huffington Post is saying that Rick Santorum is going to have a new gig with Fox News. I can't wait to hear what subjects they are going to have him cover.

Picture: Rick Santorum contemplates how best to make the nation's bedrooms his business.

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Harper's Dirty Wars?

There was something posted on Buckdog a couple days ago that continues to bother me. Jason Kenney, the man Harper put in charge of drumming up ethnic votes said the following:
“[Canada] will pursue every possible avenue in concert with our allies to ensure that [Iran] does not come into possession of nuclear weapons, which could unleash unimaginable violence.”
Every avenue? Normally this would just seem like posturing, but remember we have 2000 troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Now I'm not saying that Harper would cast aside our NATO commitments (though it sure is convenient that our main battle tanks are there already). Afghanistan though would be a great operational base for, say, JTF 2. I could see both Hillier and Harper being willing to commit JTF 2 to some kind of foolishness in Iran if they were asked.

We need to ask tough questions when we're being told that Canada is pursuing every avenue. What are we committing to here? Given that no one is ever told what JTF 2 does, I don't think this is far-fetched at all.

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

I hope this is temporary

These poll numbers are not encouraging at all. Of course every week a new poll creates a whole new story, so I'm not too concerned - yet. I remain convinced though that a Conservative majority would ruin most of what I like about Canada.

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Actual Nuclear Powers

While everyone is panicked over Iran's possible eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapon, Eric Margolis points out that Russia, a state that actually possesses nukes, is upset. We're all so busy watching the Middle East that we may wake up one day and wonder why the West's long-forgotten foe is acting so belligerent.

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