Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Cult of Hillier

Well not quite, but it appears that senior staff in the Canadian Forces are unhappy about Gen. Ricky's new "personality-driven" military. While no one in the report comes out and slams Hillier they do say that this sort of thing could become a liability. Maybe it already has, though the military would surely want to defer to Hillier - militaries being hierarchical and all that. Someone needs to put Hillier in his place, the man has to accept that the Canadian Forces serve the people of Canada and not the other way around. He ought not to whine and complain about budget cutbacks or what-have-you, it is the role of his civilian overseers to determine what the country can afford to spend on the military. His role may include requests, proposals, pleas, whatever; but when the government determines what money the military will get, his role is to shut up and take it.

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Fisking the Garbage Burners

There's an article in the Toronto Star about how Durham Region is planning on constructing a new incinerator to deal with its trash. This article is somewhat typical of the sort of gentle handling that incineration proposals get these days:

Despite skepticism and some opposition, Durham Region is deeply committed to building the GTA's first garbage incinerator in 15 years, says the region's works commissioner.

"Years ago, there was a fundamental commitment by Durham Region that there would be no new landfills established (here)," says Cliff Curtis. "And council seems to have bought into the concept that we need to look after our own waste."

In other words, because of two self-imposed, artificial constraints, Durham will build an incinerator. It's amazing what can happen when you have a solution that simply needs a problem to be more narrowly defined.

That seems to be a unique position in the GTA, where disposing of trash in one's own backyard tends to stink politically.

In case you haven't noticed, the GTA is rapidly filling up with people. Areas that were once thought to be "out in the country" turn in subdivisions with alarming rapidity.

Sustainable self-sufficiency, with acceptance of some risk, is a goal other regions seem to be avoiding. Toronto and Peel have signed long-term deals to use landfills outside the GTA, though Peel already incinerates half its waste. York plans to turn some of its garbage into pellets to be burned somewhere else. For the time being, Halton has decided to continue to use a Milton landfill.

Good grief, this part could have been written by the incinerator lobby itself. What do terms like "Sustainable self-sufficiency" and "some risk" even mean in this context? If we drove dump trucks down to Toronto Harbour and simply dumped the trash in the harbour, would that be "self-sufficient" with "some risk?"

After the province promised Michigan legislators that Ontario would stop shipping garbage to landfills in the state by 2010, councils across the GTA scrambled to find alternatives.

Most have taken a step back from incineration, long fraught with concerns about emissions.

I don't think many of them even took a step towards incineration.

Halton Region decided to defer considering an energy-from-waste incinerator for five years.

Peel signed a long-term deal with a landfill near Sarnia for half of its trash, despite the fact its Algonquin Power plant in Brampton, built in 1992, already burns almost 140,000 tonnes of garbage a year and is undergoing a retrofit so it can dispose of more.

C'mon Peel Region! What a bunch of pussies, burn all the garbage you can! Burn it!

York signed a deal with a Vaughan company to produce burnable pellets compressed from garbage, while reducing its stake in the joint incinerator project with Durham. Toronto shut down its polluting Commissioners St. incinerator in 1988, and Mayor David Miller has dismissed considering another.

Should we construe the line about the "polluting Commissioners St. incinerator" to mean that there are incinerators that put out no pollution whatsoever? Nice dichotomy construction there, Bad Old Incinerators vs New Good Incinerators.

Incinerators are criticized in part because they need a constant stream of garbage to be economically viable. Environmentalists argue that runs counter to efforts to reduce and recycle, principles to which every GTA region has committed itself.

Incinerators are also viewed as a health hazard. But don't say that to the Durham politicians who recently returned from Europe, wowed by advances in incineration technology and how people and smokestacks live cheek-by-jowl, apparently without conflict or fear. "I have a high level of confidence in (incineration)," said Durham Councillor Howie Herrema.

I love this line about incinerators: The ones in "Europe" are super! Europe is a pretty big place. I love how they always say "Europe" without mentioning a country, a region, a city, or a neighbourhood. Where in Europe, Howie? Why don't you tell us so this information could be independently verified. I can only assume that Councillor Herrema checked this out on the Durham taxpayers' dime and yet couldn't deliver beyond saying that things are fine in "Europe." Incidentally, I feel I should note that people live "cheek-by-jowl" with expressways in Toronto. I don't think that tidbit should be used to conclude that cars are a "clean" technology.

For Curtis, the decision by Toronto to buy the Green Lane landfill site near London, Ont., is a short-term solution. "We are just filling up holes in the ground and eventually we will run out of holes."

Maybe in the 15-20 years that Green Lane will last for Toronto, we will find ways to divert waste that don't involve setting it on fire.

York Region was supposed to have been a 50-50 partner with Durham in the joint incinerator project. Its recent decision to slash that involvement brought temporary hope to critics that the plan was dead. Not so, insists Curtis.

"We are still proceeding with the environmental assessment (for the incinerator). The preliminary business case we ran shows it will work even if Durham has to go alone."

It has been scaled down a bit, though. Original plans called for a plant capable of burning more than 250,000 tonnes a year. It's now 200,000 tonnes, Curtis said.

But if the tender call for the plant goes out by year's end as planned, it should be ready around 2011.

The trash stream that was supposed to come from York will be replaced in part by garbage generated by population growth in Durham and neighbouring municipalities such as Peterborough and Northumberland County, which have expressed interest in using it. And there's nothing to prevent York from increasing the amount it wishes to send to the Durham plant in years to come, Curtis said.

Rod Muir, of the Sierra Club of Canada, is skeptical as to whether the plant will be built. "I think politicians (in Durham) for the last three or four years have been kidding themselves if they think (finding a site for an incinerator) will be easier than finding landfill," he said.

Four of the five proposed sites are in Clarington, with a fifth in East Gwillimbury.

Opposition has been slowly growing in Clarington, already home to a nuclear reactor, and East Gwillimbury's council has said they don't want it.

What's wrong Durham, why doesn't anyone want your incinerator? Some people somewhere in Europe are said to live next to them! What more could you possibly want?

But even though Durham appears to be going it alone for now in championing incineration, it may yet find itself in good company.

Good company? Who?

Niagara Region and Hamilton have talked of building a joint incinerator, though Niagara has backed away from permitting one within its borders. And Rob Rivers, Halton Region's director of waste management, explains that his region's decision to defer incineration plans doesn't preclude a change of heart five years down the road.

I have to be honest, Durham, those don't exactly sound like ringing endorsements. One region won't permit incineration inside its borders and the other won't even talk about it for five years.

Toronto may someday find itself ringed by incinerators, even as its trash trucks rumble down Highway 401 toward Green Lane.

Given that Durham does not "ring" Toronto, I doubt that.

I'm sorry, but I guess I'm still cynical about this supposedly great new technology. Once again, who are these Europeans everyone talks about? Can you tell us, so that we may look into their love affair with incineration for ourselves? From time to time some Toronto politicians will talk about incineration (actually they usually slough it off as "new technologies") but none of them, to my knowledge, has ever said where they would put one.

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Pat Tillman Murdered?

When I first heard that Olbermann was doing a show on whether Pat Tillman may have been deliberately murdered I thought to myself "this is a bit too much in the tinfoil hat-vein for me." But strangely this thing may have legs. It seems to me that this would be unthinkable, even though Tillman's atheism and Iraq war opposition might not make him the most popular man in the Bush administration's view. There's just no way that someone would order a hit on a soldier who turned down potentially millions in NFL dollars to serve his country.

And yet the best way to predict the Bush administration's behaviour is generally to imagine the most cynical, partisan position. Of course nothing that's been said thus far proves anything beyond the fact that this was a case of friendly fire. No one knows under whose orders this sort of action was undertaken. There is a certain amount of reading into this that has to be done and may always have to be done.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Kashechewan Can't Catch a Break

It appears that the federal government is going to rebuild the Kashechewan reserve in the same place on the same low-lying floodplain. Apparently it was too expensive to move the community to higher ground. So what? Will they keep rebuilding it every couple years as it gets flooded out each time?

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I'm baaaaaaack

And I must confess, I don't "get" Montreal. I mean if you're 18 in Ontario and can't wait to drink I suppose it's a great deal, but otherwise it seems like a really long way to go to see signs in another language and for last call to be 45 minutes later. Maybe we went to the wrong places there? I'm not slagging Montreal, I'm sure it's nice enough, I'm just not sure it's worth the 6 hours and many, many dollars worth of gas to get there.


Friday, July 27, 2007


I'm going away, don't expect much of anything until Sunday. Did I mention I was off to Montreal? Home of this bunch:

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Thursday, July 26, 2007

More Reefer Madness!

Cannabis will make you a psycho killer according to a new study! Or, um, not so much if you bother to look beyond the headline or the first paragraph. Among the tidbits that you find:
"The researchers said they couldn't prove that marijuana use itself increases the risk of psychosis, a category of several disorders with schizophrenia being the most commonly known."
So in other words they can establish correlation but not causation. In other words this is in the same category as Richard Dawkins' dry sarcasm about Hitler and Stalin and the mustache correlation explaining their behaviour. Say it with me kids, correlation does not prove causation. Is it too bold to speculate as to whether some of the psychotics taking pot were in fact self-medicating? People with ADHD are more likely to self-medicate with, among other things, cocaine, a drug very much akin to Ritalin, so it's not like this would be an implausible theory.

The report goes on to say that there may or may not be some biological reason for marijuana to do this or that to one's system. But no one knows for sure.

Wait a sec? Who wrote this whole thing anyway?
"Two of the authors of the study were invited experts on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs Cannabis Review in 2005. Several authors reported being paid to attend drug company-sponsored meetings related to marijuana, and one received consulting fees from companies that make antipsychotic medications."
So they weren't exactly disinterested parties, eh? The Star's headline for this article (and it seems to representative) was Pot can make you psychotic: Study but it might have more accurately stated According to some people with vested interests in this sort of thing there appears to be a correlation between marijuana and psychosis that still needs further study to be understood. But then that wouldn't sell newspapers would it?

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With Friends Like These...

One of the more curious trends of the past couple decades is the increasingly uncritical support that more and more evangelical Christians are prepared to give to the most militaristic, pro-settler strains of Israeli society. Why. For a great deal of them this is all about hoping for the pre-millenialist rapture and holy war that wipes out most of the Jews (all but 144 000 according to some of these groups I think).

In other words, some (but not all) of these groups are aligning with the most right-wing, hawkish elements of Israeli society because they apparently want world history to culminate in the wiping out of most of the Jews during a war that wrecks their homeland. Question: is it possible for support of Israel to actually be anti-Semitic?

Edit: Here's the Max Blumenthal video on Christians United for Israel.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007


Haloscan is acting up, so I can't really read and moderate comments right now. I'm sure it'll be back soon. I hope.

Edit: It's fixed now.


Iraqis Just Can't Catch a Break

In many nations a favourite sport will bring people together in a way that little else can. Perhaps the most famous recent example has been India and Pakistan playing cricket against each other. In Iraq, like much of the world, soccer is probably the most popular sport. You might think that a win over South Korea (a side that did extremely well as recently as the '02 World Cup) might be a cause for Iraqis to set aside their differences peacefully to celebrate. It was not. Sigh.

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Where is "Gangster Culture" from?

Daimnation praises the Grope & Flail for this line:
"a gangster culture transplanted in part from Jamaica is sinking its roots into Toronto, and will not soon let go"
So until Jamaicans showed up, there wasn't a "gangster culture" around here? That must have come as quite a surprise to the Irish, Italian, Russian, and Chinese mobs to name but a few. Now those nice people at the Globe will tell you that of course they know about all the other crime gangs and the like - they watched The Untouchables just like the rest of us.

They will tell you that, but they are being disingenuous by doing so. The Jamaica line lingers there with a certain implication. Sure the Globe would never say it outright, but it's happy to leave the implication there that something about Jamaicans makes them a particular threat.

The fact is that "gangster culture" thrives in any immigrant group that is not well integrated into mainstream society. Any group where the prospects for good-paying legitimate work are minuscule and where relationships with the state (police et cetera) are uneasy will spawn organized crime. The history of organized crime is the history of marginalized immigrant groups in North America. The Italian mafia here has faded (despite remaining a force in southern Italy) mainly because Italians have become integral to the fabric of North America - like the Irish before them. That fading out is part of the pattern of organized crime.

There is little to suggest that "gangster culture" has somehow emerged anew from Jamaica. Rather because too many Caribbean immigrants are forced to eke out a living on the margins of Toronto, organized crime becomes a perfectly predictable choice. Don't bullshit us with soft racism, Globe & Mail.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Yellow Ribbon Idiocy

I've said before that I feel that, as a gesture, yellow ribbons are somewhat stupid. I think they probably afford more than a few of those that tack them on their cars the ability to feel good about themselves without doing anything to materially support Canadian troops.

Many on the right also seem to try to have it both ways by suggesting that ribbons are just a nice thing to do for the troops regardless of political opinion and that they are a sign of support for the mission that the troops are obliged to undertake. Additionally, Canada has had its own perfectly good symbols to show appreciation to soldiers without needing to import ones from the US (will we put an American flag on the Vimy memorial next?)

Anyway there was a silly mess over Toronto removing these magnets from city-owned vehicles. The usual suspects blamed this on the crazy "Taliban Jack Quislings" of Toronto City Council. Today though we find out that Calgary, the heart of Conservative-land, home to Steve Harper's riding has not and will not put these same things on city vehicles. I await the indignation.

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Monday, July 23, 2007

Chasing the Taliban in Pakistan (and why it won't work)

Eric Margolis has a piece on the prospect of the US invading the northwestern frontier region of Pakistan in order to capture or kill senior al Qaeda/Taliban. It probably will be a failure if they try it. Margolis writes of this "lawless" region:
"But there is law: the traditional Pashtun tribal code, Pashtunwali, that strictly governs behavior and personal honor. Protecting guests was sacred. I was captivated by this majestic mountain region and wrote of it extensively in my book, `War at the Top of the World.’"
He then goes on to outline some disastrous consequences if an attempt was made to go into northwestern Pakistan and to be honest, I'd say that they seem probable. If nothing else, the above quote makes it unlikely that even a Pashtun tribal group that didn't particularly like bin Laden would turn him over to anyone.

The problem remains though that Musharraf is doing relatively little about the situation either. Michael Scheuer remarked on CBC's The Current that Musharraf really had no incentive to upset the sizable Pashtun population in Pakistan. Given that things have been going poorly for Musharraf lately anyway, I suspect that he doesn't want to do the Pakistani politics equivalent of hitting a hornets' nest with a baseball bat.

It now appears that the regrouping al Qaeda is positioned in a region that the US cannot enter (without risking Pakistan's stability - and nuclear arsenal) and that Pakistan's leaders will not enter. If the pressure had been kept on the al Qaeda leadership, one wonders if we would have ended up here.

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

My Grandmother

My grandmother passed away last night. I'm not sure what exactly to say about that. She was not well and had not been well for some time. I had written this post about her last year. Over the past several years we had watched her world shrink. She moved from her own house into a retirement home (she was adamant about not imposing on her children) and from there her world shrank from the shops around the home, to the home, to her floor, to her room. In the past year it had been too much even for her to travel the twenty minutes or so to my uncle's house.

My mother said that she feels my grandmother has been released and I probably can't say it better than that.

I don't have any great stories to tell about her, at least ones that come to mind now. My thinking is probably too fractured. I have little shards to pick through. Here is one: She was five and the second youngest of eight farm children, she had to hold the chicken's head as her father (or older brother?) brought down the axe on its neck. I suppose that something so rural is indelible on a suburban mind not so accustomed to how a chicken becomes chicken.

I do not know if i feel grief the way grief is normally felt. I think I really began grieving the very first time she stared blankly at me as though I was a stranger. I knew her memory was going but that cannot prepare you for having to explain to your own grandmother who you are. So I knew this day was coming, but I still don't know how I feel about it.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Toronto's Subway Woes

First it seemed like Giambrone was going to close it down, but now it appears that there will be consultations and the like before anything substantive is done. In other words we are at least six months away from closing a subway line. There is some discussion as to whether this was some kind of bluff, Giambrone said not on CBC radio last night. Of course if it was a bluff, it would not profit the TTC to say so. My gut instinct on this though is that there will be a way found to save the subway line. The sort of blow to Toronto's collective psyche from losing a whole subway line as well as the optics of a Kyoto-embracing city closing public transportation will keep the line open.

In the meantime this is going to be something that plays to the coming provincial election. John Tory promises that he will rebalance provincial-municipal roles and responsibilities (and their financial burdens) so that Toronto might have a prayer of affording to run a city. Like fixing healthcare on the federal scene this sounds like the type of thing were a great deal of meeting and accord-writing can happen without anything substantive getting done. I'm not sure how the, uh, Harris rump still in Tory's Tories will take to this plan to renege on their legacy.

Meanwhile Jason Cherniak is putting the blame on the city itself. I'm not sure I get where Cherniak is going though with his post, I'm not aware of Toronto spending all kinds of money on "tearing down highways" or any such thing. It's as though he forgot about the downloading mess that we were stuck with ten years ago. Or perhaps we need to read into Cherniak's line about "a bunch of politicians far too easily reelected year after year [that] are unable to get their bloody acts together" a slightly veiled criticism of the NDP members of Toronto City Council.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

Chile's Poor Losers versus Toronto's Cops

Okay maybe that's a bit unfair, apparently the officiating was quite bad in the semi-final game yesterday. Nonetheless, as Steve at Far and Wide says, the team was getting pretty emotional about it. Now it appears that Chile's government is complaining about our police before anyone has accurately been able to assess what exactly happened.

Despite the fact that goons like Craig Bromell have been allowed on the Toronto police force, I still think the police should be given the benefit of the doubt, at least for the time being. Anyone who was in Toronto during last year's World Cup knows what chaos can erupt in certain neighbourhoods. The Portuguese community around Davenport started celebrating group play victories and didn't let up until their team was eliminated. People were sitting on the rollbars of speeding convertibles racing up and down Dufferin with flags. I had my car, err, baptized by the Portuguese flag - some guy was draping it over every car that passed him. Everyone was waving and shouting and generally carrying on. I avoided Corso Italia (for obvious reasons) and yet several blocks away you could hear the drumming and shouting.

Toronto has many soccer-mad ethnic groups, often with nuclei but a few blocks from each other. They will celebrate with abandon and yet there is little or no complaint about clashes between groups of fans or with the police. Toronto, its police, and its soccer fans know how to handle themselves, why did a problem occur only when Chile's U20 team came to town?

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Turkey and Iraq

Turkey is shelling PKK positions in Iraq, and what's more, it appears to be massing an invasion force for an incursion into northern Iraq. This is not encouraging for anyone, and yet it's par for the course in that part of the world.

Despite the obvious and frightening scenarios that may be unleashed by a major Turkish incursion, there may be little in the way of pretext to stop it.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Good Cop/Bad Cop in the Americas or Why Harper is on Tour

It's curious how the siren call of foreign affairs can lure a leader. Bush famously called for a "humble" foreign policy but has since evolved his position into spreading democracy to everyone everywhere. Or at least he's spreading something around. Likewise Stephen Harper made very little mention of foreign policy while campaigning yet it is growing into one of his favourite topics.

So why is Harper touring Latin America? He's making a big show about how Canada's role in the region will be different than that of the US. No imperialism thanks, we're Canadians. Now if we allow that Harper's foreign policy people have bought into the contradictory right-wing meme that the only way for Canada to have a strong, independent foreign policy is to cleave to the US, that doesn't make sense.

Hmmm, well let me put on my cynic hat here and see what I can think up. What Harper is really doing is putting a friendlier face on essentially the same policies that the US has advocated for the region. Harper is playing the good cop, he'll reference Venezuela only in the most oblique way and he'll stick to talking about how good free trade is for everyone. I'm sure Harper's vision for the future of the region could probably have been written in the US State Department, but he's putting a nicer face on it. See? It's good cop/bad cop, and Canada is supposed to be playing the good cop. Soon we may offer Latin America a cigarette or a cup of coffee, we understand it, we're on its side.

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Drug Companies are not "Charities"

Andrew Sullivan dropped a stinker today, it seems that he's confused corporations with charities. Don't believe me? Here it is:
"Pioneers of new technology and new medicine are rarely regarded as humanitarians by the media or the liberal intelligentsia... [snip] I'm not saying charity-workers do not deserve our support and praise. I'm saying that the definition needs to be expanded. But that would include the drug companies, wouldn't it?"
I can appreciate that as someone who essentially owes his life to new innovations in pharmaceuticals Sullivan might feel a soft spot for them, but that's just silly. Drug companies take a very substantial chunk of change for their innovations, they are paid in full. Charity is giving without expecting reward, drug companies expect a reward. They may be helpful, but they do expect a financial reward.

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What is truth?

Bill O'Reilly gets all subjective with Richard Dawkins. There are credible ways to defend religion, this is not one of them:


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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The next time you complain about the Canada-US border...

Be thankful that you aren't trying to go from India to Nepal. My friend Jam documents the chaos here. A sample:
"I get the exit Visa and run back to the jeep - it's gone...now I am stuck in the middle of nowhere it's dark and i need to cross the border...because my visa is stamped."
Go read the whole thing.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What is Al Qaeda? II

Juan Cole explains the difference between the guys in Afghanistan/Pakistan and the guys in Iraq:
"Al-Qaeda in Iraq" is of course just a bogeyman phrase to describe Salafi Jihadis there. But they obviously feel some kinship to the real al-Qaeda (you never want to see that) and they are threatening to get up an attack on the United States. There was no al-Qaeda in Saddam`s Iraq, so it is Bush who has created this current threat, which did not have to be there.
From being a single network of training camps and cells, al Qaeda has turned into a catch-all term. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that "al Qaeda" simply means "the base" in Arabic? It's a wonderfully vague term that must sound vaguely menacing in its native tongue, even absent the baggage it has acquired in the past ten years or so. It's also unique in not being laden with any very specific ideological connotations.

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What is Al Qaeda?

Seriously. What is al Qaeda? Is it an organization over which bin Laden exercises operational control? Is it the group that al Zarqawi spawned in Iraq? Are they the same thing? Is it any group of angry young men that blows things up (or attempts to) in the service of radical Sunni goals?

Whatever they are, they are supposedly on the rise. Given though that a coherent definition is lacking, how do we even know what is on the rise? Is al Qaeda whatever the National Intelligence Estimate says it is? If not, who defines it? It's becoming so broad a term as to be nearly useless.


Homer in England

This is brilliant!

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Monday, July 16, 2007

Quote of the Day: Private Health Insurance Edition

From Matthew Yglesias:
"It's the logic of the system and on some level it's no different from any other business. But whereas Apple or Toyota or Starbucks make money by delivering their products to people, insurance companies make money by not delivering health care to sick people."
It sort of reminds me of Crash where Matt Dillon's character can't get his dad the medical help he needs. Of course part of the movie is that Dillon's character is a racist jackass and therefore his own worst enemy in dealing with the system, but regardless his nemesis (the black woman he offends) is merely playing by the private health insurance rules by not approving care not included in the father's coverage.

It's the same anywhere in the insurance business, not paying a claim is the way to profit - even if the claim is 100% legitimate. Members of my family attempted to make a perfectly legitimate homeowners claim a few years ago and sure enough, the insurer attempted to use language that was patently absurd to re-categorize flooding as "seepage." I'm just glad it was over a carpet and not, say, cancer that this problem occurred.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Postal Service

I didn't even know this song had a video. Maybe if all the supposed music channels played something other than reality shows and other stupidity scooped from the litter box of pop culture, I would have. Anyway, here goes:


Is this a parody?

It's so hard to tell what is and is not satire these days, but it appears that the people at Christian Domestic Discipline are utterly serious. If the meaning of the site needs any illumination, here's the subtitle: "Loving Wife Spanking in a Christian Marriage." Uhhh, has anyone ever heard of this vaguely unnerving fetishizing of Old Testament punishments? (H/T) Sasha writes:
"Not surprisingly, the site is run primarily by women, several of whom blog
salaciously about the discipline they receive from their husbands."
Anyone have a take on this? I suppose that there's nothing inherently wrong with enjoying consensual spanking in a religious context. Anyway if Monty Python does not condemn, then neither do I:

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Ontario Election 2007: Why not make auto insurance an issue again?

It's amazing sometimes how you can forget about something that, only a few years ago seemed really significant. Take the last Ontario election where there was a fair amount of background noise concerning auto insurance. It seems we have pretty much forgotten it all and gone back to accepting the same old high prices.

A line in this post by Sean in Saskatchewan mentioned Saskatchewan's lower car insurance rates. I was also reminded recently of BC's lower auto insurance rates. The common factor in both provinces is that auto insurance is a publicly run system administered by a crown corporation. Now I know that free market ideology says that this simply cannot be, and yet it is.

Now the hacks at the Fraser Institute will tell you that somehow rates are lower in provinces with private insurance, and yet, everyone I know who moves to a jurisdiction with public insurance ends up saving money. They also don't pay attention to Fraser's insistence that public auto insurance kills you (methinks the institute doth protest too much). I'm talking about people who save money who are young and old, male and female. Who's really getting all these savings from private insurance then?

Moreover, we did we in Ontario, after raising a bit of a fuss, go back to accepting higher rates?

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

How ready are Iraq's soldiers?

In spite of the Iraqi government's insistence that it can take over responsibility for Iraq's security, Juan Cole analyzes the numbers that General Pace has laid out for the press:
"In fact, the important figure is how many can operate independently. That means that they will go to the front when ordered, will actually fight, won't run away, and might actually accomplish something, even if there are no US troops anywhere nearby. Iraq apparently has about 3,000 troops of that description. My guess is that they are mostly Kurdish Peshmerga on loan from Kurdistan. I.e., Iraq probably has almost no Arab troops who would and could fight independently for the al-Maliki government, as opposed to cannon fodder pushed before US battalions and afraid of being shot as deserters if they turn tail."
So they have 3000 guys who can enforce the rule of the central government in all of Iraq. Great. Al-Maliki, I call bullshit.

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Wasting police time and fueling street gangs...

That's what we are doing by keeping pot illegal. It seems today though that Canada's n00b government is also racking up court costs. Another judge has thrown out a marijuana possession charge on the grounds that it's unconstitutional. The legal argument is an interesting one too, from the CBC:
"In court, the man argued that the federal government only made it policy to provide marijuana to those who need it, but never made it an actual law. Because of that, he argued, all possession laws, whether medicinal or not, should be quashed."
I can't believe we waste money on this. Where is all the supposed Conservative austerity?

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Lord Black of The Federal Prison System

Conrad is guilty. Before you let any Oz fantasies run wild, I'm quite sure that he'll wind up in a minimum security "club fed" type of place.

While I have found much of what Mr. Black says to be disagreeable and while I have a suspicion that he's probably an insufferable asshole in person, I don't particularly feel like celebrating because he's likely going to jail. He got caught, he was tried, he was found guilty. If he had been found innocent it would not blunt any of my antipathy for his opinions on a variety of topic. By the same token, his guilt does not change my opinion of, uh, his opinions.

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The "Good" News from Afghanistan

I'll condense this down a wee bit: Afghan tribal leaders are thankful that Canadians are somewhat less likely than other NATO troops to shoot at innocent bystanders!

All facetiousness aside, I suppose we can be thankful that our soldiers are avoiding shooting randoms. Nonetheless, for The Torch to play this up as a great good news story that they aren't telling you is a bit silly. We have good soldiers, we've sent them to do something that is probably damn near impossible though (if we even have a coherent definition of the mission).

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Guess who's back!

I guess this may be getting lost in the midst of the war on terror, but, uh, the terrorists of al Qaeda are doing better organization-wise than they have since 2001. The response of the West and NATO in general and the US in particular to terror threats in the first decade of the 21st century may long be studied as the textbook case of what NOT to do.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Free Trade is the only Freedom?

What exactly does the RCMP think that the Council of Canadians will do that is such a security threat to the Security and Prosperity Partnership meeting to be held in Montebello Quebec? And what in the hell does the US Army think it's doing telling Canadians where we can and cannot hold public meetings?! The US Army is not the law here, if Canada sooooo dangerous that our own police, intelligence, and military people can't handle things; then perhaps the US delegation ought not to attend.

These are not radical anarchists or militants or something, as far as trade liberalization critics go, the C of C is about as peaceful as they come. That doesn't mean they don't have sharp criticisms or their wits about them, but they are a far cry from the Molotov cocktail throwers.

It's a wretched irony that those that speak of breaking down trade barriers will erect every other sort of barrier, lest a dissenting voice is heard.

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More Canadian Stereotypes for Steve Harper!

Since, as I mentioned in my previous post, Harper is lazily using movie stereotypes to tell us what's "central" to Canada's identity, here's some material for him courtesy of Monty Python:

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What Defines Us: Harper's Version

Apparently one of the reasons we are going to spend all this money on arctic patrol ships is that "Canada’s Arctic is central to our national identity as a northern nation." Oh, well, that comes as quite a surprise to me and the millions of other urban Canadians for whom "up north" means a place where you might go to a cottage.

Canada's Arctic is central to the stereotype that many people have of Canadians. I suspect that I am not a unique case when I say that I have never seen polar bear outside of a zoo, I've never used a dog sled as transportation, I've never spent a night in an igloo, I have never seen any fjords in person, I do not know how to hunt seal, I have never felt permafrost under my feet, my ratio of green to white Christmases is running about 1:1, and what's more, these things are not terribly high priorities for me either.

It's not that I never want to see the north, I'm sure it's interesting and/or beautiful at times, but on my finite vacation dollars I can make a much strong case for, say, Thailand, India, or even California. If I wanted to get closer to the pole, I'd even rather do so by going to St. Petersburg where there's at least an interesting historical city if all the natural beauty doesn't live up to its billing.

I don't want to slight northerners, their culture, or their landscape, but it is not how I conceive of Canada since it is not my experience of Canada. I suspect that a majority of Canadians are with me on this one.

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Another thing wrong with Michael Bay's version

It lacks a giant planet-destroying robot voiced by Orson Welles:

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What kind of cure is this?

Some guy named David Harsanyi has his knickers in a knot because major news organizations won't tell you that smoking somehow lowers your risk of Parkinson's disease. Andrew Sullivan seems to have rather uncritically picked on up on this post and linked to Harsanyi.

I have to say that I tend roll my eyes at the cliche of "politically incorrect" information that "they" are keeping from you. I suspect that what is really keeping this out of the headlines is the reality that there are far greater risks to smoking that offset this alleged benefit. It's like touting how an increase in the murder rate could be good for the casket industry.

Despite having watched Parkinson's claim my grandfather's life, Harsanyi's magical smoking secret is not going to cause me to stroll down to the convenience store for a pack of smokes. There is no conspiracy here, David, it's just that most people know a bad bargain when they see it.

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Monday, July 09, 2007


Stuff I wanted to post on but didn't until now:

Apparently Christopher Hitchens once praised Saddam as the next Nasser. He has apparently neglected to mention this ever since he started calling for Saddam's ouster.

Bill O'Reilly perfects the homophobia version of Reefer Madness. It is, as you may have guessed, unsubstantiated.

Who cares about the Red Ensign? It has not been Canada's flag in something like fifty years. Nonetheless, the Conservatives seem bent on fetishizing it.

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Eric Margolis asks a question

This stood out to me:
"Blaming every violent incident on the shadowy al-Qaida is a handy excuse for avoiding reality and responsibility. But it won’t change the fact that a good 20% of the world’s population is increasingly enraged at the US, Britain, Australia and, most lately, Canada. How can we hector the Muslim World to cease its acts of violence when we westerners continue to intensify our own?"
This is though one of those cases where the whole article is worth reading. Actually I've been meaning to pick up Margolis' War at the Top of the World, if it's anything like his columns, it's probably worth reading.

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Pot Busts Rising: Wise Use of Resources?

Since the Conservatives killed decriminalization legislation, pot busts are on the way up again. First of all I should say that whatever pot is supposed to do, it doesn't do it for me, not my thing. I should also say that there are lots of regular users that I know who are perfectly successful, hard working, tax paying citizens. Yes some people have a problem with it I'm sure, just as some people have a problem with booze or a problem with gambling. In both those cases though, the practice is allowed, but not with marijuana.

None of these arguments are new, we know this. I cringe when I think though that my tax dollars are being used to round up people using something that is surely no more harmful than alcohol.

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Sunday, July 08, 2007

Less Than Meets The Eye

While visually stunning, the Transformers film sadly also had the crappy elements that I feared it would have from having Michael Bay in the directors chair. (Wooden dialogue, I'm looking at you.) Perhaps nostalgia has raised my standards, I mean at its core this was a cartoon about cars that turned into robots that was essentially a marketing vehicle for mass-produced toys.

I suppose the cynic (who, me?) will say that Transformers has grown up with its audience in that it is now an advertising vehicle for Chevrolet instead of Hasbro.

Edit: For some reason Blogger won't let me title this post. Is anyone else dealing with this?

Edit the Second: Okay, fixed it.

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Friday, July 06, 2007

Surprise! Public Healthcare Does Not Cause Terrorism

There had been some noise from the usual suspects about how the fact that a group of foreign born doctors working for Britain's NHS were behind the latest terror plots somehow indicates the evil of public healthcare. Well, now it appears the very same doctors were attempting to get into the private American system too. They simply had yet to write an aptitude test. There would appear to be lots of "bureaucracy" in which one can "hide" in the American medical system.

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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Ted Nugent vs. Hippies

I won't really lay into this too much, others do it better, but what I find funny is this bit:
"Turned off by the work ethic and productive American Dream values of their parents, hippies instead opted for a cowardly, irresponsible lifestyle of random sex, life-destroying drugs and mostly soulless rock music that flourished in San Francisco."
Ted Nugent is calling someone else's music soulless? I'm not a terribly big fan of 1960s era stoner rock but it beats the living hell out of anything that Soul Brother Ted has laid on us. I've had heated debates with stoner rock aficionados where I've insisted that The Doors are overrated, but I'll take Light My Fire over Cat Scratch Fever any day of the week.

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A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats?

That's the line that you hear often enough when dealing with economics, but is it true. In the case of the United States since 1973 Eric Nilsson begs to differ. He isn't done crunching the numbers but from what he has so far it looks like we are just getting back to the early 1970s in terms of real hourly earnings.

For a narrower study here's Eric's take on the 2003 Bush tax cut.

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Happy (Belated) 4th

To all my American readers (sitemeter insists you are out there), happy 231st birthday!

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Afghanistan: for what?

Once again today the story is the same: Canadian troops killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.

Except it's not the same, this time they were in the Nyala, a vehicle that was supposed to be best-in-class for protecting against IEDs and the like. They had Scott Taylor of Esprit de Corps on the radio this afternoon and he opined that Afghanistan is not a place were we can "win" in any conventional military sense. He then went on to say that this recent attack had occured in any area that had been pacified last fall and was thought to be friendly to NATO forces.

While the supposed aims for any NATO mission sound noble I just cannot believe that we can accomplish them in any meaningful fashion. So what good are we doing if the Taliban (or whoever else dislikes us) can operate with impunity outside the perimeter of NATO's bases?

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Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Alan Johnston: Free at Last

Alan Johnston is out of the hands of the obscure Palestinian militant group that has been holding him. I do not know if freeing a Western journalist buy Hamas any credibility with anyone, but they appear to be the ones that got the job done. I'm just relieved that this didn't end in an internet snuff film like many other hostage takings these days.

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It's the product, stupid.

GM and Ford are still seeing declining sales. Having just gone through the process of buying a new car I can see why, the product offered by both companies is underwhelming. Instead of working out fundamentally better vehicles, they offer financing deals or gimmicky add-ons (spoilers! satellite radio!) Unless and until the American automakers figure out how to make fundamentally better cars, they are doomed.

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Putin and Bush get along - so?

It's curious that every time that Bush or Putin are asked about each other they seem to stress their personal affability with each other. Is it not infinitely more important to note that their governments are working on plans that will inexorably bring the two countries into greater conflict?

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Monday, July 02, 2007

While you were out...

So I go away for one day to have an engagement party with the fiancee's family and mine and I come back to find that, amid all the sun stroke, Bush has commuted Scooter Libby's sentence. I suppose that I cannot say that it's shocking, Bush does not have to stand for re-election and I don't think that Cheney will ever run for elected office either so no one really has to answer for this one. It seems that clemency for friends is a characteristic behaviour for second-term lame duck presidents (Bill Clinton, I'm looking at you).

Just now: Jeffrey Toobin on CNN says that the Libby commutation sort of falls outside of the justice department guidelines and the conviction itself was hardly a Democrat hit-job as the prosecutor was a Bush appointee and the judge was a conservative Republican. Anyway, I'm tired, I'll look into this tomorrow.

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

The Teachers' Pension Plan buys BCE

What does this mean? Well, combined with their ownership of the Maple Leafs and Raptors, they appear to be attempting market dominance in the field of mediocrity!

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Canada Day Patriotism Mixer

Courtesy of YouTube of course!
Paul Henderson:

Oscar Peterson:

William Shatner:

Tommy Douglas:

That's all I got for now, tell me what I missed.

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