Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Once I built a tower, to the sun

There's another new World Trade Center design being unveiled today. It's a bit better than the soulless crystal shards of the previous version. With one eye on terrorism and another on what has already been lost to terrorists, New York officials unveiled a redesigned Freedom Tower today whose height and proportion, centered antenna and cut-away corners, tall lobbies and pinstripe facade evoke - both deliberately and coincidentally - the sky-piercing twins it is meant to replace. The new design for the 82-story signature building at the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan calls for an almost impermeable and impregnable 200-foot concrete and steel pedestal, clad in ornamental metalwork and set at least 65 feet away from Route 9A, the heavily trafficked state highway that runs along the west edge of ground zero. This enormous pedestal would overlook the Sept. 11 memorial. Above it would be a tapering tower of glass - some panes laminated and several layers thick - with 69 office floors topped by a restaurant, indoor and outdoor observation decks and an antenna within a trellis-like sculpture that would bring the structure's total height to 1,776 feet. The whole thing is still a bit too much Fortress-of-Solitude for my taste, and to rebuild only a single tower to comparable height - and then, not really, in turning it into a tapering octagonal spike, rather than a massive, solid box - still sends the wrong message. (Why didn't NYC take Donald Trump's plan for replacing the Libeskind concept seriously? He gets it, at least on the brash symbolic level. Build them up taller and stronger as before - and no lesser, in number or mass, than before, either.)

To see thee more clearly

This looks like a victory for increased transparency: Ottawa — Search warrants should only be sealed from the public when releasing the information would clearly threaten the judicial process, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled Wednesday. The 9-0 ruling is a victory for press freedom and the public's right to know. It means the Crown and police must do more than simply argue that publicity would hamper their investigations. The top court says sealing orders must pass the same stringent tests that are used to keep court proceedings as open as possible, and this is true even in the early stages of an investigation before charges are laid. Occasionally the Supremes do get something entirely right, without the usual 5-4 split. There ought to be very good reasons for limiting the public's access to information about ongoing investigations. If there are, only then should there be active application for sealing documents. Not to say that the standard procedures for publication bans on court proceedings are flawless, of course, but it's a step in the right direction.

I hope you're happy, now that you're choosing this

Bob Tarantino, writing at The Shotgun, has pretty much the same perspective on the passing of C-38 as I do: In any event, it is now important for the Conservatives (and anti-SSM conservatives) to decide whether to make repealing Bill C-38 a priority and one of the central planks in their electoral platform. Stephen Harper today confirmed that he intends to do so. Kevin Libin has argued that doing so will reap electoral profits. I have expressed my doubts about that strategy, but it's not an issue over which I'd leave the party (to borrow a phrase from Damian Penny, "I'll still vote for the Conservatives because of, well, pretty much every issue except same-sex marriage" - well, except for their lukewarm support of tax cuts, their abandonment of the principle of private involvement in healthcare delivery, their inability to articulate a free-market, strong-democracy, smaller-government, rights-and-responsibilities vision for Canada... I'm disheartened to see several other posters and commenters at The Shotgun go from moderately apocalyptic to nearly hysterical in denunciation. I will grant that I still have grave reservations about the likelihood of persecution of clergy and civil officials who refuse to solemnize (or even approve in passing) same-sex marriages, and reading correspondence for the HM's office as I have been, I'm well aware that much of the pro-C-38 crowd sees that as a feature, not a bug. However, that very reasonable complaint aside, I wish the right would calm down a bit. Whether or not same-sex marriage was enacted with fair and just procedures and protections for objectors - and it was ultimately done within the law, properly passed by Parliament, no matter what you may think of an activist judiciary - it's passed. It's here. I doubt that, put to some sort of general referendum, it would be rejected; activist support would probably outweigh activist opposition and passive indifference combined. That it was also passed only with the aid of the Bloc makes no difference; as long as Quebec is part of Canada, their votes count equally in the House. To claim otherwise is to let the governing party define which provinces have enough of a stake in Canada to meaningfully participate in democracy such as we practice it, and I'm sure no one wants to go down that road. Whether you like it or not, it's over. Royal assent is imminent. If Conservatives want to continue making opposition to same-sex marriage a central plank of election policy, the party is now going to have to run on eliminating existing rights. I'm not against that in the general sense; if a majority of party members clearly want to enact a certain policy, then by all means that should be front and centre in the platform. But the optics will be terrible. Every news cycle, every day in the next election, will headline how Stephen Harper wants to take away rights - and not just recently enacted ones. Remember last election, when the PM claimed that a Tory government would outlaw abortion? That was ludicrous, but the meme persisted nonetheless. If Harper actually plans to run on reversing C-38 (and no matter how small a part that is of the entire platform, in the eyes of the media it will be the one and only issue), then those claims - of limiting free choice, of abolishing rights - won't be wholly without merit, and you can bet those optics will only get worse. I'll probably support the CPC regardless, because - like Tarantino - this isn't my single hot-button issue; while I don't see the doom that some predict for Canada in it, it's ultimately not that important. Trade, defense, personal liberty, honest governance: those are important. Yesterday's vote was merely officially admitting and formalizing a longstanding social reality.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Call me a lawyer and sue me, sue me

Heh: Batman Begins as a "'spot-the-issues' law school exam." I saw it last week, and enjoyed it thoroughly - it's even good enough to wash the taste of the godawful Batman & Robin away, if only in presenting Gotham as a mostly-realistic-looking Chicagoesque dystopia, rather than a complete fantasy of Metropolis-like skyways in neon - but I did notice that Batman seemed to be doing quite a bit more casual property damage than usual, for any medium. Then there's all of Bruce Wayne's other extralegal shenanigans, beyond the plain old vigilantism... (Via Fark.)

You've a better reason to be anti-them than me

Sometimes the Cuban police state, unsurprisingly, victimizes those who think they're safe from its grasp: Onelia Ross, a Cuban-Canadian, looked forward to sipping mojitos and swimming in the warm turquoise waters of the Caribbean during a trip back to Cuba with two friends in February. Instead, she spent five days sitting in a Havana prison cell, choking down watery soup and brown rice, wondering how her beach adventure had turned into every tourist's worst nightmare. "They held me for five days while they investigated the case and they didn't let me call a lawyer," Ms. Ross said from her Ottawa home. "It was an undignified way to be treated over essentially a bureaucratic mix-up. When you're in Cuba you have no rights whatsoever." Being, as she is, Cuban, how was she not previously aware of this? Why on Earth would she choose to vacation in a place where, she admits, the average person - whether citizen or tourist - has "no rights whatsover?" She also said she was manhandled by her jailors and suffered bruising and scrapes. But worst of all was the psychological trauma. "This is what a police state is like." This may come as a shock to Globe & Mail readers, but Cuba is a police state; it's not just "like" one. The dollars spent on those beautiful Cuban beaches prop up a brutal little tyranny unseen to smug Canadian tourists. Unseen, that is, unless attracting the attention of the state, often by no fault of their own, as Ms. Ross did. This is what you get for supporting a socialist dictatorship, even with the passive thumbs-up of tourism. Because American policy is combative towards Fidel Castro does not, interestingly enough, make him a saint - surprising as that might be to many Canadians. At least this one Cuban-Canadian has learned from the experience: Ms. Ross says the experience saddened her as she realized how terrorized Cubans are. "They are so scared of the government and are scared to talk to you. One of the guards apologized for treating us harshly, saying he would lose his job if he didn't." She said she is speaking out now because she wants the half million Canadian tourists who visit the Caribbean island every year to be aware of the country's dark underbelly. "Canadian tourists don't see what is going on in Cuba because they're only taken to the resorts. They don't see the reality," she said. When El Jefe finally kicks off, and the secret files crack open à la those at Lubyanka Square following the collapse of the USSR, I think there's going to be a lot of embarrassed tourists realizing the full extent of what they helped to sustain. (Via NealeNews.)

Why, you can bet I'll find some rube to buy my corn

I think I predicted this pretty accurately - but then, so did a lot of people. Winnipeg -- Canada will ban bulk exports of prescription drugs as part of a crackdown on Internet pharmacists that Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh is expected to announce this week. In a report out of Ottawa, the Winnipeg Free Press quoted federal sources as saying Mr. Dosanjh also is expected to announce a monitoring system to track the volume of drugs being shipped out of the country in order to ensure Canadians who need prescription drugs aren't caught short. Mr. Dosanjh's move to cut off bulk sales of price-controlled Canadian drugs south of the border comes as legislation to allow the importing of foreign drugs works its way through the U.S. Congress. There's no such thing as magic. Everything has a cost. There was never a feasible way for Canadian re-exports to supply the American prescription drug market, without someone blinking in some way, be it the manufacturers themselves or the Canadian government. I'd almost like for John Kerry to have won the election last year, and for him to have attempted to enact what he kept promising in stump speeches: magical cheap drugs imported in bulk from Canada. This backlash would have no doubt been sooner in coming, then, but it also would have more delightfully blown up in the faces of those delusional Democrats who thought an end-run around the domestic market manufacturers, to dodge their local price controls, could actually work as a long-term strategy.

Warm words, I've never said lately

Oh, Jack. You say such pretty things. But can they be believed in the slightest? The Liberals convinced the NDP and Bloc to vote to cut off debate on the NDP/Liberal budget bill late Thursday night, ensuring a Tory loss on yet another opportunity to bring down the government. But NDP Leader Jack Layton warned the PM to start "respecting Parliament" or risk forcing a fall election. And "Liberal arrogance" could be the thing that pulls the trigger, Layton said. "Once the budget bill has received royal assent, and that should happen in the next day or two, then that is the end of our commitment to support the Liberals," said Layton, whose party is also expected to support the government when the same-sex legislation, Bill C-38, comes to the Commons for a vote. Somehow I doubt that's the end. The NDP thoroughly enjoys the spectacle of being Paul Martin's puppetmaster, acting out a revenge fantasy against decades of irrelevance. Will the party's vaunted earnest idealism get set aside long enough to prop up a thoroughly corrupt and brazen government a bit longer, assuming the right policy proposals are floated? I think so. It seems to me that the so-called honest socialists are more easily seduced by power than others, believing as they do - moreso than more pragmatic parties - in a messianic mission to enforce Correct behaviour on the masses. If Liberals are willing to make deals that approach enacting the NDP's improbable utopia, no matter by how minute the degree, they'll be together in the current self-destructive codependency for quite a while.

I will not fear my tragic plight; I have a choice, I'll take to flight

The anti-VLT crowd held a vigil yesterday to attempt, once more, to convince government to prevent private citizens from exercising free will in wasting money as they choose: HALIFAX — More than 150 people gathered in a Halifax church Sunday evening to remember people who have committed suicide because of their addiction to video lottery terminals. The hour-long interfaith service was a prelude to a news conference at the provincial legislature scheduled for Monday, where family members were to talk about their experiences and call on the province to ban VLTs. Look, I appreciate theses families' losses. But banning VLTs won't stop those who are truly determined from gambling. I can see scenarios where it might spur them to do their gambling elsewhere - Gatineau, Niagara Falls, Toronto, Ottawa, Atlantic City, etc; anywhere with legal casinos or betting racetracks, or even online - but I doubt merely making it less convenient will stop hardcore problem gamblers.

Something appealing, something appalling

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Certain political alliances should be an easy tipoff you're on the wrong side of history. MISSISSAUGA - While hundreds of thousands of gays partied at the pride parade in downtown Toronto yesterday, federal Tory leader Stephen Harper pointedly headed west, where he joined a celebration of traditional values among a massive gathering of devout Ahmadiyya Muslims. But while Mr. Harper won a polite reception yesterday at the 29th annual Ahmadiyya Muslim Convention when he attacked same-sex marriage, he'll have to do more than that if he wants to win votes from this devout religious community, a group that traditionally has favoured the Liberals. The roughly 35,000 Muslims from across Canada, the U.S. and overseas who gathered at the annual convention agree with the Tories on one thing: they say same-sex marriage is wrong. People are very traditional in this group, where arranged marriages are still common. Yesterday, the men crowded into one hall, and the women -- most veiled -- and children gathered in another. Let the Liberals keep those constituencies that, among other things, practice arranged marriage; I don't like seeing Conservatives pander for such votes, any more than I like seeing Dalton McGuinty pandering to those who want to enact Sharia law in Ontario. There's social conservatives, and there's social conservatives; some are more of a liability than others, as vocal supporters. Harper didn't have to attend the Pride parade, and he didn't. I can respect that; he's not the same kind of obsequious kowtower as Joe Clark, in that regard. But he ought to be very careful about the allies he's chosen to court in lieu of the gay community.

We say this game's not of our choosing

How terribly gauche: Revealing how much the health debate has shifted, the Health Minister is feuding with Canada's top doctor over the Canadian Medical Association's growing embrace of private-care options. Ujjal Dosanjh says he is ''disappointed'' the CMA will debate the role of private care at its annual meeting this summer. He says he would have expected CMA president Dr. Albert Schumacher ''to be a little more circumspect'' on the issue. ''I am extremely disappointed,'' the Health Minister said. ''I am wondering where Dr. Schumacher wants to take the CMA. I am disappointed that he wants to take the CMA in a direction where he sees a private health care in Canada.'' Yes, how dare actual medical professionals debate the pros and cons of private care. It might send the wrong message, you know. Dickering in backrooms is fine, but for doctors to openly question the party line? Heavens! Here we have the perennial problem of the Liberal Party in a nutshell: faced with an opportunity to embrace a sensible and beneficial policy, but unable to, having spent years propagandizing the status quo as the only genuinely Canadian path. You'd think Dosanjh could restrain himself from spewing the usual FUD in this particular circumstance, given how inflexible and hidebound it makes the government appear, but it appears not: ''I don't see a great rush to set up private health care, because we have a very recent experience," he said of the Canadian public. "Forty-five years is not a long time in the life of a nation. There are people who still remember the dark days of private health care, where people had to sell their farms and sell their homes to care for their loved ones.'' If nothing else, such a now-improbable and nightmarish system serves to highlight the true cost of health care to the end user, currently shielded from the realities by circumspect federal and provincial payment schemes. If all care, and the infrastructure thereby accomplishing it, is everybody's, then it's nobody's; no one feels as though they have a responsibility to avoid wasting resources, because the spigot of "free" care will keep on flowing, albeit a little more sluggishly each year. Introducing the option of private care alongside a public system would allow a choice: is it important enough you want to spend your own money now, or can it wait? Having been established for forty-five years, I seriously doubt that it's possible to completely demolish socialized medicine in this country. The only real issue is how fast the supplement of private care can be established for those who are willing to pay, in addition to the tax revenue they contribute to the public system.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Authors, too, who once knew better words, now only use four-letter words

I spent more time than I meant to in the HM's office this weekend, plowing through what - I swear - is about (still) a cubic metre of returned mail; when no one's actively keeping mailing addresses current from month to month, they seem to go bad by the thousands. It's a huge job, which should keep me busy for another couple of months, assuming no more sudden ten percenters get dumped in my lap. The other thing I finally finished up, however, and I'm glad it's done with, was dealing with the last remaining dregs of correspondence on C-38. Lo and behold, I found the first (and only, at least in hard copy) genuinely obscene letter from someone on the anti- side. That's something that ought to get more play in the media, but for obvious reasons never will: Most of those opposed to same-sex marriage aren't hate-mailing, bile-spewing bigots. The vast majority of the mail I've read, filed, and processed is nothing if not polite and civil, if firm. I remain committed to the premise that mass-mailing MPs, or in fact communicating with any other than your own and cabinet ministers, by personally written letters, is a waste of time, but those who feel otherwise are at least mostly good enough not to make my job too much of a chore. If every piece of mail was as abusive and crude (I'd love to know what kind of person thinks such language - whatever you imagine, that's about right - is appropriate to use in correspondence with their MP) as the Single Letter of Outright Homophobia, I don't know if I'd be able to refrain from sneaking out the back and dumping the whole pile down into the river.

Friday, June 24, 2005

And what matters most of all, is to sit inside some mall

Nice: Shopping Malls of the 60s and 70s. There's a wonderful postwar plastic-fantastic vibe to these designs, a sense of fun that I think tends to be missing from modern mall interior design, all Swedish Modern glass and wood. It's a shame that the best documentary evidence of such massive suburban beasts resides mostly now in the hands of hobbyists like this gentleman or Lileks, or unintentionally surviving in films like Dawn of the Dead. (This, however, is a bit more creepily thematically Dawn of the Dead than most everything else on the site.) (Via BoingBoing.)

Such hard work, maintaining perfection

Earl McRae's column in the Sun today seems to answer a long-standing curiosity I had when looking for a job last summer: Why does Island Park Esso alone, of any employer in the city, seem to be perpetually advertising for any and all positions in the want ads? I pull into the full-service station with the request on my tongue: $1 worth of gas. [...] The station I pick is Island Park Esso Service at Island Park Dr. and Wellington St., long owned by John Newcombe. A colleague told me it's the best full-service station in the city -- the kind of throwback friendly, courteous, speedy service that hardly exists anymore in society. [...] Welcome to Team Newcombe. Jordan Foley, 22, Justin Collins, 20, Stephane Blais, 19, all university students, all highly motivated, all clean-cut, all fit-looking, all mannerly, all with personality, all with a strong work ethic, and John Newcombe won't have it any other way. It's why his station doesn't experience "full-service" reluctance. His huge clientele at the pumps include the elderly and handicapped, but also the young and healthy. "When he hires you," says Justin Collins, "the interview can take an hour. He asks everything about you. He knows who he wants. You won't see anybody here with long hair or piercings, or with an attitude problem. "My first day, my socks were below my ankle. He said they had to be above the ankle. He emphasizes speed and politeness. He told us we have no more than 10 seconds to be at a car, anything higher is unacceptable. And we have to run. We have it down to three seconds, tops. Mr. Newcombe did dry runs with us on our speed and courteousness. He said, 'Pretend I'm a customer' and he pulled up to a pump and tested us." Collins smiles. "It doesn't matter if someone asks for $1 of gas or 10c, he gets the same friendly full service. I love working here." Huzzah for enforcing a high-quality work ethic, certainly - and especially compared to McRae's other experience in the column - but that the owner is a boss that demanding would tend to explain the rate of churn.

Another day, another destiny

Yes, last night's Liberal shenanigans were dirty pool: OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Paul Martin's government pulled a fast one late last night and won a surprise budget vote that killed the Tories' chance to topple the government. In a move the Tories likened to a sandbagging, the Grits made a deal with the Bloc Quebecois, who backed the Liberal government long enough to ensure they held on to power in exchange for a written guarantee that the same-sex marriage bill would be passed before summer recess. The deal saw the Bloc vote with the Liberals to stop debate on budget Bill C-48 late last night, forcing it to a vote. The Bloc voted against the actual budget bill -- a confidence vote that could have forced Martin to call a summer election -- which outlines $4.6 billion in funding in a deal the Grits inked with the NDP to retain power. But the surprise timing of the vote meant a handful Tory MPs were absent and with the backing of the NDP, the Liberals won, 152 to 147. ...But does it really matter, now? This is probably among the least underhanded tactics this government has used, in that it was a legitimate parliamentary procedure, surprising though it may have been. Further complaining about Liberal perfidy on this particular matter isn't going to convince anyone not already convinced. It's over. We've lost, for now. But there's going to have to be an election eventually, whether after Gomery reports (hah) or six months later, whenever the PM's polling numbers look best; either way, there's nothing more to be done this summer but continue the spin wars at the riding level. (And, Jeebus, start doing some serious PR on policy. The platform is all well and good, but the average non-wonk isn't going to be poking around the party website to find it.)

Thursday, June 23, 2005

But hazard this prognostication

Hmmmm: "Military accused of lying about Agent Orange." An angry crowd accused military officials of a coverup during a hearing into the spraying of Agent Orange and other defoliants at a New Brunswick military base in the 1950s and 1960s. Glen Stewart, of the Royal Canadian Legion, raised fears that rates of cancer and other illnesses are abnormally high around CFB Gagetown. Officials from the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs Canada and Canadian Forces Base Gagetown tried to downplay health hazards at the first public briefing on the issue in more than 30 years. The hearing at the base on Thursday followed a CBC News report that revealed Agent Purple, considered three times more toxic than the cancer-linked Agent Orange, was also sprayed on the base in 1966. I caught part of the hearing on Newsworld during my workout. While undoubtedly those directly exposed should be concerned, there seemed to be a fair number of speakers who by their age couldn't possibly have worked on or lived near CFB Gagetown during the several years in question - and more than one invoked the fact that Agent Orange was used in Vietnam as an argument in itself, which the current base commander, speaking, (rightly) ignored. Interestingly, I also see no mention in this CBC article of his pointing out that the components of Agent Orange - 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, were both available and used in civilian products at the time as well. It's true that we now know some pesticides herbicides to have very unpleasant long-term side effects outweighing the benefits of their use. But the fact that 2,4-D was used in Vietnam has exactly no impact on the matter, beyond suggesting that its use as a defoliant was (and is) widespread and considered effective, and thus a natural choice for high-volume military use. This isn't a military conspiracy, and especially not an American military conspiracy, as some in the audience seemed to be darkly implying; invoking the talisman of VIETNAM!! as shorthand for all American wrongs real and imagined isn't helpful. That many may be suffering from the long-term effects of exposure from spraying near Gagetown is unfortunate, but can be chalked up to institutional ignorance, without benefit of coverup accusations. However, the accusers would do well to, y'know, make sure first: Like many in the audience, Stewart expressed fear that rates of cancer and other illnesses were abnormally high around the base. "I am very confident that you will find that the death rate from various types of illnesses, including cancer, is higher in this area than it is in any other place in Canada," Stewart said. "Very confident?" As in, no studies, no statistics, just fear and loathing snowballing into panic? There's anecdotal evidence, yes... A woman recounted her father's memories of becoming coated with the spray after being asked to watch the spraying operation from a hill. She blamed the spraying for premature pregnancies in her family, including her mother's 13 miscarriages. But unless multiple miscarriages are endemic in the affected area, blaming the spraying can't be a 100% certainty. A possibility, yes; but not a certainty that allows for coverup accusations. And it's a pretty poor coverup that's promising to investigate claims and provide compensation to those legitimately found affected: [Defence and Veterans' Affairs officials] urged people who think exposure hurt them or their relatives to apply for disability pensions. The Canadian military is already paying compensation in two cases connected to the spraying. [...] The Defence Department has now received 300 compensation claims and more than 400 inquiries. Ellis said each one would be evaluated fairly, with soldiers getting "the benefit of the doubt." I'm convinced the military has acted in good faith throughout the spraying incident and subsequent inquiries. Media hysterics spurring on the more panicky members of the civilian community nearby, now...

A hell of a gamble to lose

How can banning VLTs solve a gambling problem, exactly? Halifax -- Religious leaders appealed to the Nova Scotia government yesterday to ban VLTs in the province, adding their influential voices to an anti-gambling movement gathering strength across the country. The Interfaith Council -- made up of Roman Catholic priests, Anglican bishops, Islamic leaders, Jewish rabbis and others -- said it is seeing more of its congregants lose homes, families, jobs and sometimes their lives because of addictions to the machines. The leaders urged the provincial Tories to eliminate all of the 3,200 government-owned video lottery terminals and boost support for people dealing with gambling addiction. If you're going to subscribe to the concept of gambling being an addiction, an obsessive behavioural disorder (and I can buy that, being more than a bit obsessive-compulsive myself), then removing one means of fulfilling the compulsion will have little to no effect. Those who genuinely feel as though they need to gamble will find a fix elsewhere, whether online, with lottery tickets, or the like; the result is that a ban punishes only those who - for whatever reason, foolish though it might be - don't have a gambling problem, but only want to play the machines for occasional entertainment. If the psychological tendency towards gambling addiction was universal or even widespread, this might be justifiable; as it's not, an outright ban seems like unnecessary infringement on the free action of those otherwise unaffected. The Interfaith Council would do better to emphasize the potential hazards of gambling directly to their congregations, rather than demanding the nanny state step in.

Down to here, down to there

Heh: "All The Presidents' Hair," a Flash game where you have to guess the names of US presidents by a silhouette and hairstyle. My best score is 5 out of 7, but then, I'm a geek. (Via Little Fluffy Industries.)

Just like all the others, he's expecting us to be impressed with what he's done here

Is this a sign, however tenuous, of Canadian faith in ultimate American success in Iraq? Canada signalled a renewal of diplomatic ties to Iraq yesterday with the appointment of John Holmes as ambassador to the war-ravaged Middle Eastern country. [...] Canada's embassy in Baghdad was shut down before the start of the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The appointment of a non-resident ambassador to Iraq "represents an important step in the re-establishment of Canada's diplomatic representation" in the country, Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew said. The move will also assist in re-establishing an embassy in Baghdad and improving delivery of Canada's $300-million program to support reconstruction and democracy in Iraq, he said. It's something, anyway. Not a lot. But something.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Sir, I don't much like your tone, that supercilious sneer you wear

Rick Mercer has a blog. And he thinks he's clever for buying the domain jasonkenney.org, and redirecting it to the Marxist-Leninist Party website. Me, I think that's somewhere near the full-blown, knee-slapping, gut-busting, so-funny-I-forgot-to-laugh hilarity of calling Stockwell Day "Doris" for months on end, but others may disagree. (Not that this is a bad thing. I'd rather Mercer was being a smarmy jackass online, than on TV, with the full backing of and exposure granted by the Mother Corp.) (Via Paul Wells.)

Do you think you're what they say you are?

I suppose this was to be expected, shameless FUD though it may be. WASHINGTON -- Jacques Chaoulli, the Montreal family doctor who won his fight for private health care in Canada's top court, has become a folk hero to many U.S. conservatives who fear the southward spread of socialized medicine. He was in Washington yesterday, meeting leading right-wing groups and offering a helping hand to American health-care companies looking to set up shop in Canada. "He's truly a superstar in the health-care movement," said Grace-Marie Turner, president of the Galen Institute, as she introduced Dr. Chaoulli to a small group of conservatives. "I have a tear in my eye," Ms. Turner said after Dr. Chaoulli spoke at the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank. "This is truly a fight for fundamental liberty." Dr. Chaoulli also met scholars at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that champions minimalist government. His basic point about the horrific failure of socialized medicine to provide an acceptable level of care is being broadly endorsed by American conservatives! Get 'im! Ah, the Canadian media: specializing in implicit anti-American spin regularly enough to set your watch by.

The future is a barren world

The Onion has been something less than hilarious for quite a while now; they peaked, I think, with the lovingly-rendered Our Dumb Century, a collection of mocked-up front pages from a very slightly skewed version of the 20th century, done with substantially more finesse than their more recent and clunky attempts at po-mo irony. This week's issue, though - I think that's not only jumping the shark, but imploding into infinitely dense and unfunny hack-work halfway across the tank. (Warning: annoying, musical Flash interface.)

Stop the train; stop everything

Though I do have some reservations about the feasibility of running them through the downtown core, I'm not against Ottawa's light rail plans. However, this is not endearing me to that larger scheme. Bombardier plans to park a mockup of its commuter rail vehicle on Laurier Avenue in front of City Hall during the 11 days of Bluesfest in July, says the festival's executive director, Mark Monahan. Bombardier, which is bidding for part of the $675 million in contracts for the city's giant rail project, gained that right by becoming an official partner for the festival beginning July 7, Mr. Monahan said yesterday. The train mockup will be plopped in the middle of Laurier Avenue, which a council committee last week grudgingly voted to close during the festival. The festival had asked for more space to comply with Ontario liquor regulations, and to accommodate crowds of up to 30,000. The show had threatened to move to Hog's Back Park had it not received more room. Laurier being closed is bad enough, for the havoc it's going to play with regular traffic in Centretown; while a fan of public transit, I don't think forcing it on users by making vehicular traffic worse is good for public perception of the system. Those who resent taking the bus due to fallout from municipal shenanigans aren't going to be very positive towards the experience. Parking a huge Bombardier train on Laurier, though, making it seem like the PR display is part and parcel of the initial road closure - that's adding insult to injury. Rick Chiarelli has it right: Baseline Councillor Rick Chiarelli said the move could backfire on Bombardier. "Having a commuter train congest traffic is a bad way to sell your commuter train," he said. "I hope this is out of heartfelt commitment to the community because it is not having any impact on whether they are getting the contract." Either way, the hordes descend in two weeks. May they not blame the city or Bombardier for each other's gaffes, for the sake of longer-term transit plans.

Monday, June 20, 2005

So there it is, Doc, spelled out plain

The Ottawa Citizen's Kelly Egan and the sour grapes, see-no-evil approach to fixing health care: There was once a day, not so long ago, when we had no MRIs but still had healthy people. There was once a day, not so long ago, when the number of healthy people walking around was heavily offset by the number of deaths from infection, inoperable diseases, and other unfortunate aspects of the pre-modern medical establishment. There was once a day when hospitals had no specialized neonatal ICU wards, but plenty of newborn babies; so what if premature birth was nearly a guaranteed death sentence before that new-fangled high-falutin' technological advance? It doesn't mean anything, right? Today, in every major Canadian city, we have the most advanced diagnostic tools in the history of medicine, but a population that's constantly being told public health care lives in imminent crisis. Perhaps that's because the myth of Excellent, Free Health Care has been so eagerly embraced by the media and political establishment as the only means of proving Canada's worth, and the slightest crack in the façade threatens to expose such cant for what it is? The MRI is now a weapon to expose our inadequacy: I hope you're suspicious, too. I'm suspicious of those who would crankily bluster on about how having the best in diagnostic technology shouldn't be a goal of a medical establishment in the wealthy and civilized first world, but do continue. Not long ago, I sat at the knee of a brainiac named Dr. Antoine Hakim, who is a trained engineer and a leading physician, the scientific director of the Canadian Stroke Network. Think of health care as a volume of oil that needs to fit through a fixed pipe, he urged. In a public system, where money is a constraint, there is more oil than can fit through the hole. Two immediate options arise: Cut down on the volume of oil (disease prevention) and make the pipe more slippery (improved efficiency in treatment). Incorrect. There's a third: Stop pretending that only one pipe can be allowed to exist. Let others be built as they're needed, funded by those who need them, rather than stubbornly holding on to the illusion that allowing anyone to pay for their own care somehow diminishes the already subpar quality of that provided by the public system. Aim the same beam, for a moment, at the shortage of magnetic resonance imagers, which have waiting lists of six to eight months for things like joint scans. The lack of a scan, in turn, delays eventual treatment, prolongs pain, and puts the populace in a grumpy mood. However, it is to ask: Are MRIs being over-prescribed in this country? [...] [I] came across this: The MRI Lie: A Matter of Economics, by Dr. Ronald Grelsamer, an orthopedic surgeon and the chief of hip and knee reconstruction at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. Much is made in this country about how we don't have nearly as many imaging machines as the United States, where a single large city will have as many MRIs as all of Ontario. To which he advises, citing an Illinois market-research company: about a third of all advanced imaging tests "are either inappropriate or don't contribute to a physician's diagnosis or ultimate health outcomes." He himself goes even further. "While MRI testing is an extraordinary diagnostic tool in certain areas, its accuracy for knee pain and arthritis is arguably one of the greatest myths of our time. In my experience, the odds of coming across a false-positive MRI range from 10 to 100 per cent, depending on the knowledge and integrity of the radiologist." A competent physician, he says, will be able to diagnose an arthritic knee with an ordinary X-ray, costing about one-tenth the price of an MRI. "The good doctor rarely, rarely, rarely needs an MRI," he said, when reached on the weekend. "I'm talking about knees, now." Maybe true, maybe not. Clearly more studies are needed. But in the meantime, does it really make sense to pissily declare that we shouldn't bother with MRIs, because they might not be necessary in all cases? Grelsamer, also - as he's quick to point out, and as Egan more or less ignores - is only an expert on hip and knee joints. Do we know for certain that his assurances of being able to properly diagnose arthritis from X-rays can be extrapolated to every and any other condition anywhere in the body? Radiology costs are growing so quickly in the U.S. that they now outpace the cost of prescription drugs, he writes. Good Lord, is there anything we aren't scanning? Again, no mention is made of the marginal utility of either. Can future costs on prescription drugs be avoided by early and frequent use of MRIs to detect and quickly treat conditions, before they require medication for long-term symptom management? [...] Secondly, we aren't getting the most from our existing pipe. A new study done for Ontario's Wait Time Strategy agency found some hospitals are operating MRI scanners at only 40-per-cent capacity. The report, published in Saturday's Citizen, found that 69 per cent of the province's 44 scanners were running 16 hours a day, considered a minimum for peak efficiency. If they all went to 24-hour-a-day operation, wait lists in three Ontario regions would be reduced to four weeks, a medically acceptable period for elective procedures. Okay, I'll bite. How much would it cost to hire a sufficient number of MRI technicians to operate the existing infrastructure round-the-clock? Are there enough in the province, or the country? Would their union accept such a scheme without demanding extortionate raises? Would constant operation considerably shorten the life of those machines, forcing earlier replacement than planned? Would any of this be feasible within the existing budget, and more efficient than buying more machines (or allowing private clinics to do so)? Egan is sloppy about the actual facts, as usual, preferring to go for one-sided outrage-provoking talking points. The scary part about medical technology is its unstoppable will to advance. What device will replace the MRI in 20 years? Will the $3-million scanner be replaced by a $30-million whatzit? How many of those will we need? Will the $30-million whatzit save ten times as many lives as a $3-million scanner? Could it help even more, treating conditions for which there are now few or no treatment options? Might the use of such a device save millions more in drug costs? Could it improve the general quality of health care, and thus quality of life? If there's any place in public policy that sneering luddites should stay away from, it's health care - at least, as long as health care remains largely a matter of public policy. Forgotten in all this rush to put an MRI on every street corner is the relationship between better technology and better health. Maybe we should scan a little deeper on that issue. I suggest that next time Kelly Egan requires medical treatment, he ought to subject himself to the tender mercies of, say, the state Cuban health care system. Maybe then, he'd better understand what a difference technology - like, say, regular washing, disinfection, insecticides, a modern electrical grid - can mean to matters of life of death, rather than being contrarian for its own sake. To quibble about the number of MRIs owned by the province is to miss the point entirely: compared to much of the world, even Canada has excellent health care, and it's not because of any governmental commitment to "social justice" - it's because of modern technology. Maybe technophobes like Egan would like to return to the days of surgeons in tailcoats (is the relationship between sterile scrubs and avoiding infection really that strong?) and laudanum prescribed for everything from PMS to TB (what can't a healthy dose of opiates help alleviate, after all?), but I don't. (Thomas Eakins, "The Gross Clinic," 1875) I'll grant that simple numbers of MRIs aren't the be-all and end-all of measuring a medical establishment. But all the same, those numbers are a handy way of benchmarking a commitment to modernity and attempting the best treatment possible - rather than a commitment to ideology, and attempting the most egalitarian treatment possible, given constraints of the public purse.

Some strange deranged expression

And now, it's time for another in a series of how Bush Derangement Syndrome and its peripheral animosities have driven the producers of Family Guy/American Dad mad, and sufficiently so as to damage their collective sense of humour and comedy-writing judgement. Below is Democratic strategist and consultant James Carville, pictured with wife Mary Matlin, and how a caricature thereof appeared in Family Guy episode 1ACX09, "Running Mates," originally aired April 2000. Carville looks, frankly, like a mildly scary hobgoblin of a man in his own right, but his animated portrayal further exaggerates easily-recognizable features, as a caricature should. Now, take a look at Republican strategist Karl Rove, both in real life, and as appearing in last night's American Dad: I'm seeing a lot less caricatured exaggeration of a chubby wonk, and a bit more Emperor Palpatine by way of The Devil Himself. Here's a tip, guys: over-the-top bombasticism isn't that funny, when it seems likely you mean it more seriously than not.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

You can't fill too many coffers with the wages of sin

"Homolka almost totally unemployable: expert." To lift a meme popularized by James Taranto, what would we do without experts? (Via NealeNews.)

Our strength and defiance

Lileks is on fire, re: "torture," and with a fine Star Trek analogy to boot: If you recall that episode of Star Trek – and I would be rather stunned if you did not – there were two warring planets that had long ago decided against waging physical war, and started to wage a virtual one. Computers fought the war, and if your planet’s computer somehow let the other guy’s virtual cobalt bomb in, it would calculate the death toll. Those people who lived in the area hit by the virtual bomb would walk into a Disintegration Chamber and poof! Very tidy, and the infrastructure was left standing. Kirk, naturally, put a stop to it by wrecking the mainframes and snarling “now you have a real war on your hands, Chancellor.” Supposedly the planets would be so frightened by the prospect of ruptured sewer lines they would immediately sue for peace. They never did go back to that system. I would have liked to have seen if the planets stopped warring, or got together and started invading others, or just blew each other up six times over. But that was Kirk: he got the ball rolling, and that was his job. Anyway. Here’s the deal. We decide what constitutes torture, and identify it as the following: insufficient air conditioning, excess air conditioning, sleep deprivation, being chained to the floor, and other forms of psychological stress. The United States is free to use these techniques against hardened terrorists. Those who disagree with the techniques sign a register that records their complaints. When the terrorist finally spills the details of a forthcoming attack, on, say, Chicago, the people who signed the register and live in Chicago are required to report to the Disintegration Chamber. Very simple. Everyone’s happy. Well, no, I imagine not. The standard response would be “I want the interrogators to get the information, but not if it makes prisoners crap in their pants or pull out their hair.” Agreed. I would like them to get the information without any sort of effort whatsoever. It’s a fair cop, guv. Here’s where we’ve stored the fertilizer and here are the names of my associates. Now if you’ll show me to my cell, I’d like to get started whiling away the time until most of the networks are compromised and the Iranian government has fallen, after which we can talk about letting me return home. Jolly good!” But I don’t think that’s going to happen. Conversely, I don’t want them to beat the hell out of these people until they spit names and teeth, in no particular order. But I don’t care if they make them stay awake most of the day for a month or two. I really don’t. I’m sorry. We’re talking about people who will not be satisfied until Israel is gone and the United States crippled. I’d like to know what they know, and if they wet themselves in the process, I do not regard this is as the equivalent of uprooting several million people to Alaska to build a canal dressed only in long johns. There is a very wide gap between what even I'm willing to admit are uncomfortably harsh interrogation techniques, and actual torture. Causing mere discomfort is not a crime against humanity. What the enemy would like to do to us, to civilization and liberal democracy, to the world at large...those are. If it takes a few rough men willing to do precisely the calculated amount of (psychological) violence necessary to prevent the next terror attack, so be it. To reject anything that seems more painful to the softer citizens of the west than a trip to the chiropractor as de facto wrong is to hand an important psychological and strategic victory to the next group of terrorists who come along; they can be sure we're too weak to do what's necessary to break them, and thus act with impunity. If they know that even the most improbable claims of abuse will be pounced upon by a political class baying for blood, of course they'll make more, feeding into a never-ending cycle of self-flagellation imposed upon us by the useful idiots of the media. I agree: I don't want random executions, or slave labour camps, à la the Gulags. I know we're above physical torture of the mindlessly bloody medieval variety; there's no need for amputations or electrodes to the genitals. But failing those, I don't care what has to be done, and I'm certain we could well lose the longer-term war by relentlessly navel-gazing over the issue.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Looking around here you'd think, sure, she's got everything

Queen Elizabeth has an iPod. I wonder: Does iPod ownership by thoroughly non-hip personalities such as the Queen or POTUS hurt the brand, or merely speak to its incredible ubiquity? (And what's on Her Majesty's iPod, anyway?) (Via Engadget.)

Reprehensible

There's genuine torture, and then there's non-lethal, non-incapacitating, non-maiming, harmless but thoroughly uncomfortable interrogation. The two are not equivalent. Those who would improbably claim that American interrogators are exactly as brutal and murderous as the worst hooded thugs of the Saddam Hussein regime need to return to reality, and soon. (Via Damian Penny.)

I would like, if I may, to take you on a strange journey

Well, it's something, I guess: Gurmant Grewal has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing for his odd behaviour at the Vancouver Airport two weeks ago. OTTAWA (CP) - The Mounties and federal transportation regulators have dropped their investigations of Conservative MP Gurmant Grewal over an incident at Vancouver International Airport. Grewal had tried on June 4 to get other passengers in a waiting area of the airport to carry a package for him to Ottawa. But the RCMP say there was nothing criminal about the Newton-North Delta MP's actions. RCMP Cpl. Peter Thiessen has told a Richmond, B.C., newspaper that there might have been an offence had Grewal done what he allegedly did prior to clearing security screening. But Thiessen says since Grewal had already passed through security, there was no criminal offence. Transport Canada has also cleared Grewal of any wrongdoing. In a letter to the MP, the agency's manager of security operations says Grewal did not contravene the Aeronautics Act. None of that excuses painfully embarrassing spy-game-shenanigans on his part. But at least one potential PR lever has been taken away from the Liberal talking points, and you take your victories where you can find them... (Oy. A month ago, I'd never have thought that this - "Tory MP's Incredibly Suspicious Behaviour Not Actually Criminal" - is where we'd have to be looking for the slightest of victories. It's going to be a long summer.)

Not to delay or be misled

I think I called this pretty accurately: OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Paul Martin is indicating that the same-sex-marriage bill will be put off until the fall and says Conservative Leader Stephen Harper is to blame for the delay. Mr. Martin and his senior ministers would not commit yesterday to keeping MPs in their seats until C-38, the same-sex bill, is passed. "It very much is a priority," Mr. Martin said as he emerged from a cabinet meeting. "How long it takes us to get it through is really up to Mr. Harper. . . . Mr. Harper has said the judiciary should not decide these things, it should be Parliament. Well, he has his chance. And let Parliament decide." [...] When asked about his government's previous pledges to pass the bill before the summer recess, Mr. Martin said there are no guarantees in a minority Parliament. This wasn't an overly complex act of political kung-fu. It seems that the PM is perfectly willing to let it die or be dragged out, as long as he can credibly blame it on the Conservatives - and very credibly, at that, given the desperation and motivations it implies. There's no official deal, true: The Conservatives suggested this week that they had a deal with the Liberals to allow the Liberal-NDP budget bill, C-48, to pass in exchange for a pledge that the gay-marriage bill be put off until fall. But Tory House Leader Jay Hill said that negotiations fell apart because he refused a Liberal demand that the same-sex bill advance to the final stage in the House. But why bother with a deal, when the same counterattacks on Tory reasons for one can be made regardless? I am in favour of same-sex marriage. I don't think C-38 has been a particularly good way to go about implementing it, whether in the rush to legislation, or the weak guarantees of freedom of conscience for those who disagree. That said, while I'd rather not see it pass in this form, better it does sooner rather than later; we're now at the point where the CPC can seem to the disinterested middle to be overtly homophobic, trading away substantial opposition to any number of more important issues for the sake of temporary delay on SSM. I know that's not an accurate assessment of most of the party, but it's a believable one, and I think they just cemented that perception by walking into Martin's trap.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

It's a trick and a trap, I'm not taking the rap

I think I'd be happier if this story were exactly opposite, because the current theoretical deal smells like a setup: The Opposition Conservatives are willing to support the NDP's $4.6-billion budget amendment, but only if the Liberals agree to delay same-sex marriage legislation. On Wednesday, Conservative House Leader Jay Hill said the trade-off has been subject of discussions between his party and the minority government. "There's been some negotiations," Hill said. "If we were to get a delay of C-38 (the marriage bill) until the fall and perhaps some other concession, we'd be happy." For the leading opposition party to side with the government on the budget, now that pre-election manoeuvreing has been forestalled, is taking a position of weakness - and for exactly the wrong sort of quid pro quo, here, too. Why? Now, if C-38 is temporarily shelved with an eye to sinking it in endless committees, Liberals can say that those mean Conservatives forced their hand, and it was sacrificed for the sake of passing the billions in spending from the NDP's wishlist; they'll get to claim they still support SSM (and are willing to be magnanimous in making concessions, unlike those terrible ideologues across the floor), while at the same time eliminating an inconveniently controversial issue from the order papers and front pages. Maybe those claims won't be particularly credible to anyone who's been paying attention, but that hasn't mattered much in recent months, has it?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Can't I make you understand, you're having delusions of grandeur

It's not hard to see where bomb-maker Travis Biehn gets his attitude from: A Newfoundland couple expects to appeal the decision of an American judge who found their 17-year-old son guilty of threatening to bomb his Pennsylvania high school. [...] [Biehn's mother] believes the current climate in the U.S. is not conducive to true free speech. "They've gone above and beyond, so that people's rights are skewed," she said. "It's supposed to be liberty, freedom – you're supposed to have a right to your own opinion. Any examples? Or are we just throwing out sweeping generalizations implying some kind of unspecified police state, without bothering to acknowledge that what her son stands accused of were acts of terrorism, not holding doubleplusungood opinions? "It's pretty bad if you cannot vocalize your opinion, and all of a sudden you're anti-American." The right to express your opinion ends where my right not to be blown up begins. Biehn is getting exactly what he deserves, and he's lucky that he's a minor, with all that entails. I had some sympathy for the parents before this - it's not necessarily their fault that their son has evident psychological problems - but no more. (Via NealeNews.)

It's a weird so feared

Effete annoyance that he usually is, I do have to agree wholeheartedly with TV critic John Doyle on the Michael Jackson trial: But what was missing from the extensive TV play on Monday and from yesterday's morning news programs was coverage and analysis of those sad, strange people who supported Jackson throughout the trial. [...] Another sign held aloft in the crowd of supporters on Monday said, "Michael, on behalf of mankind, we are sorry." Nearby, a woman was releasing white doves into the air as each "not guilty" verdict was announced. Later on Monday, that woman was interviewed on CNN. A puzzled Anderson Cooper asked her if she really thought it was okay for Jackson to share a bed with young boys. She answered, "We all have a child within ourselves." Now that's plain weird. It's so loopy that it makes your hair stand on end. And that's the real story of the Jackson trial, the one that remains a mystery, the issue that has been buried. Can somebody please try to explain why people from all over the world followed Jackson as if he were the leader of a religious cult, and believe in his right to have young boys sleeping in his bed? What on earth has caused this devotion? Jackson is a truly repulsive figure. He admitted to having often-vulnerable children in his bed. He has a long history of obsessing about his appearance to the point of taking self-love and self-aggrandizing behaviour to extraordinary levels. Out of that egotism came a declaration that it was okay to take young boys into his bed. By any standards, that's unacceptable. But in his case, this hard-core group of fans give him their backing. Why?

It's over, it never began

Well, that was anticlimactic. Which is probably for the best, right now. OTTAWA -- The Liberals easily won Tuesday night's main budget vote 249 to 53 thanks to the help of the Conservatives, who voted in favour of it because it contains the $2 billion Atlantic Accord. But there was one close vote dealing with the main estimates, which approves spending for the remainder of the fiscal year ending March 31, 2006. The minority Liberals squeaked through in that vote 153 to 149 with the support of its entire caucus and two Independent MPs -- Carolyn Parrish and David Kilgour. Some final thoughts on what's certainly to be the last moment of high political drama until the fall: - Who was Pat O'Brien's secret anti-SSM ally, anyway? I assume he didn't reveal himself for the one significant vote, after realizing it wouldn't have mattered. (That is, assuming that O'Brien's threat wasn't just bluster.) - Why is Chuck Strahl so frequently seen wearing a tuxedo for important votes? - I was not aware, as when the House unanimously agreed at 11:42 that it was actually midnight, that it was able to legislate upon the fabric of time and space. The supremacy of Parliament knows no bounds.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

One skip ahead of my doom

Oh, crud. London-Fanshawe MP Pat O'Brien has issued an ultimatum, saying he and an unnamed Liberal MP will vote against the minority Liberal government in a series of confidence votes Tuesday night unless the same-sex marriage bill is delayed. O'Brien, who left the Liberal caucus this month to sit as an Independent over the gay-marriage issue, told CBC News that he will continue negotiating with Liberal officials in the hours before the voting begins at 10 p.m. EDT. He wants a promise, in writing, that the passage of the same-sex marriage bill will not happen until after Parliament resumes in the fall. Now a handful of Liberal backbenchers grow spines? Where were these sudden attacks of conscience a month ago? It's hard to imagine some PMO wonks aren't chortling with glee at the precise timing of this carefully micromanaged backbench revolt. This ends badly, no matter what.

You may think that the whole thing is silly

As occasionally mentioned, I do graphic design work for a local advertising distributor. One of the most irritating things about the job is trying to extract suitably high-quality artwork out of clients; the sales managers, while trying their best to understand the repeated memos and guides I've sent around, simply aren't often able to bring themselves to browbeat clients into providing decent material to work with. I've managed to get them to understand that scanned business cards are unacceptable for clients' logos - vector art is best, but failing that, high-resolution raster images will do - but beyond that, I still have to badger them on a regular basis. Now, when I need the logo of a product or service the clients are advertising, beyond their own corporate identity, Brands of the World is usually quite helpful for vector versions, but not always. Last week I needed the logo for Australian Gold Tanning Lotion for a tanning salon who'd ignored my requests to provide the artwork themselves, but demanded its presence in the final product. Stymied by my usual source, I turned to others, to no avail. (Eventually I just Photoshopped a tiny .gif version of Australian Gold's logo out of a sign in their online store.) However, what I did find on one of the lesser sites, La Logotheque, was quite interesting. The sloppy search engine turned up "Golden Arch Hotels" in a search for "Australian Gold," with a very familiar-seeming logo: At first I thought it must be some kind of joke or concept art by an imaginative freelancer, but it's not: Unbeknownst to me, McDonald's does, in fact, operate a chain of hotels in Europe. (Albeit a small one.) ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - The brochure for the world's first McDonald's hotel was unabashed in its enthusiasm. Staying at the Golden Arch Hotel was "a pleasure as inviting as a big plate of French fries." I immediately imagined a tacky hotel room impregnated with that unmistakable deep-fry odour. It wasn't my idea of a restful night away from home. Then again, I'm not a snob and decided to try it out. Even branding-happy admen are unenthusiastic: It seems McDonalds is playing a risk-minimization game with this new sub brand – the Golden Arches name being familiar, but distinct enough from the masterbrand to insulate it from any negative incidents, or indeed failure. Certainly consistency is a relevant attribute to bring to a hospitality business, but is it unique and compelling? Numerous other branded hotel chains have provided consistency worldwide, at all levels of the hotel five star rating system. Only time will tell whether there is space for another three star hotel offer. And only time will tell whether the world wants or needs a McHotel. I, despite my brandist leanings, am happy to describe it as a “once in a lifetime” experience. Huh. McDonald's Hotels. You learn something new every day, no?

Wild ambitions in our sights

This is probably not helpful. (Except for, y'know, the other side.) OTTAWA -- Political knives are out for Stephen Harper as his federal Conservatives sink deeper in the polls, and the sharpest weapons are being brandished by members of his own party. "There is a lot of discontent with the turn of things. People are saying it's time to replace the leader," said one key Conservative organizer in Toronto who, like many others, asked not to be named because it could hurt his status in the party. Just a few months ago, Mr. Harper won the support of 84 per cent of party members at a policy convention. Although a recent poll puts the Conservatives eight percentage points behind the Liberals and suggests that six in 10 Canadians have a negative view of Mr. Harper, he can be unseated only if he decides to step aside. "Stephen Harper surely is going to get another chance to lead the party into an election," said Sid Noel, a political science professorat the University of Western Ontario. "It would be extraordinary for the party to dispense with the leader when he came very close in the last election." But, behind the scenes, party members from coast to coast are pointing fingers and asking why opinion surveys have the Tories battling for third place nationally when the Gomery inquiry into the sponsorship scandal should still be tarring the Liberals with the stigma of corruption. Yes, it's disappointing, and a considerable part of the blame for bad polling numbers at the moment is directly attributable to ham-handedly screwing up with the Grewal tapes. Competence is regarded more highly by Canadians than honesty, it seems, and understandably, given just how badly that was fumbled. I don't mind seeing the Tories playing the great game, but I'd at least like to see them doing it with some marginal skill. That said, what good could come out of dumping Harper now or shortly after another election loss? There's no miraculous potential leader-in-waiting that'll stop the Hidden Agenda accusations, or the random claims of institutional racism, sexism or homophobia. The article mentions rumours surrounding Jim Flaherty secretly vying for the leadership, among others. People, if you think Harper is unfairly vilified as a heartless, Canada-destroying scary neocon monster, the optics on Flaherty - after a few well-placed hysterical editorials in the Globe & Mail - will astound you. (Not that he wouldn't be a good federal leader; I'd support him, as I did when he ran for the Ontario PC leadership, because he seems the most authentic political heir of Mike Harris. But that's not a net positive, in terms of short-circuiting the Liberal smear machine.) It's not Harper that's broken, but our polity itself. Frantically calling for the opposition leader's head on a pike for his inability to overcome hostile media spin and shameless Liberal dirty tricks will only serve to reinforce the perception that the party is unstable and extremist, prone to eating our own and preoccupied with petty infighting. It's not fair, but that's what we've got to fight, and that spin isn't going to disappear because someone else is sitting in the big chair. Stephen Harper is likely the best candidate for PM Conservatives could possibly offer up right now, given the prejudices of our system; could we at least put away the knives until and unless that long-sought magical leadership candidate turns up?

That face, that face, that dangerous face

Ewwww. Loonatics is back again, with some new character models: Well, that's a start - at least compared to the previous iteration - but it's still godawful. Now the designs are just kind of mushy yet pointlessly angular à la Jackie Chan Adventures/The Batman/Men in Black: The Series. There's no expression there, no life, just a series of stamplike Extreme Cocky Grins and Dynamic Anime Poses. Someone's career is still riding on this, I suspect, and their desperation is becoming more evident. (Also...that's some terrible airbrushing, the redesigned faces aside. Likewise the cheats of a crude but massively Gaussian blurred background, and shadows created in Photoshop. On seeing this, If I didn't know this was an officially released promo piece, I would have assumed it was fairly decent fanart. What's fairly decent for the works of appreciative amateurs, however, is not a standard WB Animation should be embracing.) (Via Brian Tiemann.)

Monday, June 13, 2005

We like to get the trial over with quickly, because it's the sentence that's really the fun

Woo! Travis Biehn, veritable apotheosis of vapid and violent Canadian anti-Americanism, is getting put away for a while. Doylestown, Pa. — A Canadian teen with an alleged hatred of America was found guilty Monday of two counts involving a plot to blow up his school. Travis Biehn,17, was led away from court in handcuffs and leg irons after the verdict was read as his Newfoundland-born parents looked on calmly. He will stay in juvenile detention for up to 20 days while he is examined by psychologists. [...] Critics in the community lambasted the family and called for strict punishment for Mr. Biehn after Ms. Gibbons suggested recently that he dislikes Americans and would rather live in Canada as a motive for the alleged bomb plot. She also noted that he wore an "I am Canadian" T-shirt to his first court appearance, something that played widely in local media organizations. Molson Canadian: The choice of today's discerning Canadian terrorist-überpatriot. I'd like to think someone should have seen that coming when the I Am Canadian ad campaign was launched. That kind of shallow, combative tone can go so many places... Sadly, he won't be kept locked up for very long even in the best of circumstances: Monday's proceeding is known as an adversary hearing, essentially a trial in juvenile court before judge alone. Mr. Biehn could now be detained until he's 21. Other options include a sentence involving community service. Four years, maximum? That's better than he deserves. And more than I suspect he'll end up serving, in any event. Still, the point has been made, and hopefully ad-men and politicians alike will think twice before falling back on the tired old trope of anti-Americanism, whether to sell beer or domestic policy. It just might lead to this kind of thing again, after all. Of course, by now, the damage has already been done: TORONTO -- Canadians believe U.S. President George W. Bush is almost as great a threat to our national security as Osama bin Laden, according to a government opinion poll obtained by the National Post. What can you say to this kind of bull-headed chauvinism?

How shall we spend the money we earn?

Another day, another announcement of needless subsidy pork for a Liberal constituency-industry: Banff, Alta. — Canada's television industry is getting $100-million in new money to create homegrown programming. The money was announced Sunday by Heritage Minister Liza Frulla to producers and executives at the Banff World Television Festival. The money will go to the Canadian Television Fund, Ms. Frulla said in a speech before the festival's opening reception. [...] Ms. Frulla said the fund is essential to ensure Canadians receive distinctive programming. Yes, Lord knows we just couldn't survive without...um...Canadian Idol, Blue Murder or W5. Unless we should happen to have the remote handy, in order to switch the channel to American Idol, Law & Order, or 20/20, maybe. “Since it's inception, the (fund) has helped bring more than 18,000 hours of original Canadian programming to the screen,” said Ms. Frulla. That's a bug, not a feature.

The Tyranny of Ecofriendliness, Redux

If you don't get the results you want from elected legislators, do an end-run around them to unelected bureaucrats: Mayor Bob Chiarelli wants to place a tax on plastic shopping bags. Chiarelli says it's part of his plan to see fewer plastic bags in landfill sites across Ottawa. The City of Ottawa is in talks with the Ontario Government to impose the tax. It couldn't get passed by City Council directly, but that doesn't dissuade him; no, rather, that just means that it has to be imposed from above, for our own good. Ass. I previously wrote on this asinine scheme the last time it came up, almost exactly a year ago, here; not much has changed, except for Chiarelli's seemingly increased contempt for the actual citizens of Ottawa. At least this might mean, given the potential unpopularity of such a tax, that he doesn't plan to run again. That would certainly be a plus.

A fire alive with heat

Point taken: no matter how much I thought Centretown felt like a sauna over the weekend, merely walking to the (thankfully air-conditioned) Y and back, it can always be much worse. Think you were hot yesterday? You weren't, really. The 75 firefighters who spent yesterday afternoon in full firefighting gear at a brush fire, slogging through a boot-gripping marsh -- they were hot. [...] To get an idea of how hot it was inside the firefighting suits, Capt. McBride suggested imagining hammering nails into a deck or digging a ditch in yesterday's [31 C / 88 F] heat. "Now put on a snowmobile suit and dig that ditch," he said. "You're sort of like a chunk of roast beef." Ow. I'm getting faint just thinking about it. I don't know if I would have survived, living in an age before the advent of central air...

Take away the puppet play

Apropos of nothing, courtesy of FDR's America: Good old-fashioned nightmare fuel. Those poor Iowans.

Someone once lied to us

Damian Penny has some more random observations on the Chaoulli decision: Michael Moore is working on a documentary called Sicko, an indictment of the American health-care system which, like Bowling for Columbine, will almost certainly have a section describing how much more enlightened we are in Canada. How's he going to deal with Chaoulli? Isn't it obvious? Ignoring, obfuscating, and outright lying about those portions of reality that don't reflect his utopian fantasies about Canada. Have we forgotten about the Wal-Mart bullet-buying scene in Bowling for Columbine? Or the rest of his fanciful portrayals of Canada? If this case is mentioned at all, it'll be in passing, with an immediate cut to clips of the PM splenetically declaring that it means nothing. Moore will do whatever's necessary to paint the US as hell on Earth compared to oh-so-progressive Canada, and he's never let, y'know, the actual truth stand in his way before; why would it stop him now?

The late night double feature picture show

Yow: "Cineplex buys Famous Players." Cineplex Galaxy LP said it agreed to buy the Famous Players unit from Viacom Inc. for $500-million, combining Canada's two largest movie-theatre companies. [...] Famous Players operates at 81 locations with 787 screens across the country, including theatres in its joint ventures with Imax Corp. and its partnership with Alliance Atlantis. Cineplex Galaxy operates or has an interest in 86 theatres with 775 screens across Canada in six provinces. I remember, when very young, thinking that they were the only two theatre chains in Canada, or possibly North America; I had no conception it was anything but a bipolar market. It was a shock to learn of other chains, or independent theatres. In a small way, this merger is one more part of my childhood disappearing. (On a more practical and less maudlin note: does this mean that the unofficial division of distributors between the two will stop, or that it'll become more pronounced, as the new expanded chain micromanages even further which films are shown where?)

Saturday, June 11, 2005

One guy was having a ball

How very convenient for Paul Martin: "Indo-Canadian MP threatened with deportation." If Grewal is indeed guilty of faking paperwork to game the immigration system, yes, that ought to be punished, by criminal charges or deportation. But does it really seem entirely a happy accident that the knife could be twisted so, right at this moment, causing even more PR damage for the Tories and depriving them of yet another vote in the House? Are we actually getting to the point where it's considered acceptable to fantasize about randomly deporting political opponents based on how trustworthy they "look" - or, to be more truthful, how inclined they are to toe the governing party line? What is this, Venezuela? (Via SDA and Rempelia Prime.)

The hills are alive

I've been hit with another of those blogmemes, I see; but, thankfully, this one is for music. While I never seem to be able to actually sit down with a book unless killing time while traveling, I do keep iTunes running while I work, and my iPod on me when out and about. (I can thus give answers just a bit more credible and uncalculating than with the Book Tag thing, you see.) Total size of music files on my computer: iTunes claims 6689 songs, adding up to 25.01 gigs, and spanning a length of 15.3 days. I only keep about 12 gigs on John Quincy iPod, though, and even that's overkill, given how much I automate the playlist process at the iTunes end. The last CD I bought was: Okay, this is going to be a double, going by that particular criterion. I only buy physical CDs from Amazon, and thus tend to stack up two or three on my short-term wishlist at a time, to reach the threshold for free shipping. Then, invariably, I notice that buying from the Amazon Marketplace sellers with used copies, even factoring in their increased shipping fees, would save a dollar or two on the whole transaction. So, while I received them two weeks apart, there's two cast albums in this category: The 1976 Original Broadway Cast of Pacific Overtures, and the quirky off-Broadway Zanna, Don't! The latter is one of Stephen Sondheim's patented Oddball Central Conceit shows, about the forced 1853 opening of US-Japanese relations by Commodore Perry from the Japanese point of view, and it's just delightful, with a richly layered score and witty, complex lyrics. (You could write an entire thesis on the masterfully elegant convolutions of "Someone in a Tree," and I'm sure some music grad student somewhere has.) Also amusing is the aggressively-orchestrated finale, "Next," for what I'm sure is meant to be self-flagellation in the Carter-era-malaise Japan's Economy Will Destroy Us mode: COMPANY Never mind a small disaster. Who's the stronger, who's the faster? Let the pupil show the master — Next! Next! A VOICE There are 223 Japan Airline ticket offices in 153 cities through the world. ALL Next! ANOTHER VOICE There are 8 Toyota dealerships in the city of Detroit, and Seiko watch is the third best selling watch in Switzerland. ALL Next! THIRD VOICE 57% of the Bicentennial souvenirs sold in Washington, D.C. in 1975 were made in Japan. ALL Next! FOURTH VOICE This year Japan will export 16 million kilograms monosodium glutamate and 400,000 tons of polyvinyl chloride resin. [...] Heh. It's the line about Bicentennial souvenirs that especially dates the song. I know that's meant to imply something about the weakness of American industry in the 1970s (much more pointedly noted with the line about Toyota dealerships in Detroit), but it just comes off sounding desperate, especially given how Japan's economy drastically reorganized throughout the late 70s and 80s to move away from the cheap trinket-producing industry and into the tech sector. Sondheim's timing was off; he could have waited just a few more years to see what Japan turned out to be really good at producing, to shared American and Japanese benefit. Sometimes, it just doesn't pay to interpret trade relations in terms of historical vengeance. (At least, not when jumping straight from the 1850s to the 1970s, without taking note of what might have happened in the intervening years.) Zanna, Don't!, on the other hand, is pure poppy fun, manically cheerful without descending into too much saccharine mawkishness or dead-eyed Message politics. (And it really could have, with a premise such as it has.) No complexity there, really (though there's a nice solid use of a single leitmotif throughout the main numbers, if you listen carefully); just a sweet, charming little fairy tale of a show. Song playing right now in iTunes: When I'm working, I typically just switch to my random cycle of least recently played mid-to-high-rated songs, which means anything that pops up, I haven't heard in at least a month. Currently playing is "I Remember How I Loved Her," by the Zombies, a haunting, eerie little piece of mid-60s Britpop featured in the Patrick McGoohan series Danger Man, translated into the Italian "Mi Amore Sta Lontano." Next up on that playlist: "Rama Lama Ding Dong" by Rocky Sharpe, and Thomas Newman's "Stoic Theme" from The Shawshank Redemption. Five songs I listen to a lot, or that mean a lot to me: Let's keep this simple, and go with a slightly filtered list of what iTunes claims to have the highest playcounts... 1. "L'Arena," by Ennio Morricone, the undisputed king of Spaghetti Western scores. My copy is from the Kill Bill soundtrack, but apparently it's originally from the soundtrack of 1968's Il Mercenario. There's no way to describe it but "rousing;" it's the kind of thing that'll make you feel inspired and confident, capable of kicking ass at anything. 2. "Forty Years," by Joe Jackson. Nothing ever - and I mean ever - changes: Here in DC, they talk about 'Euro-disease,' And how the French are always so damn hard to please; Motions are passed in Brussels, but no one agrees, And no one walks tall - but no one gets down on their knees Once allies laughed and drank, But it was forty years ago. It's as true today as in 1986. More so, I think, as the shared horrors of what was then only forty years past recede further into history, and out of the contemporary consciousness entirely. 3. "Defying Gravity," from 2003's spectacular Wicked. I have got to see this show. The original cast recording is all well and good, and the libretto fills in some of the gaps omitted in the notably different-from-the-source-material narrative by cutting out dialogue, but it seems to be such a well-presented behemoth of a stage production, especially in the uplifting lyrics of Elphaba's (the erstwhile Wicked Witch of the West) show-stopping Declaratory Rebellious Characterization Number combined with dramatic wirework. This track also features excellent use of what composer Stephen Schwartz calls the "Unlimited" motif, which - as a clever little tip of the hat to the original and more famous musical adaptation of L. Frank Baum's work - is the first seven notes of "Over the Rainbow," in rhythmic and tonal disguise. A hugely powerful and dramatic diva number coupled with nerdy musical theatre in-jokes? What's not to like? 4. "Blue Lamp," Stevie Nicks. I don't like anything else she's ever done, but I like this. For some reason - and I don't quite know why - it makes me think of a particular time and place I've never experienced in quite in the way I imagine, but it certainly feels like I have. (That time and place: 1985 or so, a quiet and oppressively hot summer night, a small town somewhere hereabouts. Renfrew, or Carleton Place, maybe. A dead-end place to be in an age that seems so comparatively technologically ancient that a blue Tiffany lamp doesn't seem antiquated, but merely quirky.) 5. "Pusher," from Raisin the Stakes, a Very Special Episode of too-clever-to-survive MTV/Teletoon animated series Clone High. Again, this is going to require some explanation: I'm a sucker for a musical episode of anything, let alone one that's a pastiche of Hair, Pink Floyd's The Wall, Godspell and The Phantom of the Paradise. When such gems pop up on TV, I rip the audio to MP3s immediately; special musical episodes successful enough to eventually release the album are rare. (Though the now-ancient official site for the show does feature free downloads of that particular song, and a couple of others from other episodes.) And now I have to pick five people, huh? Crud. I don't suppose I can shrug that off twice in a row. Fortunately, I don't seem to be among the last among those who read or occasionally link to this particular corner of the blogosphere to be tagged, this time, which is a plus. Well, let's try: Alwyn Macomber, Ben at The Tiger in Winter, VW of The Phantom Observer, N=1, and Peter Rempel. May I be forgiven for spreading it, regardless...

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Louder than words

In general, I'm not picky about recent musical theatre. I enjoy most everything, as long as it involves some clever, singable lyrics, and energy in the score. Basically, will it work as the equivalent of a radio play, just listening to the album? Is there a coherent story without the fripperies of an actual staging? There are exceptions, however. I've never much cared for Rent, even after listening to the original cast album multiple times; it always seemed to me to be a musical for shallow hipsters imagining themselves too cynical and sophisticated for musicals. (Much better in that vein would be an earlier work of late Rent auteur Jonathan Larson, Tick...Tick...Boom, which seems all the more authentic for being semi-autobiographical.) All of which is to say: I'm surprised to find myself warming up to the just-released trailer for the film adaptation. Maybe I have unfairly misjudged the entire show. We'll see, come end-of-year obvious-Oscar-begging season, I guess... (Via AICN.)

This is the land of opportunity

If I understand correctly, today's Supreme Court decision on the allowability of private care would seem to claim that government currently has no right to forbid it on the basis of protecting the public system. Ergo: Here's an opportunity. It seems to have become generally understood that Canadians are now too complacent to merely vote a party out; there have to be compelling reasons to vote one in, rather than just being less scandal-ridden. Stephen Harper can go before the cameras (and bring it up in QP, too, for preference) and very reasonably point out that the Supreme Court has found that a partially privatized healthcare system is not the unconstitutional monstrosity Liberals have claimed as their favourite boogeyman for years; in fact, this premise has just been made in precisely the same fashion that opened the door for officially legislating same-sex marriage, as a means of better fulfilling the guarantees of the Charter. If the Tories fail to bring out a draft policy overview to take advantage of this blessing by the highest court in the land immediately, and make a solid case for the place of private care in a mostly public system, I'll be disappointed. This is perfect: an opportunity to have Big Ideas that aren't just Liberal-lite rehashes, but authentically conservative, and that can't be logically tarred as un-Canadian. If it has to be done in the language of entitlement and rights under the Charter, then so be it. Incompetence at cloak-and-dagger shenanigans is one thing, but not grabbing this and riding it for all it's worth...that would be inexcusable.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Acceptance

Heh: The five stages of dealing with Intel Macs. Yeah, I'll admit I overreacted the other day, and that this has no real impact for end-users beyond having to, well, upgrade to a new system in two years or so, which I'd probably do regardless. Plus, I'm liking the idea of faster ports of Windows-based games, or possible dual-boot capability; I wouldn't have to keep a PC hooked up at all, if those should work out, and not be just the fever-dreams of optimistic speculation. But, in fairness, there's an emotional investment in Switching, and I think it's understandable to see Apple make a semi-major hardware-slash-philosophy paradigm shift - three months later - and get just a bit upset, no?

I have a sense for all the obvious signs, and pal, I know when someone's feeding me lines

One Nancy Burden, after some not-terribly-lucid rambling about the purported scariness of the Patriot Act, takes exception to my connecting endemic anti-American sentiment with yesterday's chilling example of those who are willing to act upon it: So an obvious yamyak was influenced by the CBC. What about the yahoos that are influenced by Bugs Bunny? ok, so the CBC is anti-american. Yup, the taxpayer funded and strongly Liberal-biased Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is anti-american. Does it surprise that our present government, the twelve-year running Liberal gang in Ottawa, and the power party in Canada for most of the past century, might have something to do with that? Hmmm. Yes, the average Canadian is aware of the machiavellian connection between the Liberal government and the leftwing mainline Canadian media. But this does not mean that all Canadians are anti-American. And can you imagine if speaking out against Paul Martin’s government got you labeled anti-Canadian? I never said that all Canadians were, but a considerable number are either actively anti-American, or passively accepting of such slurs. Either is a problem. "The yahoos that are influenced by Bugs Bunny" in attempting a killing spree would have to be interpreting pseudo-Vaudevillian banter pretty intensely, aided by a rather large dose of mental illness. Conversely, you don't have to be schizophrenic, or read very much into unsubtle commentary, to see rampant anti-American bias at the CBC. Do I see a direct connection? No. Is there a circumstantial connection, between the typical and tedious anti-American bluster we see in newspapers, hear from politicians, and watch on TV? I think so. It tends to normalize and make socially acceptable what should be no less inappropriate than, say, pathological hatred of Germany or China. If the "yamyak" in question (I'll admit, I've never heard that one before) lived in Germany, plotted to kill Germans, and had been egged on by relentless anti-German sentiment in the Canadian media, I wonder if she would feel differently? (Also - I don't know where Nancy's been, but speaking out against Paul Martin's government does get you tarred as anti-Canadian, without much complaint from a complicit media establishment. Or, at least, accused by members of cabinet as being "Klan members" with a "secret agenda" to destroy the country. Same difference.)