Saturday, June 30, 2007

The National Post continues to hemorrhage readers

The death watch continues as The National Post's slow motion collapse speeds up.

Racial Martial Law in Australia

A horrific report of systemic child abuse in aboriginal communities was released and Prime Minister Howard of Australia has used it to justify launching a massive crackdown on aboriginal communities.

For aboriginals alcohol will be banned, pornography will be banned, personal computers will be examined for no-compliance, welfare will be withheld, aboriginal administration and legal harassment protections on aboriginal land will be annulled. Howard at first said that all children under sixteen would receive compulsory invasive medical check ups. When there was a mass revolt by doctors the government grudgingly backtracked and said the checkups would be consensual but 'encouraged'. Howard spoke dismissively of "constitutional niceties and is also using the buzzwords of child sexual abuse to push a plan of taking away aboriginal communal land titles and leasing plots back to individuals locking them into 99 year leases.

None of this reflects the recommendations of the original report.


Terrified families have begun streaming out of the communities in the area, fleeing into the bush in fear that their children will be stolen from them again. Like Canada with our residential schools, Australia had a stolen generation of natives - arguably treated even worse. The current hard paternalism and vicious stigmatization of the victims of cultural genocide stirs up bad memories.

Troops and new police have begun to move into the area.

I've been following this for a few days, dove into it last night. Australian readers will, I hope, forgive the impertinence of a Canadian commenting on their internal affairs, but have y'all gone completely crazy?

OK, I know that this plan is by no means universally supported in Australia, several voices have spoken up to describe these policies as draconian, and shameless dog whistle racial pandering just months before an election Howard was looking like losing. The Australian Green Party has opposed the plan, the Labour Party, to their shame, have offered guarded support for it.

The authors of the report Howard is using to justify this action have pointed out that none of their recommendations included 'sending in the gunships' and that the recommendations they did make for long term changes and aid are being ignored. They've also pointed out that the rage and terror these measures are causing in the aboriginal community will probably make the job of treating and dealing with family breakdown that much harder as trust in outsiders no longer exists. Alternative proposals for dealing with the problems are being ignored. This mess shows every sign of a calculated act of electioneering and right wing social engineering planned for some time and ready for when the abuse report was released. None of this despair and community collapse is new, and indeed Howard has done more than his fair share of contributing to it.

But some people on both sides are confidently predicting that this will give Howard a huge poll boost, while predictions of a huge backlash have the tang of desperate wishful thinking to them.

He's going to get away with this isn't he? The same people who were delighted by Howard turning away desperate refugees and locking others in barbwire encircled desert prison camps are going to vote him in again aren't they?

What really scares the hell out of me, is that I know that there are members of Canada's current governing party, and the previous one, that are watching this draconian and paternalistic approach to first nations with a mixture of envy and wistfulness.

And political calculation.

Hat tip for bringing this to my attention: Engaged Spectator

Update: Well the first polls are out in Australia since this blew up and Woman at Mile 0 has the results. Australians have not in fact bought into this crap and are deeply suspicious of Howard and his motives. Big drop in support. Thank God.

Friday, June 29, 2007

The revolution begins?

MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski says no.

The wrong doctor at the wrong time

Dr Brian Day begins his tenure as the head of the Canadian Medical Association in August. He is expected to spend his term promoting private care over the public system.

An orthopedic surgeon, Day is the founder of a private clinic whose patients are mainly people with third-party insurance, such as workers' compensation.

Day, who will take over leadership of the CMA in August, is a staunch advocate of the role of privately paid health care in the Canadian system.

This means that at a critical juncture for the continued survival of Canada's public healthcare system, doctors have chosen to represent them someone unlikely to try to improve the public system, and who could, in fact, undermine it.

If there were reason to believe our public health-care system would be improved by the addition of privately funded services or clinics, or even a parallel, private system, Day's leadership could be welcomed.

But in reality, such proof is thin on the ground. The examples pro-private sector advocates trot out with such conviction don't prove private health care is an improvement over the public version. On the contrary, well run, publicly funded health-care systems are superior in every important regard. They deliver high-standard care at lower cost and with greater equity and efficiency.

Let's look at one of the examples that purports to show private care can be a useful adjunct: Stockholm county in Sweden transferred St. Goran's Hospital from the public sector to the private in 2001. What at first looked like a more efficient operation was found in fairly short order to be the result of hospital administrators preferring to treat patients with minor problems over serious illnesses.

According to research from the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta (printed in 2005 in the Globe and Mail), Daniel Cohn of Simon Fraser University found that at St. Goran's, patients most in need of fast medical attention were least likely to get it.

Instead of showing leadership in the fight to protect a system with superior outcomes the doctors of the CMA, narrowly, chose a representative who will promote superior cash flow. Be prepared for a lot of propaganda about the greater efficiency and savings of private solutions. Canadians need to be constantly reminded of the facts as opposed to the disingenuous neo-liberal drumbeat.

Public health care costs less and works better. Any private experiments are a step back and have dangerous potential consequences under NAFTA and other trade agreements that protect our public system only so far and so long as it stays public. There are no 'experiments'. Just permanent, irreversible changes.

Dr Day will be promoting an agenda that is in opposition to the pubic well being of Canadians. We can only hope the CMA will return to its traditional role of protecting the health of Canadians the next time they pick a leader.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sicko

We watched it last night, (Don't look at me like that - Michael Moore himself said he didn't mind and I will be seeing it in the theater too, and probably buying the DVD when it comes out.) its easily his best and most heartfelt film. I strongly recommend seeing it.

I think it will be as useful in the fight to maintain public health care here in Canada as it is to try to get it in the US. There's a funny bit with Moore in Canada being totally flabbergasted by a self described Conservative waxing rhapsodic about universal health care and describing Tommy Douglas as our greatest Canadian. We were stunned too frankly, clearly the guy was a former Progressive Conservative - the Reform/Alliance bunch are aching to throw the system to the wolves. Maybe wide screening of this film here will make that a little more difficult.

British Labour Party stalwart Tony Benn, who was the model for Harry Perkins and what could happen if a real leftist ever won power, makes the compelling argument that people strangled by debt, fear and the belief that they can't change anything are easier to control and that this could be the real point behind a system that crushes the people in it. I find this argument hard to refute.

I've been reading Andrew Sullivan on the subject lately, he candidly dislikes the idea that both the rich and poor should get equal care, and is comfortable with some people getting none at all if those at the top get slightly better care as a result. If the rich can get some exciting new lifestyle drugs and some shiny machines that go beep, that seems to him to be a reasonable trade off for others losing everything to get the treatment they need to live - or not getting treatment at all. Ultimately this is the argument for the American system. He also thinks that the right has lost the argument and that universal health care is now an inevitability in the US.

As Buckdog has pointed out, expect the lies, the quibbles and the venom to be directed at Moore and his film from the usual suspects. But this is Moore's least partisan film, he savages Republicans and Democrats equally for being in the pockets of the Insurance and Pharmaceutical industries. He eschews his confrontational CEO ambush style to focus on the people getting - or NOT getting the care they need. A brilliant stroke was to front load the film with stories of people who have health insurance but still can't get the care they need as the companies use every trick in the book to deny coverage.

Of course there's also the infamous sequence in Cuba where Moore brings suffering, lung damaged 9/11 rescue workers to get the care they couldn't get in the US. As the press has already reported, the US government has threatened to jail Moore and the gasping heroes for daring to deal with the tiny Caribbean nation. One wonders if the same effort will be put into pursuing every wealthy American with a box of Havana cigars on his desk.

It opens tomorrow. Go see it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Margaret Wente dusts off the stale old 'super weed' myth

Behind a pay wall at the Globe and Mail of course. Have you noticed it invariably is, when they know they're spouting complete nonsense? Update: One of my readers found the full piece in all its jaw-dropping absurdity here.

She calls it a 'destructive and addictive' drug, a 'stimulant' that belongs in 'the same league with cocaine'. Of course, any suggestion that pot is a 'stimulant' currently has several people giggling uncontrollably as they read this. Giggling is about the most effort they can manage right now if they're smoking the scary hydro Wente sermonizes about - they certainly don't feel 'stimulated'.

Marijuana of course, is neither a stimulant or a depressive. It is a very mild hallucinogen - so mild that it can't even cause hallucinations, no not even the terrifying - and mythical - killer Hydro. Multiple studies have repeatedly and thoroughly debunked any suggestion that it is physically addictive. As to Wente's contention that today's pot is so much more powerful than, in her words, 'the mellow weed you and I remember from our youth' would it surprise you to discover that Ms Wente was talking out of her ass?

Myth: Pot is ten times more potent and dangerous now than in the 1960's

The notion that pot has increased dramatically in potency is a DEA myth based on biased government data, as shown in a recent NORML report by Dr. John Morgan.(7) Samples of pot from the early '70s came from stale, low-potency Mexican "kilobricks" left in police lockers, whose potency had deteriorated to sub-smokable levels of less than 0.5%. These were compared to later samples of decent-quality domestic marijuana, making it appear that potency had skyrocketed. A careful examination of the government's data show that average marijuana potency increased modestly by a factor of two or so during the seventies, and has been more or less constant ever since.In fact, there is nothing new about high-potency pot. During the sixties, it was available in premium varieties such as Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, etc. , as well as in the form of hashish and hash oil, which were every bit as strong as today's sinsemilla, but were ignored in government potency statistics. While the average potency of domestic pot did increase with the development of sinsemilla in the seventies, the range of potencies available has remained virtually unchanged since the last century, when extremely potent tonics were sold over the counter in pharmacies. In Holland, high-powered hashish and sinsemilla are currently sold in coffee shops with no evident problems.

Contrary to popular myth, greater potency is not necessarily more dangerous, due to the fact that users tend to adjust (or "self-titrate") their dose according to potency. Thus, good quality sinsemilla is actually healthier for the lungs because it reduces the amount of smoke one needs to inhale to get high.

She also mentions how Holland has begun to close pot cafes, implying it's due to a dawning awareness of how deadly pot is - and fails to mention they are actually being shut down because of anti-tobacco legislation.

She also bizarrely claims that it has 'an especially devastating effect among certain ethnic minorities.' No, I'm not kidding. This surreal and offensive claim unavoidably brings to mind the racist hysteria whipped up a century ago by propaganda about 'wetbacks' frenzied by the demon weed.

What does it say for your basic argument if you have to rely on blatant falsehoods, alarmist unsupported rhetoric and reheated racist propaganda in order to make it?

The Globe and Mail should be embarrassed for printing this crap.

UPDATE: The racist crap pisses off the folks at VueWeekly too.

See: Suspended for critical thinking.

Bad Dreams

Lyric's Born

Telus drops out of Bell pursuit

In a reversal as sudden as the original offer, Telus has dropped out of the race for BCE. citing inadequacies in the bid process.

There were regulatory and competition concerns. The Canadian public was at best ambivalent about the prospect of Telus swallowing BCE - ranging to outright hostility in the Telus corporate backyard of Alberta and BC. The more dealings Canadians had with Telus, the less likely they were to like the idea of Telus swallowing the competition.

UPDATE: Genuity research suggests that the Telus bid may have always been a feint, intended only to push up the private bids and leave Bell saddled with more debt than it would have had otherwise. Don't know if it's true but it's certainly in character.

Locked in a toy factory

Who has the real power in today's China?

In other news, I'm home sick with a sinus headache (The weather here in Calgary has been bouncing back and forth between massive storm fronts and suffocating summer heat for weeks - hail the size of marbles yesterday.) that puts me in a mood similar to a grizzly bear with a thorn in his paw.

A good mood for blogging. I'll probably be adding increasingly unhinged entries all day.

I'll also be playing with Scribefire, a Firefox add-on that lets you post to and edit your blog in a sub window. I installed it a month ago, played with it briefly and haven't used it since. With Firefox's tab function it's kind of a redundant tool and it doesn't let you add blogger labels on the fly.

I'll see if it grows on me today.

UPDATE 11:15 am: Nope. Still a clever idea that annoys the piss out of me in practice. Bye bye Scribefire.

Monday, June 25, 2007

History of an alternate universe UK Prime Minister

As Tony Blair's reign draws to a close I find myself thinking of another UK Labour Prime Minister.

Harry Perkins.

Never heard of him? Well he exists only in A Very British Coup, a novel by a former Labour cabinet minister and an excellent British TV miniseries.
Harry Perkins is the anti-Blair. Where Blair moved Labour sharply to the right and championed a relationship with the US President that can only be described as obsequious, Harry Perkins, a third generation steel worker, trade unionist and socialist leads a left wing Britain out of Margaret Thatcher's worst nightmares.

His administration is elected on a program of social spending, public ownership, nuclear disarmament and kicking American military bases out of Britain. The program gets him elected with a huge majority and Perkins begins to radically transform British society. It seems an unimaginable legislative program from a Labour PM after ten years of Blair.

Perkins is Chavez without the authoritarian tendencies and the scarier rhetoric - but he has the same predatory right wing media using propaganda to make him look scary.

There's even a Tony Blair-ish character in Wainwright, the token Labour right winger on the cabinet who enters a conspiracy to overthrow Perkins with British Secret Service, a Murdoch/Maxwell analogue right wing media baron and the American government. The assembled British and American elites resort to bugging, blackmail, and other skulduggery to try to bring Perkins down. This by the way written by Chris Mullin, who was a cabinet member in Harold Wilson's Labour government, and Mullin wrote Coup before former MI5 Assistant Director Peter Wright revealed in Spycatcher that pretty much exactly these tactics were used against Wilson in the 70's.

The miniseries is compelling and suspenseful TV, if very much a product of it's times, and it's worth seeing.
In the end, A Very British Coup is perhaps best seen not as a conspiracy thriller, but as a political fantasy: a story of politicians, not plotting amongst themselves, but trying to do the best for their country and its working-class population, in a world increasingly hostile to the will of the people.

Profile in Evil

The Washington Post makes up for some of the obsequious stenography they've done on behalf of the Bush administration over the last several years with this devastating portrayal of hubris, arrogance and contempt for democracy. Ladies and Gentlemen: Vice President Dick Cheney.

Public rejects Bill-us

Hat tip to Eugene:

The Angus Reid poll found that 48 per cent of Canadians believe the government shouldn't permit a merger between Vancouver-based Telus and Montreal-based BCE. Another 27 per cent supported it, while 25 per cent weren't sure.

The highest levels of opposition to such a deal came from British Columbia and Alberta at 57 per cent and 61 per cent, respectively. "What surprised us the most is the high level of skepticism from Alberta and B.C., where virtually everyone deals with Telus on a daily basis," Mr. Canseco said.

So this biggest opposition to this merger is from Telus's captive audience of ICLEC (Incumbent Local Exchange Carrier) customers who know the company from dealing with it. The ones who until very recently had no choice but Telus, and the ones who still have to deal with them. Having seen both sides of the Telus corporate culture's attitude towards customer service this isn't even remotely surprising.

The actual customers involved have an opinion as to what kind of 'white knight' national champion is being proposed here. And their response is overwhelmingly negative.

The public that oppose this deal should be aware that the elites of the Tories and the Liberals are aching to see this happen. Harper can talk about how there will be no politics in the competition boards decision all he wants but strong signals of support have already been sent, or Telus wouldn't have gone public. Other industries, particularly banks are looking for this to be the fatal blow to the idea of the public good trumping the interests of corporate monopolies.

It's going to happen unless the public rises up in revulsion against the idea.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Environmental comic book appeal from 1965

From Rip Hunter number 28, Sept 1965. published by DC Comics.

Links to bigger version.

Sunday Linkblast - June 24

Friday, June 22, 2007

A sop thrown to urban Alberta

Two Calgary MLAs have been promoted to junior cabinet portfolios, and Stelmach named Calgarian and Justice Minister Ron Stevens as his Deputy Premier.

Don't expect any real changes though. Yvonne Fritz is the new associate minister of affordable housing and urban development but it's not as if she'll actually be able to do anything but look concerned for the camera. We won't be getting even a temporary rent control measure or any real commitment to affordable housing in response to predatory landlords and Calgary workers being priced out of a city already suffering from a labor shortage.

Ms. Fritz said housing is “the top issue, not just in Calgary but in Alberta.”

Mr. Stelmach said he doesn't see the need for a major policy shift but added his new ministers will focus on hot-button issues that are frustrating many, including a lack of affordable housing.

“What Albertans have been saying is, ‘Your priorities are right, let's stay focused, let's work together, let's unite Alberta towards one common goal',” said the Premier.

Really? Is that what we're saying? Because what I've been hearing is that this province is being run by and for the benefit of corporate interests and the board-room elite with a very small proportion of the population actually benefiting from this boom. And that the rich are getting richer while everyone else worries whether there will be a middle school actually built when their kids need it or if they'll be priced out of their neighborhood anyway.

Calgary sounds like Redmonton these days - I suspect Redmonton still sounds even redder. The inwardly focused boomers and suburbanites who've been voting Tory for a generation are starting to sound like steelworkers on the picket line.

Really, cosmetic junior cabinet appointments for two Calgary MLAs and a symbolic title for another do not constitute meeting the needs of Calgarians. Maybe for some of the populist media it was just a cynical campaign to earn Calgary's elite greater influence, but they helped accelerate a wave of popular dissent that was already building and which won't fade away easily.

At the end of August the preordained conclusions of the oil revenues royalty review will be released - despite the urgings of such well known commies as Peter Lougheed the government will conclude that the oil companies should be able to continue to walk away with the store.

This is about as suspenseful as Kabuki.

The only mystery is what kind of response to expect from a restive Alberta public.

Support Bill-Us or the terrorists win

Mr. Entwistle let no beneficiary, real or imagined, go unmentioned:

"A national champion capable of progressing a strong innovation agenda ... a national champion that could serve key public sector components like security, like health care, like education."

The security theme is one he returned to again and again. "Do you think, for example, that Washington would countenance an AT&T or Verizon being sold [to] a foreign entity?" he asked in an interview. "You look back to 9/11 and some of what hit the newspapers afterwards, in terms of the government accessing phone records from Verizon."

So if the feds don't allow Telus to buy BCE, it's the terrorists who win?

I've parsed this every way I can and it seems in context the only possible interpretation is that Canada should allow the Bell/Telus merger in case the government ever needs to engage in a massive program of illegal wire-tapping of Canadians.

The sudden onslaught of anti-Verizon rhetoric from Entwistle is interesting, because up until very recently Verizon was an all but controlling partner for Telus with the maximum stake allowed under Canadian ownership rules. Product lines and services were being harmonized and it was clear to us that only foreign ownership rules kept them from taking over completely.

Verizon got out a couple years ago, at the same time all the American Telcos started divesting of their Canadian telco participation. Now apparently they're the enemy, in the straw man threat that our only choices are to allow the Bell/Telus unholy union or let Bell and eventually Telus be bought by foreigners.

Don't expect any challenge from the press to this false choice. Aside from Decloet's muted criticism and Reguly's pointed critique of Canada's wireless competitive environment compared to Europe's, the Globe and Mail is rapturous. Lot's of circumspect enthusing about 'synergies' and 'efficiency's'. This, for those who haven't learned business press speak, means 'Yay! We can eliminate thousands of Canadian jobs! Yay!'

The greater political negative for this deal might be the significant job losses that would undoubtedly ensue as the two competitors streamlined to take advantage of all the synergies that a merger can bring. They would not need as many call centres, phone stores, billing operations or service staff when operations overlapped, especially in markets where both companies have big wireless operations. Thousands of jobs could be affected at two of Canada's largest employers, and this could create enough fallout to erode political support.

Of course there is no requirement that a business deal should be rejected on the basis of job cuts - especially by regulators whose mandate is to protect competition rather than jobs. And there may be a good argument that long-term viability is ultimately better for the companies and for their workers, creating a vibrant market player with less debt and more ability to grow and innovate.

So easily does the Globe and Mail our national paper of record dismiss the elimination of thousands of Canadian jobs - behind a firewall naturally - with some stale social Darwinism and pious 'it's for their own good' rhetoric. The only real concern is over the political fuss the bloodbath would create.

This deal would be bad for workers and consumers.

In federal politics only the NDP seem even remotely concerned about this development with both the Liberals and Conservatives signalling their support.

Update: Check out The Progressive Economics Forum for a thoughtful piece on the unchallenged economic fallacies in the entire neo-liberal approach to utilities.

First, was it not just a year ago that both BCE and Telus was going to convert to income trusts. Then when income trusts rightly got shot down, the game was private equity. Now it is mergers. It seems that senior management are obsessed with ploys that play to the financial markets, in order to boost share prices and therefore justify their massive salaries, rather than actually running a good company. I cannot speak for Bell, but Telus is all marketing campaign (a successful one featuring cute animals) but notoriously bad customer service.

Alberta Government posts $8 and a half billion dollar surplus, claim poverty ahead of public service contract negotiations

And so, the long tradition of Alberta's Conservative government low-balling revenues by billions of dollars a year continues. The stale tactic of claiming poverty to try to keep from having to share the wealth continues.

We have the spectacle of the government underfunding the school boards - they still haven't gotten back the inflationary cut in funding from the last budget - and refusing to get involved in the inevitable clashes between school boards and teachers. Criminal irresponsibility as official government policy.

We have starved municipalities forced to play hardball with bus drivers and paramedics - in a job market where employee retention is purely dependent on employee satisfaction.

We have a government that fetishized paying off the debt, the debt the same governing Progressive Conservative Party created in the first place, and smugly touting the shell game where they simply exchanged a fiscal debt for an infrastructure debt. An infrastructure debt that will end up being much more expensive now that costs for fixing it are sky-high.

And we have the same clueless government confused and concerned as to why the same old standard malign neglect is getting them so much flack lately - but not enough to change their ways of course.

Finally we have an Alberta public that may or may not be finally ready to give this democracy thing every other province is talking about a try.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Memo to Bell employees

Start fighting back now.

In a sane country run by a government that cared even remotely in the idea of the public good, the CRTC would quickly put the kibosh on an idea as obscene as the proposed Telus/Bell merger. This is Canada however, and Federal Industry Minister and market ideologue Maxime Bernier never met a huge conglomerate he didn't love. This has all the uncertainty and suspense as the preordained conclusion of the Alberta Oil Revenues review.

Seriously, I feel like I'm the guy who already survived a night in the house of horrors, running from an axe murderer who escapes and then sees a whole other group of co-eds deciding to party there despite what happened to all those other kids.

No! Don't go in there! The soulless telecom executive will eat your soul and turn your skin into a power tie!

Really folks, CEP members, telecom workers - trust me on this. Start fighting back now.

AGT and BCTel were publicly owned utilities with huge publicly financed and built telecom infrastructures. They were sold for pennies to private interests and ultimately merged into Telus.

Telus, a nonsense syllable word created by marketing staff was first seen on the side of a phone company van in an X-Files episode shot in Canada. A phone company employee gets horribly killed by a swarm of killer bees while climbing a telephone pole.

When AGT and BCtel merged into Telus, management made it clear that they wanted a new contract substantially weaker than what the more militant labor environment in BC had secured for BCtel employees and closer to what employees in Alberta had been able to eke out. Ultimately after years of refusing to bargain in good faith - as ruled by the CIRB the federal labour board - Telus locked out their employees and ground them down till they were forced to take a contract worse than either of the originals had been.

They frequently told their employees how much better the offer was than what employees at Bell got. Expect to be told the exact opposite if the Bell/Telus merger goes through.

And to be clear, this will be a merger the way the Alliance/Progressive Conservatives was a merger. With one side getting swallowed by the other.

My good friend Matthew, who stood on the line with me, has been tearing his hair out over this stuff.

And check out Telus' attempt to wipe out history by claiming ownership of video shot by picketers and news stories about the 2005 labour dispute.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Suspended for critical thinking

Kieran King is the kind of student schools, teachers and principals should be praying for. He's high achieving, engaged, and most importantly a critical thinker. When he hears something in class that intrigues him he does his own independent research on the subject.

That's where the problem started. After a classroom discussion about the horrifying dangers of 'the reefer' King did his own research and discovered what basically anybody who takes even a minimal amount of time doing the research discovers; marijuana is less addictive and less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes.

Let's just repeat that:
marijuana is less addictive and less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes.

If we're being honest and accurate and looking at the preponderance of verifiable facts as opposed to moralistic spin then we are forced to conclude that marijuana is less addictive and less dangerous than alcohol and cigarettes.

But pointing out these simple facts is a crime against orthodoxy, in a school it is a crime against the rightful authority over reality of the academic powers that be.
WINNIPEG — It started months ago when Kieran King's high-school class heard a presentation about the dangers of drug use.

Kieran, a 15-year-old Grade 10 student in tiny Wawota, Sask., population 600, thought the presentation lacked credibility, so he did some research on the relative health risks of alcohol, tobacco and cannabis.

When he told some of his fellow students that cannabis seemed the least hazardous of the three, he set in motion a series of events that led to a school lockdown, a threat assessment involving the RCMP, a suspension and failing grades on his exams.

The premise of the school authorities seems to be that any independent thinking that results in conclusions contrary to the approved consensus - let's call this goodthink - is dangerous, possibly criminal and to be demonized and stamped out. So the principal falsely conflates pointing out conflicting facts and an opposing opinion with 'promoting drug use' - lets call this, oh, say, badthink.

Badthink of course is morally wrong and possibly criminal, even if it has the facts on it's side it's still badthink. Those are just the wrong facts.

On the plus side of all this, the students at Parkland High in Wawota Saskatchewan have been given an excellent example of the unhinged extremes that power structures will resort to when somebody calls naked Emperor on their deliberate cognitive dissonance. Probably the most important and useful lesson of their academic careers.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Five Miles to the Gallon

This is PR as performed by monkeys with learning difficulties. I can see so many ways this could go horribly, horribly wrong for Harper, beginning with Stockwell Day in a Nascar track suit and extending to flaming wreckage and death.

And that's just to what's left of the Conservative Party's brand value, something could happen to the car too.

Sold out from under us

Quietly, behind closed doors the corporate elites continue the Deep Integration agenda, setting about making binding changes to the very concept of sovereign national rights. Without input or debate, our ability to use democratic government or the courts to protect us from corporate excess is being wiped out with the stroke of a pen.

Read this excellent Tyee piece if you haven't already.

Eugene provides some background.

Doctor Who returns!

Starting in less than three hours, CBC brings back the relaunched Doctor Who for his third season of science fiction adventure.
The longest running Science Fiction show ever, the original run of the series lasted almost thirty years. The clever science fiction explanation that the alien hero could cheat imminent death by 'regenerating' and changing every cell in his body allowed multiple actors to play the role while keeping all it's long rich history.

The relaunch two years ago accomplished the almost impossible task of pleasing both old school fans of the original series run and new-comers who had never encountered the Doctor or his mysterious blue box before.

I confess, I'm catching the BBC run and I'm already ten episodes into the season just starting on CBC tonight. Don't look at me like that, I'll also be watching it on CBC and buying the DVDs - I already have season 1 and 2 - so I don't feel particularly guilty for my lack of patience.

All you need to know is that this is in some ways the strongest season yet, Freema Ageyman is no replacement for Rose Tyler and wisely doesn't try to be, giving us with Martha Jones a worthy companion for The Doctor. Played with note perfect understanding of the character, David Tennant presents the first serious competition to Tom Baker's position as the most archetypal Doctor.

The premiere tonight is a killer piece of grand scale Science fiction, there are some great episodes in the weeks ahead particularly, spoiler warning of course - really, fair warning, the return of a character on the same scale of pay-off for the long time fans as last season's episode featuring Sarah Jane and K-9. Another gift to the old school fans in a story that will grip people who have no idea how big a deal it is to the history of the show.

Enjoy some great SF designed to appeal to both kids and adults.

It's going to look odd in the history books.

Hillary Clinton is beginning to look more and more inevitable, if she wins it will result in this odd entry in future textbooks:
Bush
Clinton
Bush
Clinton
When schoolchildren decades even centuries from now (He typed hopefully.) open their textbooks, or scroll down them or get them injected directly into their parietal lobes they will likely find this odd column.

They will see that for the better part of thirty years, more than a generation, America, a country conceived in violent opposition to the very concept of hereditary aristocracy was run by two families.

All of this, of course, assumes that anyone is around to write any history books. Bush still has 582 days left.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Blood in the water - the Premiers turn on Harper

Dalton Mcguinty claims that Radiation levels in Lake Ontario, which are three times higher than in lakes NOT surrounded by ten nuclear power plants, pose no health threat.

A Greenpeace report released last week found levels of tritium in Lake Ontario, which is flanked by 10 nuclear reactors, were three times higher than levels in Lake Superior, which has no reactors.

The report also criticized Canada for having regulations for tritium concentrations 10 times less strict than the U.S. and 70 times less strict than Europe.

McGuinty said he was confident the federal government would take charge if anything was wrong.
Step two, we've set the groundwork by putting the responsibility on the feds, now for the quick turnaround previously prepared...

"Sometimes I'm a little bit concerned that the Great Lakes have slid to the back of environmental concerns," McGuinty said in an interview earlier this week.

"It's really important that we keep the Great Lakes water quality on the national agenda."

McGuinty called on Ottawa to spearhead a meeting of Canadian and American federal, provincial and state officials, which he said would go a long way toward better protecting a resource that's being taken for granted.

"What I'd love the federal government to do is take on the whole idea of a national clean water summit," he said.

"It is a tremendous resource, it is something that people around the world recognize as being a kind of crown jewel of the North American ecosystem and we have to continue to work together to protect it."

You have to kind of admire blame in-fielding like that. Are there any Provincial Premiers east of Alberta who aren't in all but open revolt against the federal government at this point?

This says that Harper's autocratic style can't hide incompetent pandering from the leaders being shafted by it. It also says they think he's a safe target. These are political ninjas under their friendly smiles, remember. Rising to the top of party and provincial parliamentary politics requires the instincts of a hungry wolverine.

And the same ability to sniff out changes in the wind.

A Liberal minority then - a fragile one in 2008. Hopefully this time they don't make Martin's mistake, and Joe Clark's before him - and now Harper, of thinking a minority can govern with no friends.

A glimpse of the future

The president has said that Gen. Petraeus' September report will be "a very important moment." That would be true, if we could trust the general and the ambassador and the rest of the administration to honestly assess the situation. But looking at the facts on the ground, deceiving the American people about them, and making decisions based on those deceptions, has been the White House's M.O. for the entire run of the war. What makes anybody think the administration is suddenly going to change come the magical moment in September?

The Bushies are nothing if not consistent, so it's all but guaranteed they are going to obfuscate, spin, cherry-pick, and deceive. So Democrats -- and everyone who really cares about the troops -- need to immediately and preemptively start taking on the administration's table-setting spin. That way, the public will be inoculated against the full-blown BS campaign sure to come this fall.

Bush and Cheney are never going to leave Iraq willingly. If they were the kind of men who could be trusted to judge the facts honestly in September and act accordingly, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in right now.

The battle of September has already begun.

Sunday Linkblast - June 17

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Masterminds, maniacal villains and magnificent bastards

The anarchic spirit of cinema in the late 60's early 70's found expression in stories of malcontents, clowns and rogues. Most were characters rebelling from within the system, or diminishing it's power by simply making it look ridiculous. Altman's M.A.S.H. is a perfect example.

But a strange mutant strain of movies celebrating the master criminal is part of the same movement. Films about the villain who regards the status quo as his hunting ground and the traditional heroes of police and government as prey became a mini-movement, creating some spectacularly strange film classics.

The Assassination Bureau featured a suavely dangerous young Oliver Reed as the leader of an international band of assassins with a bizarrely moral belief in the redemptive power of murder. The marvelous Diana Rigg, Mrs Peel from the Avengers, plays a reporter trying to expose him. She challenges him by asking him to make himself a target of his own murderous crew - a challenge he happily accepts believing his organization needs a shake-up. Thus begins a cheerfully nihilistic race across across Europe as assassin battles assassin with guns, poison and bombs. Oliver Reed is perfect as Ivan Dragimoff and Telly Savalas makes a great sinister and oily villain.

The Abominable Dr Phibes and Dr Phibes Rises Again are campy and surreal phantasmagorias each featuring a scarred and expressionless but wild-eyed Vincent Price. In a series of increasingly elaborate murders Dr Phibes seeks vengeance on the doctors he blames for the death of his beloved wife. Decades before Se7en, The Abominable Dr Phibes originated the idea of a serial killer basing a series of murders on a biblical theme, in this case the plagues of Egypt. The highlight is probably the death by unicorn and its blackly hilarious aftermath. The sequel Dr Phibes Rises Again follows a band of disreputable rouges on a quest to the dessert to find the secret of immortality with yet more grotesque deathtraps set by Dr Phibes - each more diabolical than the last. Both movies can be found in the affordable Midnight Movies DVD series which has allowed me to indulge my Vincent Price obsession without going broke. You can find the movies separately or in one double-sided disc.

Danger: Diabolik is a minor masterpiece of over the top camp and surreal action. Like a 60's James Bond film on a whole lot of acid. Diabolik is a sinister master criminal in a one against all war with the police, the government and the mob. He steals millions just so he can make love to his beautiful girlfriend on huge piles of cash in his vast underground headquarters, pulls off elaborate crimes just to make the authorities look foolish and wages war on other criminals and the state itself. He's cool, brilliant and cheerfully murderous. A nifty extra feature of this surprisingly affordable DVD is a documentary by comic book artist Stephen R. Bissette who argues convincingly that Danger: Diablolik, adapted from an Italian comic book is the most successful comic book adaptation to date.

There have been other cinematic celebrations of villainy, but the only thing in recent years to really approach the level of charm and nihilistic glee of the villainographies of the 60's and 70's was the short lived TV series Profit.

Profit
featured Adrian Pasdar as a psychopathic shark in a suit climbing up the corporate ladder and keeping just one step ahead of a hapless supporting cast trying to stop his murderous rise to power. Profit was a bizarre, surprisingly perverse TV offering that encouraged identification with it's homicidal anti-hero. It was deeply odd, suspenseful and subversive TV. So it was cancelled after only one season of course. It could have gone longer but the last episode in the set works as an ambiguous coda to the whole story.

Saturday morning

So our trip last weekend and the 24 hours of Greyhound travel it entailed finally caught up with me about Thursday and I've only been up to working and sleeping for a few days. I've caught up on some sleep and I should be back to spitting vitriol on this blog soon - the snark is guttering not blown out.

I'm probably going to start indulging in my cultural review vice to Holmes like, retain my interest. You'll see the occasional movie and book review from my own odd perspective. I'll probably activate AdSense too, on a trial basis. I've ignored it hitherto, but I'll give it a shot and if it annoys me I'll cancel it.

Some of you only come here for the withering sarcasm directed at any and every political figure who does something to make me snarl. This will of course continue as long as stupid people come to positions of power, IE: forever.

I need coffee now. In prodigious amounts.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

You asked for it Steve

REGINA – If Prime Minister Stephen Harper wants a legal fight over the federal equalization formula, Saskatchewan and its NDP government will give him one, Premier Lorne Calvert said Wednesday.

The province will mount a legal challenge under the Constitution, arguing that Saskatchewan is being treated unfairly by the equalization program.

The day after

The way people talk, Kevin Taft just led Alberta's Liberals into the promised land.

Purely coincidentally, the day after losing Calgary Elbow the government announced tonight that the province would be ponying up about $40 million in flood disaster relief. It' a decent down payment, but it's gong to take more.

Doreen Barrie, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said Stelmach may even have to consider something as drastic as rent controls -- which he previously rejected -- to deal with the city's housing crisis.

"There's no more time for subtlety. He needs to attack these problems," she said
Blame it on the floods wiping out basement suites and making the Calgary housing crisis even worse if you like Ed, just stop carrying water for the Landlord's lobby and follow the recommendations of your own damn task force.

Elbow was a significant win but not as much of a shock as some have suggested. In 2004 Calgary went from solid Tory blue to three big ridings going Liberal.

There were several close shaves too. Calgary Buffalo, Calgary Elbow's downtown neighbor is the home of most of Alberta's richest boardrooms, but the people who actually live here are the biggest population of renters and people living from paycheck to paycheck in Calgary. In 2004 Harvey Cenaiko only beat the Liberal by about 600 votes. This was while he was still a cabinet member and the fading radiance of King Ralph still held sway.

Harvey has to be worried about 2008 and considering there's no future for him but the backbench under Stelmach he's joined Bronconnier's jeremiads against the government.

This isn't the start of something it's something that first appeared in the 2004 election gathering steam. The media talked a lot about how the three Calgary losses and depressed Tory numbers province wide were a wake-up call for the government then too. Somebody seems to have slept through it.

Another myth dispelled by this by election is that the NDP and Greens are simply vote splitting Liberal support - the bland assumption that these votes are somehow the natural possession of the Liberals aside, in Elbow at least the vote splitting on the right was more significant than that on the left. More fodder for proportional representation though.

Most of the Alberta PCs are already insisting this all is just a bump in the road, and certainly no serious urban/rural divide. Some are sounding warnings from within. Check out this comment from prominent party insider Ken Chapman to a post I did back on June 3:
It would be a good thing to end the one party state in Alberta. It would be good to end the one city- state we have had too. Calgary has come to think it is Alberta and that happened during Ralph Klein's reign.

Alberta is more than Calgary and while that city is a very important part of the province - it is only part of the province.

A fact too often lost in how the province has been run and ruled as of late.

Calgary Elbow may elect a Liberal. Good on them if that is the way they see their best interests being served. Democracy matters.

It is a by election! So it is not a safe bet to presume this vote an is an indication as to how they want to see the province governed, or if it represents a trend overall.

Calgary Elbow going Liberal is not any surprise in a by-election that is about 1 year away from the next general election. It is a low-risk way to send a message.

The real surprise of Calgary's discontent was way back when Calgary Varsity went Liberal at the 2004 provincial election. That discontent was expressed during Ralph's reign and immediately after Murray Smith went to Washington.

Question is will we PC's "get it" and realize that Alberta needs an urban agenda that deals with the growth and needs of the two big cities.

We don't need just a Calgary and a Rural Agenda...as has been the fact under Klein.
There's some good points in his whole comment and on his blog and he's a voice for a certain amount of progressiveness within the Alberta PCs, but the Calgary VS Edmonton nonsense is pure smokescreen and leftover cynical manipulation from the PC leadership race and I think Ken probably knows it. If there had been a by-election in Edmonton as well as Elbow and Drumheller we wouldn't even be talking about Calgary alienation today, we'd be talking about urban alienation.

Leave the old fashioned Battle of Alberta rhetoric to the Flames and the Oilers. There are people getting screwed by their landlords in Edmonton too.

Because it's also a class war split. The richer polls in Elbow like Mount Royal split by a handful of votes or went Tory - a lot of Conservatives stayed home. The renter and wage slave polls went Liberal in a big way.

Ultimately of course, we're simply talking about one right wing party challenging another. The Alberta Liberals bring no real ideological differences to the table, simply a promise of greater competence and a recognition that times have changed.

Real change in Alberta isn't what Taft and the Liberals are promising. They think overall the system is working pretty well, it just needs different people in charge, IE them.

The myth of conservative America

As the report points out, conservatives have done a masterful job of getting the mainstream media to echo their talking point—found, for example, in a recent commentary by Heritage Foundation president Edwin J. Feulner—that America is a conservative nation.

But the numbers don't back them up. On issue after issue, not just during the 2006 elections but even when conservatives were at the height of their political power, public opinion sides with progressive stances on issues rather than conservative stances.

"Progressives are on the rise and are driving the political debate," Robert L. Borosage told reporters during a conference call today. The conservative movement has had its chance to deliver on its promises but is fundamentally unable to do so, "and, as the report shows, the public gets it."

The Americans understood Iraq better 63 years ago than they do today

From an Army guide for American GIs stationed in Iraq in World War II:
  • NEVER discuss religion or politics or women with Moslems.
  • Don't stare at anyone. Remember the fear of the "evil eye".
  • Knock before entering a private house. If a woman answers, wait until she has had time to retire.
  • If you see grown men walking hand in hand, ignore it. They are not queer.
  • You can usually tell a mosque by its high tower. Keep away from mosques. [Emphasis in the original] If you try to enter one, you will be thrown out, probably with a severe beating.
  • There are four towns in Iraq which are particularly sacred to the Iraq Moslems: Kerbala, Najaf, samarra, and Kadhiman. Unless you are ordered to these towns it is advisable to stay away from them.
  • Moslems here are divided into two factions something like our division into Catholic and Protestant denominations -- so don't put in your two cents when Iraqis argue about religion.
  • There are also political differences in Iraq that have puzzled diplomats and statesmen. You won't help matters any by getting mixed up in them.
  • American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis (as the people are called) like American soldiers or not. It may not be quite that simple. But then again it could.

Who are you going to believe...

...me, or your lying eyes.

The watch was NOT stolen right in front of your eyes - oh, and we've always been at war with Eastasia.

Some people saw what was coming

It's February 2003 with the shock and awe just weeks away and Janeane Garofalo faces off with a Fox News rodeo clown masquerading as a journalist. She knows what she's walking into but makes a game attempt to be a voice of simple reason from a member of the reality based community.

Four years on it's useful to remember the droning swamp of misinformation and propaganda the American media was then - and still is today. The way the Americans were suckered into war with actual suppression of information. The simple facts that the rest of the world was hearing that weren't even reported on CNN or the other major networks much less on Fox.

It's useful to remember the seething hatred directed at any voice that spoke in opposition and against any American who dug deeper and pointed out the facts being ignored. Remember the White House Press Secretary saying people had to 'watch what they said.'?

In light of what we know now, about this White House's utter contempt for the constitution, the rule of law and basic human decency this was an early and telling slip of the mask.

The difference between a real think tank...

...and a PR firm and ideological cheerleading squad like the Fraser Institute, is that actual thinking sometimes goes on.

The C.D. Howe Institute will never be mistaken for a bastion of lefties and bleeding hearts. It's a conservative market oriented organization that nonetheless can be surprisingly unrestricted by ideological filters - as compared to the Fraser Institute which reliably takes the doctrinaire right wing position on any and every issue.

Consider C.D. Howe's withering takedown of the Harper government's inaction on climate change as exhibit one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Guest Workers, Guest Slaves

Canada's business elite are salivating at the prospect of importing guest workers in the thousands. Guest workers give all the advantages of vulnerable immigrants without the pesky rights of basic citizenship. In Alberta in particular the idea of cheap, union free labor you can threaten with 'the immigration' if they get too uppity is causing stiffies in board rooms all over the province.

The Lakeside Packers dispute of 2005 showed the outright contempt and dehumanizing racism and violence an Alberta employer was prepared to use against a mostly African immigrant workforce. Imagine the same kind of employer on a large scale with guest workers with no citizenship, limited legal rights and marginal oversight.

Even the US State department felt compelled to describe the darker corners of Australia's guest worker program as out and out slavery.

Employers not prepared to pay for experienced Alberta unionized labour should ask the government to increase immigration if they want a larger workforce. Workers should be citizens with the rights and legal protections of citizens.

Including the right to join the same unions.

Byelection night

The Conservatives took Drumheller in a runaway blow-out. The polls in Calgary Elbow, my riding's next door neighbor, are currently trending Liberal with Craig Cheffins maintaining a small but constant lead over Brian Heninger as I write this. Thanks Eugene for the poll update site - it's crack for a politics junkie.

A Tory loss in Elbow would embolden a lot more people to turn on them. It would also highlight the urban/rural split beginning to become the signature paradigm of the Stelmach years.

Update: 9:53 PM, with 75 of 77 ridings reporting and Cheffins beating Heninger by 45 polls to 30 and by almost a thousand votes - I'll call it if nobody else will.

Kevin Taft is a very happy man tonight.

Update 2: The Toronto Star piles on.

Sympathy for Paris

I swore I wasn't going to do this.

Paris Hilton is a foolish pampered young woman with arrested development, half lidded, medicated eyes, the best cosmetic surgery that money can buy and a grotesque and entirely unearned sense of entitlement.

The latter explains what some have decried as unseemly schadenfreude over her recent travails, justly I think. This silly spoiled little girl doesn't deserve the reputedly hellish conditions of LA's horrific jail system.

Nobody deserves them, but thousands of people spend time there every year, the overwhelming majority of them permanently trapped at the opposite end of the socioeconomic spectrum from Ms Hilton.

The case of the aristocratic Ms Hilton is instructive as an object lesson, both that the rich think that they are above the law and that they currently still aren't. There as been a surprisingly thin sliver of human history where this has been the case, it shows every sign of drawing to a close again but I would argue it's worth preserving.

Remember the root of the word privilege is simply 'private law'. Law for the rich and law for the rest of us.

That a spoiled, heavily medicated young heiress should suffer an unspeakably traumatic experience in order that the message be delivered that the law applies to everybody may be just the price you pay so that the blind equality of justice and the rule of law itself continue.

I'm feeling far more schadenfreude about the jailing of Scooter Libby and the hopefully impending conviction of Conrad Black than I am over the perils of Paris, but she makes an effectively populist symbol of the very concept of privileged immunity.

The American public appears to have gone into one of their soured vengeful moods towards privilege. Other celebrities may want to consider the benefits of a low profile or the expatriate life.

This is the mood that sent Marie Antoinette to the guillotine.


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