Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Original Song #12

Buried

How many times can you stand to fall over
How many drinks will kill this sober

Spending all your time

Losing video games


How many days must you sit by that window
Watching your dreams get covered up in snow
At least the seasons
Have the courtesy to change

You could’ve been something
You could still be something now
Only thing you haven’t beaten
Is that crippling self-doubt

You’ve got to help yourself out

How many days do you read your newspaper
Watch the TV for Dini and Oprah
Media placebos for your agoraphobia

How many times can you stand to fall over
How little changes as you grow older
Maybe do some chores
Check up on the sports scores

You’ve got friends you know
Maybe even give you a hand
Watching from the sidelines
This gem buried in quicksand

I do and don’t understand

- 30 -

Friday, December 16, 2005

Debate #1 - Vive les tornades libres

Well apart from Jack Layton stumbling over his french and apparently refering to Quebeckers as "tornados" at one point, Debate #1 proved that it is still possible to produce television less stimulating than Alan Thicke. All four did well enough at getting their message out I suppose, with Duceppe looking the most nervous, and Harper looking off to the side each time he finished as if seeking approval from his school-marm.

Martin seems to have picked up a little wind in his sails from playing Captain Canada against the hapless U.S. ambassodor (Williams? Wilson? Wilkinson? Oh, who knows?*) I half expected him to show up in a cape after this week's histrionics. In fact, early on he gave the appearance he had just stepped off one of his steamships, he was swaying so much from starboard to port. He almost made me sea-sick watching him.

I thought Layton was the most convincing, partly because he has learned to be less dweebish in front of the camera. But he loses points for going over his time and getting duly chastised from the moderator.

I noticed Duceppe decided to downplay the idea that this election was the beginning of the road to another referendum on separation. You never know with him. Some days it's a major first step (especially if he's sharing a stage with Andre Boisclair in front of the faithful); other days, we get a back-pedaling performance like tonight's. Which is it?

Ah, and then there's Harper. He did not disappoint, calling the Liberals criminal with such verve he actually lost that shy new smile for a moment.

Perhaps the most illuminating thing was how Radio-Canada's post-mortem on its Le Telejournal news managed to completely ignore the fact that Layton was one of the participants. Their report showed a couple of minutes of clips of the other three, but had no time at all for the beleaguered chef du parti nouveau-democratique. Afterward, host Bernard Derome, perhaps the most respected broadcaster in Quebec, failed to direct the conversation to Layton or anything he'd said even once during a three-minute segment with a political analyst (forgive me; I didn't catch his name). The other three leaders got their due, which really left me scratching my head. As difficult as live TV is, this oversight was disturbingly unprofessional.

*check the 4:20 P.M. entry

- 30 -

Monday, December 12, 2005

Our "Disappointing" Neighbour

The best that can be said of the recently concluded meeting on climate change in Montreal is that the countries that care about global warming did not allow the United States delegation to blow the whole conference to smithereens...

So begins the NY Times editorial that caught my eye with a link titled: "Shame in Montreal". The shame seen by the Times is heeped rather forcefully on the Bush administration, for its continuing recalitrance in facing up to its responsibilities on Global Warming. A good read.

Another good read is Stephen Harper's letter to the Moonie-owned Washington Times. In it, you will find some nice diplomatic language explaining his thoughts on such topics as whether Canadian troops should now be commited to the cause in Iraq:
On Iraq, while I support the removal of Saddam Hussein and applaud the efforts to establish democracy and freedom in Iraq, I would not commit Canadian troops to that country. I must admit great disappointment at the failure to substantiate pre-war intelligence information regarding Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction.

Oh dear! So very... disappointing. Disappointing? I'm sure that word sums up the feelings of the dearly departed Iraqis quite nicely. For me disappointing is missing the bus, or not being able to find the DVD I'd hoped to rent. No doubt a good deal of thought went into the choice of that particular word (we don't want to ruffle any feathers now). But it's so achingly bending over to be diplomatic that it ends up being callously insulting.

Beyond that, Harper states his wish for the United States to respect NAFTA; his desire to revisit the gay marriage issue; his assessment of Kyoto as being "deeply flawed"; and a fairly strong-sounding statement about not initiating or supporting any legislation that would "restrict abortion" (although I wonder if he would be kind enough to qualify whether that is any different from restricting access to abortion).

But what I wonder most of all is when you were planning on making these thoughts clear to your own countrymen, Stephen? Or were you just going to refer us to this American rag to find that out?

- 30 -

Update: More disappointing news from the Washington Post. It seems another Iraqi Interior Ministry detention center has turned up evidence of torture that "appeared to have been more severe" than what was found last month in Baghdad. The line that sticks out for me:
Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a spokesman for U.S. military detention issues, said American authorities had already been aware that the prison searched Thursday existed.

'Nuff said.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Original Song #11

Missing You

Hey there, how’re you doing?
I’m doing all right, I guess
I see you’re doing something different with your hair
You smile; you say I’m looking good
You smile like you’re a friend
Somehow I can’t stay mad at you
All the same, why do I miss you?
I’m missing you

Sometimes you don’t want to know
Sometimes that’s the way to go
Don’t think that you’ll be immune to the blows when they come
Stand up for your heroes
They may be a little tarnished
That doesn’t make them zeros
Time for a little hero varnish
And I’m missing you

First we’ll go and get some coffee
Then we’ll do a little window shopping
Paint the town red with snooker balls
Call one friend, then call them all
Playing poker with Boreales
Pictionary with brown cows
Put another log on the fire
But the wet wood dampens the desire

I’m busy discarding my crutches
I know it doesn’t sound like much, but
I’ve got to get better somehow before I buckle
And I quit smoking, and I quit drinking
But I quit quitting smoking, and I quit quitting drinking, too
Can’t quit missing you

- 30 -

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

We must never forget

Geneviève Bergeron (1968-1989)
Hélène Colgan (1966-1989)
Nathalie Croteau (1966-1989)
Barbara Daigneault (1967-1989)
Anne-Marie Edward (1968-1989)
Maud Haviernick (1960-1989)
Maryse Laganière (1964-1989)
Maryse Leclair (1966-1989)
Anne-Marie Lemay (1967-1989)
Sonia Pelletier (1961-1989)
Michèle Richard (1968-1989)
Annie St-Arneault (1966-1989)
Annie Turcotte (1969-1989)
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (1958-1989)

It was 16 years ago this evening.

From the CBC archive:
For 45 minutes on Dec. 6, 1989 an enraged gunman roamed the corridors of Montreal's École Polytechnique and killed 14 women. Marc Lepine, 25, separated the men from the women and before opening fire on the classroom of female engineering students he screamed, "I hate feminists."

We, who abhorred this violence 16 years ago, if we didn't call ourselves feminists before, Marc Lepine, we surely became feminists on that day.

May your victims know eternal peace.

- 30 -

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Why a Harper gov't is Duceppe's wet dream

POGGE postulated the other day on the scenario of a minority Harper government, which opened up an excellent discussion, well worth checking out. I tried to comment twice there, but neither were accepted for some reason. So here's my take.

A Harper Conservative government would be a death-knell for the federal cause, partly because he burned his bridges with Quebeckers over Same-Sex Marriage; partly because he is too far to the right for us, and won't budge on anything substantial policy-wise, even for the Quebec wing of his own party:
Quebec delegates at the convention expressed dismay over the rejection of same-sex marriage and the Kyoto Accord, and the fact Mr. Harper vowed to restart talks on missile defence with the U.S. -- all policy positions that have little traction in Quebec.

Hasn't anyone noticed he has virtually no support here and little hope of electing even a single MP from this province? He didn't even care to introduce any of them to the media. One wonders if he even knows any of their names!

Layton has the same problem (support-wise) but has a better shot of being accepted here because his priorities and the BQ's are almost identical, save for the sovereignty issue. Also, the french media tends to pay the NDP short shrift, making it even more difficult for Layton to make any inroads here, despite being a native of Montreal with decent french himself.

That leaves the Liberals, so we'll just have to see if Quebeckers' feelings are still as hurt next month as they were in 2004.

- 30 -

Friday, December 02, 2005

Harper's healthcare proposal

As per the CP report:
“We will reduce waiting times,” Harper said. “We will hold (provincial) governments accountable.”

If patients can’t get speedy treatment in their own provinces, he said, they should have the option of going to another.

And he promised to work with the provinces to help universities turn out more doctors and nurses.

...

“We are going to do what it takes to protect the public health-care system,” he said. “There will be no private, parallel system.”

Let's brainstorm on this.

Pros:
1. This sounds good on the surface. Every province would pitch in and there would be benchmarks for wait times set by healthcare professionals.
2.It could give a built-in incentive to provinces to reduce wait times so as to avoid the costs (I assume the province would bear) of sending the patient to another province for the procedure or tests they are waiting for.

Cons:
1. Does a Kamloops, BC woman needing a hip replacement want to go to say, Calgary or Montreal for the procedure, depending on where the bureaucracy determines it can get done on time? Does she then get sent to say, Sudbury or Yellowknife for the timely physio needed afterward? Is that such a good option when her family and support network remains back home?

2. What if our patient is a unilingual francophone from Jonquiere, Quebec and she can only get the procedure and/or physio in Vancouver where she can't get french health service?

3. For this to work, Harper would have to go through the thorny problem of getting all provinces on board (think Meech Lake), and given Scenario #2 above, Quebec would have a lot of concerns.

4. It seems to me a new bureaucracy would need to be created (see Scenario #1 above) handling travel and shelter arrangements with various provinces, and determining: a) if the patient truly needs to go out of province for timely care; b) which hospital in which province can and will provide it; c) following-up to ensure the care was received in the correct timeframe (would be necessary to track this for each and every medical procedure carried out in the entire country, it seems to me); which leads to d) a mechanism for resolving disputes over the timeframe and quality of the care received.

5. What kind of wrench does all this throw into Equalization payments?

If I'm in the press pool, I'm asking all those questions.

- 30 -

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Duceppe scores on own net

Kevin Lowe, assistant manager of Canada's 2006 men's Olympic team, doesn't think much of Gilles Duceppe's idea of entering a separate Quebec team in international hockey competition — and he has company in the hockey world.

Lowe, who grew up in Montreal and is fluently bilingual, flatly rejected the Bloc Québécois leader's proposal, which was unveiled Wednesday as part of his party's election platform.

Sure, he's still got a big 8 to 2 lead with only 5 minutes gone in the first period. But it can't be good for your cause when some of your voters' biggest heros are unanimously saying your idea is stupid, and then they go on to wax patriotic about their country - Canada; not Quebec.

Of course they're going to react this way, given they all hope to play in the Olympics, and that means recognizing that the only way that can happen is if they chose to live in the real world, as opposed to some Quebec nationalist fairyland, where all the taxes ruthlessly vaccuumed-up by the Canadian government will become a glorious windfall of extra cash in our pockets after separation. Yadda yadda yadda.

Big gaffe for Duceppe. Makes you wonder if he feels his lead is so huge he can afford to coast through the remainder of the game. Ask any hockey player and they'll tell you you don't win that way. We can only hope...

- 30 -

Big Deal

Well, Harper's getting the headlines he hoped for (online anyway: see here, here, here and here as well), but the fine print shows it's just a 1% cut to the GST (currently 7% - would go down to six for the next five years, at which point it would go down to five).

This should take most of the attention away from yesterday's stumbles in Quebec City, as craftily summarized by Meaghan over at Somena Media, but it won't get him much traction in provinces like Quebec and Ontario - each of which have an additional 8% provincial sales tax piggy-backed onto the GST. What good will it do Ontarians, who presently calculate 15% in their heads while in line at the checkout, to only pay 14%? And then to have to look all the way down the line to 2011 before it drops to 13?

In Quebec (although it's still unbelievable to me that they got away with this in the first place), the GST amount charged is taxed by Quebec at 8% as well as the total, which would bring the current 15.56% to 14.48%, lowered presumably to 13.4 in 2011. And this is assuming the provincial rates stay where they are.

In Alberta, where there is no provincial sales tax, it's arguable this would be enough for consumers to notice the difference on their bill, but a measely 1% doesn't amount to a hill of beans for voters in the two provinces where Harper so desperately needs to pick up seats. I seriously doubt this will be a vote-swinging campaign promise, and if that's what the CPC braintrust is hoping for, they'd better have some juicier planks to come.

- 30 -

Update: I know I'm starting to sound like a Dipper, but I can't help but point out that Layton is showing a better understanding of what issues are priorities to Ontarians. (Any Ontarians out there who care to comment?) Now Jack: what about the pulp & paper industry?

A refresher on why the Martin gov't fell when it did

There is a good answer to Martin's charge that the NDP made an alliance with the Conservatives and Bloq to hastily take down the government against the wishes of Canadians.

Some folks I know argue that Layton made a mistake in pulling his support of the Liberals when he did, and that this counts as a flip-flop or some lack of integrity. Scotian (and other bloggers) took issue with his compromise proposal to spare us this Christmas-time campaign.

I think Layton would've lost more integrity going along with the Martin Liberals until Spring. Have we so soon forgotten what brought this on? The money quote from Layton's November 7th public letter to Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh:
(The Martin government's healthcare proposals) are in no way a satisfactory response to the values and needs of Canadians, and therefore do not provide a basis for our party to support the Government in Parliament.

When it became clear Martin would not meet Layton's demands that the federal government stop the creeping privatization of Medicare, that's when he declared the NDP would no longer support the government on a confidence motion. In doing so, he took a principled stand for the one issue dearest to the hearts of most Canadians coast to coast. It was the NDP precursor (Tommy Douglas's CCF) that created the first socialized medicine program first in Saskatchewan of course, so if the NDP had compromised on this issue, Layton would've been a disgrace to his party. And he would've been seen as turning his back on all those who voted for him in 2004, not to mention the raison d'etre of the NDP: fighting for social justice.

I don't think the timing is an issue any more if it means standing up for the universality of our health-care system. Layton would do himself a favour to remind us of that at each campaign stop.

- 30 -

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Harper: still not getting it

Day One of the campaign and the CTV election blog is reporting Harper has announced he wants to pick at a national scab that only a few cranks and busybodies would ever wish to look under:
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said on day one of the 2006 campaign that if his party forms the government, he'll allow a free vote on same-sex marriage.

I'm sure a lot of Canadians miss the family squabbles over this as much as I do. For the upteenth time: Gays' existence is a reality. Gay marriage is a reality. Gays deserve equal treatment, which means they cannot be barred from marriage. It's protected under the charter. Seven Supreme Courts and the majority of Canadians agree.

This is not an issue that needs re-opening, and surely not a priority. It was part of the party platforms of the Bloq, the NDP, and the Liberals for the last two federal campaigns. It was hashed-out in Parliamentary commissions and debates for years. This dog is done hunting and should wile out the rest of its days with the Death Penalty dog.

If this is a sign of Harper's campaign strategy he must really be comfortable in the Opposition benches.

- 30 -

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Original Song #10

Brain Candy

Found myself in a pit
I was on my feet but not too steady
Looking down, the ground was colourless
Then when I looked up
I found grey sky, nothing but grey sky
Til I caught your mind’s eye, and I said:

I want a little brain candy
I’m only scratching the surface of your deep
If you can’t hold your breathe that long,
Then what’s the point of breathing in at all?

And you’re sitting there
You’re asking me questions, we’re sharing some questions
But the answers don't always appear
Then when I look in your eyes,
Eyes I could curl right up and fall asleep in
That’s when I realize it’s fun feeling your thoughts up

I want a little brain candy...

And I know, I know, I know
There’s always hope in a new day, there’s always a new song
Writing’s a breeze and mine is breezey.

I want a little brain candy...

Jump in and snorkel up to me
Jump in and snorkel up to me
I want a little brain candy
I need a little brain candy

- 30 -

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Bush's Iraq - Live Human Skinning 101

The CBC reports that over 170 Sunni detainees were found in an Iraqi cell who appeared to be malnourished and tortured.
Iraqi officials made the announcement Tuesday, two days after U.S. troops surrounded the Interior Ministry compound where the detainees were being held in an underground cell.

Neither the U.S. military nor the Iraqi government would comment on whether the American forces found the cell.

(Iraqi Deputy Interior Minister Hussein Kamal told CNN:) "I saw signs of physical abuse by brutal beating, one or two detainees were paralysed and some had their skin peeled off various parts of their bodies."

Kamal told Reuters news agency that the treatment was "totally unacceptable."

(emphasis mine)

Totally unacceptable, Kamal? How long did it take you to come to that conclusion? The only time I ever heard about such abominable practice was in a proto-historical account of Mongolian torture methodology used against the Japanese in the 1930s, as told in gruesome detail by Haruki Murakami in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. From Chapter 13:
"They do a small area at a time," said the Russian officer. "They have to work slowly if they want to remove the skin cleanly, without any scratches. If, in the meantime, you feel you want to say something, please let me know. Then you won't have to die. Our man here has done this several times, and never once has he failed to make the person talk. Keep that in mind. The sooner we stop, the better for both of us."

Holding his knife, the bearlike Mongolian officer looked at Yamamoto and grinned. To this day, I remember that smile. I see it in my dreams. I have never been able to forget it. No sooner had he flashed this smile than he set to work. His men held Yamamoto down with their hands and knees while he began skinning Yamamoto with the utmost care. It truly was like skinning a peach. I couldn't bear to watch. I closed my eyes. When I did this, one of the soldiers hit me with his rifle butt. He went on hitting me until I opened my eyes. But it hardly mattered: eyes open or closed, I could still hear Yamamoto's voice. He bore the pain without a whimper - at first. But soon he began to scream. I had never heard such screams before: they did not seem part of this world. The man started by slitting open Yamamoto's shoulder and proceeded to peel off the skin of his right arm from the top down - slowly, carefully, almost lovingly. As the Russian officer had said, it was something like a work of art. One would never have imagined there was any pain involved, if it weren't for the screams. But the screams told the horrendousness of the pain that accompanied the work.

As for Bush and Cheney, do you suppose they will finally shut up about Saddam's torture chambers, and how that is one of the justifications for having launched the war in the first place? I'm not holding my breath. It's this kind of thing I had in mind when I wrote Stoke the Fire. Ugly. Horrifying. So-called civilization.

- 30 -

Notes from my Trip to Texas (3rd in a series)

I was recently sent down on a business trip to the head office in a Dallas suburb. These are some random thoughts on the Lone Star state, and the state of George W. Bush's America from a Canadian visitor's viewpoint.
(Link to Part 1).
(Link to Part 2).

Part 3 - Hotel life

With the flight from Montreal to Dallas behind us, my boss and I are anxious to get to our hotel near the head-office in the suburbs. He’s careful to avoid the toll roads and is surprisingly not sure of where he’s going, considering he’s driven this milk-run at least twice already this year. Our route has been mapped out for us, courtesy of the rental car agent. We head north; on a road that bisects the airport. It’s strangely disconcerting to see a DC-10 crossing the overpass right-to-left above us.

We manage not to get lost. There is scarcely another car on the road, even though it isn't even 11:00 p.m. That could explain why there seems to be so much road - all of it in excellent condition - and seemingly little traffic to warrant it all (at least, compared to Montreal). This is fortunate since the exits pop up with little notice. In that regard, Texas and Quebec have something in common. But at least Texans know how to build a proper road. Ours are worse than horrible. There is also evidence around us of ample more highway construction going on. This area must be booming.

The hotel itself is quite nice. Six storeys and a plush, wood-finished lobby complete with fireplace. I gobble some orange-and-black candied popcorn from a bowl on the desk. It’s the only hint I’ve seen all day that it is Hallowe’en. We sign-in for our separate rooms and the clerk asks if we need anything. I inquire about the hotel bar. There is none, the clerk says. Oh. There is a place still open about ten minutes away by car, he says, launching into detailed directions of a landscape that is all but devoid of landmarks. My boss meanwhile stands bemused. “We have a big day tomorrow,” he tells me. I get it. He suggests we meet in the lobby at 8:00 a.m. where a full continental breakfast buffet will be ready.

I had asked for a smoking room and that put me on the sixth floor. It had been smoked in alright – by a pipe-smoker no doubt. The fan is on full-tilt but it’s impossible to miss. As hotel rooms go, this is certainly one of the nicest ones I have seen. Two-seater couch with coffee table. 24-inch cable TV. A desk with a cat-5 hook-up and free high-speed internet connection. And the bed is king-sized. It has no less than seven pillows – five feathery guys lined-up sideways against the headboard, and two more very broad ones leaning up against those. That oughtta do me.

The bathroom is equally well appointed. Wall-mounted hair-dryer. Huge expanse of counter-top. Something like six large towels, four small ones and four face-cloths. Even the iron in the hall closet is a souped-up number that looks vaguely Star Trekkish.

I turn on the TV but I'm too late for the Daily Show (it is on an hour early in Central), so I make due with Bill Mahr. I haul out the laptop and email home, where it’s nearly 1:00 in the morning and too late to call. I check the net, but don’t get much past reading about the Habs’ spectacular road win over the Rangers before turning in.

The next morning, my wake-up call comes at 7:00 a.m. There is a little coffee-maker with all the required pouches (including “whitener” – ick) on the bathroom counter, but I’ll wait for a real coffee. I notice someone has thoughtfully slipped a USA Today under my door. I read about reaction to the Alito nomination. Apparently he’s a lean, mean Right-wing machine of conservative judicial fortitude, and the Christian Right is all agush over him. That should shut everybody up about the Libby indictment and related fallout – for a day at least.

I spend too long with the paper – even though you could probably read the whole thing front-to-back in less than half an hour. I rush through ironing a shirt and pants, then get on with the morning routine that my old Newfie friend Paul MacInnis immortalized for me as the three S’s: "Shit, Shave and Shower."

I present myself in the lobby at 8:00 a.m. sharp and,... uh-oh. I know that look. It's that unmistakable look that a boss wears on his face when he's trying to look very professional despite being annoyed as hell. Seems boss-man has had his breakfast already and was hoping I'd be down a bit early. Now I see that when he said we’d meet in the lobby at eight o’clock, he meant ready to leave at eight o’clock.

He graciously allows me to cobble together a sort-of biscuit and leathery egg and ham thing from the unremarkable buffet. I notice his right leg bouncing up and down on the toe of his foot as he watches the wide-screen TV (forever tuned to CNN) that looks down authoritatively over the lounge area. I can tell he isn’t actually paying attention to it; his mind is busily sorting through how I have fucked with his whole day by being a moron who can’t get up on time and now we both will look like lazy-asses, waltzing into the office at a leisurely 8:20 or so. At least I imagine that’s what he’s thinking.

There is brewed coffee like we used to get from the cart service at Concordia University all those years ago – crappy, but caffeinated, dammit. I hastily chomp down my biscuit thing and take the coffee to go. No time to brush my teeth. The office is apparently close-by and we’ll get there for 8:20 probably, but now I feel like we’ve started off badly. At least the sun is out.

In Montreal I'd need a jacket and a sweater and a scarf and gloves... But in Dallas it's mild enough in the bright sun for us to eschew our coats. No clouds. Light breeze. Flowers in full bloom. Yeah, I'll take it.

- 30 -

Next up: Meeting your Texan co-workers at the Company HQ.

Al Goulem is the funniest man on Canadian TV

Do you need any other reason to check out The Tournament 2 tonight?

What? No, I am not his publicist! But we went to the same high school and I used to watch him play in the Sons of the Desert in the days of yore - you know it's yore because I could find nothing worthwhile to link to to explain who the Sons really were. Suffice it to say, they carved the path for bands like Me, Mom & Morgentaler, and of course The Planet Smashers.

But besides all that, it's not hype. If it's anything at all like the first Tournament mockumentary mini-series, we're in for a treat. I hadn't laughed harder watching Canadian TV since SCTV. Tune in and laugh.

- 30 -

Monday, November 14, 2005

Tag me with a spoon...

This is one of those strange blogger habits. It seems to be called a meme. Timmy the G (of Voice in the Wilderness fame) got tagged and has sent it on to me and four others. It seems one has to dig up their 23rd-ever blog post, and reprint its fifth sentence.

All fine and well as long as your 23rd-ever post isn't a bloody song, which of course has no periods in it, and hence, no fifth sentence. So the fifth line of the song then? For what it's worth:

Golf Shoes and your

Well that was exciting, wasn't it? Not quite as effective when taken out of context. Considering how dismal that was, I suppose the least I can do now is to pass the torch and tag five other unlucky souls. So here goes:

John of John Murney's Blog
Mark at Section 15
Cathie from Canada
The Gazetteer
Ivan at Creative Writing

I hope you can all come up with something better than my anti-climactic offering. Git to 'er now.

- 30 -

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Original Song #9

Cathie from Canada has a post up commemorating the 30th anniversary of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald tragedy. It seems like as good a time as any to put this song up here. I was inspired by the finding of an historian that Henry Hudson may have actually made it all the way back to his base on the island of Spitsbergen after his Discovery crew mutinied, taking the ship all the way home to England without its Captain.

It is surmised that Hudson accomplished this feat by expertly using the southwestern winds of the Atlantic to get back. But since this technique would've forced him to tack north, and slowly, he eventually found himself stranded on Spitsbergen for the oncoming winter. This theory was borne from the finding of another historian's journal indicating a headstone had been spotted on Spitsbergen early in the 20th Century with Hudson's name on it. (Although I can't find a link to the story about this, I have a clipping I kept from the Montreal Gazette about it.) I imagine him here as a proud man, disgusted and enraged at his crew for not having the courage to keep pushing for the mythical Northwest Passage he sought.


Spitsbergen

With my son and seven men, I’ve been booted off my ship
Set adrift in a tiny skiff, barely fit for seafare
We've precious few provisions; just the North Star to guide us
We'll be at the mercy of the winds to get us out of here

We were dumped out in the bay; the one that bears my name
By a filthy band of thugs, all greedy for my claim
But they won’t get back home safely, back to England fair
Without Henry Hudson’s prowess, they haven’t got a prayer

For I am Henry Hudson and I swear we’ll make Spitsbergen
I'd get us back to England but we only have two sails
Those filthy mutineers’ll surely starve at sea without me
As I steer us to Spitsbergen by the sou’western gales

Well we've been at sea ten days and in the air's a bitter chill
We’re all ascared of calenture as much as falling ill
But the men won’t give up hope cause they know they’re better off
Than the scum aboard Discovery, by now surely lost

For I am Henry Hudson and I swear we’ll make Spitsbergen
I'd get us back to England but we only have two sails
Those filthy mutineers’ll surely starve at sea without me
As I steer us to Spitsbergen by the sou’western gales

Rough seas!

Land ahoy!

I almost gave up hope til that day I saw the rocks
And the stone house I’d not seen in over fifty moons
We’ll make it through the winter boys, eating seals and lemmings
We’ll be back in merry England before the month of June

For I am Henry Hudson and I swore we’d make Spitsbergen
I got us as far as here, and I know I’ll get us home
Those filthy mutineers have surely starved at sea without me
As I steered us to Spitsbergen by the sou’western gales

- 30 -

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Layton takes the initiative

Well, well, well. Just when you thought old Bobby boy had painted himself into a corner by saying his party was no longer prepared to prop up Martin's minority Liberal government in a confidence motion, he pulls this out of his hat:
NDP Leader Jack Layton said Wednesday he will introduce a motion Nov. 24 calling for a February election, avoiding a Christmas vote.

Layton said the motion will call on Prime Minister Paul Martin to dissolve the House of Commons in the first week of January.

"This avoids the holiday election that nobody wants," Layton told a news conference in Vancouver.


While Harper dithers around and Martin grasps at ridiculous scare tactics (saying senior's pensions could be "in jeopardy"), Layton steams ahead, again looking like the only national leader with Canadians' best interests at heart. The facts are in: Harper is the Coyote and Layton is the Road Runner.

- 30 -

Monday, November 07, 2005

Notes from my Trip to Texas (2nd in a series)

I was sent down on a business trip last week to the head office in a Dallas suburb. These are some random thoughts on the Lone Star state, and the state of George W. Bush's America from a Canadian visitor's viewpoint
(Link to Part 1).

Part 2 - Scott, meet Texas; Texas... Texas, are you awake?

Oct. 31/05, mid afternoon. After arriving at Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport more than three hours early to find exactly no one in queue; after charging briskly through the United States Homeland Security checkpoint with little hassle; after being metal-detected in under five minutes,... we are informed that, due to thunderstorm activity in Dallas, our plane will board about an hour late.

So now we have nearly three hours to kill, but it's impossible for me to go outside for another cigarette before take-off. Must psyche-up for a long painful wait. I'm travelling with my boss, who is younger than I, but very ambitious - and good at the office politics game. He has made this trip at least four times before. He has a good 10 inches or so on me, making us a true Mutt & Jeff team.

I scan at the news-stands and kiosks for a Sudoku book but can't find one anywhere, so I sit opposite my boss and take out the Sunday NY Times crossword I've been saving. Boss-man has decided to haul out his laptop. He can't get a connection to VPN into the office so he begins showing me countless digital pictures of his very cute little boy. I stupidly have none with me of my son, Francis. Well, there is that cropped photo I keep in my wallet, but he's seen that.

It's surprising how little of a bond I have with my boss, considering our first-borns arrived two days apart in May of last year. I guess we're rather different people (he is certainly wealthier than I). Also, I am wary of him. He hasn't always been honest with me; and having worked with him for four years, I always assume everything he says has an ulterior motive. He has never screwed me over, but those who get in his cross-hairs always seem to find themselves fired or demoted before very long. At the same time, he's a loving and proud family man.

"What do you think of that one?" he asks, beaming as he points to his son in a purple dragon costume.

"Ah, what a cutey," I fawn.

"How about this?"

"Wow. He has such long, thick hair. Francis still has only wisps."

We were both disappointed to be missing Hallowe'en with our little guys. But the Company doesn't give a shit. There is no saying no when Dallas beckons. For my boss, it sometimes happens on a day's notice. For me, never before. In fact, in a few hours, Texas will overtake Marietta, Ohio as the furthest from Quebec that I have ever ventured (and I was only seven or eight at the time. My first-hand accounts of America are entirely based on car trips to New England.) In Canada, I have been as far west as Hamilton, as far north as the Gaspe, and as far east as Halifax. A true homer.

Finally we are able to board. An American Airlines McDonnell Douglas MD-80 jet. Looks solid enough. Find our seats. Boss gets window. I get aisle. There is blessedly a vacant seat between us. Not much window viewable from my vantage point. No matter, it's pitch-black out already. Sit. Wait. Buckle up. Taxi. Take-off. Turbulence. $3 meal-box anyone? Not a one sold. Drink cart. Diet Pepsi. Crossword very difficult. Drag out Lloyd Axworthy book. Realize how repetitive, self-congratulatory and boring his prose can be. Nah, probably just can't concentrate without nicotine. More turbulence. Get laptop out (on loan from the Company) and play Free Cell. Damn Touchpad adds to challenge. Stewardess hands me two teeny-weeny cornchip bags, with "Great for Dipping!" printed on them, but of course, no dip. Drink cart again. Crossword still very difficult. Never-ending turbulence. Wrestle with rest room. Lose. Bang elbow wiping up. Ow. Wash hands, sort of. Return to seat. Doze off.

We land after circling the airport a few times, dipping a bit on each pass. Then we sit idle for 20 minutes as there is a plane sitting at our intended gate. Lazy dead-beat plane! Our plane finally loses patience, backs up, and goes to another gate. My boss and I both have only our carry-on bags, so we get out fast. Boss knows the way so I follow. Outside and the air is cool. I catch a glimpse of a cyclindrical, free-standing ashtray that would dwarf R2-D2 and manage to spark a cigarette while carrying two bags and not losing a step.

Before I have a chance to take a third haul on my first cigarette in seven hours, the airport bus pulls up. It will take us to the car rental desks at the southern end of the five mile-long airport (DFW airport takes up more land mass than Manhattan, they're proud to tell you.) It's past 10 pm CST and my ex-smoker boss is in no mood to wait for the next bus while I de-crave in front of him. I go to stamp my cigarette out on the ground but there isn't a speck of dirt or previous smokers' butts or even a wayward leaf in sight. Nothing but pristine concrete and pavement, unweathered by snow, sand or salt like in Montreal.

I butt-out awkwardly in the R2D2's flattened head and board the bus, which has matted grey carpetting on seemingly all its interior surfaces. No one asks for a fare or ticket; what would be the point? There are few other passengers, all looking as non-plussed as we do, I am sure. After a few minutes, we see the Avis sign and de-bus.

I was not allotted a rental car by the Company, so I stand idly by like Teller to my boss's Penn while he picks out his car of choice. He is the boss, after all, and besides, I am only staying three days, while he's here for nine. Can't argue with that. Nevertheless, it turns out badly for both of us since it means he has to ferry me around everywhere (pedestrians might as well be illegal in Texas it seems) and I have to go whenever and wherever he goes. My boss picks out a burgundy Toyota sedan and I settle in on the passenger side with the map out, feeling somewhat like Gromit to my boss's Wallace. There is no smoking allowed in the car.

Oh, it's going to be a great three days.

- 30 -

Next up: Big Texas roads, big Texas toilet stalls, hotel-pillow-mania (Texas-style), and the Company HQ.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Notes from my Trip to Texas (1st in a series)

I was sent down on a business trip this week to the head office in a Dallas suburb (my employer shall remain nameless here). It's a company that deals in cutting-edge Point of Sale (POS) technology for the world of retail. My job is to write process documentation for a helpdesk here in Montreal, and this trip was about me giving an assist to someone hired to design a similar structure for their larger helpdesk there. It was my first visit south of the border in five years or so. These are some random thoughts on the Lone Star state, and the state of George W. Bush's America from a Canadian visitor's viewpoint:

Part 1 - Getting past the Dept. of Homeland Security:
The official at P.E. Trudeau Airport was my first contact with an American on my trip. I think she was just returning from lunch as she got in her box and smiled me over to tell her why the fuck she should let the likes of me into her country.

"Where's your passport?" she asked when I presented my official english copy Quebec Birth Certificate and my driver's license.
"I don't have one," I said.
"You should get one," she lectured.
"I understood that it isn't necessary," I said.
"Not yet, but it will be December 12th," she said.
"Not if Frank McKenna's lobbying is effective, and anyway, today is October 31st and therefore, you have no right to act like having a passport is in any way necessary you smug pencil-pushing ignoramous," I smartly refrained from saying in the ensuing pause while she typed away and looked vacantly at her screen.

"Have you ever been arrested?" she asked in the way you would ask a person if they've ever tried sushi. "No," I said (accurately), trying not to skip a beat or sound anything but amicable.

Then we got to the part about the reason for my trip. Business. And what did I need to do there that couldn't be done here in Canada? (I had been waiting for this part - my boss had even prepped me. Apparently, if you make the mistake of using the word "consultant" at any time, this raises some flag with them and they make you sit in a room and wait for other officials to do more grilling. "So just say that you're going to be sharing best-business practices," my boss had coached me.) "I'm going to be sharing best-business practices," I said by rote. This seemed to placate her, as the questions stopped.

After about 20 more seconds of again typing and looking vacantly at her screen, she turned to make her pronouncement. As she spoke, her voice trailed with the sort of resignation that suggested she only gets bonuses if she finds a potential terrorist to be scooped up to some place like Syria for their sweet brand of year-long "questioning"; and sadly, I was evidently not helping bring that bonus so far today. "Go ahead."

"Yes'm. Thank you kindly ma'am. Bless you ma'am," I resisted saying sardonically as I left. If I had a cap I could clutch in my hands sheepishly, who knows if I would've been able to keep my sarcasm in check.

- 30 -

Next up: landing at 9:30 p.m. on Hallowe'en at DFW, the world's third-largest airport.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Original Song #8

Drinks Too Much

Went to a party the other night
Everyone was wasted and feeling alright
Everyone smoking and drinking and other things
Too

Then I went home to my beautiful wife
The best l’il gal I ever met in my life
Went over to kiss her but she balked and pushed me
Away (She said):

You drinks too much and you smokes too much
You drinks too much and you smokes too much
Scotty, don’t you throw your life
Away

Deedee and Joey used to drink too much
They had a bunch of substances they used as a crutch
Then their bodies said Uncle and the two of them passed away

All the old punks are fading fast
Bet they never thought they’d run out of gas
The rudest awakening of all is to not wake up

Well they drank too much and they smoked too much
Well they drank too much and they smoked too much
They did too much and they met an early fate

Ozzy Osbourne used to over-indulge
He cleaned himself up when he almost croaked
Now his body keeps going but he’s already scrambled his brains

Now it’s Joe Strummer, God rest his soul
Everybody thought he had it under control
He was the smartest damn punk
To end up digging his own grave

- 30 -

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Catholic Smackdown on the Christian Fundies?

It's not every day you'll see me championing an opinion from within the Roman Catholic church, but credit where credit is due, eh? This is from Cox News service:
Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church have published a teaching document that insists to worshippers that the Bible falls short in historical accuracy.

"We should not expect to find in Scripture full scientific accuracy or complete historical precision," the Catholic bishops of England, Wales, and Scotland say in the recently released "The Gift of Scripture."

...The bishops pointed out that in general, biblical material often went through long periods of oral tradition before reaching written form.

Even in Revelations, the final book in the New Testament, the bishops assert that many passages related to the end of the world are symbolic in nature and should not be interpreted literally.

"We should not expect to discover in this book details about the end of the world, about how many will be saved, and about when the end will come," the bishops say.

..."The underlying message is accurate, but people have to realize the writing is in human form and that it had to be in human form so that God can communicate his word to us," he said.

"There are different ways of presenting truth, and not everything should be taken as scientific," he said.


Lord almighty! Sounds like a pointed challenge to the creeping popularity of so-called "Intelligent Design" as some sort of science.

- 30 -

Did someone say "wiped off the map"?

Well, at least it looks like the Iranian Foreign Ministry is trying to soften the blow after their President's call for Isreal's er, non-existence.


"The Islamic Republic of Iran is committed to its U.N. charter commitments. It has never used force against a second country or threatened the use of force," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday...

While not specifically refuting the president, the Foreign Ministry said Tehran had no intention of launching an assault on the Jewish state and would back whatever course the Palestinians chose to resolve the Middle East conflict.

Perhaps it was determined that President Ahmadinejad’s original remarks were ill-considered, given how forcefully they undermine the Iranian position on their nuclear ambitions - that they are only for peaceful purposes. After all, it seems to defy logic that raising the tension in the region - so incredibly volatile right now - could work in Iran’s favour.

We have to wonder what Iran is after, and where they’re going with this super-heated rhetoric and subsequent step back. Does this point to divisions within the government between hawks and doves? Are there some who see this as a chance to make a big move, geo-politically? Blair’s alarm is not entirely out of place. But he’s in a difficult position because he has blown his country’s moral capital with the Iraqi fiasco, and he’s got an historical stake in Israel - an ally the UK cannot abandon.

How else is the rest of the world supposed to take this, but seriously? May cooler heads prevail on all sides.

- 30 -

Update [Oct. 30, 4:00 p.m.]: Peter Beaumont from the Observer provides some excellent analysis on the matter. Check it out.


Monday, October 24, 2005

Original Song #7

My first-cousin, Sandra Langworth, would've been 42 today. She and her three younger sisters all died in a house fire a couple of days after Xmas, 1971. I was two and a half at the time. I grew up wondering what their lives might've been like if they'd had a chance to experience growing up themselves. Sandra, this is your song.

Sandra

Sandra knows
What it’s like to be too tall
The girls all want you to fall
The boys never seem to call

Sandra sees
Better than you or me
She’s got a gift for make believe
And a dozen unrealized dreams

Daddy’s playing with the radio knob
Curses at the forecast of an early frost
Mummy’s cleaning up the kitchen herself
Guess it’s up to me to put the young ones to bed

Sandra sees
Mummy never gets any meat
Now Sandra always leaves half her piece
Even when she’s still hungry

Sandra dreams
Of going places she won't know
Like the coast of Mexico
Where the snakes all tickle her toes

And Daddy’s rolling more cigarettes
Smokes four in the time it takes him just to roll the rest
Mummy’s feeding all the calves herself
Guess it’s up to me to help milk the cows again

Sandra’s mad
She didn’t want to be this tall
It doesn’t mean she can keep her head
Above it all

Sandra reads
Any damn thing she can
If it’s a tragedy that’s fine
But when it’s sad she don’t cry
She won’t cry

- 30 -

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Original Song #6

Stickman

Walking at a nerve-bit pace
Hands in pockets; hard-tack face
Moving with purpose
But no destination in mind

Do you believe
There’s nothing in which to believe
Go to bed with no idea
What to do should you wake up

You were born with two good ears
Born with two good eyes
Born scanning the delivery room
For someplace you could hide

Saw you sitting there at the bar
Drinking fast and smoking hard
In the only element
That you’ve ever called your own

Just another damning indictment
Should’ve seen it coming
Go to bed with no idea
What to do should you wake up

Should I die before I wake
I pray the lord my soul to
Not take down

You were born with two good ears
Born with two good eyes
Born scanning the delivery room
For someplace you could hide

Stickman sitting on a branch
Scared to let the world see you

- 30 -

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Twelve Days of Fitzmas

Over at Daily Kos, they're getting downright loopy with excitement at the prospect of indictments coming down this week in the Department of Justice investigation into the leaking of CIA spook Valerie Plame's once classified identity.

Even the usually-staid Billmon is getting all a-tremble at all the excitement.

Those cheeky bloggers! Now they're calling it "Fitzmas" (after lead prosecuter Patrick Fitzgerald). This diary by georgia 10 is a must-read salve for all scandal junkies finding themselves at nerves' end.

And as with so many good things, it has inspired me to write a little song:

Twelve Days of Fitzmas

On the twelfth day of Fitzmas, my blogroll gave to me...

Twelve Frogs-a-Marching
Eleven Editors Fighting
Ten Novaks Gnashing
Nine Scooters Scooting
Eight Roves a-Ralphing
Seven Millers Fainting
Six Bushes Freaking
Five Golden Shackles
Four Singing Patsies
Three Pink Slips
Two Turncoats, and
Darth Cheney in the clink

- 30 -

Early Hallowe'en (too scary for children)

News item: Condi to visit Canada next week


This is terrible. I don't want her here. Ewwww.

Ewwwwwwww. Ick.

I can just hear Count Floyd now, howling at the thought of her entourage of blood-sucking monkeys in 3-D Smell-O-Rama. Aaa-Ooooooo...!

And there was a great shudder throughout the land.

What great providence might surface to spare us this greivous injury? Remember, the last time she was supposed to visit, Martin had recently found his backbone and told Bushco we won't be throwing our good money after their bad with their Missile Defence Shield fiasco.

As a bonus, Rice postponed her planned trip. (I will not speculate on which of the two factors was more at play in sending Martin's approval ratings up.)

Then last month, Hurricane Katrina spared us the blight of a planned visit from Vice-President Darth Cheney, for whom assessing the Alberta tar-sands became a photo-op he had to pass on in order to look like he was doing something for once.

So I'm wondering if some good fortune might fall upon us to thwart this calamity. Time is short however. Human intervention may be necessary this time. Time for us all to put on our Thinking Caps. Hmmm... What could we do to ensure Condi finds some half-baked excuse to weasel out of it this time?

I know! Let's see if Lloyd Axworthy would like to greet her off the plane.

- 30 -

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Sand to Blood

"The Americans must leave Iraq and they will leave Iraq, but they can't leave Iraq and that is the equation that turns sand to blood... The reality now in Iraq is the project is finished. Most of Iraq, except Kurdistan, is in a state of anarchy."
--Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for the Independant, speaking at a debate this week in London.

No mincing of words there. With all the evidently fizzling hype about an eleventh-hour deal to bring the Sunni leadership onside with the constitution, you almost wouldn't know there is a war still going on. Once in a while, I wander over to sites like Baghdad Burning and Empire Notes to see other perspectives than what the Western media has to offer. I usually go away wondering if the U.S. and Britain will ever regain any moral authority in the world for this criminal endeavour.

Apart from feeling smug about my own country's fateful decision to spurn the Bush administration by not joining the coalition, I can't help but sit back and wonder where it's going from here; and whether Turkey, Iran, Syria and other neighbours will eventually be pulled into a regional war.

What could that mean for the world? If the mid-east oil spigot is turned off for any length of time due to instability, then it becomes a world-wide supply problem that could conceivably spiral into... well, let's just say, uncharted waters for the international economy.

The fact the head of the Arab League went ahead and used the term civil war in the same sentence with Iraq tells you they're as good as there now. (Just see how many hits you get on Google news using the word combination Iraq civil war.)

Iraq, the United States and the Middle East are looking over a very steep cliff. And even if Canada and most of Europe is looking the other way, we stand to lose a great deal if the others cannot somehow turn back.

- 30 -

Friday, October 07, 2005

Original Song #5

I don't usually like to post songs back-to-back, but after reading Timmy the G's post about an 11 year-old Winnipeg girl's suicide, I just feel like singing this one at the top of my lungs so I thought I'd share.

Drained

At the Metro entrance stood a tall, trim man
Tailored dark suit and an outstretched hand
Handing out papers saying: “Jesus Loves You”
His smile shone brighter than his polished shoes
I took a long, hard look in his eye
Looking for the man inside
I couldn’t find the man beyond the sheen
Like a person replaced with a dogma machine

Chorus:
I guess I needed somebody to remind me
I’m one of the fortunate ones
And I guess that lately I’ve been fussing and
I’ve been sulking too much
And I’ve got to remind myself
No matter how much the world seems unjust
To keep my feet planted on the Metro platform

We only see each other every once in a while
Every day without you is another trial
I don’t believe in organised religion
But every time I hear your voice I get this vision
I think about moments we shared together
I’m hoping more will come if I don’t surrender to doubt
Help me out, help me out

Am I on the mend again?
Don’t need to feel this pain
I’ve got you coursing through my veins
Stay the course now; don’t leave me feeling drained

- 30 -

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Original Song #4

Back Nine

The game of life
It’s a game of golf
I want to play but
I’ve got no balls, you’ve got your
Golf Shoes and your
Golf Shirt and your
Golf Cart and your
Other Golf Perks
Too bad you play it like it’s work

You’ve been playing for half a lifetime
Getting more frustrated over every drive
Now you're pushing thirty-five
Better luck
On your back nine

Well you get a caddie and you
Pay him ten bucks, and you
Treat him like shit, and you
Buy him two hot dogs
You curse and yell when you miss your shots
And you blame it on him
Cause that’s all that you’ve got
Is that what got you this far?

You’ve been playing for half a lifetime
Getting more frustrated over every drive
Now you're pushing forty-five
Better luck
On your back nine

- 30 -

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Dumb move by PMO

Can someone from the PMO please explain why a CBCUnlocked reporter was barred from attending a press conference held by Paul Martin last week? That stinks. I can't imagine what they were thinking. It seems to me that enlightened self-interest would dictate being congenial. If the government wants to be seen as an honest broker in its self-imposed role as a mediator between the Guild and the CBC, they should apologize and see to it that such pettiness is stopped immediately. I wonder how other Guild members are reacting to this insult to one of their own?

Friday, September 30, 2005

No More Nanny-Nanny-Boo-Boo

Scotian has a thoughtful post about the announcement that Canada will share dual-use nuclear technology with India.

I couldn't agree more that the threat of nuclear war remains real, and that Canada should endorse non-proliferation in some way. But this brings up a real problem, because it's clear that in the cases of India and Pakistan (and Israel, perhaps North Korea, perhaps soon Iran...) the existing policy based upon the NNPT, ultimately failed. And when that’s the case, you have to adjust your policy.

The world lost a degree of relative safety when these nations got their nukes, but we can't just pretend they aren't part of the nuclear club, and continue to treat them like they aren’t. What good will wagging our finger do with the genie already out of the bottle? If they're now a nuclear power – with no real chance of ever turning back - how is it that sharing this technology is so daunting?

I am going to back up a bit; a world with no nukes would, of course, be ideal; and I believe we are surely all doomed once the next one is used on this planet. And I, too, lament that cognizance of the unspeakable danger of having these things around seems to have faded in the public imagination in recent years.

But the realist in me says there will always be nuclear weapons about; that there is no turning back. We can never be entirely rid of the things no matter how much we wish otherwise. And as Gwynne Dyer likes to point out, never in the history of war has a weapon been developed that wasn't eventually used against someone. (That the H-Bomb is over fifty years old is a testament to how lucky we have been so far).

I just don't see this as being all that more alarming a development than the status quo, especially given India's track record with handling dangerous technology.

Someday, somebody somewhere may well accidentally launch one (or several) of these things, at which point it’s very likely game over for the human race. And that could just as easily happen in any of the five original nations at the table – none of whom are about to give up their nukes, and all of whom enjoy a preposterous double-standard under the NNPT in having got theirs first. We may as well call it the Nanny-Nanny Boo-Boo Treaty.

It was a good idea at the time, but it’s no longer valid, which makes it an awful framework to build our national policy on going forward. A better idea would be to build a new policy, but still based on reducing the overall number of nuclear weapons out there. We at least need something that reflects a more up-to-date balance of world power than existed immediately after WWII, which is why I believe this agreement with India may actually be a step in the right direction.

- 30 -

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Whither the CBC

...It says here we should be proud that we are free
And our free press reflects our democracy

--from Billy Bragg's "It Says Here"

Well this is discouraging. Just when I was getting my hopes up that closure would be coming soon to the CBC's lockout of Canadian Media Guild members, there's this article (courtesy of those same CBC Guild members, so you really have to take it as a press release more than a news story) dampening any enthusiasm for a quick end.
Despite mounting political pressure to come to an agreement, the Canadian Media Guild says “management has made no substantive movement on its positions on employment status or on layoff and recall provisions during extensive discussions in the presence of federal mediators.”

Layoff provisions and the status of contract workers are the two main sticking points.

Calling CBC management’s position “virtually the same as it held before it imposed the lockout,” the union statement says management is refusing to budge on its proposal to use more contract workers.

"It says here that the unions will never learn..."

While it's true management can blame the federal government for reducing their funding yet still demanding the same level of services, I'm with the Guild on this one. They aren't asking for pay raises. They just want to protect their numbers in an environment where they are being asked to do more (reporting) with less (resources) all the time.

It's not just the CBC. The newsrooms of the nation have been shedding reporters in a steady stream of lay-offs and cut-backs that began in the 1980s. CKAC radio is the latest to lose its newsroom to the bottom line. The media consumer is the victim of course, getting fewer viewpoints and skimpier reportage for their buck.

"...It says here do you ever wish
That you were better informed..."


This contracting-out of the work might seem like a boon to the animal known as the freelance journalist, but these people battle daily just to keep their heads above water; and they have to work like the dickens getting to the point they can earn their keep at it. One freelancer friend of mine said it took him years just to patiently build-up to earning 20K annually. (He unfortunately had to abandon it last year, needing steadier work, after nearly a decade of struggle.)

"And it says here that we can only stop the rot
With a large dose of law and order
And a touch of the short sharp shock"


So until this lock-out ends, I'm no longer tuning in to CBC radio, TV, or on the web. But at least I can check out the CBCUnlocked in the meantime. (I hadn't heard about this until now.) The site calls itself "a free public service for Canadians, developed by locked-out employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation...guided by the principles of honest journalism, intelligent entertainment and public responsibility."

Good on 'em, I say.

Update: More detail from the Globe & Mail.

Last word goes to Bragg:
"...Just remember, there are two sides to every story"

- 30 -

Monday, September 26, 2005

Moi, Separatist? No more than the G-G

Sacre-bleu-et-blanc! I seem to have confused the issue over at Section 15(see the comments thread) of where I stand on the Quebec Separation movement.

I'm not shy about it: I am no fool separatist. It's a non-starter for me, as I am a proud Quebecker who wants this province (and its french habitants - hell, all its inhabitants) to continue to thrive. Canada has been making that possible for centuries. At the same time, I feel very Quebecois - which I am reminded of whenever I venture out of province. In fact, I feel quite like a fish out-of-water just crossing the border to Ontariariario, where there are suddenly no Danseuses Nues signs in every small town. (And Leafs fans, yeesh! Habs are coming back, boy... This year, man,... you watch...!)

Because when you're english and live in Quebec, as I and four previous generations have, you learn to understand a bit about the truly fantastic french people you work and socialize with each day - including those who believe Quebec should go it alone. By and large, they are beautiful dreamers who try to tell themselves they have nothing against the ROC (rest of Canada); who - don't forget - are fed a completely different batch of news and culture every day than what is on the CTV, CBC and Global. They are justly proud of their achievements, and don't want their sense of "Maitres chez-nous" taken away. There is a power structure that works to pick at that fear whenever expedient.

That's the ugly side of the sovereignist/separatist "intelligentsia". At the same time, they are socially quite liberal-minded (the PQ/BQ I mean), a side of which I am quite comfortable with. I try to watch and read french-language media as much as possible, (but I cannot for the life of me get the humour of any french stand-up comics.)

Furthermore, I have never voted for a separatist and don't ever plan to. I have gone out to vote and ruined my ballot in more than one provincial election. Part of the reason I blog (and comment on other blogs) is to reach out to english Canadians who are too shy or unilingual to get inside the French-Canadian culture. I try to do what (little) I can to keep the hot-heads simmered-down. I've lived through two bitter referendum campaigns and don't want to go there again. This place is beautiful as it is, eh?

Especially Montreal: a great place for fostering a willingness of vastly different cultures to get to know one another. I guess the Jeffs of this country will never get it unless they can learn to stretch their minds some.

But in the meantime, I live for good conversation and I'm learning there is more life in the Canadian blogosphere than I ever knew. This is healthy for us, I think. And now I have a new goal: to be as consistently on-the-mark and coherent as Scotian!

- 30 -

No Dippers Need Apply

I hope this isn't indicative of the direction of other major news media, where political slant is apparently now a job requirement.

I hold a j-school degree, and I am always on the look-out for a job in the actual working media. I thought I'd check out the four Ottawa Citizen positions my folks noticed big ads for in today's National Post. Now, I'd heard the Citizen is no great shakes as a daily newsrag, but I figured if I can stomach reading the completely unstimulating Gazoo, what could be worse?

And recognizing that I am pretty opinionated by nature, the first job I decided to click on (just for fun) was Editorial Writer. All fine and well, until I reach this little eye-opener:
The successful applicant should be an elegant writer with a commitment to the principles of small government and individual freedom. They must work co-operatively with an editorial board in which compromise and consensus are required. Journalism experience and a strong background in national or municipal affairs, economics, business, technology or science will be assets, along with knowledge of French.

(Emphasis mine)

Hello! What if my commitment isn't sufficiently strong in that regard? (I'm assuming when they say "small" government, they don't mean pols who are short in stature.) And I guess when they say "compromise is required", they mean compromising your own values for what CanWest tells you to opine upon. How very Fox News of them. I have a sneaky suspicion I know why there are suddenly four jobs open...

Somehow my enthusiasm is waning.

- (disheartened) 30 -

Update: To be entirely fair, no such silliness appears to be a requirement for Assistant News Editor, nor Sunday and Features Editor, nor Police Reporter. They may be just trying to strike more balance within the ediorial board for all I know. Perhaps they already have a Dipper, a Lib, a Green and a closet Separatist. And I'm told Ottawa is a really nice city to live in...

Sunday, September 25, 2005

About Time

Volpe wants to boost immigration to 300K annually (from current 220K). This is good news. We aren't replacing the population and the new blood will be focussed on people who want to fill the jobs that are less attractive to the current workforce. I have worked with immigrants and their kids my whole life and they are almost universally hard-working conscientious people who are a net benefit and want to be a part of their new society. Now what about those refugee claimants?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Original Song #3

Slow Down

Well I’m searching for some conversation
But it doesn’t look like I’m going to find much here
Excuse me, but I think I noticed
Most of what we talk about involves sports, women, and beers

Slow down, don’t you buy another round
It’s time to leave the next one up to me
Hang on, don’t you know I’m often misunderstood
If you know what I mean

Well you sit there, and you protest: Why should you care?
But you’re still waiting for your video poker to make you a millionaire
Meanwhile, you forgot how to take a stand
But just ‘cause things aren’t in your control, doesn’t mean they’re out of hand

Slow down, don’t you sell your fleshy pounds
It’s time to think on your own and not just to please
Hang on, don’t you know there’s a dozen new Hitlers whom we’ll scoff
But we’ll die to appease

Slow down, don’t you buy another round
It’s time to leave the next one up to me
Hang on, don’t you know that history won’t bail you out
When you’re down on your knees

Well I thank you for your beer and company
But your yawning’s telling me that it’s time to leave
Just think about this for one sec: he who dies with regrets
Is he as sorry for things he did as things that he didn’t?

Slow Down

- 30 -

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Ensemble (nous allons tripper!)

It's the pause that refreshes in the corridors of power
When top men need a top up well before the happy hour
Your eyeballs feel like pinballs
And your tongue feels like a fish
You’re leaping from the windows-saying don’t
Ayaiiiiirrrghhh! *@!!*@!!*!
Don’t give me none of this!

--The Clash, from Koka Kola

Well, it's been a lovely blog-free week, but all good things must come to pass, thanks to Andre Boisclair. Just as the polls showed him to be way out ahead of the pack vying for leadership of the Parti Quebecois, he has had to admit to snorting nose candy while he was in Bouchard's cabinet (he skated around a point-blank question of whether he used coke and wouldn't deny using it, saying he "consumed").

Now I am not one to get in the way of the PQ pointing a gun "dans sa bouche", but I have to say that the reporters who are on him ought not let him get off the hook with the old "youthful indiscretion" excuse.

While Clinton allowed for the possibility he held his breathe rather than enjoy a little doobie as a student, there is a marked difference between that and flying high on white powder whilst you are a cabinet-level minister. If Boisclair couldn't take that job seriously enough to obey the law, surely cognizant that the stuff he was sniffing had bloody underworld fingerprints all over it, how can he now expect Quebeckers to take him seriously as a potential premier?

While the Public Security minister of the day (and the barely constrained Surete du Quebec) were busy going after the Hell's Angels and other organized crime, Boisclair was busy being their client. What's more, he didn't say a word about his criminal behaviour for years. How, as Premier, could he possibly let one cocaine user (or gang member trafficking that and lesser evils) face prosecution under his watch? How can he (and whomever he names as his Public Sercurity minister) have the respect of the SQ leadership? Judging from Boisclair's miffed reactions in front of the press's scrutiny, he hasn't really yet grasped the magnitude of this blunder. This is no small knock against his credibility.

If the PQ is stupid enough to anoint Boisclair, they are giving Charest an opening that even someone at less than 20% support can use to coast to a second term, no matter how many unions hate his guts.

- 30 -

Monday, September 12, 2005

Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster, Batman!

Tip of the hat to Cathie for highlighting this story about a saucy new religion conjured up to add spice to the Intelligent Design "debate".

Soon after reading about this, I was actually visited by the Spaghetti Monster's spirit, which used me as a channel for dissemination of this prayer (please rise):

Our spaghetti
Who art in the colander
Hallowed be thy sauce
Thy serving come
Thy strands be wrung
On forks as they are on spoons
Give us this day our daily meatball
And forgive us our starchiness
As we forgive those who are starchy against us
And lead us not into Kraft parmessan
But deliver us from Chef Boy Ardee
For thine is the garlic
And the onion and the bay leaves
For ever and ever.
Ramen


I am so filled with the Holy Spice, I think my tongue is on fire!

- 30 -

Sunday, September 11, 2005

GOP horse to stable: Toodaloo!

When an ex-Reagan crony speaks up against you, asking if you're a serious president, you know you've got troubles with your base.

The administration underestimated the problem, failed to plan for the predictable aftermath and refused to accept responsibility for its actions. Just as when the President took the US and many of its allies into the Iraq war based on false and distorted intelligence. Then the administration failed to prepare for violent resistance in Iraq. The Pentagon did not provide American soldiers with adequate quantities of body armour, armoured vehicles and other equipment.

Contrary to administration expectations, new terrorist affiliates sprang up, new terrorist recruits flooded Iraq and new terrorist attacks were launched across the world, including against several friends of the US. In none of these cases has anyone taken responsibility for anything.

Now Hurricane Katrina surprised a woefully ill-prepared administration. President Bush and his officials failed in their most basic responsibility: to maintain the peaceful social framework within which Americans normally live and work together.

Bush initially responded to 9/11 with personal empathy and political sensitivity. But his failures now overwhelm his successes. The administration's continuing lack of accountability leaves it ill-equipped to meet equally serious future challenges sure to face the US and the rest of the world.

(Emphasis mine)

That's three "failed"s and one "failure" in just a portion of Doug Bandow's article. It would seem Bushco is losing favour with some of the old-guard Republicans. That such a scathing diatribe comes from within the ranks at least proves that lame-duck status is hitting the entire Bushco administration, which would include Rove and Cheney. Obviously, some Repubs are no longer interested in carrying water for this pathetic bunch, and feel empowered to shoot them down publicly. If the balloon has indeed popped, then this is a dire sign for the neo-cons and their empirical agenda.

And if that Tower of Babel crumbles, I might even believe there's hope for the return of a sane United States.

Someday...

- 30 -

MA project looking for respondents.

Take the survey on Canadian blogging. Thoroughly painless - if you can trust a blogger, that is.

- 30 -

Friday, September 09, 2005

Might as well just say you're not a crook

ABC news buried the lede, but scroll down and you'll see that Bush was warned of levee breach probability on Sunday, Aug. 28:
On Saturday at 8:30 p.m. — about 35 hours before Katrina hit the Gulf Coast — Max Mayfield, director of the National Hurricane Center, was so concerned about the storm, he personally called the governors of Mississippi and Louisiana as well as the mayor of New Orleans to make sure they understood the severity of the situation.

The next day, President Bush listened in on a FEMA conference call during which Mayfield warned of a storm surge of more than 20 feet of water rolling over levees.

Of course, that didn't stop 'ol Bush from lying in Diane Sawyer's face the following week on Good Morning America, telling her he didn't think anyone anticipated the levees being breached.

It all comes out in the wash, eh?

- 30 -

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Original Song #2

Stoke the Fire

Caught in machinations
Beyond your power
Busy earning a living
You stoke the fire

And you wonder how they
Could let it happen
Never bother to question
How big is your picture?

Successive generations
Will be quick to damn us
Maybe they'll understand us

Recipe for murder:
Divide the horror
Give the people a scapegoat
Then point the finger

Gain complicity
Reward efficiency
Give the people procedures
They'll die to please

Perhaps the question to ask is:
Does it really matter?
Who pulled the trigger
Who filled the gas tanks
Who stoked the fires
That burn us

- 30 -

Monday, September 05, 2005

Katrina's Undertow

Bushco Priority #1 (actual):
Recent Republican talking points have focused on mitigating the political damage of the executive branch being asleep at the switch by trying to point the blame at Louisiana and the city of New Orleans (both run by Democrats).

Bushco Priority #1 (stated):
United States Dept. of Homeland Security's stated mission:

"In the event of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or other large-scale emergency, the Department of Homeland Security will assume primary responsibility on March 1st for ensuring that emergency response professionals are prepared for any situation. This will entail providing a coordinated, comprehensive federal response to any large-scale crisis and mounting a swift and effective recovery effort."

Here's a good run-down on that compehensive federal response, courtesy of Editor and Publisher.

- 30 -

Saturday, September 03, 2005

"Shoot to Kill"

Shoot to thrill, play to kill
Too many women with too many pills
Shoot to thrill, play to kill
I got my gun at the ready, gonna fire at will
--AC/DC


Cathie from Canada has a lot of good stuff on the sad sad situation in New Orleans. In particular, this outrage about how the Red Cross still has not been allowed into the city by the apparently Orwellian-named Dept. of Homeland Security.

As Wes Clark noted, there's still a real lack of leadership. I don't understand why I seem to be able to get a better read of the situation just from clicking around the internet than those guys making the decisions, with all the tools they have at their disposal.

Last night on CTV news, Jed Kahane did a live stand-up from NOLA. (He's an excellent reporter, BTW, who only a few weeks ago let it be known that Homolka's scumbag ex-boss had tried to sell him his juicy "scoop" on her, days before the Toronto Sun broke the story.) Anyway, Kahane looked shaken as he signed-off noting that the military that sloshed in yesterday had "shoot to kill" orders.

Well I'm sure that will be of great comfort to the starving, thirsty thousands who are feeling the grave with one foot as surely as they're smelling the fetid rot of the city around them.

You can easily see how frightened they are. They tell the cameras at every opportunity. They've been left to their own devices. Their survival is all up to them whether they have the means or not.

If I was in that Convention Center and my son hadn't had any milk or a bath or anything to eat for three days, I'd be a disgrace as a father if I didn't smash open the local grocery store and take whatever I could for him. The fear of not knowing what the hell is going on drives people to very desperate acts; and when people are dying for want all around you while "property" is nearby, the rules of what is yours to take go out the window pretty fast.

Thank God it never got like that here in the 1998 ice storm. It's (an imperfect analogy, I know, but it does have some bearing, I think.) I remember there was leadership from our officials; they took their responsibilities very seriously, and let us know what was happening. They gave us a sense that they were on top of a bad and unpredictable calamity, and they made sure people were looked-after and aware of where to get shelter and basic provisions.

There was no looting to speak of, although the opportunities abounded. I ventured into the "closed" city at my boss's request - right downtown to Peel and Ste. Catherines, in fact - where I had to sit for hours in a windowless office with a rotary phone in case the other employees called wondering about their jobs & shifts, and what was happening.

Lots of folks were holed-up in hotels or staying with friends; many had to scramble to find a place to stay where there was power and heat. The downtown streets were almost completely abandoned. There was just the occasional police car roaming around, and thankfully for me, I happened across a hot-dog & fries pick-up truck type operation parked near McGill.

One thing no one put in place was any "shoot to kill" directives. That is very, very warped and I can only imagine things getting worse before they get better. These are troops who are primarily trained on killing the enemy. That kind of order just sets the tone for them, and sets the table for a lot of bloodshed. Another awful decision to pile on the mound of Bushco's legacy.

If you treat people like savage animals, they will respond by acting like savage animals. Post-invasion Iraq proves that, and anyone can see it - anyone who does think of them as human beings in the first place that is. But do they? I have to think not; that's the only way I can make sense of "Shoot to Kill" orders in this situation.

The United States has lost even more of its soul than I ever thought possible.

- 30 -

Thursday, September 01, 2005

New Orleans a Horror Story

Today we're starting to see the Convention Center is at least as bad as the Superdome. From CNN:

The convention center is a place that people were told to go to because it would be safe. In fact, it is a scene of anarchy.

There is absolutely nobody in control. There is no National Guard, no police, no information to be had.

The convention center is next to the Mississippi River. Many people who are sleeping there feel that a boat is going to come and get them. Or they think a bus is going to come. But no buses have come. No boats have come. They think water is going come. No water has come. And they have no food.

Probably the most disturbing thing is that people at the convention center are starting to pass away and there is simply nothing to do with their bodies. There is nowhere to put them. There is no one who can do anything with them. This is making everybody very, very upset.


Plus, out in the flooded neighbourhoods:
We went off into many communities to see if we could find people. As we were navigating through these narrow areas with power lines and all kinds of obstructions above and below us, we suddenly heard faint screams coming from homes. People were yelling, "Help! Help!"

We found one elderly woman in one home. She told us, "I've been here and I need to get out. Can you get me?" Then she said, "But there are people next door and they have babies, so leave me until morning. Get them out now."


And finally, this:
Some state officials, though, have been getting into the center of town.

One of them, for example, got in with a bus. He saw one woman who was so desperate she actually handed her 2-month-old baby to another woman and said, "Take my child. I can't get on this bus, but you've got to try to save the child."

The woman promised her she would take care of that baby.


I haven't felt this much like crying since the incident in Beslan, which began one year ago today (more evidence of the Almighty's twisted sense of humour, if you ask me). Billmon has posted a fine list of relief agencies with links. Evidently their own governments don't seem to give a shit about them. There is no excuse for this kind of keystone cops response from the richest nation the world has ever seen. None.

- 30 -

A Dome Idea

As surreal as Bushco's America is, I still find myself utterly bewildered at times.

Last Sunday all the TV news channels were showing footage of people - just about all of them black, mind you - lining up in New Orleans. Authorities had told them if they couldn't find any other means, they could proceed to a closed-roof football stadium to wait out a hurricane that was forecast to flood the city and do immense damage.

They were told to bring five-days' worth of whatever medicines and other things they needed. Some of them looked bemused, like they figured they may as well make the best of it. So off they went to a dome that was dubbed "Super".

What can you do about the weather, right? Might as well go. The last outbound Greyhound buses had already left the city. The remainder of regularly-scheduled routes had been allowed to be cancelled in that good 'ol U.S.A. free-market society. These were people with no cars, and no money for a plane ticket or accomodations away from their homes.

A little background here: I (and just about everbody) survived the 1998 ice storm during some very cold days with no power, no drinkable water, and no heat.

I remember the first day of it, trying to pass my driver's test in the freezing rain (the pencil-pushing examiner cut me no slack and failed me). I was mad at the weather for screwing up my test, and totally oblivious to how bad it was going to get. We all were. We didn't know the stuff wasn't going to stop coming down for days. The weather forecasters weren't able to see it coming. Then it got bad when all the electrical transmission towers starting crashing down under the weight of all that ice.

It was damned scary for all of us, but in the end the disaster was mostly an economic one. Only a handful died, and most deaths were the result of self-administered suffocations, caused by the naïve use of gas cookers in unventilated homes. The downtown was closed for a few days due to the risk of mammoth icicles crashing down from tall buildings. The army came in and helped out.

After a week or so, the power and water supply was mostly restored in the city of Montreal. Some rural areas meanwhile had to wait about six long cold weeks. Eventually, we all bounced back. Our trees and roofs are still recovering however.

But back to New Orleans: who in their right mind could concoct the idea of leaving people to suffer up to five hot summer days in a closed stadium with tens of thousands of others (who can't shower either), with no air conditioning, all the septic system overflowing due to the flood-water backing up, and nothing to eat but crappy MRE pre-packaged meals that are probably designed to survive a direct nuclear hit?

(Oh, they knew what was likely coming. I read the alerts issued by the U.S. National Hurricane Center on Sunday evening. The warnings were unequivocable. The authors' sense of urgency could not be missed. They warned of levees likely being breached and massive flooding that would become a literal soup of toxicity and decay - all of which seems to be well underway.)

Now, with reports that other people rescued from their roofs were brought by the thousands to join the party (the estimates run from 25 to 30,000), the conditions must be getting unspeakable in there.

It conjures up images not unlike the gritty re-enactment of the trans-Atlantic slave-ships depicted in Roots.

In Quebec, I think we would consider it simply inhumane. Maybe it was just a bad decision, or the best of some very limited options. But now that the Authorities have brilliantly concluded that that's no place for people to be, what actions are they taking to ameliorate the situation?

Hey, I know, let's bus 'em all out on a twelve-hour trip to Houston, where they can hang out in the Astrodome! They got power there? Yipper. The toilets all flush? Mmmm...mostly. Hot damn! Somebody call Greyhound!!

- 30 -

Addendum
Meanwhile, Bushco has decided to let the oil refineries off the hook from removing sulphur from the gasoline they produce. (You will recall that this undoes yet another initiative from the days of GWH Bush, to staunch a main cause of sulphur-dioxide emissions, which creates acid rain.) All in the guise of getting more gas out to the pumps quicker:
The U.S. Environmental Protection agency said it's suspending summertime anti-pollution measures that force refiners to cut sulphur levels and lower fuel volatility. U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said that will boost the efficiency of refiners and allow earlier release of stockpiled winter fuels.

Whatever you say, Bushco. I bet those corporations are feeling just terrible about this new relaxing of the pollution standards. Just terrible.

Update: Sept.1, 07h15 Bush is being interviewed right now by Diane Sawyer on Good Morning America. When asked if he was satisfied with the speed of response in getting basic essentials to the people who need them, he could only come up with: "I don't think anybody expected the levee to be breached."

Jerk. If he doesn't smarten up soon, people are going to turn on him and in a big way.

NOTE: Cross-posting this as a diary on Daily Kos