Friday, August 31, 2007

Superbad

‘Superbad’ is all about my high school friends. I’m sure of it.

In fact, when I first saw the ads I thought it was set in the early 80s. The characters, the music, even the clothes are all achingly familiar. It’s as if Seth Rogen has created some sort of timeless, extra-raunchy hybrid of ‘Meatballs’ and ‘Porky’s’, only with cell phones.

It’s nice to see that high school boys haven’t evolved that much.

The most extraordinary thing about ‘Superbad’ may be the performance of Christopher Mintz-Plasse as Fogell (a.k.a. ‘McLovin’), the nerdy friend with the fake I.D. Remarkably, the 18 year-old high-school student had no previous film experience and was discovered through an open casting call. He steals every scene he’s in, possibly because he brings a certain strutting confidence to Fogell that sets him apart from the stereotypical nerd. Expect to start seeing T-shirts that proudly proclaim, "I am McLovin!"

Four out of five stars.

(Murray agrees. Mostly.)

Smile - You're on MPTV!

It took a little longer than expected, but Garth Turner was true to his word and finally posted my Montebello video on his website on Tuesday. Fancy titles and everything. Sweeeet...

Thanks, Garth.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

A Devil of A Deal

RIM shares rise on Satanic takeover rumour

Shares of Research In Motion Ltd. are climbing on rumours that the BlackBerry maker may be bought by Satan.

"The Devil has been mentioned as a possible buyer," Frederic Ruffy, an analyst at options education firm Optionetics, told Reuters. "According to speculation, Satan might be interested in RIM in response to Google's recent announcement that it is interested in making its own mobile phone operating system, which would compete with The Devil’s cellphone."

A number of analysts were quick to splash cold water on the rumours.

"We're hearing the same rumour everyone else is, the Satan and RIM rumour,'' Steve Sachs, head of trading at Rydex Investments in Rockville, Md., told Bloomberg. "I can't even count the number of times we've heard that over the last three years.''

Both Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM and Tenth Level of Hell-based Satan declined to comment on the rumours. RIM's current market capitalization is about $48 billion, which would make a purchase of the company expensive. His Satanic Majesty, however, has deep pockets.


I dunno. I am not liking this.

Monday, August 27, 2007

And One More...

I may have been a little testy with Jason Cherniak on his blog tonight. Sorry, but I'm getting sick and tired of being dismissed as ‘conspiracy theorist’. Here’s what I wrote:

I think if I have to read the term "conspiracy theory" one more time in connection to the SPP I may have to start clawing my own eyes out. It's the kind of thoughtless, dismissive comment I'd expect out of Harper. I'm not sure why I expect more from you, but I continue to hope.

For the record, I haven't been inspired to attend a political protest since I marched against Cruise Missile testing in the 80s - but I drove all the way from Milton to Ottawa for this one, and I took my teenaged son with me. I consider it that important.

There are serious people concerned about the implications of the SPP and the agenda of the people behind it. Labour people. Politicians. Academics. Ordinary, intelligent people who are not generally prone to fits of delusion.

If you disagree with our concerns and the conclusions we have reached after reading the documentation available on the SPP and groups like the NACC who set its agenda, then fine.

Just look a little more closely at what you're dismissing, and show a little respect.

That's it. I promise to try to find something else to talk about tomorrow.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire

This is really starting to piss me off.

The SQ issued a statement yesterday regarding the undercover officers they planted at the Montebello protest. When attempting to explain how the officers got outed and why one of them had a rock in his hand, they said:

"They therefore joined a group of demonstrators that contained extremist elements. Those elements identified our police officers, who could not pursue their mandate. It was when leaving that group that they found themselves in a group of peaceful demonstrators. They then asked the police officers assigned to crowd control to leave the premises."


Maybe it’s just me , but this sounds like they are claiming that these guys were in amongst the ‘extremists’, turned around, and were immediately confronted by ‘peaceful demonstrators’.

Let me give you a brief geography lesson.

The ‘front line’ of this demonstration was right up at the gates of the Chateau Montebello. This is where the vast bulk of police were. This is where the pepper spray and tear gas incidents occurred. This is where I saw the occasional water bottle and piece of fruit sail overhead.



Behind us - and I’m talking a good city block, about 500 ft according to the map - was where the incident in the YouTube video took place. This was on the far side of the cemetery, on a little side street where the police had set up a line for some unknown reason. I have footage from earlier in the afternoon of David Cole and Maude Barlow standing there hanging out with some protesters who were sitting in front of the cops (not included in the edit I posted earlier, unfortunately).

Unless something untoward happened after I left, the only place where ‘extremists’ are likely to have been would be near the front gates. There was absolutely nothing going on where the SQ agents were finally confronted - meaning that, at the very least, the guy with the rock had more than enough time to drop the thing. And unless they were followed all the way to the back end of the protest, there is no way the ‘peaceful protesters’ would have had any idea what had happened with the ‘extremists’.

I call ‘bullshit’.

From what I saw, at least one out of every five people there had either a still camera or a camcorder (I had both). Someone has to have footage of these guys before they got outed on YouTube. I’ll keep checking mine.

UPDATE: Paul Malouf spotted these guys just before they met up with Mr. Cole, and guess what? According to him, the agents were east of the side street and walking west towards the front gates when they were first outed and decided to veer off.

If this is true (and it hasn't been verified yet), it means that the whole story about the agent being handed a rock and asked to throw it really is utter bullshit. There simply wasn't anybody to throw rocks at that far back.

(H/T to Gazetteer)

My SPP Video: Better Late Than Never

It looks like it might be a while before Garth gets my video up on his site. But thanks to my good buddy Chris and his high speed connection, I'm now able too... oh look! It's done already!

(mmmm... high speed)

video

Friday, August 24, 2007

MSM Columnists Gone Wild

I'm starting to understand why my father doesn't read the Globe & Mail so much any more. The old grey lady has obviously been taken over by a bunch of long-haired, left-wing radicals:
Standardize jellybeans with care
By Rick Salutin

Stephen Harper turned his tin ear to the sound of protesters at Montebello. He'd heard there were about a hundred. "It's sad," he smirked. This kind of nyah-nyah isn't a sign of political astuteness. Astute politicians say, "I understand their concerns." They're avid listeners.

Then he turned his other tin ear to what he'd been told they were worried about: loss of Canadian sovereignty and "deep integration." "Is the sovereignty of Canada going to fall apart if we standardize the jellybean?" he said of the issue, raised by a New Brunswick candy maker.

You know what? If they're talking about integrating jellybean standards, it's because there's little else of our economies left to integrate.


A depressing thought, but still: this is about the only mainstream coverage I've seen so far that hasn't swallowed whole Harper's arrogant, chuckling dismissal of SPP concerns. He then proceeds with a well executed towel snap to Travers:

The Toronto Star's Jim Travers said it's time to "debunk" the "myth of galloping integration." That would be because what remains can be done at a slow trot. This isn't about a secret conspiracy, it's about fait accompli, a stately procession that included free trade in 1988, NAFTA in 1994 and the current, amorphous Security and Prosperity Partnership.

He even makes a comment on our military entanglements with the U.S. that leads me to believe that he might have been reading Linda McQuaig.

What's the world coming to?!

And in Other, Non-SPP News...

I was at Garth Turner's Town Hall meeting in Milton tonight.

(I think I mentioned that already. I'm just a bloggin' fool this evening.)

He started with a well rehearsed and downright retro overhead projector presentation on economics, the sub-prime meltdown, income splitting, photos of Flaherty - all his favourites. But when the questions from the audience started, the first dozen or so were all about... SPP and the Montebello summit.

Wow. I'll bet none of these people had even heard of the SPP a month ago, and now it's top of the agenda. That's pretty amazing. I guess those 'sad' protests had some effect after all.

Garth asked me to give my take on the whole issue, which I babbled my way through in my inimitable way (why is it I can never come up with words like 'inimitable' when I'm speaking in public?). Turner's actually sounding more and more convinced that there is something very wrong going on here, which is nice to see.

Betty Kennedy was in the audience. I thought I'd spotted her at the last Town Hall I was at but I wasn't sure from the back. I hadn't realized that she lived around here, and had no idea that she's been working for the Halton Liberals. Neat!

Someone made the mistake of bringing up the elected Senate idea, and Turner make the mistake of arguing in favour of it. Well! You should have heard Kennedy totally eviscerate his position. I had been all ready to pipe up, but she did such a brilliant job of defending our appointed Senate that all I could think was, "Uh... what she said!"

Ok, so I'd also forgotten that she'd been in the Senate for a brief while.

My favourite moment was when someone asked about the gun registry. Arguments were made against it, Turner tried to play it neutral, and then I stuck up my hand. I told them that I was a hunter and a gun owner, and that I had absolutely no problem with having to register my guns.

I thought Turner was going to fall off his stool.

He paused for a moment and said, "But I thought you were one of those left-wing, anti-globalization people?"

Yeah, well, I'm just full of surprises.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The SQ 'Fess Up

Shorter SQ: "Well, um, yeah, but no, but yeah, but, but, ok, um..."
MONTREAL (CP) - With the proof caught on video, Quebec provincial police were forced to admit Thursday that three undercover agents were playing the part of protestors at this week's international summit in Montebello, Que.

But the Quebec police force denied they were attempting to provoke protestors into violence. Rather, they said the three were planted in the crowd to locate any protestors who were not peacefully demonstrating.

Police said the trio's cover was blown when they refused to toss any objects.

Objects? Oh, you mean like the BIG FUCKING ROCK that one of them had in his hand? Because really, that's what you need when you're trying to discourage people from throwing rocks. A rock. That you're not going to throw.

With the proliferation of cameras at the event, it's only a matter of time before someone else comes forward with footage of exactly what these guys did or didn't do while they were up on the front line.

Smile!

My SPP Video: Coming Soon to Someone Else's Blog

You have no idea how badly I'm wanting high speed internet right now.

I made my very first attempt at video editing today. It was a little frustrating at first, but after some trial and error and one major progress-deleting computer gorf, I manage to whittle my 35 minutes of raw footage down to a tidy little six minute file.

I'm still on dial-up here so knew it would take a while to upload. Ok, quite a while. Still, after an hour and a half I was starting to wonder when it would ever end.

And then the connection dropped.

[headdesk]

Happily, I was at Garth Turner's Town Hall meeting in Milton tonight. I showed Esther some of the raw footage on the camera and she was very keen. When she told Garth about it and I explained the technical difficulties I'd been having, he offered to put it up on his site and then I could just link to it from mine.

Kewl!

I whipped home, grabbed the disk, handed it to Garth's tech guy, and it should be up by Saturday. It's not the most exciting video of the demonstration out there, but some highlights include clowns, storm troopers, someone having difficulty burning a U.S. flag (sensitive American viewers may wish to avert their eyes), and the aftermath of the first pepper-spray of the day.

Maybe I should have told them about the flag burning...

*****************

BTW, there is a truly excellent account of the demonstration in NOW from someone who was considerably closer to the front than I was. I was especially interested to learn that the people I heard shouting "Peaceful protest! Peaceful protest!" were not yelling at the cops as I had assumed, but rather at some schmuck who was throwing rocks. Gee, maybe it was one of those SQ guys!

(H/T to Gazetteer)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It's Not Paranoia When They're Really Out to Get You

Commenting on my last post, Lesley wrote, "Although I know it's stupid, a cynical and suspicious little part of me sometimes wonders if they're not hired by 'the other side' specifically to turn the attention away from the issues at hand."

Funny you should mention that...

Police accused of using provocateurs at summit

OTTAWA – Protesters are accusing police of using undercover agents to provoke violent confrontations at the North American leaders' summit in Montebello, Que.

Such accusations have been made before after similar demonstrations but this time the alleged "agents provocateurs" have been caught on camera.

A video, posted on YouTube, shows three young men, their faces masked by bandannas, mingling Monday with protesters in front of a line of police in riot gear. At least one of the masked men is holding a rock in his hand.

The video can be found here, among other places.

What I really love is that once again it's the bloggers and the 'citizen journalists' who brought this story to the fore - otherwise it would have been completely missed by the mainstream media.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Monday Montebello Diary

My son and I arrived in Montebello around noon, after passing through two check points with barely a glance. The first thing we saw was a line of cars and buses stopped along the shoulder next to a large field. On the far side of the field was the infamous fence. There were tents set up for the media, and even a few porta-potties for the protesters.

How convenient.

The Grannies had pulled up just in front of me, so I asked them what was up. Apparently the police were trying to keep everyone here, but were finally persuaded to let us through into the town itself. I’m not sure how they ever expected to keep us out, but we got back in our cars and drove on into lovely downtown Montebello. I parked on a side street, where I somehow managed to summon up enough pigeon French to ask the homeowner, "C’est bien ici?" Apparently it was.

Our timing couldn’t have been better. Everyone was gathered in a restaurant parking lot, and soon after we arrived an announcement was made that we were going to march up to the gates of the Montebello resort to try to present a petition to Stephen Harper.



Five minutes up the road we were met by a veritable wall o’ riot police strung across the highway in front of the gates. But everything was cool. People got right up in the cops’ faces - some sat down in front of them - but everybody was under control. No shoving, no throwing things, not even much shouting other than the chanting of slogans. The police showed immense restraint, possibly because they knew their actions were being recorded by dozens upon dozens of cameras, camcorders and cell phones.

About an hour in, an announcement was made that those with kids or who were there for the "family friendly" demonstration should move back to the rally point. Now.

I probably would have done as they asked except my suddenly enthusiastic son refused to budge. I only agreed to stay on the condition that when I said "Run!", we ran. And so I watched in fascination as some people retreated, and a whole bunch of younger people wearing handkerchiefs around their necks or over their faces started moving to the front. There was also this strange smell that I recognized but couldn’t quite place.

When I first decided to go to the protests this weekend, a friend warned me to "stay away from the kids wearing the handkerchiefs". I had no idea what he was talking about, but from further reading I gathered he meant the semi-professional anti-globalization, anti-corporate, anti-capitalist activists who have become a fixture at pretty much every left-leaning demonstration for the past decade.

The kerchiefs are for the tear gas. The strange smell was vinegar, with which they were dousing their kerchiefs. Apparently it helps counteract the tear gas.

All this was rather new to me, and I would have dragged my recalcitrant son out of there immediately - except the whole thing still felt perfectly under control. I want to say ‘orchestrated’, but it wasn’t. It was more like… expected. Not condoned, and certainly not encouraged. But definitely expected.

All of these people had done this before, and knew exactly what was going to happen and what was expected of them. The police expected to be subjected to some sort of physical provocation, to which they were expected to respond with a slowly escalating sequence of counter measures. The ‘kerchief kids’ were expected to provoke the police, at first verbally and then by more physical means until the police responded, at which point they fully expected to be gassed, clubbed, and / or pepper-sprayed.

This is, of course, exactly what happened. The ‘kids’ yelled a lot, and the drums and music got louder. There may have been some pushing, although I couldn’t see from where I was. Every once in a while something went flying towards the police, mostly water bottles and fruit although I did see a couple of small rocks. Still, given the extent of the riot gear these fellows were wearing, the gesture was purely symbolic.

This went on for at least another hour. I don’t know what the final provocation was, but I thought I heard a ‘pop’ and saw a small cloud of smoke, accompanied by screams and a sudden spike in my adrenaline. I thought at first it was tear gas, but there wasn’t enough smoke and I heard that some of the folks at the front had been pepper-sprayed. This was verified a little later when the victims were brought out, water being poured over their eyes, their faces red and nearly blistered.

I still don’t know how I feel about all this.

On the one hand, every time these folks show up and the demonstration turns ‘violent’, that’s all the media talks about - even when the ‘violence’ is as minimal as what I witnessed. It’s still counter-productive, though, because the story is suddenly about the protesters and not what they’re protesting (even this story). In fact, I’m not convinced that most of them even understood what they were protesting.

On the other hand… I must admit to a certain grudging admiration for these people who deliberately put themselves in harm’s way. I don’t know a lot of people who would be willing to step up and risk a beating or take a face full of pepper spray - not for any cause. I can’t speak for their motives, and I know other demonstrations have resulted in much greater violence and damage, but what I saw on Monday took both courage and self-control.

I can't help but wonder how that courage might be put to more positive and productive use.

This is getting overly long, so I’m going to continue on this subject in a later post - not because I am especially knowledgeable but possibly because I’m not and therefore have somewhat of an outsider’s perspective. I’m mostly just thinking out loud here, so please bear with me.

In the meantime, any constructive comments are more than welcome.

More Photos From the SPP Protest

I have a stack of photos from the weekend in my PhotoBucket now. The first bunch are from Sunday’s rally and march, the rest are from Montebello on Monday. Here are a few of the better ones:


Speakers at the rally on Sunday.


Elizabeth May at the rally. I didn't see any other politicians.


Here’s the kid busted with the spray bomb who I thought was my son.


The U.S. Embassy. Marching past, I couldn’t help wondering how long it will be until Canadian embassies require this level of security to protect them from those who hate us.


The field outside the Montebello fence where they wanted us to have our protest. They even had Porta-Potties for our convenience.

Home Again, Home Again: 1:00 A.M. Tuesday

I'm still processing everything I've seen today (yesterday, I guess), so I'll be saving most of my more coherent thoughts for tomorrow (today), after I've recovered from the six hours I just spent on the road.

For now, I have something to say to Stephen Harper:

Sir, you are an ass.

There were far more than "a couple of hundred" of us at Montebello today. I'm sorry if you found it "sad", but we just wanted to talk to our Prime Minister. You will not meet with us face to face. You will not allow our elected representatives into your meetings with foreign leaders and corporate executives. You won't even allow us to voice our concerns through the parliamentary committee set up to provide some semblance of oversight into the supposedly insignificant machinations of the SPP.

This is all we have left to us.

For now, here are a few photos from the front lines of Montebello:


The Raging Grannys arrive in Montebello. Everything is going to be... ok.


"United We Fall". Glad somebody knows why we're here.


Could they guys look any more like Storm Troopers? Maybe if we painted them white. I cannot tell you how disturbing it is seeing dozens and dozens of these guys lined up along the street in a small Canadian town. They even had then stationed around the cemetery.


Somebody get this man a Zippo! It took a while, but someone finally managed to set an American flag ablaze. Kinda. I'm convinced that they've started making the things out of asbestos.


The front line. My son was itching to get right up there and got downright surly when I wouldn't let him (sorry, kid - I'm still your mom). Still, we were only about 30 feet from the line. Until the first pepper spray incident happened. Then I dragged his ass back another ten feet, complaining all the way.

*******

Tomorrow I'm going to make my first attempt at posting video. Don't hold you're breath, though - I'm still on dial-up here. Maybe Garth can help.

Oh, and Garth? Thanks for the link, but screw you for digging up that photo of me! It was taken ten years and many, many pounds ago, and even then I indulged in a bit of PhotoShopping around the chin.

There's a reason I don't have a photo on my blog profile. Hmph.

*******

Quick edit: This is sheer genius. The acme of awesomeness. Alison RAWKS!!!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Post-March Update: Sunday P.M.

It really has been a while since I've gone to one of these things. I turned up about half an hour early, and there were already tables for the Communist Party, the Marxist-Leninists, CUPE, the Steelworker's Union, the Committee to Free someone whose name I've forgotten (sorry), supporters of U.S. war resistors, and a couple of guys with signs saying "9/11 Was an Inside Job". It was oddly comforting when the Raging Grannies turned up and started singing.

I was a little concerned that I couldn't find the Council of Canadians right away (they turned up later), but I was even more concerned at the number of disparate groups who seemed at least as concerned with pushing their own, often conflicting agendas as they were with fighting the SPP.

I guess this is how it's done now. Maybe it always has and I've just forgotten.

Once the speeches started, I stopped worrying quite as much. The speakers from these various groups all did a marvelous job of explaining exactly how the SPP, the anti-war movement, the anti-poverty movement, workers rights, etc. all tie in. Still, I can help but wonder if all this is getting lost on the media types who seemed to be gravitating towards those whose cause could be more easily summarized in a five second sound bite.

That's the trouble with the SPP and why opposition to it is going to continue to be a tough sell to the general public. It's a complex issue, and one that cannot be summarized in ten words or less. I've had a number of people ask me exactly what I was protesting this weekend, and I can see their eyes starting to glaze over halfway through the preamble. And I'm supposed to be pretty good with words (ok, not so much when I talk).

Focus on water and people say, "But we have lots of water - what's the problem?". Say "SPP = NAFTA + Guns" and you have to explain to the kiddies what NAFTA is and why it's bad. Talk about wage equity and workers' rights and you get dismissed as a socialist. Talk about common currency and continental integration and you are dismissed as an alarmist.

See? It's tough.

I would have really liked to hear what the various speakers had to say on this subject at tonight's forum, but sadly by the time I finally tracked my son down after the march and we figured out how to get back across the Canal, the thing had already started and we were both too dog tired to try to find the hall.

My apologies.

********

Scary Moment of the Day: As the march was wrapping up, a largish group has stopped by the fence, so I went to see what was up. All I could see was a cordon of police officers surrounding someone who was apparently being detained or searched. I spotted the top of the person's head and for about ten seconds I thought it was my son.

It turned out to be a different teenaged boy. The story floating around the crowd, for what it's worth, was that he was arrested for having a can of spray paint in his possession, which he had apparently been using earlier to paint stenciled picket signs. I have no idea if this was true or not, but they put the kid into the back of a police car and took him away with no violence and hardly any shouting.

I can't help but wonder if the dozens and dozens of cops who were dragged out to police this thing felt that they needed to justify their presence at what was, without exception, an extremely peaceful and orderly demonstration.

********

Right now I am tired, sunburned, footsore, and being anti-social as I borrow the use of my hosts' computer. So for tonight, dear friends, adieu.

Dispatch from Ottawa: Sunday A.M.

Arrived safely yesterday. Checked in, went downtown, walked about, had dinner, and spent a lovely boring evening watching TV with my son.

Discovered that our antique laptop is incapable of even the most rudimentary online functions. Am currently posting from an internet cafe.

*********

The trip up was interesting. We had lunch in lovely downtown Havelock, where we at first suspected that it was Cowboy Hat Day at the Subway sandwich place. Then we noticed that most of the customers were wearing cowboy hats. Mostly those cheap straw things, but some had the whole ten gallon deal. Then we noticed that people on the street were also wearing cowboy hats.

After getting thoroughly creeped out and fleeing the town in a blind panic, we spotted a sign announcing that it was the 'Havelock Country Jamboree' this weekend. I'm not sure what that is exactly, but I gather it explains the hats. Except that we also spotted a sign for a local real estate agent who was wearing... a cowboy hat.

Brrrr...

***************

Tip for Travellers: The best way to wake yourself up on a long drive is to try passing a large RV towing a car on a twisting, hilly two-lane highway.

***************

I used to live in Ottawa. For two years, in fact. It's a part of my life that I frequently refer to as 'Purgatory'. It wasn't Ottawa's fault, really. I was just homesick and missing my Toronto friends, but my negative attitude meant that I never really got to appreciate the place.

Being here as a tourist twenty years later, I'm discovering a whole different city. Yesterday I walked up the front steps of Parliament. Believe it or not, it was my first time.

Today's itinerary: Rally on the Hill at 1:00, Council of Canadians Forum at 4:00, then supper at an old friend's.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Enemy of my Enemy... is Still a Nutjob

Dear crazy American right-wingers, racists, xenophobes and One-World conspiracy theorists:

Please, STOP TAKING OUR SIDE!!


That is all.

(Tinfoil H/T to Alison)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Countdown to Montebello


The motel room is reserved, the rental car is booked, and in two days I’ll be hittin’ the road to Ottawa with my fifteen year-old son.

It’s gonna be duelling CDs all the way. Hendrix vs. Lily Allen, White Stripes vs. Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Doors vs. Howlin’ Wolf. Good thing we have some appreciation for each other’s music.

The SPP Summit and the attendant protests have finally surfaced on network news. CTV Newsnet ran a blurb about it yesterday, interviewing a couple of the student organizers in Ottawa, then showing the requisite file footage of assholes throwing large objects through windows in "other protests that turned violent".

Great. That’s helpful. Thanks.

This sort of coverage does nothing to reassure my husband. He’s still convinced that he’s going to have to call my dad for bail money at some point this weekend.

It occurred to me yesterday that this will be my first protest since I marched against Cruise Missile testing on Canadian soil back in the 80s. This illustrates that a) I am really, really old, and b) very little has changed in the past couple of decades. We still have to fight for our sovereignty tooth and nail.

I still believe it’s worth fighting for. Come join us.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

My Six Reasons to Vote For MMP

You may have noticed a new logo on my sidebar:



Like most Ontarians, I had no idea that we had a referendum coming up on adopting a Mixed Member Proportional voting system until I was handed some literature at the Milton Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago.

If you don’t know anything about MMP, please take the time to read about it here.

In essence, it is a system that allows the popular vote to be more accurately reflected in the percentage of MPPs from each party, while still ensuring that each riding is represented by the candidate elected by the majority in that riding.

What this means in practical terms is that, instead of a party with 40% of the popular vote having the power of a majority government and smaller parties like the NDP and the Greens having little or no representation, in most cases you would end up with a minority government forced to form coalitions and work together with a larger number of other parties.

Canadians tend to balk at the idea of minority governments, but the fact is that this country has functioned perfectly well under federal minorities many times throughout its history. We went for most of a decade under Diefenbaker and then Pearson minorities and still managed to get ourselves a snazzy new flag and a pretty damned good healthcare system out of it. Hell, Martin got same-sex marriage through with a minority government.

This is, in fact, how things work in most of Europe, where a lot of countries have some variation of proportional representation. We are only unfamiliar with it here because our two biggest historical role models have always been England and the U.S., and they both still use the old ‘first-past-the-post’ system. And we’ve all seen how well that’s working for the U.S.

There are a whole lot of reasons why I think MMP is a good idea, but these are the particular ones that mean the most to me personally:
1) A stronger voice for minorities. Under the current system, the major parties go for the broadest appeal they can get, and majority rule is frequently absolute. Under MMP, smaller parties can speak for the poor, the environment, women, human rights, cultural and visible minorities, and other people and issues often ignored or marginalized by the major parties. In order for the governing party to govern, they will have to address these issues. And before you bring it up, a party would need at least 3% of the vote to get representation, which would prevent narrow ‘fringe’ parties from filling up the seats.

2) Separate votes for the party and the local representative. If you really like a particular candidate but not his party, or love the party but hate the asshole they have running in your riding, you can have your cake and eat it too.

3) Less mess for the next government to clean up. Can you imagine if Mike Harris had had to work with a minority government? Or Bob Rae? Instead of having their way with us for years and years and letting their successors foot the bill, they would have had to run their more dumbassed ideas past the other parties first. Of course the same would apply to parties and policies you might like, but such is the nature of compromise.

4) More cooperation, less confrontation. Already in this country we are starting to see the same sort of angry, divisive, ‘Red Team vs. Blue Team’ mentality that is slowly destroying democracy in the U.S. I believe that MMP would reverse that trend.

5) On most issues that I personally care about, the Conservatives are generally all on their own against, well, everybody else. Progressives win, conservatives lose - assuming the leader of the NDP doesn't become drunk with power.

(ok, that one sort of contradicts #4)


And finally,

6) Cherniak has come out against MMP. That says it all right there.



ON OCTOBER 10th, VOTE FOR MMP IN ONTARIO!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Getting Things Kinda Done (ok, not so much)

The provincial and territorial premiers finished their little conference and handed in their homework today:
Premiers fail to agree on climate change

Canada's premiers failed to reach agreement on major initiatives to control greenhouse gas emissions, but will move forward on less controversial steps to slow climate change.

The annual premiers' conference ended in Moncton on Friday with the provincial and territorial leaders announcing progress on biofuel development, more study on carbon sinks through tree planting and agriculture, and participation in a climate registry to reliably measure emissions.

They were not able to agree on a cap-and-trade system for greenhouse gases, which could significantly reduce industrial emissions across the country.

As well, there was no agreement on implementing California-style tailpipe emission standards, which Ontario says can only be done as part of a continental initiative and with financial support from the federal government.

I see. So, instead of actually reducing greenhouse gases, they’ve all agreed to

a) read up on how photosynthesis works,
b) accurately measure how much CO2 we’re actually spewing, and
c) go right ahead with one of the few alternative energy sources that is as bad or worse than fossil fuels for emitting greenhouse gases, and worse still when the crops are grown in a temperate / northern climate like, say, CANADA.

Well done, boys. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

This Thing of Ours

I recently finished reading Al Gore’s new book, ‘The Assault on Reason’. In addition to being a comprehensive and devastating critique of the Bush administration, the book has some fascinating things to say about the media’s role in American democracy throughout its history.

As Canadians, we tend to tune out when Americans start going on and on about their vaunted democracy. Most of them talk like they invented the thing, or at least perfected it, and treat their Constitution like holy writ brought down from the mountain by the Founding Fathers - intact, eternal, and inviolate.

Gore has a somewhat firmer grasp of his country’s constitutional history. He quotes extensively from essays, letters and pamphlets written by Jefferson, Madison, Paine and others as they went through the lengthy, contentious, and public process of building a nation. Perhaps most importantly, he talks about why this process of political discussion and debate by ordinary people was considered so vital to a healthy democracy that the founding fathers went to great lengths to ensure that it continued:

"Our Founders knew all about the Roman forum, and the agora in ancient Athens. They also understood quite well that in America, our public forum would be an ongoing conversation about democracy in which individual citizens would participate most commonly by communicating with their fellow citizens over great distances by means of the printed word. The Founders placed particular emphasis on ensuring that the public could be well informed, and took great care to protect the openness of the marketplace of ideas so that knowledge could flow freely."


The marketplace of ideas. I like that a lot. He goes on to define it:
"1. It was open to every individual, with no barriers to entry save the necessity of literacy. This access, it is crucial to add, applied not only to the receipt of information but also to the ability to contribute information directly into the flow of ideas that was available to all.

2. The fate of ideas contributed by individuals depended, for the most part, on an emergent meritocracy of ideas. Those judged by the market to be good rose to the top, regardless of the wealth or class of the individual responsible for them.

3. The accepted rules of discourse presumed that the participants were all governed by an unspoken duty to search for general agreement. That is what a "conversation of democracy" is all about."

Gore then discusses the transition from print to television as our primary source of news over the past 50 years. He makes the same point that McLuhan and many others have made - that television is a one-way medium that is practically and financially inaccessible to most people - but then goes on to detail the devastating effect this shift has had on democracy and public political dialogue.

This thing of ours is supposed to change all that. Assuming the powers that be don't mainstream it to death first.

You can tell that blogging, YouTube and other tools of this brave new world have finally come of age by the number of politicians and mainstream media outlets who are now clamouring to co-opt them for their own purposes. In doing so they are, of course, missing the whole point.

The U.S. Democratic candidates seem particularly anxious to jump on the ‘netroots’ bandwagon, while the Republicans seem to be mainly concerned with hiding so they can avoid more ‘Macaca’ moments. Candidates everywhere are hiring ‘official bloggers’, which is an oxymoron if I ever heard one. CNN’s recent ‘YouTube Debate’ was hailed as a triumph for digital democracy, although the whole thing looked more like a demonstration sport than a legitimate public forum. In fact, it kinda reminded me of those tour buses they used to run through the Haight-Ashbury.

Still, it got people interested.

The problem with all of these attempts to mainstream the phenomena, and why almost all fail to live up to the ideals described by Gore, is that there is always great effort expended by the politicians and mainstream media to control the message. CNN carefully combed through the hundreds of YouTube questions submitted, selecting only those deemed sufficiently ‘serious’ - and presumably not too embarrassing to the candidates. Candidates set up websites with ‘blogs’ that are nothing more than recycled press releases, often written by staffers, and rarely allowing comments lest some crazy person say something negative.

The real revolution is still being played out through grassroots political blogging sites like The Galloping Beaver, Progressive Bloggers, and Daily Kos. The trouble there is that, unfortunately, we are still largely talking amongst ourselves. Comments on liberal blogs are made almost exclusively by other liberal bloggers, and the reverse is even more true on the conservative side. The politicians are starting to listen for at least the duration of their election campaigns, but a meaningful, ongoing dialogue with one's political representative is still a rare thing. Especially when the only place for that dialogue is the politician's own website.

Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro‘s site is a prime example. It's one of only a very few politician-run blogs in this country, but let's face it - calling this a blog is an insult to bloggers everywhere. John Tory’s new site is marginally better in that it allows comments, but it still reads like a collection of talking points from his campaign office.

Compare these sites with Garth Turner’s blog and you’ll see what I mean. Regardless of what you may think of Turner’s personality or politics (before or after), the guy knows how to run a website. He should. He’s been doing this for three years now - long before most politicians had ever heard of ‘blogging’.

He also might be the first politician ever kicked out of his own party because of his blog.



Yes, he posts a lot of attacks on Harper and Flaherty (can you blame him?), but he also writes extensively on issues like taxation, education, SPP, native land claims, the environment, and whatever else sparks his interest - often inspired by news of the day and occasionally in response to comments from his readers. He also gives some fascinating glimpses into Life on the Hill. At one point he did a series of MPTV interviews with the Parliament Hill historian, including one explaining why the lion at the foot of the Victoria statue is missing his junk. Another post answers the burning question, "How do the pages know when the Speaker stands since they have their backs to him?"

The most interesting, and often maddening, aspect of Turner’s blog is the comments. Peruse if you dare the 50 to 100+ comments attached to each and every post he makes and you will see exactly why most politician’s blogs don’t allow comments.

The debate here is even more vigorous than on most political blogs because there is more or less equal representation from the left, right and centre. This is probably due to Turner’s transformation from lifelong PC to independent to reluctant Liberal this year, leaving a lot of his original Conservative readers spitting mad and yet unwilling to just walk away. Some are simply CPC trolls and are generally ignored, but others have genuinely intelligent arguments to make and keep the rest of us from becoming too smug.

To me, this is what digital democracy can be and should be. It’s messy. It’s loud. There’s a lot of shouting and petulance and "Yeah, well, you’re an asshole!" arguments. But in between all that there is some surprisingly sophisticated political and social debate going on. Take for example this recent discussion about public funding of religious schools. Or the debate on consumption-based vs. income-based taxation (I'd say Garth lost that one).

I'm not claiming that Garth Turner is going to save democracy. At least not until he gets off of that stupid flat tax idea. But his blog is the best example (really, the only example) I can find of an open, largely unmoderated political forum that a) has active participation by a large number of ordinary people from across the political spectrum and across the country, and b) is facilitated by, but not controlled by, an elected representative who actively participates in the discussion.

This is what Gore is talking about. This is the ‘conversation of democracy’.

In the end, the importance of Garth Turner’s blog has less to do with Garth Turner and more to do with access, ideas, and engaging ordinary Canadians in the political process.

I’m certainly engaged.

Phooey

Ever since Bourque went completely off the deep end, I've been getting my Canadian news headlines from The Daily Canuck. It has its own liberal / green bias, but its not especially blatant and I'm not all that interested in reading The National Post anyway.

Today I read this:
Thank you for your interest in the Daily Canuck. Our blog has been replaced by My Green Element, a comprehensive news service and blog. You will be directed there shortly and we hope you enjoy it.


The re-direct leads to the following 'comprehensive' list of headlines:
- Plastic bottle recycling is a dying dream
- Merrill Lynch offers new energy efficiency index
- World's first carbon-free city
- BP, Powerspan team to develop CO2 capture technologies
- Floods find India wanting as climate change looms
- US should consider gas tax: Ford chief
- Motorcycle burns veggie oil and rubber
- NYC storm leaves mess, and questions
- Australian PM tips climate change progress at APEC
- Florida losses could hit $1 billion from drought

Sigh.

So now I'm in the market for a new Canadian news aggregator. National Newswatch looks pretty good. Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

The Squee! Factor

As of today, I have been officially welcomed into the ranks of Progressive Bloggers. As if that wasn't enough, Scott Tribe hisself gave me a personal promo:
I'm especially pleased to see Runesmith's Canadian Content apply and become a member. That's been a very good blog that deserves more publicity.

My husband is laughing at me right now as I make my little Wallace & Gromit 'squee/cheese' hand gesture in response.

It's a strange, strange world we bloggers live in. I luv it!

I just hope they can learn to live with my monthly, non-political movie reviews.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Mad Rantings

I can't quite believe what I'm hearing. The owner of that coal mine in Utah where the miners are trapped is holding a press conference right now, and he's very upset.

Or maybe he's drunk.

Instead of talking about the miners and the rescue efforts, he started ranting about how 'Global Warming legislation' is trying to kill his industry, and how this will inevitably result in electricity prices going through the roof, to the point where poor people won't be able to afford power.

WTF?!?

I can understand him being upset. I can understand his frustration at what he considers inaccurate information being reported in the media. I can understand him getting pissed off at the media helicopters buzzing the site and making it hard for the reporters to hear. I can even understand him rambling incoherently from topic to topic, sleepless and distracted as he must be with worry over the miners.

What I don't understand is why the Board of Directors hasn't hauled out a big hook to drag him away from the microphones.

Ah. Now he's attacking the media for talking to representatives of the miner's union critical of the mines operations. Not just in general terms, either - he's naming specific reporters and union leaders, who he just referred to as "lackeys for the United Mine Workers Union".

The Health and Safety official is trying to talk now, but the owner keeps pushing him aside to rant some more.

Wow.

Friday, August 3, 2007

I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry

I expected ‘Chuck & Larry’ to be offensive to gay people, but I obviously underestimated its scope and ambition. In fact, the film manages to be equally offensive to women, Asians, firefighters, the morbidly obese, children who enjoy musical theatre, and possibly the dead.

To be fair, once the movie runs out of all the obvious gay jokes, the second half makes a decent attempt at humanizing the main characters and making some sort of statement for tolerance. The relationship between Sandler and Biel is sweet, although it seemed to me that ‘Tootsie’ had already covered the same ground with far more humour and grace. And with no breast fondling involved.

If ‘Chuck & Larry’ had actually been funny, I might have forgiven most of its sins. Sadly, your average twelve year old boy has a more sophisticated sense of humour that the writers of this mess. I’ll give it two stars out of five.

(not surprisingly, Murray loved this one. You can read his cogent analysis here.)