Thursday, January 31, 2008

I Want a ZENN!

I'm not sure why, but I seem to have developed a reputation as some sort of environmentalist in this town. People invite me to join eco-friendly Facebook groups and hand me business cards for naturopaths and organic food distributors all the time. It might have been this letter I wrote to the Champion a while back, or my attendance at Turner's little 'EcoSummit' last year. Or maybe it's just my general leftist tendencies in this largely centre-right rural town.

I assure you, this green reputation is entirely unwarranted.

Ok, so I bitch a lot about urban sprawl (who doesn't?), I've scolded the produce manager at the Loblaw's for mis-labelling Mexican peppers as 'Product of Canada', and I've taken to riding my bike everywhere I can. But that's mostly for the exercise. And not in the winter. And I'm lazy.

The sad fact is, this is my ride:

(ok, not mine per se - mine isn't that clean)

Now before you start wagging your finger at me, you should know that my husband and I are both self-employed, and my husband's business (and mine up until a year ago) involves transporting large bins of saleable goods, tents, tables and display units to various trade shows, conventions and film locations. We need a van - specifically a van that can take a 4' x 8' sheet of plywood.

Unfortunately we can't afford to buy and maintain a second, smaller vehicle right now, and Milton is currently in the process of moving every grocery store, hardware store and office supply store to the outer reaches of our universe. So it's either drive our gas-guzzling behemoth on short trips around town, or get ourselves a bicycle with a motor, a roof, a heater and a REALLY big basket.

Or we could get us one of these instead:

Dear Mr. McGuinty: I really, REALLY want a ZENN. Please approve them immediately. It's electric, it's affordable, and it's Canadian. It's a no-brainer. I don't give a crap if I can't take it on the highway - we have the van for that.

Admittedly, I would be happier if their top speed was 50 kph instead of 40 kph. After all, my street is 50 kph (40 by the school), and already I get assholes honking at me and trying to pass when I insist on adhering to the speed limit. Still, I'd be willing to put up with it if I could just buy my groceries without either getting soaked in the rain on my bike or being overwhelmed with eco-guilt for killing my grandchildren.

So here is my pledge: When the ZENN becomes available in Ontario, and assuming it stays somewhere within the $12,000 price range, I WILL BUY ONE.

I'm getting conflicting reports as to whether the speed limitations of the ZENN are due to the battery technology or a quirk of the licensing regulations in the U.S., but I have the impression that a 10 kph bump is do-able at some point in the future.

In the meantime, I could just get myself a new bumper sticker.

The Bitter Truth

I just ran across this thoughtful piece by Frances Russell of the Winnipeg Free Press. It's ostensibly about the Manley Report, but it's really about the shifting political landscape in North America.

Get ready for a bracing splash of perspective (and my apologies for quoting at such length).

CANADIANS watch hopefully as the exciting, even transformational, U.S. presidential race unfolds. Then they watch despairingly as their politics stagnate in a slough of thuggery, ineptitude and opportunism.

A Harris-Decima poll released earlier this month found that 61 per cent of Canadians would choose a Democrat to win the White House compared to just 12 per cent who would pick a Republican.

These numbers, and a steady stream of polls showing Canadians want our combat role in Afghanistan to end in 2009, should be a warning to Conservatives and Liberals to choose their positions carefully as they address the report by the so-called "blue ribbon" panel on the future of the Afghanistan mission.

...Harper's Achilles heel with voters is a partisanship so intense it borders on thuggery. It appears Harper chose Manley for two reasons: to preordain the outcome (Canadians shouldn't forget that it was Manley who got Canada into Afghanistan in 2001) but chiefly, to sow discord in Liberal ranks.

It's not difficult to sow discord among Liberals. They're doing an excellent job themselves. Ideological parties have the glue of their core beliefs to hold them together in opposition and in power. But the only glue "mushy middle" parties like Canada's Liberals have is power itself. In a nation where two-thirds of the electorate leans to the centre-left, the Liberals' winning formula has always been to tilt to the left.

But the 1993 post-Mulroney political meltdown robbed the Liberals of most of their left wing. Arising from the ashes of Mulroney's doomed Quebec-Alberta axis, the Bloc Québécois deprived the party of Wilfrid Laurier and Pierre Trudeau of much of its leftist oxygen. Previously, the Liberals could always count on a large contingent of progressive Quebec MPs to counter the more right-wing, "business" Liberals from rural Ontario and the Maritimes.

The preponderance of business Liberals during the Jean Chrétien years was muffled by the leftish populism of the prime minister himself. But his successor, Paul Martin, was the best-known business Liberal of them all. The combination of Martin, the right's reunion and the sponsorship scandal dispatched the party to opposition in 2005. It immediately embarked on a debilitating 10-month leadership race won by the candidate who began the convention with just 16 per cent of the delegates.


I hate to admit it, but I think she might be spot on. Her analysis of the devolution of the Liberal Party in the post-Trudeau years and their backwards slide into the pro-corporate, America-centric Liberal Party of the 40s and 50s is upsetting, and yet essentially correct.

The schism between what Russell terms the "business Liberals" and the party's left wing is precisely mirrored in the Democratic party in the U.S. Thing is, the Democrats finally seem to be giving up on the centrist 'Blue Dog' appeasement strategy epitomized by the likes of Joe Lieberman and (to a lesser extent) the Clintons.

Instead, they appear to be flocking to the left - or at least as far left as Americans are capable of - in their embrace of the Kennedy-esque Obama and Edwards. Unfortunately, it took nearly eight long years of war, fiscal incompetence, ballooning debt and the near dismantling of American democracy to get them to this point. And even now, the final victory over Right-wing Republican menace is far from assured.

(seriously, you'd think the Democrats could nominate a HEAD OF CABBAGE to run for president and still beat the Republicans at this point - but apparently not.)

After all this time, I'm still not sure where Dion stands in this trend. Is he part of the same school of progressive, left-leaning Quebec intellectuals as Trudeau and his father, Leon Dion? Or is he more of a Martin-style, centrist Liberal, socially progressive but less concerned with Canada's economic sovereignty than with where the TSX closed? I know Dion talks a good game for social justice and the environment, but does he truly understand what it's going to take to go up against corporate interests to make those ideals a reality? And does he have the stones to go through with it?

Russell has some thoughts on election strategy and timing as well, via Lorne Nystrom.

Earlier this month, longtime NDP MP Lorne Nystrom sketched out Jack Layton's strategy -- the same strategy the NDP leader used in 2006 and Ed Broadbent employed in the 1988 free trade election: first, kill the Liberals. Nystrom told The Globe and Mail New Democrats are pushing for an early election to force the Liberals to abstain on confidence votes, making Dion look like a weak leader.

"If the economy gets worse and the election isn't held until fall and there's an anti-Conservative mood in the country, then usually what happens is people seek the largest alternative party which is the Liberals... If you have an early election, it may be too soon for the Liberals and work to the NDP's advantage," Nystrom said.

I'm not sure I agree entirely - among other things, Nystrom is forgetting the huge numbers of disaffected Cons who seem to be be fleeing to the Green Party as the least revolting alternative.

Besides, is it really going to take another six months, or twelve months, or two years of Stephen Harper making enough of a hash of things for Canadians to wake up and do away with him once and for all? I hope not, but if it will end up purging the Conservatives of the right-wing neo-liberal pseudo-Republicans who have taken over the party, then so be it.

I just hope the damage can be repaired afterwards.


(And BTW, if you think I've been on a major blogging bender over the past couple of days, you're probably right. The DH is out of town all week and now I'm down with the same cold he and the boi have infected me with. WTF else am I going to do?)

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Ask And You Shall Receive

I love my MP.

To: Garth Turner
From: Jennifer Smith
Subject: Harper redecorating the Government lobby?

Lordy, lordy - read this.

Is this new, or had Harper already replaced all these pictures with his own when you were on the other side? And what are the odds of you sneaking in there with a camera tomorrow? Enquiring minds at The Galloping Beaver want to know. As do I.

I honestly didn't expect him to do it. After all, security is pretty tight back there and according to the Ottawa Citizen article, only current Conservative Party Members are usually allowed in.

Still, this is Garth Turner. As another Canadian has famously said, what other kind of shenanigans could he get into?

A few minutes ago I got this:

Subject: Re: Harper redecorating the Government lobby?



And I thought, holy crap, he didn't really do it, did he?

Yes. Yes he did. And he's put it all up on his blog.

Let me count the ways…

Running beside the House of Commons, on each side of that historic chamber, are two equally historic rooms. We call them the ‘lobbies’ – one, to the right of the Speaker, reserved for government MPs, and the other for members of the opposition. Stone-walled and normally bristling with activity, these rooms are a living part of Canadian history – and for the years I’ve been in Parliament, have been graced with the photos of former prime ministers.

But, no more. At least not the government lobby – a piece of public real estate which has suddenly been turned into a portrait gallery for one man. Our dear leader. Stephen Harper.

And there's a lot more where that came from, plus a picture of the corresponding Opposition lobby for comparison.

Ok, so I don't really think he went back there and took those pictures just because I dared asked him to. Still, how cool is that?

(UPDATE: And then the pictures came down.)

Meet Dave

I am not a military person. I do not come from a military family. I therefore have no basis on which to form an opinion about anything to do with the military, aside from a general feeling that war is bad. So whenever I want an informed, rational, detailed analysis of military-related news, I turn to Dave over at The Galloping Beaver.

Dave is different from most people who blog about the military and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq because he actually spent his career in the armed forces as a sailor and a marine. Unlike most military and ex-military pundits, however, his support of the troops goes beyond mere boosterism and cries of "Support the mission at all costs!" Instead, he questions the underlying assumptions of both the military and civilians, he calls bullshit when he sees it, and then he explains exactly when and how we are being fed a great steaming pile by those who we assume know better than us about these things.

Here is what Dave had to say today:
So Harper, gushing all over the Manley Report, (Didn't we he do a lovely job on that!), tells us that he is pretty firm on the idea that Canadian expeditionary forces in Afghanistan need to have helicopters and surveillance drones as one of the conditions for keeping a Canadian combat force in Afghanistan.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper twice said yesterday that crucial new helicopters and drones for the troops in Afghanistan are "on order."

However, government officials later said the Prime Minister jumped the gun and that they are still trying to find the best way to obtain the equipment quickly.

Yes, Harper did say that. And he's a fucking liar.

He then goes on to explain exactly how you too can verify the status of these mythical helicopter and drone orders through the Canadian Forces’ own website.

And then he explains why we don’t have cargo helicopters anymore (Mulroney sold them to the Dutch) and why we could have some tomorrow if we really wanted to by buying used ones cheap from the Americans.

And then he reminds us of what the media and the bloggers seem to be overlooking in all this: that the overriding reason why we need these cargo helicopters YESTERDAY is so our guys can fly above the IEDs instead of repeatedly driving over them and getting blown up.

Dave is awesome. Dave is my guru. Keep up the good work, sailor.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Linda Keen's Testimony

Linda Keen finally appeared before the Commons Committee today, and essentially shredded every single argument the government had raised to justify her removal as president of the CNSC.

Here is her testimony.

Some important points she clarified:
1) It was AECL and NOT the CNSC who decided to extend the shutdown of the Chalk River facility once it was discovered that the required safety upgrades had not been made. Just like I've been saying. This point has been consistently misrepresented by the media and the government, and even by Gary Lunn who should have known better. Yes, she said the CNSC would have extended the shutdown anyway, but the point is that AECL recognized that there was a serious problem and that the extended shutdown was absolutely necessary.

2) The risks to the health and safety of Canadians as a result of continuing to run the reactor without the safety upgrades were NOT negligible, as the government has repeatedly implied. They were, in fact, 1,000 times greater than the level of risk recognized by international standards as being the minimum acceptable for a nuclear facility.

3) The impact on health and safety of a shortage of medical isotopes that may (or may not) have resulted from the shutdown of Chalk River was NOT taken into consideration because such considerations are NOT, repeat NOT covered under the mandate of the CNSC. Her proof? The fact that the government found it necessary to add the consideration of these consequences to the CNSC's mandate after the 'crisis'.

(my take on this is that it would be like requiring a health inspector to consider the risk of neighbourhood kids going hungry when deciding whether or not to shut down a rat-infested grocery store.)

4) Despite this, the CNSC was NOT oblivious to the effects of a potential medical isotope shortage. Which is why it took a VERY pro-active approach in expediting both the re-start of the Chalk River reactor and the approval of alternate isotopes for its licensees. As she put it, she and the panel were "available 24-7" to facilitate the resumption of normal operations and isotope availability.

5) Neither Ms. Keen nor the CNSC had any issue with Parliament passing Bill C-38 mandating the restart of the Chalk River reactor. Parliament had a duty to balance the risk of a nuclear accident against the risks to those affected by the shortage of medical isotopes because that is their job. It is NOT the job of the AECL. The AECL is there specifically to assess the risks associated with the operation of nuclear facilities - NOT their shutdown.

I didn't catch Two Tier Tony's testimony, but I can only assume it precisely mirrored Lunn's and the Party line.

The worst part of all this is not Keen's dismissal, nor the blatant interference of a minister with an independent quasi-judicial body, although these are disturbing enough. The REALLY disturbing part is that this is just part of an ongoing, systematic purge of the civil service by the Harper government. Remember when he said that we didn't have to be afraid because there were enough Liberal-appointed judges and career bureaucrats in place to keep the Cons in check? Well, not so much any more.

Linda Keen - CNSC president.
Arthur Carty - science adviser.
Jean-Pierre Kingsley - chief electoral officer.
Marc Mayrand - chief electoral officer.
Johanne Gelinas - environment commissioner.
Bernard Shapiro - ethics commissioner.
Adrian Measner - wheat board president

All senior bureaucrats. All appointed by a Liberal government. All either fired, 'encouraged to resign', marginalized or on the chopping block.

(I'm sure this list is incomplete - feel free to fill it out.)

(UPDATE: Oh dear. We might just have to add Information Commissioner Robert Marleau to that list pretty soon.)

I keep thinking about that movie, 'Pacific Heights'. Michael Keaton plays a somewhat psychotic but seemingly trustworthy con man who rents a ground floor apartment from a young Yuppie couple, and then proceeds to dismantle and destroy the place. He never pays any rent, he ends up suing them when the hubby loses it - and all the while he convincingly feigns complete innocence.

I wonder - even if the Liberals win the next election, who will be left of those who actually keep the country running?

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Last King of Canada

Ok, this is just creepy.

According to Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, someone has been doing a little redecorating in the House of Commons - specifically in the area behind those curtains behind the government’s MP seats known as the ‘government lobby’ (there’s a corresponding ‘opposition lobby’ on the other side).

This area is usually restricted to MPs, guest speakers, policy advisers and (presumably) lobbyists, and May has been back there a few times over the years under various governments. The walls used to be decorated with an assortment of photos and paintings of landscapes, the Queen and past Prime Ministers.

Today, every one of those pictures has been replaced. I’ll give you one guess.
Every available wall space had a large colour photo of Stephen Harper. Stephen Harper at Alert. Stephen Harper in fire fighter gear. Stephen Harper at his desk. Stephen Harper meeting the Dalai Lama. Even the photo of the Queen showed her in the company of Stephen Harper. None were great photos. None were more than enlarged snapshots in colour. They didn’t feel like art.

The student with me said it was the same in Langevin Block, the Prime ministers Office. Photos of Stephen Harper everywhere.

She describes the sight as leaving her "chilled to the bone".

Me too.

(H/T to Kady O'Malley)


UPDATE: The Ottawa Citizen (bless 'em) has picked up this story. They have reactions from various MPs, but failed to get an official comment: "A press aide to Mr. Harper said he would get back with an explanation, but didn't."

Quel surprise.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Manley on 'Cross Country Checkup': Ooooh! Let's Call In!!

John Manley is going to be on 'Cross Country Checkup'* on CBC 1 this afternoon, 4:00 EST, 1:00 Pacific.

I think everyone who has been blogging about the Manley Report this week should call in and ask him why he plagiarized his own earlier article, or why there was absolutely no mention of detainees in his report, or one of the other hundred or so questions nobody on television has dared ask him to his face.

The man has some serious splainin' to do, and I for one would like to hear his answers to some real questions, preferably unfiltered by the MSM or his PMO handlers.

The toll free number to call is 1-888-416-8333. That's 1-888-416-8333. We can call it a Radio Blogswarm!

* and the first time I posted this I 'misspoke' and called it 'As It Happens', because, well... I'm a dope.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Trudeau and Obama: The View from the National Post

So it's not just me. Apparently Robert Fulford over at the National Post (of all places) has also picked up on some of the parallels between Trudeau and Barack Obama.
The Democrats' Trudeau?

... Like Trudeau, Obama seemed almost to come from nowhere: One day he was hardly known, the next he was a tidal wave. Like Trudeau in 1968, he stands for "change," which means anything you want it to. He appeals, as Trudeau did, to citizens who have lived through a time of fractious partisanship and yearn for a new era, with fresh energy and fresh optimism.

In the context of national politics, Obama looks young, as Trudeau did. Trudeau was 48 when he became prime minister; Obama will be 47 at his inauguration next winter, if it takes place. Both of them taught in law schools, showing a particular interest in constitutional law. Both have been called thoughtful, exceptionally smart and charismatic. Neither came with experience in large-scale administration.

He doesn't really indicate whether he thinks this is a good thing or not, but I was amused that he mentions a lot of the same points I made back here. To which I would add something that Fulford touches on but doesn't really explore:

Obama had a white mother and a black father.
Trudeau had an Anglo mother and a Francophone father.

From what I understand, being half French in Canada back then was about the equivalent of being half black in America today. On top of cultural prejudice on both sides, Trudeau was distrusted by the Quebecois because he was too connected to the Anglo establishment, and dismissed by the English for being too focused on Quebec issues.

Sound familiar?

Trudeau pretty much failed to use his bi-lingual and bi-cultural background as a bridge between Canada's two solitudes. His bitterness over seeing so many of his friends getting caught up in the Separatist movement, which he considered a colossal waste of time, resources and intellect, expressed itself in an attitude of anger, stubbornness and frustration that damaged English-French relations even as he tried to reconcile them.

Obama doesn't seem to have the same bitterness, so here's hoping he has a little more success in his bridge building efforts than Trudeau.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Science, Schmience

Here we go again. Not only has Harper done away with yet another senior bureaucrat Liberal hack - he has eliminated his position altogether.

I suppose it's just as well. Harper had already moved the National Science Advisor from the Privy Council Office (where he might have actually had to listen to the guy) to a storage closet in the basement of Industry Canada from where he was permitted to advise the Prime Minister on vital science issues through a pair of soup cans and a string.

Bob McDonald of CBC's 'Quirks & Quarks' has something to say about all this:

No science in the PM’s ear: Canada dismisses National Science Adviser at its peril

The one scientist in this country who had direct access to the Prime Minister is being dismissed. Canada’s National Science Adviser, Dr. Arthur Carty, was appointed by former Prime Minister Paul Martin to provide expert advice on the government’s role in matters of science and science policy. Now, less than four years after the position was created, the Harper government feels that it’s no longer necessary.

The National Science Adviser is a voice of reason to the government over actions it should take on issues such as climate change, genetically modified foods, managing fisheries, sustaining the environment - any time the politicians need to be educated on the basic science behind those often controversial issues. Of course, decisions are seldom made for purely scientific reasons; all too often, the interests of industry, special interest groups or a misinformed public will cloud the scientific truth. The Adviser’s job is to provide clarity and perspective.

Dr. Carty is extremely well qualified for this position. He was president of the National Research Council for 10 years and a prominent professor at Waterloo University for 27 years, among other accomplishments.

Eliminating the National Science Adviser is the latest in a string of events showing how our current government, at least at the top level, does not seem to be interested in the scientific perspective.

He then goes on to explain exactly why the role of Science Advisor is so vital as a counter-balance to the corporate interests and hysterical ideologies that threaten to overwhelm the public agenda.

Go. Read.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Environment Has Been Redacted

While most of the Big Dogs in the U.S. blogosphere are busy obsessing over polls and primaries, some folks at Talking Points Memo Muckraker are actually following the drama currently being played out in the Senate environmental committee.

This is all over the EPA’s decision to refuse to allow California to impose its own, tougher greenhouse gas emission standards last December. In case you missed it, California had applied for a waiver allowing them to impose stricter GHG emission standards, and by extension fuel efficiency standards, than those which applied to the rest of the country (the ‘waiver’ procedure is part of the fine print in the Clean Air Act). Such EPA waivers have always been granted to California because it is recognized that their unique geography and insane number of cars on the road require extraordinary measures when it comes to reducing air pollution.

EPA staff unanimously agreed that the waiver should be granted in this case, but much to their surprise their boss, Bush appointee Stephen Johnson went against their recommendations and announced that he would be denying California’s request, tying it all neatly into Bush’s new energy bill in a rather self-congratulatory press release:
America Receives a National Solution for Vehicle Greenhouse Gas Emissions

(Washington, D.C. – December 19, 2007) The Bush Administration is moving forward with a national solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from American vehicles. The new energy legislation passed by Congress and signed by President Bush this week provides a federal fuel economy standard that offers environmental benefits, energy security and economic certainty for the nation.

"The Bush Administration is moving forward with a clear national solution – not a confusing patchwork of state rules – to reduce America’s climate footprint from vehicles," said U.S. EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. "President Bush and Congress have set the bar high, and, when fully implemented, our federal fuel economy standard will achieve significant benefits by applying to all 50 states."

Ah, yes - there’s that "patchwork" word again.

Johnson is being called up on the carpet by the Senate environmental committee, who want him to not only explain how he arrived at this bizarre decision, but to justify his going against the unanimous recommendations of his staff. This of course would require an actual copy of the staff’s recommendations, which the EPA has been loathe to provide. They even came up with a variation of the ‘executive privilege’ excuse after they handed over a stack of papers that were completely blank except for the titles. Everything else, said Johnson, would cause "needless public confusion about the Administrator’s decision that EPA will be denying California’s request"

You’d think this was the Department of Defense and not the EPA.

Johnson finally agreed to let Senate committee members have a peek at the unredacted documents - but only if the documents weren’t photocopied or removed from the EPA offices. So Sen. Boxer and her staff went on a little field trip, only to discover that the documents had been almost completely covered over with white tape.

Boxer is pissed. Today she tore a strip out of Johnson, confronting him with a rather large ball of white tape:

What she and the committee found under all that tape were facts and conclusions that completely contradict the arguments put forward by Johnson, as well as predictions that a denial decision would result in a lawsuit that the EPA would likely lose.

And so it has.

Something to keep in mind if Flaherty and Baird ever try to actively prevent Quebec and other provinces from implementing their own California-type standards.


"Rather than wait for litigation to reach its preordained conclusion, Senate environmental committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has introduced a bill that would overrule EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson and instruct him to grant California's waiver."

Barbara Boxer is my hero.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Manley Report: Is There an Echo In Here?

It seems the Conservatives really are serious about the environment: they're even recycling their own reports!

In case you haven't caught this one already, The Scott Ross has done an extraordinary job uncovering an article John Manley wrote for 'Policy Options' last October - before he was asked to head the Independent Panel on Afghanistan.

As it turns out, not only are the observations and conclusions in the 'Manley Report' virtually unchanged from those of the earlier article, there are actually entire paragraphs duplicated verbatim:
On page 4 of the Manley Report it states:
Whenever we asked Afghans what they thought ISAF or Canada should do, there was never any hesitation: “We want you to stay; we need you to stay.” Without the presence of the international security forces, they said, chaos would surely ensue.

Now compare that to what John Manley wrote three months ago, on page 12 in Policy Options:
Whenever we asked Afghans what they thought ISAF or Canada should do, they did not hesitate to say that we must stay. Without the presence of the international forces, chaos would surely ensue.

This plagiarism not only leaves me wondering why Manley would do this, but also wondering did the Panel ever ask Afghans what they thought ISAF or Canada should do? Or was that just something John Manley had done for his Journal article, and re-wrote almost word for word for the Report?

Kinda like taking a history essay you wrote in Grade 9 and handing it in again in Grade 10.

I'm not even going to get into all the many, many ways this is wrong - I'll just going to point you in the direction of The Scott Ross and Dave at the Beaver and let them explain it all for you.

Good work, gentlemen. Carry on.

Meanwhile, I've sent a Blog Alert to Garth Turner. Let's see if he bites, or if this is just going to pass unnoticed by the pols, the public and the MSM.

Strombo on Frum

I finally got around to checking out George's interview with David Frum on "The Hour" from last night online.

I literally grew up across the street from this asshole, so I take a personal exception to the fact that he's transformed himself into a creepy right-wing Republi-con collaborator.

And yet, the impression I have from this interview is that he has grown... disenchanted with the direction the Republican Party has taken over the last seven years or so. In fact, he seems to be under the impression that the Democrats are poised for the kind of major route that hasn't been seen since Johnson's victory 1964. And he doesn't seem all that upset about it.



And in other news...

Shorter Dalton McGuinty: "Everything will be ok if we just buy more fridges!"

Coincidentally, my grandfather ran a company that made fridges back in the 50s and 60s. Here's what he had to say about manufacturing and free trade way back when.

Monday, January 21, 2008

"Power Trip"

Someone posted a link to this kick-ass video over at Garth's blog:

The video montage is by Braeden Caley, and the music is by Baba Brinkman - a very talented young man with a Masters in English Lit. who, among other things, does a Rap version of Chaucer's 'Canterbury Tales'.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kennedy, Kennedy, Trudeau and Obama: The View From the Cheap Seats

"When people stop being afraid, they rediscover their compassion"
- from the film ‘Amazing Grace’

There’s something different about this year’s Democratic leadership race in the U.S.

Maybe it’s the sense of urgency surrounding the Iraq War and the worsening U.S. economy. Maybe it’s the happy prospect of America finally electing either its first female or first black president. Maybe it’s relief at emerging from eight long years of Bush and Cheney’s dangerous incompetence and ruthless abuse of power.

For me, the fascination lies in the potential for real change. Not just a change in political regime, or ‘change’ as a campaign buzzword, but the kind of profound social and political transformation that neither of our countries has seen in over 40 years. The kind of change I have read about but was too young to remember.

I am a Trudeau girl. I was only four when Pierre Elliott Trudeau became Prime Minister and twenty when he finally retired, so the Canada I grew up in was, to a great extent, his Canada. Not all Canadians share my admiration for Trudeau (many in Alberta would happily piss on his grave), but no one can deny that he changed our country in some very fundamental ways. My admiration has only been reinforced by a biography I just finished reading that covers the years from his birth in 1919 to his election as Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister in 1968.

1968 was a pivotal year for many countries. In Canada, it marked a convergence of the social transformations that had been occurring for much of the past decade with the election of a leader and a party with the political will to translate those changes into concrete social and economic policy.

In the U.S., a similar convergence was happening with the candidacy of Robert Kennedy. Although his brother John was often, and maybe wrongly, credited with sparking the revolutionary social changes that had been sweeping the country, it was Robert who showed the most passion and the most potential to make those changes a permanent part of public policy and the political establishment.

That potential was snuffed out by Robert Kennedy’s assassination, just three weeks before Trudeau’s election as Prime Minister.

I am a romantic at heart, and I confess to a certain idealism when it comes to Trudeau and RFK. I think of Trudeau as being responsible for everything I love about my country, although it was actually his predecessor who brought in Medicare and started the ball rolling on a number of other key progressive initiatives. Similarly, I think of Robert Kennedy as the man who could have saved America, although it’s entirely possible that he would have lost his party’s nomination and the U.S. would have been stuck with Nixon regardless. And who knows what compromises he might have made had he actually become President.

Reading Trudeau’s biography, I was struck by some fascinating parallels. Both Kennedy and Trudeau were lawyers, highly intelligent, with personal charisma and a gift for oratory that inspired a devoted, almost fanatical following, particularly among the young. Both men came from a background of wealth and privilege, and yet from early on in their careers devoted themselves to the causes of the poor and the disenfranchised. Both were passionate and sincere in their desire to bring positive social change to their countries.

As of that fateful June in 1968, both men had served only three years in elected office.

Which brings me to Barack Obama.

Obama has been derided by his opponents as little more than a political preacher who has a way with words but has neither the experience nor the detailed policy proposals to back up the rhetoric. I would suggest that, while these things are important in an American President, Obama’s ‘way with words’ may be equally important, especially in the dark days ahead.

Significant political and social change never happens solely as a result of the actions of lawmakers or judges or political leaders. Change happens because people want change. It happens because we’re ready for change. Sometimes it’s because of a war, or an economic crisis, or both. Sometimes it happens because a large number of people just wake up one day and decide that the old way of doing things just isn’t good enough any more.

When a charismatic leader comes along at a time like that, history often views them as having brought about transformative change, when quite often it is simply that they came to symbolize and articulate changes that were already occurring.

Whether a person like that turns out to be a Churchill or a Hitler depends largely on whether they are speaking to people’s hopes or their fears. However, assuming their intentions are good and the proper checks and balances are in place, a leader like that can take the public’s desire for change and move mountains with it, largely through the effective use of oratory.

Franklin Roosevelt laid out a detailed and, as it turned out, highly effective plan for lifting America out of the Great Depression in his nomination acceptance speech of 1932. He ended it by saying,
"I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people. Let us all here assembled constitute ourselves prophets of a new order of competence and of courage. This is more than a political campaign; it is a call to arms. Give me your help, not to win votes alone, but to win in this crusade to restore America to its own people."
Those words, and the more famous ones about fear in his inauguration address, called an entire nation to action and gave them the courage to radically change their way of thinking about economics, the role of government, and the obligations of a society towards all of its members.

Churchill isn’t remembered as great policy maker or military leader, and yet he is credited with saving England from extinction, purely through the power of his words to inspire his people to resist despair and hold strong whatever the cost.

John F. Kennedy started the Peace Corps in 1961, but it was at his inauguration when he said, "Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country" when an entire generation of young Americans was suddenly inspired to take up social service both in the inner cities and abroad, bringing home with them a broader sense of the world and a fervent social conscience.

Trudeau completely reformed and modernized Canada’s divorce, abortion and homosexuality laws as Justice Minister, but it was when he said, "The State has no place in the bedrooms of the nation" that Canada stopped seeing itself as a stuffy, prudish provincial backwater and suddenly found itself at the vanguard of the sexual and social revolution of the 60s. And his talk of a "Just Society" fit exactly with how Canadians wanted to perceive themselves:

"The Just Society will be one in which all of our people will have the means and the motivation to participate.
The Just Society will be one in which personal and political freedom will be more securely ensured than it has ever been in the past.
The Just Society will be one in which the rights of minorities will be safe from the whims of intolerant majorities.
The Just Society will be one in which those regions and groups which have not fully shared in the country's affluence will be given a better opportunity.
The Just Society will be one where such urban problems as housing and pollution will be attacked through the application of new knowledge and new techniques.
The Just Society will be one in which our Indian and Inuit population will be encouraged to assume the full rights of citizenship through policies which will give them both greater responsibility for their own future and more meaningful equality of opportunity.
The Just Society will be a united Canada, united because all of its citizens will be actively involved in the development of a country where equality of opportunity is ensured and individuals are permitted to fulfil themselves in the fashion they judge best."

I don't how the news might have affected him, but that seminal speech was delivered just four days after the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

The brilliance of that speech, and other similar ones by RFK and Martin Luther King, is that they are as much a reflection of the audience as of the speaker. They make us realize that we actually want to be compassionate and tolerant and to make our world and our country a better place. Then they make us believe that we can do it. That’s when we know we’re ready.

Effective, progressive policies and legislation are essential to any major reform effort, but it is in those moments when rhetoric and the impetus for change move in tandem, when a leader articulates the hopes and dreams of the people and then inspires them to realize those dreams - those are the moments when truly great things can happen.

So to those who dismiss Barrack Obama as having nothing but ‘empty rhetoric’, I would suggest that you are underestimating the power of words to bring about change. Even if you don't believe he has what it takes as an administrator or an economist, there are certainly plenty of those who can fill out his cabinet, and it may be enough that he has inspired hope at a time when pessimism and apathy seemed inevitable. He has gotten people excited and engaged in a way that we haven’t seen in four decades, and that alone may be what it takes to truly bring about fundamental, lasting change in America. Assuming Americans are really ready for change.

It's not my country, but as a friend and neighbour I really hope they are.

I am not completely naïve. Every leader in history has had feet of clay, and no one has ever truly lived up to our expectations or our idealized version of them after they’re gone. All too often they disappoint - as I was so deeply, deeply disappointed by that other Clinton.

The logical approach, therefore, would be to never expect too much - to look at our political leaders as nothing more than flawed human beings who we hire every few years to serve as bureaucrats or accountants or CEOs who hopefully won’t screw up the country too badly before the next election. Most of the time that's good enough, but not now. Not when change is so desperately needed.

I refuse to give up my idealism and my search for the Bobby Kennedy or Pierre Trudeau of my political fantasies. Not because I believe that such a person could single handedly change the world, but because they might just inspire me to do so.

(Cross posted to my diary at DailyKos. Mmmm... 32 comments.... instant gratification!)

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Bucket List

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie. On the one hand, a story about of two dying old coots going out for one last kick at the can sounded sentimental and obvious. On the other hand, it features two of my favourite actors in what has to be the most inspired pairing since Lemmon and Matthau.

The story itself includes most of the elements one would expect from this sort of thing: the skydiving escapade, the reunion with the estranged family member, the heartfelt eulogy. There are a couple of unexpected turns, but not many.

What makes ‘The Bucket List’ so appealing, despite the inevitable cliches, is the relationship between these two men. They are very different people who have led very different lives, and yet in their last few months they manage to form an intimate bond that allows them to share their secret regrets and, if not resolve them, at least come to terms.

Just for being a pleasant surprise I’ll give it 3 stars.

(Murray was disappointed, and yet gave it the same rating. Hmm. I was also surprised to see that Roger Ebert only gave it one star, until I read his review. It seems his main objection is to what he considers to be an unrealistic portrayal of two cancer patients in a hospital. Given his recent hospital experience... fair enough.)

The Fabrication of a Crisis

More Notes From Underground caught this fascinating interview on As It Happens last night. Seems they got an email from Dr. Tom Perry, a doctor and former B.C. cabinet minister, who is calling into question Gary Lunn's assertion that "lives were at stake" because of a shortage of isotopes. The interview is about 13 minutes into Part One of the program.

He points out that doctors can generally get the same information from CAT scans and other diagnostic tests as one can from those using radio isotopes, and that most hospitals have some sort of contingency plan. He also suggests that parliament actually examine the "numerous letters" Lunn received from medical professionals urging him to take immediate action to see if they actually give any coherent evidence that there was a life-threatening crisis.

He even goes so far as to suggest that Parliament consider that these medical professionals might have had a financial motivation to exaggerate the crisis, given that they all work on a fee-for-service basis, so if there are no isotopes...

Nah! They wouldn't do that, would they?

Coincidentally, about 20 minutes in there's an interview with that McDonald Dettwiler employee who quit in protest over the sale of the Canadarm branch to American arms manufacturer ATK.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thursday News Round-Up

Those pesky Conservatives have sure been busy busy busy over the past couple of days. Where to begin...


Here we go. Remember a couple of days ago when Finance Minister Jim Flaherty inexplicably took it upon himself to criticize Quebec for trying to bring in tough new California-style greenhouse gas emission standards?

Now we know why:
Ottawa moves to emulate U.S. on new fuel mileage standards

OTTAWA — Canada's auto makers as well as consumers are keen to see new fuel economy standards applied on a national basis, says federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon.

"Industry and the average Canadian, they all want to have a national standard," Mr. Cannon said this morning at the unveiling of a 60-day consultation process aimed at developing a fuel-economy target by 2020.

The goal is a target that "achieves at a minimum" recently enacted legislation in the U.S. Congress calling for auto makers' fleets to average 35 miles per gallon, or 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres, by the year 2020.

Mr. Cannon conceded that some provinces have struck out with their own fuel-economy programs but said he believes a common standard can be worked out in the talks.

Quebec, for example, has said it wants to move to more stringent standards such as those being proposed in California

But Mr. Cannon pointed out that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched a court challenge against the California measures and that it makes more sense to use the U.S. Congress legislation as the benchmark. The new U.S. standard falls well short of the regulations proposed by California.

One would hope that Harper wouldn't take it any further than simply suggesting that provinces stick with the federal standards, but given his recent fondness for draconian, bully-boy measures whenever his will is defied, I wouldn't put it past him to try to force the issue.

In which case Quebec can do what Arnie and the State of California are doing: sue the bastards.


The National Post (The National Post?!?) has published an op-ed piece that soundly criticizes Harper and Lunn and suggests what we bloggers have been saying all along - that this has nothing to do with the 'health and safety of Canadians' and everything to do with getting Keen out of the way of the government's plans to privatize AECL.

We also have op-eds in the Star and the Globe and Mail saying essentially the same thing. But of course most people don't read newspapers or blogs and there's nothing about the privatization scheme or a profit motive in any of the 30 second news 'stories' on the TV, so chances are nobody will notice.

BTW, correct me if I'm wrong, but it occurs to me that 11:00 p.m. is the optimal time to put out a press release if one wants to ensure that it does NOT make it onto the front page of the paper the next morning. Funny, that.


Last week's story about MacDonald, Dettwiler's sale of its satellite and space technology division to U.S. firm Alliant Techsystems (ATK) managed to leave out this little nugget:

The company they sold this stuff to makes, among other things, LANDMINES.

Aside from the obvious ethical problems with having technology funded by Canadian tax dollars being sold to a major arms manufacturer, there's the little matter of that anti-land mine treaty Canada signed on to that might just make the whole deal illegal.
ATK derives more than half of its $4 billion US in annual revenue from military contracts, including cluster bombs, depleted uranium rounds and landmines.

In December 1997, a total of 122 governments signed the Mine Ban Treaty in Ottawa — the most comprehensive international instrument for ridding the world of anti-personnel mines.

Lloyd Axworthy, the foreign minister when Canada signed the Ottawa protocol, said he believes the sale contravenes the provisions of that treaty.

"It [ATK] is a major arms merchant that is creating some of the dirtiest weapons in the world," Axworthy said Wednesday.

"The transfer of public money into a company making landmines is clearly banned under the treaty so this would be a clear case of non-compliance," he said.

And the government's response is... about what you'd expect:

Federal Industry Minister Jim Prentice, who will have to review the sale, declined an interview with CBC News. His spokesperson said Prentice will review the sale based on whether it's good for Canada.

"Good for Canada" means "Good for Canadian shareholders and corporate profits", of course. Time to give Scott Brison a call.

(H/T to Blast Furnace Canada Blog)

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

When you look into the abyss...

I've been having way too much fun playing with my new SiteMeter, which allows me to examine the traffic on my blog in excruciating detail - IP address, geographic location, where they came from and where they went. Of course, I try not to think about that fact that other people get to examine my visits to their blogs in equal detail.

I know it's pretty juvenile, but for some reason I take unreasoning delight in the fact that Gary Lunn's office checked out my post on Gary Lunn. Tee hee heee!

(Edit - I also received some love from Atomic Energy Canada, an unspecified Government of Ontario server, and a high-end law firm in Gatineau, Quebec. My husband is becoming... concerned.)

Linda Keen Silenced

Here is the sequence of events over the past two days:
- Linda Keen is scheduled to testify before the Commons Committee.
- The Conservatives try to go against standard procedure and have Gary Lunn testify AFTER so he can rebut whatever she says.
- The chairman says no - that's not the way it's done. The Minister has to go first.
- Linda Keen is fired in the middle of the night.
- Keen (through the CNSC) sends an email in the morning indicating that she still intends to testify before the Committee today.
- Lunn testifies.
- Keen sends another email (also through the CNSC) that she will NOT, in fact, be testifying today.

I suspect that at some point between those two emails Linda Keen had a conversation with a lawyer, possibly having to do with a potential wrongful dismissal suit and the advisability of giving testimony before having further conversations with her attorney. And quite right.

Unfortunately, this has had exactly the effect intended by Gary Lunn and his superiors: to silence Linda Keen and allow Lunn to present their position uncontested, for at least as long as it takes for the media glare to die down and the public's attention span to run out.

Happily, Elizabeth May spoke to the media afterwards and made a point of connecting the dots between the government's actions, the Maple reactors, and the privatization of Canada's nuclear industry. At least somebody knows what's really going on here.

Here's a summary of Lunn's testimony.

Chalk River Fallout

Gary Lunn is currently testifying before the Standing Committee on Natural Resources about why he has taken such a personal interest in crucifying Linda Keen for doing her job.

David McGuinty just finished a blistering attack on Lunn, Harper, and the Conservatives' systematic efforts since coming to power to rid themselves of every senior bureaucrat in Ottawa who wasn't appointed by Harper. Ooh, snap!

And apparently Bradley Trost (CON) has the same speech impediment as Dubya when it comes to pronouncing 'nu-cu-ler'.

Sigh. I know what I'm going to be doing for the rest of the day.

While I monitor the proceedings, here's a bit of light reading for you, starting with my three previous posts on the situation:

Nah... it'll be fine. Really.
Chalk River Timeline
Chalk River: It's All Becoming Clear

Here's the article on Linda Keen's firing last night, and here's Garth Turner's take on it all.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Monkey See, Flaherty Do

Apparently it isn't just all other countries that need to be on board before the Conservatives will do anything about global warming. The same theory now applies to provinces as well:

Canada needs common greenhouse gas regulations, not patchwork, Flaherty says

January 14, 2008

VANCOUVER - A patchwork of carbon taxes and greenhouse gas rules across the country isn't a good solution to Canada's environmental woes, the federal finance minister says.

Jim Flaherty said Monday the country needs to work toward a common set of regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

…Quebec became the first jurisdiction in Canada to put in place a green tax on carbon fuels in its last budget, to help finance the province's plan to reduce greenhouse gases, something that Flaherty has criticized.

The plan was created to help Quebec reach its Kyoto protocol targets, which is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2012.

Wait, wait… this sounds strangely familiar. Where have I heard this before? Oh, yeah…
Friday, Dec. 21, 2007

The EPA on Wednesday denied California's attempt to place first-ever U.S. limits on automobile emissions of heat-trapping gases, which account for about 30 percent of the U.S. total.

The EPA said an energy bill signed into law this week by President George W. Bush means no further action is needed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles.

The EPA, charged with making the decision, said the law to raise automobile fuel standards by 40 percent by 2020 was a "better approach" than a "patchwork" of state rules.

Apparently the Bush-appointed head of the EPA reached his decision, which went against the wishes and advise of his staff, soon after Dick Cheney met with auto industry executives who presented him with a letter explaining why it would be wrong to allow individual states to set greenhouse gas emission standards on their cars.

I'm guessing all it took for Flaherty to reach the same conclusion was a quick peek across the border to see what the Americans were doing. And then copy down that whole 'patchwork' thing. 'Cause that sounded pretty good.

And by the way, isn't Jim Flaherty the Finance Minister?!? Shouldn't the Minister of the Environment be dealing with this? Or Industry? Or Intergovernmental Affairs? Or... well, anybody else?

(H/T to 'Pyotr Petrobitch', a fellow commenter over at
Garth Turner's Political Mayhem)

Thursday, January 10, 2008

2007 Detritus, Part 2

Apparently a number of the major newspapers spent the holidays putting their 2007 articles behind firewalls, so there are a number of items in my file that I just can't get at anymore. Here's what I could salvage:

February 20th - Milton Crosswalks

One item that passed pretty much unnoticed this spring was a decision by Milton Town Council to do away with all but one pedestrian crosswalk in town.

The line that made my jaw drop was this one:
Mayor Gord Krantz voiced support for removing the crossovers, noting every time traffic has to stop it creates gridlock and pollution.

I see. So, our Lord High Mayor figures the best way to decrease pollution is to discourage pedestrians.

I actually took the trouble to check the original committee report, and my reading of it is that they recommended looking into replacing the yellow light, push button crosswalks with pedestrian activated red lights. But that would involve spending money. More than the $150,000 they spent ripping out the existing crosswalks, that is.

September 22nd - Tom Flannagan

This was the day that Harper's Brain finally stepped out from the shadows and shared with us all his Ten Commandments of Conservative Campaigning. I especially liked Number 4:
4. Incrementalism

Conservatives must be willing to make progress in small, practical steps. Sweeping visions have a place in intellectual discussion, but they are toxic in practical politics.

Incrementalism is the twin of moderation. Small conservative reforms are less likely to scare voters than grand conservative schemes, particularly in Canada, where conservatism is not yet the dominant public philosophy. In any case, incrementalism is intrinsically the right approach for a conservative party.

And lo, we were nauseated.

October 5th - The One Cent Solution

Intellectual property gone mad:
Mint wants $48,000 for use of penny pic

The City of Toronto says the Royal Canadian Mint wants almost $48,000 in compensation after the city used the image of a penny in a prominent ad campaign, without proper authorization.

The ads, seen throughout the city in bus shelters and TTC vehicles as well as on buttons and bumper stickers, feature a blown-up picture of the penny. The ads are part of Mayor David Miller's push for one out of every six cents of GST revenue to be returned to the municipality where it was collected.

October - Random Thoughts on Food

I live in Ontario, and the other day I noticed that the Loblaw's Supercentre had garlic from China, and onions from Peru. Peru! I know it's been a terribly dry summer here, but the local and organic growers at the weekly Milton Farmer's Market didn't seem to have any trouble stocking local garlic and onions.

The fact that it's apparently still cheaper for Loblaw's to ship produce from half way around the world than pay local farmers a decent price just serves to illustrate how exploitive agribusiness is in the developing world.

Unfortunately I don't live in BC, so my options for fresh local produce are about to narrow to nearly zero. I am seriously considering building a greenhouse.

(and on that note, here's a link to the Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on Agriculture and Forestry from March talking about big agribusiness and rural poverty in Alberta.)

October 15th - Health Care Myths Debunked

Here's a link to a point by point evisceration of a fake email making the rounds that purported to be from a Canadian complaining about our health care.

Great for those parties where you find yourself in a screaming argument with one of those Americans who still thinks public health care is a Communist plot.

October 26th - Rick Salutin Is My Home Boy

More pearls from the far left office at the Globe & Mail, this time on the rising dollar and the retailization of Canada. A taste:
Peter Mansbridge furrows his brow but doesn't wonder why a country without workers who make anything has to pay higher markups on iPods than America does. We're on the way back to producing only what we always did: unprocessed resources like oil, wheat and wood. But the knowledge purveyors prefer to focus on the cost of Levis, obscuring rather than exploring any connection between making and buying.

What will an all-retail economy look like, when that day arrives? My stretch of College Street in Toronto is pretty much restaurants and cafés, rarely broken by even a futon store or 7-Eleven. Can a society survive by serving each other lattes?

Seriously, how is it this guy works for the GLOBE?!

November - Random Thoughts on History

I have become convinced that there is no such thing as a definitive history of the world, or even of a particular period or event. Every historian, no matter how objective they may, will always have a particular point of view. No one can simultaneously encompass all the sociological, economic, political, religious and other causes and effects that weave together to represent a single event or sequence of events.

That’s not a bad thing.

December 11th - Why So Many Poor People Are Obese

Admit it - you've wondered.

This article in Newsweek entitled "Living in Junk Food Country" provides an illuminating analysis that brings into focus a whole host of problems including urban sprawl, corporate hegemony, and the psychological effects of 'food insecurity'.

And what was that I was saying about the grocery store situation in Milton?

December 22nd - Food Banks in Crisis

I found this post in DailyKos particularly disturbing. Apparently food banks in the U.S. have experienced a 50% - 100% increase in demand over the past year. The author quotes articles from over a dozen cities from Georgia to Connecticut describing the same situation, then offers this:
Hunger relief organizations are reporting that a "perfect storm" of circumstances is keeping them from meeting demand for food ... at the same time demand is surging.

The perfect storm?

Rising food prices.
Rising fuel prices.
Stagnant and declining wages.

Funny, that.

Meanwhile ...

Economic reporting on cable news mostly consists of scantily clad damsels screaming from the floor of the New York stock exchange about how "valuations remain strong," followed by news anchors with empty expressions on their faces, asking, "Why don't Americans understand how good this economy is for them?"

I think that we are all getting the idea that something has gone wrong here. What kind of country can't afford to feed its own citizens? A failed country. And what if that country is one of the richest in the world?

I think the theme for this year's blogging might just be... food.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Runesmith's Top Ten

Everyone has a Top Ten list for the new year, but I thought I'd do something a little different.

I've been working part time at a very cool, charmingly scummy, independent video store for almost a year now. I won't say which one, but it's one of those places that still has an 'Adult' room and still has old VHS copies of 'They Live' and 'Singing In the Rain' for rent. I like it a lot. I make a bit of extra money, I get movies cheap (but not free), and I get to watch and talk about movies all night.

Still, it's not all rosy. So here's my

Top Ten Pet Peeves About Working at the Video Store:

10) People who will refuse to watch a movie if they know it’s Canadian.

9) People who think that you can only watch the Wide Screen version on a Wide Screen TV.

8) People who, even after you explain the whole Wide Screen / Full Screen thing to them, still prefer to have large chunks cut off the sides of their movie rather than tolerate two barely noticeable black bars top and bottom.

7) People who complain about late charges. My explanation is always the same - that every night they keep the movie is a night when we are losing money by not renting it to someone else. That, and the fact that our prices are about half of what the major chains charge. But still they complain.

6) The dozen or so people who rented 'Pan’s Labyrinth' and then brought it back asking for a refund because it was in SPANISH.

5) The guy who comes in every week to rent five or six of the cheapest, oldest movies we have, always complaining about something, always trying to get an even better deal than 3 for 6 bucks, refusing to pay his late charges because he doesn’t think he should have to being such a good customer and all - and then drives away in his shiny new BMW.

4) People who have obviously mistaken me for a family counsellor. Seriously, I’m not interested in why your movies are a month overdue because your rat bastard of an ex-husband is still using your account to rent movies for his new wife’s delinquent children who then loan them to their friends and never return them. Not. My. Problem.

3) The fact that we have to hand write the nightly deposit and cash count forms on paper recycled from old DVD covers because the boss is too cheap to spring for paper and printer toner - and yet we have a motion-sensitive garbage can that opens when you wave your hand at it.

2) Thinking I can get a head start on counting the till when some skeezy guy walks in ten minutes before closing and entrenches himself in the Porn Room.

And my number one pet peeve about working at the video store,

1) The 2-10 shift. I hate the 2-10 shift.

How I Discovered Ellen Page

(Edit - I just saw Juno last night. I'll be reviewing it later, but for now let me just say that everything everyone has been saying about this film is true. Go see it immediately. Tonight!)

(Oh, and the red hoodie's back...)

I watched Ellen Page being interviewed on Letterman last night. Despite being obviously nervous and Letterman trying to paint her as a rube from some minor burg in Outer Canuckistan called 'Halifax', she nonetheless KICKED ASS! Funny as hell, and totally held her own.

They didn't spend a lot of time talking about 'Juno' (which I fully intend to see this weekend), but it was immensely entertaining to watch as she educated Dave about the collapse of the Maritime fisheries, the beauty of Newfoundland and the Halifax Explosion of 1917. And all the while her little movie has moved up to number five at the box office, with Oscar buzz galore.

I'm proud as a peacock because I, in fact, discovered Ellen Page.

No, no on X-Men. And not in 'Hard Candy' either, although I remain one of about a dozen people who actually own the DVD of that brilliant little film. No, it was three years ago on 'ReGenesis' where I first spotted our little Ellen, stealing every scene as Lilith Sandstrom. I knew right then that girl was going somewhere.

Ok, so maybe there a few die hards in the Maritimes who saw her in 'Marion Bridge', but hey - they get everything first. Even the sunrise. Still, in a few months when she steps up to accept her Oscar for Best Actress and all of Canada cheers for Our Girl from Halifax, I can confidently say, "She's mine. I found her."

(just so you know, I also discovered Robin Williams)

I mentioned 'Juno' to a customer at the video store recently, and I got what has become an annoyingly familiar response:

"Oh, that's that CANADIAN movie, isn't it? EW! I can't STAND Canadian movies!"

I'm pretty sure this is what got me into my arrangement with Murray.

I pointed out that Juno's status as a 'Canadian' movie is technically dodgy (Canadian everything but U.S. money = ?), then asked him if he had seen 'Eastern Promises'. He said he had and he liked it, but insisted that it could not possibly be a Canadian movie - presumably because he liked it. I actually got into an argument with him over which movie was more technically 'Canadian' (on paper, 'Eastern Promises' wins because it's a co-pro).

I really must stop arguing with the customers at work.

All of which leads me to ask, what the fuck is with this visceral reaction people seem to have against Canadian movies? Honestly, I don't get it. I could understand maybe 20 or 30 years ago when most Canadian movies were obviously low budget and of questionable entertainment value unless you were a horror fan or spoke French. But now? When "indie films" are the big thing and all Canadian films are about as "indie" as you can get?

If all you like are big blockbusters with explosions and gunfire and Will Smith or Matt Damon, then fine. Go for it. But if you like smaller, quirky, and (Gods forgive me) character-driven films, then Canadian movies are made for you. This year alone, 'Away From Her', 'Fido', 'Eastern Promises', and yes, 'Juno' (despite the American backing) are all movies we can be proud of, and the latter two have actually been making serious money at the box office despite pathetic promotion and distribution.

I've gotten to the point where I don't dare mention that a movie is Canadian until the customer brings it back and says that they liked it. Then I get smug.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Jack Bauer for President!

Ok, I'm bad. I watched 'Rescue Dawn' tonight instead of the New Hampshire Debates. Not that I don't care about what they're up to down there - I just couldn't take any more of the 24/7 sports desk-like election coverage.

To make up for my deficiencies as a political blogger, I thought I'd go through the transcript of the Democratic debate (I tried the video clips at ABC but the links are all broken). I didn't get very far before I ran across this, the second question of the evening:

MR. GIBSON: I want to get to another question, and it really is the central one in my mind in nuclear terrorism. The next president of the United States may have to deal with a nuclear attack on an American city. I've read a lot about this in recent days. The best nuclear experts in the world say there's a 30 percent chance in the next 10 years. Some estimates are higher: Graham Allison at Harvard says it's over 50 percent.

Senator Sam Nunn, in 2005, who knows a lot about this, posed two questions that stick in my mind, and I want to put them to you here. On the day after a nuclear weapon goes off in an American city, what would we wish we had done to prevent it? And what will we actually do on the day after?


SEN. OBAMA: Well --

MR. EDWARDS: Well --


MR. EDWARDS: You're asking me?


And I'm thinking... what, are we writing an episode of '24' here?! Seriously, WTF kind of question is that?!?

My husband said that they should have asked, "What if aliens attacked and the Martians blew up the Empire State Building?"

I suggested that that was more of a Giuliani question.

Interestingly, the first question of the evening had to do with how they might go about REALLY pissing off the one Muslim country that actually has nuclear weapons, so maybe it's not such a bad question after all.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

2007 Detritus, Part 1

I have an open file on my computer called 'blogpost.doc'. It's like a notebook into which I paste links to articles and posts that catch my eye, sometimes adding a title or a few of my own thoughts as a preliminary step towards writing a blog post. Some of these evolve into actual posts, but sometimes they simply languish as the news marches on and other bloggers say whatever it was I wanted to say first, and better.

Or I just get lazy and forget about them.

I thought it might be interesting to browse through these abandoned links and share some of them with y'all. Sort of a combination year-end retrospective and writer's housecleaning. Enjoy!

April 21st: The Wall, Redux

From The Guardian:
Latest US solution to Iraq's civil war: a three-mile wall

The US military is building a three-mile concrete wall in the centre of Baghdad along the most murderous faultline between Sunni and Shia Muslims.

The wall, which recognizes the reality of the hardening sectarian divide in Baghdad, is a central part of George Bush's final push to pacify the capital. Work began on April 10 under cover of darkness and is due for completion by the end of the month.

The highly symbolic wall has evoked comparisons to the barriers dividing Protestants and Catholics in Belfast and Israelis and Palestinians along the length of the West Bank.

May 3rd: It’s not easy being green

John Baird seems to be having a tough time finding anyone to support his new, ‘aggressive’ environmental plan. David Suzuki hates it, and finally caught up with Baird to tell him so in person, despite concerted efforts by the PMO to avoid that particular confrontation. Al Gore, obviously wary of having his words misconstrued again, called the plan "a complete and total fraud". Even economists who had once supported the Tories are now backing away from Baird’s plan, saying it’s too full of loopholes to actually have much of an effect and that his claim that Kyoto will cost billions and spark a recession is "an extremely simplistic calculation".

(Boris at The Galloping Beaver says it beautifully.)

And now they’re mocking the Environment Canada website.

April 26th: Who's Afraid of the Big Bad NEP?

A bit of perspective on that great western bugaboo: the National Energy Plan. An article by Gordon Laxer, and another on the Council of Canadians website.

May 14th: The Kyoto Implementation Bill Passes 3rd Reading

From the Ottawa Citizen:

Forcing Ottawa's hand on Kyoto

...Bill C-288 could force the federal government to take action to meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.

The bill has had little media attention, but legal experts say it actually has the power to force the Conservative government to meet Kyoto targets, something the Harper government has repeatedly said it cannot and will not do.

"This is the one thing that the Conservatives can't circumvent," said Lalonde, a translator from Notre Dame de Grace who launched the petition campaign last week on his EcoContribution website. "Once it's law, it's law."

Bill C-288 would do two important things if it became law: It would force the government to publish a plan to meet its Kyoto targets within 60 days of its enactment, and to enact legislation within six months that would enable Canada to meet those targets.

(It passed, of course, and the Conservatives did... nothing. Let's see if it actually ends up in the courts this year.)

May 19th: Tony Rosato

As a long time SCTV fan, this story made me very, very sad:

Rosato a step closer to release

KINGSTON–Former television star Tony Rosato moved a step closer yesterday to getting out of the jail cell where he has been held without trial for the last two years.

Rosato, a one-time star of SCTV and Saturday Night Live, appeared in Superior Court – less than a week after his plight was reported in the Sunday Star – to make a bid for a bail review. His trial on charges of criminal harassment is set for November.

News of the comedian's plight shocked civil libertarians and his show business friends who say he should be held in a hospital until his trial.

More background on Rosato's story here.

June 5th: Big Brother Really Is Watching

A chilling little tale from south of the border.

June 28th: Harper Allows Armed U.S. Service Agents Into Canada

A nice op-ed by Thomas Walcom in The Star:

The federal government plans to give an unspecified number of American police agents carte blanche to carry guns in Canada. It insists that in the post-9/11 world it is just being sensible. It is not.

Few things are more crucial to a nation's sovereignty than its control over legalized violence. It is quite often lawful for the police to shoot you. It is almost never lawful for you to shoot the police. We accept that arrangement only because those who have been given this remarkable life and death authority are in some sense "ours" – they are responsible to governments that we elect.

Ottawa's plan would dramatically change this relationship. It would introduce a whole new array of armed peace officers into this country that are answerable to a foreign power.

Stephen Harper's government, which quietly published these proposed regulatory changes in its Canada Gazette last weekend, suggests the move is designed primarily to accommodate armed air marshals who routinely fly back and forth across the border. But it also says the arrangement would apply to other situations, including "various cross-border enforcement initiatives between Canada and the United States."

Ah, yes. More of those unimportant "regulatory changes" meant to harmonize our security with that of the U.S. Nothing to see here.

July 10th: China executes ex-food safety chief

China executed the former head of its food and drug watchdog on Tuesday for approving untested medicine in exchange for cash, the strongest signal yet from Beijing that it is serious about tackling its product safety crisis.

Ahh... I got nuthin.

August 11th: What's a 'Blue Dog', Anyway?

An interesting analysis of the two wings of the Democratic Party, why some Democrats are trying to win by becoming more like Republicans, and why that is a monumentally BAD IDEA. Courtesy of the Daily Kos.

August 11th: Support Our Troops. Unless They're Gay.

Church learns vet was gay, cancels memorial

ARLINGTON, Texas - A megachurch canceled a memorial service for a Navy veteran 24 hours before it was to start because the deceased was gay.

Officials at the nondenominational High Point Church knew that Cecil Howard Sinclair was gay when they offered to host his service, said his sister, Kathleen Wright. But after his obituary listed his life partner as one of his survivors, she said, it was called off.


August 31st: About Those SPP Petitions...

It seems the raison d'être for the big March on Montebello wasn't quite as important to some of the organizers as one might have thought:

Letter to Council of Canadians

[Andrea from People's Global Action picked up the CoC's petitions at the anti-SPP demonstration and decided to make a few points while offering to deliver them.]

Dear Maude and Staff at the Council of Canadians,

I just wanted to write to let you know that the 10,000 petitions you delivered with great fanfare to the gates of the Chateau Montebello last week are safe. You know, the ones in the three clear plastic bins with the blue lids. The ones featured in that photo on your website (

You are probably frantic right now. You've likely been searching for them since you put them down in front of the line of riot police and retreated back to the family friendly zone when you finished your media scrum and speeches...

And so on. OOPS!

More miscellany later. Promise.