July 2005 Archives

July 31, 2005

Go read

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I don't do this very often and I don't do it just 'cos the blogger links to a few of my posts. But I'm doing it today. Go read Ian Welsh. I'll even give you choices: you can read him at Tilting at Windmills, the E-Group or BOP News. There will be a test.

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July 29, 2005

Back in May I wrote a couple of posts about an Ethopian scientist who wanted to attend a UN conference on biodiversity in Montreal but had his visa application initially denied by the Canadian government. It was suspicious because that scientist's views on GM crops, and specifically on terminator seeds, run directly counter to our own official position. And if you ask me, our own official position is designed to please the U.S. and corporations like Monsanto. The scientist eventually got his visa after quite a bit of attention was drawn to the matter but conveniently he arrived too late to attend the proceedings around which his plans had been made.

Via Stageleft, here's another story about someone having trouble getting a visa to visit our fair land.

It takes cachet to pack a lecture hall when the audience knows full well you'll be a no-show.

Iraqi doctor Salam Ismael seems to have a lot of it. On July 15 and 16 the foe of the U.S. occupation attracted some 700 people to meetings hosted by the Canadian Peace Alliance and the Muslim Council of York Region ? even though everyone knew the feds had blocked his entry to the country.

What attendees hoped to hear ? and finally did hear via a documentary ? was Ismael's first-hand account of visiting Fallujah shortly after the U.S. siege in 2004. The young physician has been telling audiences in Europe that he suspects the U.S. used chemical weapons in Fallujah and that he believes what he witnessed was "the aftermath of a massacre, the cold-blooded butchery of helpless and defenceless civilians.''

But the feds denied him a visa. Canada is the first country to blacklist Ismael, who is currently on his way to Ecuador and France and has already addressed audiences in the UK, Norway, Ireland and the Netherlands, raising funds for medical supplies. Activists believe Canada's refusal was made in America.
...
I have perused a document sent to Ismael from the Canadian embassy in Jordan that says CIC believes the doctor lacks employment prospects and would stay after his visa expires.

[The CPA's Sid] Lacombe says this is ridiculous. The CPA sent a letter informing the Jordan embassy that it was picking up his travel tab. Doctors for Iraq Society supplied embassy officials with a signed, stamped employment letter. A disheartening refusal didn't take long.

At the minister of Citizenship and Immigration's office, spokesperson Karen Prest cites privacy laws as the reason for not speaking about the case.

Windsor MP Joe Comartin's office directly contacted Minister Joe Volpe's office seeking an exemption for Dr. Ismael and a copy of his Canada Security Intelligent Service security profile

"It was a very blunt no" that his staff received, Comartin recalls. "Just look at the facts. He's right there in the war zone. The U.S. is concerned about that. And CIC might be using U.S. information."

He argues that as a Member of Parliament he should have access to the security check. "Unfortunately, the lack of information is all too typical when CSIS and the RCMP are involved. They're not prepared to tell us their concerns about Dr. Ismael. They won't even tell us where their information is coming from."


There's more at the link about Ismael's experiences in Fallujah and what he believes went on there. It almost seems as though our government doesn't want us to know.

That smell wafting out of Ottawa is getting worse.

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July 28, 2005

Nobody does it better

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I was tempted to blog this story earlier in the week.

The next time you visit the website of Microsoft Corp. to download some software, be prepared to let the world's biggest software company have a look inside your computer.

In a determined strike to quell the proliferation of counterfeit software, beginning today, Microsoft will require that all customers coming to its website for upgrades and other downloads submit their computers to an electronic frisking.
...
The company will scan machines for a variety of information, including product keys or software authorization codes, operating-system version and details on the flow of data between the operating system and other hardware, such as printers.


It's enough to make a guy seriously consider Linux. And if that isn't, maybe this is: this new initiative on Microsoft's part has already been cracked. Charles Roten at Bump in the Beltway reports:
Two functional cracks in less than 48 hours. I must confess, I am in awe of Microsoft's unsurpassed competence in the battle with software pirates.

Emphasis in the original. Charles has the details.

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Mounties told to hold Arar info from minister

The assistant commissioner of the RCMP instructed staff to withhold key information from Canada's foreign minister about their investigation into a Canadian citizen allegedly tortured in a Syrian jail, an inquiry heard Wednesday.

Former foreign affairs minister Bill Graham asked for a thorough briefing by RCMP after then-U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci suggested Maher Arar's deportation by U.S. authorities to Syria was based on Canadian intelligence.

But in an Oct. 18, 2002 memo that was read at the Arar inquiry, Richard Proulx informed the RCMP commissioner "there will be no information of an operational-tactical nature released to (Foreign Affairs)."
...
The RCMP's deputy commissioner for operations, Garry Loeppky, defended the decision, saying day-to-day operational decisions, tactics employed and evidence are of no concern to Foreign Affairs.

Loeppky said the Mounties would provide only information that the department or the minister would need "to carry out their mandate."

"And that would be within the assessment made by RCMP?" asked David. "In other words, it's the RCMP that is deciding what is necessary for (Foreign Affairs) to carry out their mandate in terms of what information is passed on?"

Loeppky replied that "if they felt they required more information in a specific area, there would be a dialogue. It's a process."


How would Foreign Affairs know what additional questions to ask if they're not being told what's going on the first place? But apparently the RCMP sees no problem in withholding information from our government while telling law enforcement officials in other countries everything they can think of.
In June, RCMP Superintendent Michel Cabana, who led a counterterrorism probe in the Ottawa area after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, told the inquiry that he was under clear orders that "caveats were down."

That meant formal checks and balances limiting any foreign agency's use of shared information were set aside because of the exigencies of the moment.

Supt. Cabana said this order came from the RCMP's most senior levels. Investigators were ordered to pull out all the stops in sharing any and all anti-terrorist information with their U.S. counterparts, he said, and would have been derelict had they not.

As a result, even the most sensitive secrets of the RCMP national security investigation, known as A-O Canada -- which looked into the activities of Ottawa computer engineer Maher Arar as well as several other Ottawa-area men -- were freely shared in late 2001 and 2002 with a large group of agencies, both domestic and foreign.


Leoppky disputes the idea that formal instructions to open the information floodgates were ever issued but he can certainly understand how people might have gotten that impression.
"The traditional stove pipes had to come down," he said. "So given the bombardment of messages, it's understandable that some people might have understood the sharing went further."

As long they weren't sharing the information with the Department of Foreign Affairs, it was understandable.

Cabana, by the way, is the RCMP officer who recently testified that "everyone knew there was a risk Arar was being poorly treated." Good thing they didn't share that with Foreign Affairs, eh?

Cross-posted at the E-Group.

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July 26, 2005

Wanker of the Day

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In yesterday's column Peter Worthington wrote:

In Britain, police now shoot suspects. Good.

By yesterday Worthington had had lots of time to find out that the suspect killed by British police was an innocent Brazilian. In today's column he spends the first few paragraphs backpedalling like crazy without ever admitting that he was applauding the death of an innocent - just like the terrorists. Then he comes out with this:
Mere suspicion, in these days of suicide bombers, can get you shot by accident.

The ones to blame for this perilous policy are Muslims -- not that all Muslims are terrorists, but most terrorists these days are Muslim.


Notice how he makes the simple declarative stereotype first and then scurries to qualify it. Guess which part of that sentence Worthington wants to stay with you.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that things are just a bit more complicated than Worthington (or for that matter, Spouting Thomas Friedman*) would have us believe. Certainly there's a hard core of Islamist fundamentalists like Bin Laden whose terrorist activity predates the war on Iraq. And certainly the answer isn't to negotiate with them or offer them understanding, although trying to understand them might just pay off if it helps to anticipate their next move.

But there is a larger group of more recent recruits whose motives for turning terrorist might just include the war in Iraq, the treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo and other reasons we aren't hearing about from pundits like Worthington. And beyond that there's an even larger group of soft, passive supporters and potential recruits whose motivations might be even more varied.

In short, there might be things we could consider doing to isolate the Bin Ladens, to further soften that soft support instead of hardening it. But you won't hear that from the Friedmans and the Worthingtons. Instead it's all the fault of the other. No need for even a moment's introspection or a moment's consideration about how to meet the threat of terrorism other than to say it's someone else's problem and someone else's fault.

It's enough to make you thing that Worthington wants the conflict to escalate. I guess he assumes his side will win.

I wonder what winning looks like.

* Friedman would have qualified for Wanker of the Week if he hadn't written that last week.

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July 22, 2005

RIP Long John Baldry

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I'm putting this up because I don't expect it will get the attention that, for example, the unfortunate passing of James Doohan, aka Star Trek's Scotty, will get. But for those of us of a certain age this one, too, seems like the end of an era.

Vancouver-based blues legend Long John Baldry has died after a four-month battle with a chest infection, his agent said Friday on the musician's website.

The 64-year-old musical giant was admitted to the intensive-care unit of a Vancouver hospital in April after returning from a trip to his native Britain with respiratory problems.

Baldry is credited as one of the main forces in British blues, rock and pop music in the 1960s and first hit the top of the U.K. singles charts in 1967 with Let the Heartaches Begin. He has released over 40 albums.


That article touches on Baldry's influence on other British rockers like Rod Stewart, Elton John and The Rolling Stones. Baldry's website is here and he was probably best known for Don't try to Lay no Boogie Woogie on the King of Rock'n'Roll.

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More like this, please

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In the wake of the recent bombings in London we're seeing a lot of the usual rhetoric about what the terrorists hate and why it's really liberals who are to blame for all of this. Over at the E-Group, wsam gives Mark Steyn a well-deserved spanking for the latter.

But wouldn't it be nice if some of the usual suspects would stop bloviating about Islamofascists (note: not a real word) and actually try and see what lessons we can learn from the events in London? Billmon at the Whiskey Bar is and he points to another blog that he finds helpful.

Setting off bombs in subways is a pretty crude application of this technique. But [John Robb at Global Guerillas] saw signs in the first London attack that the terrorists (as young and inexperienced as they appear to have been) are learning:
This group even added their own innovation to the development of the systems disruption model (for other groups to adopt in the future): the bombs were exploded while the trains were in the tunnels rather than in the stations. This maximized disruption at the expense of body count.

Presumably, as the Al Qaeda network becomes more adapted to "open source" operations, and as more experienced terrorists return from Iraq and pass the lessons learned on to new recruits, bombers will become more effective at identifying pressure points. In which case future attacks are likely to be progressively more targeted at knocking out infrastructure rather than causing mass casualties.

It may already be happening: Al Qaeda wanted to kill a large number of people in the first London attack -- to send a big propaganda message to the G8 summit. Today's bombs, on the other hand, may have been intended primarily to disrupt. If or when they start hitting electrical substations and telephone exchanges, we'll know our junior league terrorists are starting to get the hang of it.


This isn't to say that billmon and Robb are necessarily correct in their analysis but it's refreshing to see people actually try and understand what's happening instead of trotting out the usual clichés and bluster and then calling it a day.

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July 19, 2005

The latest episode in the on-going soap opera I think of as "The CBC is The New Pravda!" concerns an internal CBC memo to its employees which cautions them to be careful with the use of the words "terrorist" and "terrorism". Apparently the National Post got hold of a copy and was quite happy to expose it, whereupon CBC Watch reproduced it. (That link is currently yielding a database error. Maybe it's all the attention it's getting.)

The Amazing Wonderdog has an excellent post up on the issue. It's worth a read. And by way of introduction, he sums things up pretty well in a comment to this post at Bound By Gravity* where you can view an extract from the memo if that CBC Watch link still isn't working.

This policy predates the 9/11 attacks, folks.

This isn't new, and the National Post is reporting it dishonestly by omitting facts that everyone who ever read a CP style guide already knows.

So it's time to unknot your panties, and consider a more important question: how do you like being manipulated by the National Post editorial board?


But CanWest wouldn't manipulate us, would they? Well, yes they would. And have, or tried to. It was CanWest that earned itself some publicity a while back for editing Reuters wire copy by inserting the word "terrorist" where the original reporters hadn't used it.

So let's compare. The CBC favours using neutral language and allowing readers to make up their own minds and may be bending over backwards just a bit too far in that effort. CanWest favours the insertion of its own spin into stories even when the stories are written by wire services and CanWest fails to acknowledge that it's substantively changing the meaning. Guess which one bothers me more?

* I should add that Andrew at BBG isn't promoting this as evidence that the CBC is a front for the godless, communist liberal, soft-on-terrorism hordes. He's not impressed with the memo but he's not indulging in the spin that will be placed on it in other circles.

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FYI for Ontario readers

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Ontario faces outages

Ontarians sweltering in a prolonged heat wave face brownouts and rotating blackouts if they do not cut power consumption over the next five days, the province's electricity supply manager warned yesterday.

"We're in a situation that isn't going to go away immediately -- it's going to be around as long as this heat wave lasts," said Terry Young, spokesman for the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

"What you are seeing is a continued strain on the power system."
...
The province has been setting new records for electricity demand in a summer that has already prompted Toronto's medical officer of health to declare heat alerts on 22 days. Yesterday was the eighth consecutive day of the latest extreme heat alert, which is declared when a prolonged period of high temperatures means the likelihood of a weather-related death exceeds 90%.

Electricity demand peaked at 25,857 megawatts yesterday at 4 p.m. Demand for power reached a new record last Wednesday, when it rose to 26,170 megawatts, up from the previous record of 26,157 on June 27. Prior to this year, the record high for electricity demand was set on Aug. 13, 2002, when it peaked at 25,414.


Stock up on candles and flashlight batteries.

The article says we can look forward to more comfortable temperatures later in the summer.

Works for me.

Update:

Did you notice how I avoided the temptation to say something snarky about climate change?

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July 16, 2005

Cowboy Rick

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Apparently I'm not the only one who's noticed that lately every time someone sticks a microphone in Rick Hillier's face he does his best impression of George Bush. The Globe and Mail today has a piece that demonstrates how politicians and defence analysts are jumping at the opportunity to back Hillier up even while others are criticizing his blunt talk.

One of Hillier's statements that's up for discussion is this:

We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people.

I don't quarrel with that as far as it goes. If you're going to have a military then it seems to me that expertise in the application of lethal force is a desirable quality for them to have. Perhaps it's not the only one but it's pretty high up on the list.

But I'm a bit more concerned with the way Hillier seems to regurgitate the Bush administration's black and white view of the world.

These are detestable murderers and scumbags, I'll tell you that right up front. They detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties.

Understanding your enemy should be a part of preparing to engage them. The more you understand them, the better you'll be able to analyze and anticipate their strategy and thwart their goals. Parroting the Bushies' "they hate our freedoms" blather doesn't look to me like understanding. It looks like "kill them all and let God sort them out".

It's true that Canadian forces are about to deploy to an area where they'll meet some nasty people. They're also deploying to an area where it can be tough to tell the difference between friend and foe. Innocent Afghanis have already been detained, imprisoned, abused and even murdered while in custody and the Bush administration has been content to shrug it all off, point to a few bad apples and insist "But we're at war dammit! They hate our freedoms!".

Considering recent events, and the fact that almost four years after 9/11 Osama Bin Laden still hasn't been smoked out of his hole, it's by no means a given that Bush's conduct of his War on Terror™ has done more good than harm. I'm assuming that with their new mission, Canadian soldiers are about to start taking casualties in Afghanistan to a greater degree than they have up until this point and that part of the reason for Hillier's public comments is to prepare us for that fact. I'd like to think that sacrifice will have a purpose, that it will accomplish something constructive rather than making a bad situation worse. Having the supreme commander of our military adopt the swagger and simplistic view of a faux cowboy president who has repeatedly demonstrated that his mendacity far outweighs any real commitment to ending terrorism doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me.

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July 12, 2005

*Serious* hackery

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This op-ed by U.S. Senator Rick Santorum at Catholic Online may be the most noxious piece of crap you'll read all week.

Like most American Catholics, I have followed the recent sex scandals in the Church with profound sympathy for victims, revulsion over priests who prey on minors and frustration at the absence of hierarchical leadership.
...
It is startling that those in the media and academia appear most disturbed by this aberrant behavior, since they have zealously promoted moral relativism by sanctioning "private" moral matters such as alternative lifestyles. Priests, like all of us, are affected by culture. When the culture is sick, every element in it becomes infected. While it is no excuse for this scandal, it is no surprise that Boston, a seat of academic, political and cultural liberalism in America, lies at the center of the storm.

I'm tempted to respond with a snarky "what about all that personal responsibility you conservatives are always going on about?" Santorum wants to take the heat off the individual priests who used their position of authority to abuse children and off the officials in the church hierarchy who covered up the abuses. Instead he wants to blame Massachusetts liberals who apparently are capable of some kind of arcane, all-powerful mind control that can cause even the most devout and pure to act contrary to their natures.

That snarky response really isn't fair. Instead allow me to suggest that what Santorum is practicing here has nothing to do with conservatism. This is just blatant pandering to Karl Rove's base combined with good old fashioned liberal bashing. It's the same kind of rhetoric that sees any kind of criticism of the invasion of Iraq or of Bush's conduct in the War on Terror™ as either treason or cowardice.

So here's my commitment to all you conservatives out there: I will henceforth make every effort to stop referring to the current leadership of the GOP and to their agenda as "conservative." Instead I'll call people like Santorum what they really are: liars, thieves and propagandists who will justify any action and any smear in pursuit of the concentration of profit and power in the hands of the few at the expense of everyone else. Demagogues of the worst kind.

And now I think I need a shower.

Almost forgot. Hat-tip to babble.

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July 11, 2005

No man, woman, or child has worked harder campaigning for the Martin Liberals in the wake of the sponsorship scandal than Gurmant Grewal. And just when you thought he had already given it his all, it turns out he's being accused of depositing campaign contributions into his personal accounts.

It's hard to imagine a more effective way to completely neutralize any fallout from the Gomery report than to have a Conservative MP out there telling donors ``Oh, and that campaign contribution cheque? Yeah, just make that out to `cash'.''

Now it's clear that whatever Grewal may have done -- and it's only allegations at this stage -- is not even playing in the sponsorship scandal's league in terms of total dollars. And instead of it being all Canadian taxpayers being fleeced, it was a few donors. In its way, though, that must make it all the more frustrating for the Conservatives. Because however comparatively small the amount, it remains awfully hard for the Conservatives to effectively play the ``Vote them out! They're corrupt!'' card against the Liberals when the allegations suggest that at least one Conservative MP -- a very public one who the leadership has stood behind -- would be out there passing cash under restaurant tables with the best of them the moment that his party took power.

Stephen Harper doubtless thought that being loyal to his MP was the right thing to do. But the ``they're corrupt, vote for us instead'' pitch is only convincing if the public has good reason to expect that you will be much cleaner than the alternative; claiming fewer corrupt politicians is a pretty weak selling point. If the Conservatives wanted to be taken seriously as the party of good behaviour, they should have walked the walked and ousted their member at the first whiff of impropriety. Or at least the second or third.

Despite the black humour that the ever more sordid Grewal affair allows, this situation is enormously discouraging. A second party which would make for a viable government is absolutely essential, and the traditional two seem, at the moment, hopeless. But then, traditions change. If Jack Layton -- who Canadians view as significantly more honest -- starts running a strong `cleaning House' campaign, who knows what might happen.

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July 8, 2005

Hackery

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I can understand that Rosie Dimanno of the Toronto Star wanted to find nice things to say about the British in the wake of yesterday's bombings in London. But it's unfortunate that she felt it necessary to do so by smearing another country and perpetuating a myth.

England is not Spain.

It won't cut and run, cowering in the face of atrocities and threats realized.


Lets review. A majority of the Spanish population were opposed to their country's involvement in the war in Iraq before the Madrid bombings. Current Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero had made it clear that if he won, he intended to withdraw Spanish troops from Iraq. He said that before the Madrid bombings. And outgoing Prime Minister Aznar managed to screw up his own chances for re-election by playing politics with the bombings. He incurred the wrath of the Spanish electorate by lying to them, by insisting that the crimes were committed by Basque terrorists and even pressuring the media to stick to the party line and not report otherwise.

What happened yesterday in London was a tragedy and a horrible crime. Using it to smear previous victims of terror because their politics don't happen to agree with your own doesn't make it any better.

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July 7, 2005

Conspicuous by our absence

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I heard a disturbing factoid on CBC radio today. Of the five countries Al Qaeda listed by name as being prime targets because of the invasion of Afghanistan, four have suffered major terrorist attacks.

The United States (Although this was pre-invasion.)

Australia

Spain

Britain

The only other country listed by name was Canada.

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James Travers had a piece in the Toronto Star on the weekend in which he wondered if the federal government was too stupid to learn.

Apparently.

The federal government hired a communications firm with close ties to Prime Minister Paul Martin to track public opinion through every twist and turn of last fall's health-care summit between Mr. Martin and the provincial premiers.

The survey by Veraxis research and communications, which is headed by senior Martin adviser David Herle, tested support for the various proposals being considered, as well as who would bear the blame if the talks were to fall apart.


It occurred to me for a moment to wonder if the contract for this polling was properly tendered. Then I decided that it didn't matter because in politics, perception is everything. And where the Liberals are concerned the perception is still that it isn't what you know, it's who you know.

Veraxis Research and Communications is, of course, Earnescliffe Research and Communications with a different name. And at least in this corner, the Liberal party has no credibility until all of these people are miles away from the government.

It's always possible that it isn't stupidity at work here. It could be arrogance -- the belief that this kind of patronage can continue without penalty. I'm not sure which is worse.

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July 6, 2005

OK, I wasn't actually on vacation. But I took some time away from blogging to get involved in a different kind of project.

About ten days ago a new website went live. It's called Flu Wiki. If you're not familiar with the term wiki, here's a definition from Wikipedia, which is itself probably the highest profile wiki on the internet.

A wiki ... is a web application that allows users to add content, as on an Internet forum, but also allows anyone to edit the content. The term Wiki also refers to the collaborative software used to create such a website (see Wiki software).

Three bloggers, Melanie Mattson, DemFromCt and Revere, had become convinced that there is a very real danger of an influenza pandemic and that at least some government and public health officials aren't giving the possibility the attention it deserves. So they decided to band together and do something about it and the Flu Wiki is the result. They needed a somewhat geekish partner on the project to install and configure software and learn how it worked. That would be me. I've spent the last few weeks trying to learn enough about this wiki engine to stay one step ahead of everyone else (and not always succeeding).


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July 2, 2005

A quick look at Canada Day posts, taken from the first five blogs on the lists of the Progressive Bloggers and the Blogging Tories that posted yesterday.

Progressive Bloggers

A Little Bit Left:

There's no other country in the world that I would rather live in.

Accidental Deliberations:

Happy Canada Day!

Automatic Thought:

Go out and celebrate your Country!

Before Dawn

Happy Canada Day!

Blank Out Times

(In which Pooh Waves a Maple Leaf About):
Today is Canada's birthday. Happy Birthday Canada! Happy Birthday Canadians!
``We have all the passion of France, without embracing rudeness and snootiness. We have all the backbone of the Brits, without the coldness and sense of superiority. We have all the gumption of the Yanks, without the brashness and arrogance. We are a patient people. We are a kind people. We are in short a wonderful model of a very civil society.
Canadians are not threatened by people from different cultures and places. We embrace diversity and our psyche doesn't feel threatened by those who differ from us even if those differences are very fundamental. As such we are flexible, dynamic and open. These are traits which make Canadian culture sustainable and strong. Society's and cultures which are rigid, uncompromising and xenophobic are quickly destroyed by that unwillingness to adapt to, appreciate and incorporate new ideas, new people and different ways of looking at the world.

Blogging Tories

Rantastic

``Happy Canada Day, I Guess''; ``I've been feeling rather disconnected form my country''.

A Chick Named Marzi

``[a picture of] a discarded maple leaf flag floating on Lake Ontario with a cigarette butt near it. I couldn't have staged it better myself. It pretty much sums it up, doesn't it?''

Blog Quebecois

``I once loved my country''; ``Happy Whatever Day. I really mean that.''

Strong World

``the least representative and least accountable natoinal government in the advanced democratic world''

Captains Quarters (An american blog; nothing about Canada or Canada Day.)

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