May 2009 Archives

May 30, 2009

Downbeat update

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The finals of Britain's Got Talent have already begun over the pond. When we know the results, I'll update on the turn, and if there is a truly winning performance, I'll try to find an embed. But I have to tell you, the semi-finals have kind of brought me down.

Yes, Julian Smith, ultra-cool sax guy, came first in Thursday night's semi-finals, which is what I'd been cheering for, so why didn't I do an update then?

There's been something just a bit off about the semi-finals -- I'll bet that others have been feeling that too. Several of the performers whose skill and assurance took us by surprise in their auditions have seemed to waver or flatten out in the semi-finals. Although everyone ended up giving favourites like Susan Boyle and Julian standing ovations on their second appearances, we all knew that both had fluffed their openings, and the nice things that the judges said as the winners were ushered forward to the finals often sounded more than a touch strained.

And then last night, in the last of the semi-finals, disaster struck.


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May 29, 2009

Friday night

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I first became aware of Chris Smither when Bonnie Raitt recorded one of his songs. That was in the seventies, I believe, and I had to wait 'til the age of YouTube to see him for myself. I seem to recall Canadian Cynic posting this tune once upon a time. And if I'm wrong and he didn't, he should have. [Update: He did. And he did it again.]


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More copyright foolishness

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It looks like our government is embarrassing us on the international stage again, siding with the American entertainment lobby in opposing a treaty that would protect access to the written word by the blind and people with reading disabilities. Cory Doctorow has the details. Go. Read.

And may I tip my hat to psa at Canadian Cynic.

Update:

Edited to change "improve access" to "protect access." Need more coffee.

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May 28, 2009

A tale of two Jims

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Finance Minister Jim Flaherty explaining why the federal government's deficit is expected to be much higher than forecast even a couple of months ago:

More than half of the additional spending is aimed at preserving the ailing auto industry, he said.

Economist Jim Stanford in reference to the so-called bailout of the automotive industry:

...the financial support that will be given to the two companies is being delivered (the two governments announced earlier this spring) in the form of commercial loans from a federally-owned bank: the Export Development Corporation (EDC).

It's a loan, not a bailout. And like the $200 billion in loans and asset swaps which the Bank of Canada delivered to Canadian banks in recent months, it should not show up on the federal books as a direct "expenditure."

So what's the real reason for the increase in the size of the deficit? Or did Flaherty flunk book-keeping 101 and go public with a bad number?

Update:

Courtesy of Impolitical, here's the latest from Canadian Press and it explains while not really explaining. The government intends to both make loans through the EDC and purchase an equity stake in the companies. And the amounts involved are indeed greater than anticipated to the tune of about $7 billion. But both of those investments are just that: investments and not expenditures. The only way that $7 billion comes directly off the government's bottom line, thus inflating the deficit by the same amount, is if the investments are to be immediately written off as having no value at all. But why would they do that? Why would they inflate the deficit more than they have to? It certainly doesn't conform to GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Principles).

As it happens, Jim Stanford is quoted in this article and he doesn't get it either.

Unless of course they want to be able come back to us a few more months down the road and announce that due to their mad, masterful money management skills they've managed to bring the deficit back down — by booking their investments at their actual value. But they wouldn't pull a stunt like that, would they?

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May 27, 2009

There are ways and ways of taking a break from reading about torture every day. Taking a walk along a busy city street, for instance: if you look up and start to pay attention to each of those faces you meet, you can find yourself thinking positive thoughts like: "Gosh. The world is just full of nice people who don't torture or send other people off somewhere to be tortured by proxy." I promise you -- that is a thought worth having at least once a day.

And/or you could start following along with the very strange and probably not entirely progressive phenom known as Britain's Got Talent, which most North Americans had never heard of before Susan Boyle took our knees out from under us about six weeks ago and left us lying in puddles of tears hitting replay compulsively.

I'll say a little more about Susan, her faithful cat Pebbles, and the horror of these competitions on the turn. One of her competitors, though, some weeks later reminded me of a thought I'd had about Susan when I first watched and heard her. When she walked out on to that stage, she was the only person present in that vast auditorium who knew what she could do with her voice ... but she knew. She really knew.

And so it was for Julian Smith. (Well, ok: his wife was there, and she knew too.) And before I overintroduce him, I just want to give you this (unfortunately abbreviated, but embeddable):


How do I love thee, Julian Smith?



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The Canadian Press reviewed the state of infrastructure spending by the feds since January's budget and found that there really hasn't been much. And that review is of projects that would be strictly federal jurisdiction, not the ones that would require matching funding from another level of government. So it's difficult to spread the blame around.

As the story mentions, when Flaherty delivered the budget he was quite clear that "measures to support the economy must begin within the next 120 days to be most effective." But don't despair. As the story also points out, the government has made up for the lack of actual activity by making some of the spending announcements twice.

I believe the expression that became popular while the United States had a faux Texan in the White House was "all hat and no cattle." And as it happens I have a picture of the hat in the upper right corner. It is impressive, isn't it?

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May 25, 2009

Deep thought

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I wonder how many politicians are starting to realize that if they were interested in real power, they should have gone into banking instead of politics.

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Can I get a refund?

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The Vancouver Sun decided to report on Canada and intellectual property issues by playing stenographer for The Conference Board of Canada.

Canada's reputation as the file-sharing capital of the world is contributing to the country's poor record in innovation, according to the Conference Board of Canada.

That's the conclusion from a series of reports by the Conference Board released recently in the lead-up to its conference on intellectual property rights on Friday.

I'm not sure the Conference Board should be making negative comments about anyone else's poor record regarding innovation. Or copying for that matter. Michael Geist explains why.


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May 22, 2009

Friday night

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Remember we're walkin' up to heaven, don't let nobody turn you 'round.


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May 20, 2009

Boo!

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Shorter John Ibbitson: My (not so) subtle attempts to persuade Canadians to accept making Canada a colony of the United States haven't been entirely successful so maybe I'll trying scaring them into it.

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Deep thought

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If everyone is talking about how bad the Conservative attack ads are it means that everyone is talking about the Conservative attack ads.

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May 19, 2009

I've seen several bloggers go after this piece by Tom Flanagan in today's Globe and Mail and I'm a bit surprised that none of them have made the obvious point that occurred to me when I first read it.

Flanagan tries to float the theory that the free market would take care of human rights abuses and do it more efficiently without interference by government. And without a hint of irony one of the examples he puts forward is the collection of laws colloquially known as Jim Crow. These were the laws that enforced segregation in the American states between the eighteen seventies and 1965 when Lyndon Johnson got his civil rights legislation passed making Jim Crow itself illegal. But the Africans whose descendants were the victims of those laws were brought to this continent as slaves in the first place to increase the profits of the land owners, who were quite happy to become slave owners as well in order to have access to cheap labour. And the slave traders who captured those Africans and brought them to this continent were just that: traders looking for profit.

That slavery didn't end because it became less profitable to have slaves than to have employees; it ended because governments, at least in some jurisdictions, finally decided that no amount of profit could justify allowing it to continue.

I'm quite sure that Flanagan is intelligent enough and has a good enough grasp on history to understand this without me having to explain it to him. But his goal here isn't really to explore issues of human rights and the best ways of mitigating abuses thereof. His goal, as usual, is to discredit and ultimately hobble government. Even if he has to go to ridiculous and even disgraceful lengths to try and do it.

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Both Justice Dennis O'Connor, in his inquiry into the detention of Maher Arar, and Justice Frank Iacobucci, in his inquiry into the mistreatment of three other Canadians, included in their recommendations that Canada's intelligence and law enforcement agencies needed to become more accountable. In the wake of the inquiries both former Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day and the current minister, Peter Van Loan, have been pleased to assure us that the Conservative government has listened and responded. But both of them have been a little short on detail. It doesn't look as though we can expect that to change without a struggle.


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May 17, 2009

Sunday morning

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May 15, 2009

Friday night

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To begin the festivities this evening here's another little taste of Ruthie Foster, who was last seen here back in March.



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May 9, 2009

Let's make Monsanto cry

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We've had fresh evidence recently that the people behind Monsanto either don't consider the possible negative consequences of their products or don't care. I would think the last thing we would want is to become dependent for our food supply on Terminator technology, i.e. plants that produce sterile seeds which force farmers to go back to — guess who? — Monsanto for the seed to produce next year's crop. What if there are other unforeseen consequences of the tricks scientists have played to create these seeds that don't become evident until the legacy seeds, the ones that work the way nature intended, are hard to come by? We know from previous history that seeds have a way of winding up in fields other than the ones in which they were planted.

Red Jenny alerts us to the re-introduction of a private member's bill I can get behind. It would effectively outlaw Terminator technology in Canada. Jenny's post has links you can follow if you want to support this legislation or even just learn more about the issue. The Canadian government has been carrying water for Monsanto and in support of Terminator seeds on the international stage for quite a while, going back at least as far as the Paul Martin government. The NDP and the Bloc are already in support of banning Terminator seeds but if the Liberals are going to get on board, I'm betting it will take a lot of yelling and screaming to get their attention.

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May 8, 2009

Friday night

As the man himself says, we'll start out just taking our time. It's Friday, after all.



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May 3, 2009

Many happy returns, Pete

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I awoke this morning to the joyful noise that the rev paperboy was raising at The Woodshed and Teh Beavers.

Today Pete Seeger is ninety years old, and I thank the rev for reminding me. Pete is the guy who faced down the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1955 by taking the First, not the Fifth -- that is, he didn't refuse to name names because he declined to incriminate himself; he refused to grovel or to incriminate others because he considered HUAC an offence in the sight of the First Amendment of the American Bill of Rights, that classic articulation of the first and noblest principle enshrined in the bills and declarations and charters of every genuine democracy:

I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.


I know I've played this historic performance (famously censored for about four months) before, but it's my favourite from the years of Pete's triumph over those who had tried for over a decade to silence his music and his forthright defence of genuine democracy.


Thank you, Pete, and thank you for the breakfast concert, rev.


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May 1, 2009

Friday night

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We're going to ease into it this evening with something unplugged.


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