Sunday, February 27, 2011

Gaddafi: jilted lover?

The news is so Libya-focused it’s really been hard to write about something else. The thing is, I don’t just want to hear about Libya. Bahrain is a powderkeg waiting to blow up right on the edges of Saudi Arabia.  Tunisia’s PM resigns. Yemen is still going strong, just picking up steam. Dominoes are toppling, and no one has any idea what shape the final pile is going to look like.
But Libya is king of the media right now, so I’m jumping aboard.
Gaddafi is now blaming outside forces for  the uprising in Libya. He may be right. Al-Qaeda might have hordes of operatives over there, busy dripping poison in the ears of innocent Libyans. Or maybe aliens are doing it. Or the CIA. Or the Girl Guides.
These people are braving death to overthrow him. I’ll say it again: death. You do not get pushed to that level of dissatisfaction because someone shows up on poker night to complain about taxes. It takes more than a few dudes handing out leaflets on street corners to get an entire country to rise up and march into the teeth of machine guns. Could this revolution somehow be Gaddafi’s fault? Is it possible? To quote the immortal Michael Jackson, perhaps Gaddafi should say “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”
He’s like an abusive husband that suspects his wife’s girlfriends are behind her sudden desire to leave him. If only he could keep his spouse locked in a box, cut off from the world’s corrupting influences... then things would be great. Libya could keep right on cooking his meals and smiling while he bats her around. Gaddafi-as-abuser just can’t see that maybe he’s partly to blame. You know, just a little, maybe 10%. Even if he was able to see that, he sure doesn’t have the stones to fess up to it. Instead he’ll just keep sitting around the Dictators’ Lounge, throwing back beers and complaining to his tyrant friends about how “Libya is such an ungrateful bitch.” He’s given her more than 40 years of his life! What’s he supposed to do now? Find another country to abuse? He may find that a tougher market than when he first entered the dating scene.
I guarantee does not have a checkbox for “seeking nation-state that won’t mind my boot on its neck.”

Friday, February 25, 2011

Superman's a knob

He’s not a hero. Far from it. While he could never be accused of outright villainy, he’s certainly an expert in selfishness.
Think about it. Superman has the power to bench press the moon, zip around the planet at the speed of light, and is invulnerable to everything except pieces of a very rare rock. With all of this nearly limitless power, what does he do? What great wrongs does he right, what terrible crimes does he prevent?
First, he pisses away eight to ten hours every day pretending to be a mild-mannered reporter. Why? Just to be close to some pushy woman who would never give him the time of day if he weren’t Superman... which he is, so just tell her, have your sex, and get on with your life. Jeez. As far as being a journalist is concerned, it’s a fine calling. The search for the truth can be a noble thing, but is being a wage-slave really the best use for superspeed? Supes can fly around the whole planet 7.5 times in a single second. How much truth could he discover if he weren’t wasting time at Daily Planet staff meetings and filling out requisitions for news equipment?
Second, he’s staked out a single city to protect. Sure, maybe it’s the biggest city around (except for perhaps Gotham, we’re not clear on that) but it’s a city, man! One city! He could claim North America without breaking a sweat, and the whole world if he only gave up the stupid day job (see above note about his world traveling speed). And what does he do in Metropolis? For decades, as near as I can tell,  he collared muggers and stopped bank robberies. What about dismantling drug cartels, stopping illegal arms shipments, and bringing down corrupt politicians and corporate executives? Sure, he defends the planet now and again from some extraplanar bad guy, or stops Lex’s mad schemes for world domination, but where is he for the daily stuff?
Put a blue helmet on and join the Peacekeeping Force. It would take him about two seconds (literally) to put a stop to any conflict, no matter how intense. Just a single breath can send a whole regiment of tanks toppling backwards. Irrigate the Saharan Desert. Plant and harvest four quadrillion acres of wheat to feed the world. Gather up all our nuclear waste and toss it in the sun. Use all those Kryptonian secrets of yours to share some otherworldly solutions to industrial pollution. Come on, man, get in the game!
The average person does very little, and is capable of doing very little unless bolstered by wealth or cooperation. Superman does a lot, but is capable of doing everything. Literally everything. Would we admire a billionaire for giving 10 bucks a year to charity? So why think Superman's a hero for putting in such a fractional effort? When you look at the gap between the good Superman could be doing, and the good he actually does, it’s analogous to you or I  becoming serial killers and drug lords.
Verdict? You suck, Superman.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Too many to pick from, sadly

Everyone has seen those Child Find posters. Pictures of missing children stare out at you, beseeching you to find them and give some resolution to their poor, grief-stricken parents. It’s tragic, to say the least. Kids go missing all the time, from all parts of the world; well over 60 000 a year in Canada alone. Thankfully, the vast majority of them are found in short order. The Child Find posters are for those that aren’t.
Who knows when a tip might send the authorities in the right direction? A new neighbour moves in with a kid that looks nothing like them but makes you think of a face you saw somewhere, and the next thing you know a family is reunited. The odds aren’t good, but if it were my kid, I would want any chance, no matter how slim.
But who vets these posters? What criteria do they use to decide who gets their picture on the proverbial milk carton, and who languishes in the Child Find oubliette? With more than 60 000 missing children cases every year, they have no shortage of kids to choose from. Even if 99% are found or rescued within a week, that leaves 600 potential poster-children in every 12 month period. That is a lot of kids (unfortunately). So why do some get poster space while others don’t?
The last time I saw a Child Find poster I took a good look at it. I have to say the thought process behind some of the kids they chose to display was entirely beyond me.
One had gone missing when he was 18 years old, in 1988! That “kid” turns 41 this year. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if that poor soul isn’t dead, he’s not being found because he doesn’t want to be. Another girl would turn 17 this year, wherever she is. She’s been missing since she was 11 months (months, not years) old. She’s maybe lived her whole life (assuming she’s been lucky enough to have had one) thinking her abductors are her real folks. What are the odds that she’ll ever be found? They had a picture of “her” but it was just a blond model of some teenage girl, since no one can know what a year-old infant is going to look like sixteen years down the road.
Some of the missing kids were more recent, others were just as old (one was missing from the time he was three, and he’d be 25 now). I’m not saying that all of those cases aren’t tragic. Every one deserves to be solved, and if a happy ending can’t be reached, at least the suffering parents would have some closure. What I’m asking is if those example of missing children are really the ones that have the best chance of being resolved with a small space on a poster? Aren’t there others, more timely, more recent, with more accurate information, that might see a little more in the way of results?
I just want to know the rationale behind their decisions. Their website did not have my questions listed as one of their FAQs, I suppose because just asking it is considered insensitive beyond belief. Boorish or not, it’s a valid query: why these, but not others?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Egypt sure got the ball rolling

All from today:
“Protesters die as crackdown in Libya intensifies.”
“Protesters rally for 6th day at Wisconsin Capitol.”
“China cracks down on protest threats, rounds up dissidents.”
One of these things is not like the others.
For all the (valid) complaints about U.S. government and policies, I have to say there is a great distance between ignoring your demands, and shooting at you when you make them. In Wisconsin we’ve got a bunch of union supporters ticked that their collective bargaining rights are about to be stripped away. Basically it’s a protest about removing their protest options, a sort of preemptive protest. It does beg the question, though, as to how many of those thousands would still be there if there were snipers and hired killers raining bullets into the crowd. If you dare to protest in some countries, you’d better have a serious gripe. Heck, China is arresting people who are only talking with each other about maybe getting together to get something started (a preemptive shutdown, if you will - it’s all about being preemptive).
However, I have to say that of all these Libya takes the cake. Not only is Gaddafi shooting anyone who uses their outside voice (you know he’d be one of those guys that really takes it out on movie-talkers), he is now shooting the people who show up at the funerals for the people he’s already murdered. That’s nuts. It’s some sociopath's version of entrapment. I mean, this is comic book villainy here, real moustache-twirling over-the-top bad guy stuff, so amoral you wouldn’t believe it if you read it in a novel. It would be absurd if it weren’t so horribly tragic.
Gaddafi came to power in 1969, and there he has remained, though he’s changed his title a few times. He is currently the longest-serving non-royal head of state (read: dictator) anywhere. Most of us followed his rise to stardom in the Western media during the heady days of Reagan, where President Actor dubbed him the “mad dog of the middle east.” In spite of a few sad efforts to embrace the world community, Gaddafi has been content to run his oil-rich corner of the world like his own private pleasure palace (for him, not his people). To list his human-rights violations is beyond the scope of this article, my blog, and possibly the whole internet.
My question is: How did this guy escape the Bush-boom being lowered on him? Sure, Reagan bombed him a bit in ’86, but Gaddafi never saw hordes of marines come surging over his beaches to oust him from power. Bush Senior smacked Hussein on the nose, and Dubya finished him off, but what about Gaddafi? Isn’t his oil good enough for America? Is it Communist oil somehow? Just like Hussein, he’s guilty of abusing power and his own people. Like Hussein, he’s never managed to build weapons of mass destruction. Why aren’t his fictional weapons as dangerous as Hussein’s were? Come on, guys. Gaddafi’s got oil, he’s no American ally, he’s no threat to U.S. soil, there’s no chance he could ever expand his little empire, and he certainly looks the part of dictator, with his weak moustache and his penchant for poorly-chosen hats. So just how is Gaddafi any different from Hussein? America, doesn’t he deserve your bombs and attention just as much as the next despot?
I’m sure those poor protesters could use the help.

Friday, February 18, 2011

I'm sorry, China!

China has swooped in and hacked Canadian government computers. According to experts, they are likely looking for information about new weapons and resource policies. Though the government was warned as early as 2002 that our computer network is a sieve, no action was undertaken until late 2009. What little was done clearly wasn’t enough to prevent a squad of patriotic, probably under-paid, Chinese hackers from breezing through our systems. We still don’t really know how much they got away with. China denies any responsibility for the attacks. Of course they do. Only terrorists take credit; governments always hide from their actions (something both democracies and communists have in common).
I can’t help but feel somewhat responsible. Can it be a coincidence that these attacks began in January, shortly after I exposed the Chinese Organ Secret? (See my post on January 24, if you're unfamiliar with my theory.) I did notice that my blog saw a little traffic from the Far East... suspicious indeed. Clearly the Chinese government has been galvanized by my exposé to launch a no-holds-barred assault on our institutions. They hope to bring us down before their secret can be revealed to the world, and most particularly the U.S. Now I see that my anti-American comments in this forum have only helped to seal our doom: without them, perhaps some Americans might have read the truth about China’s plans for world domination before it was too late. But now they know, and we have no chance against the powerhouse that is China.
They won’t dare attempt a nuclear strike, for fear of destroying all of our precious natural resources that they covet. A conventional war means they’ll have to go through the U.S. Navy (still number one in the world) and then fight all those crazy gun-toting Yanks before they can crush us. Not that the U.S. wouldn’t love to see us beaten up, but if China gets us, then America loses out on cheap power and cheap pot, so they’ll be sure to protect us. No, our destruction will have to take a subtler path.
First they’ll stop making anything in the world for a buck, and bring all our Dollar Stores to ruin. How will we live without cheap, lead-lined spatulas and knock-off Hello Kitty notebooks? Our poor (and spendthrift) will rise up in a wave of protest and revolt, surging from town to town like locusts, crashing through doors and windows in search of nearly-free consumer goods. We can’t imagine the looting that will take place. Without a source of bargain-basement goods, even retail giants like Wal-Mart might come tumbling down. All those huge blue stores will just shut their doors forever.
You know what? This might not be so bad after all. Bring it on, China!
(As an aside, I read the comments under the CBC story about the hacking attacks, never able to learn my lesson. However I was rewarded rather than punished this time. One delightful wag had written, “If the hackers are reading this, could you please wipe out my student loan debt? Thanks.” It gave me a chuckle, anyway.)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

What is smarter than a human?

We are one big leap closer to computer intelligence. Anyone who watched the Jeopardy challenge episodes this week must have been amazed by the way that the IBM computer, Watson, was able to dominate gameplay. That’s right, a real live (well, sort of) computer was kicking butt in Jeopardy.
If that doesn’t seem so amazing, take a moment to consider the nature of the gameshow clues. They involve plays on words, puns, colloquialisms, and language twists that are sometimes difficult even for us humans to grasp right away. Yet Watson was slamming one clue after another. Sometimes he was wrong, sometimes he wasn’t even close, but after three days that machine ended up with a score three times as high as either of the human players. This is a feat a fair bit more difficult than simply beating one of us meat-bags at chess. (In fairness to Deep Blue, the chess ‘puter, I wouldn’t have the skills to even understand how either machine was programed, so you’re still impressive too.)
As part of the show, the top three choices that Watson selected were displayed on the screen, to give us a peek at his thought process. It was interesting, to say the least. One clue I remember asked what sort of footwear you’d have if you were wearing “Wellington’s at Wimbledon.” Among Watson’s choices were “panties.” He had rubber boots (the correct answer) on the list, but he wasn’t at all sure (somewhere about 40%, I believe). So I conclude that he brought up all the clothing items that had radically different names in the U.K. when compared to America, which is how panties showed up (knickers, mates, knickers).
What’s next? After gameshows, maybe talk shows? Guests at first, spouting on about programmers never taking them out, and the Apple machines they have affairs with, but then eventually getting their own shows. After that, probably mayors of major urban centres, then United States governors. Perhaps even the White House isn’t beyond reach? So long as the computer in question wasn’t made in China, it could certainly be considered “born in America” for their silly anti-immigration presidential clause. Some Canadians could argue that a computer prime minister would have more warmth and personality than our current model, so maybe we have something to look forward to.
In the world of Jeopardy, both poor fleshlings Watson was pounding on knew they were crushed completely. For his Final Jeopardy answer on the third day, after his real response, Ken Jennings wrote: “I for one welcome our new computer overlords.”
Always side with a winner. Smart move; Skynet would approve.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Across the pond

Why can’t we join the European Union?
Obviously we’re not part of the European landmass. But that’s a technicality that shouldn’t stop us from achieving such a merger. Referring to the distance over the Atlantic as “across the pond” isn’t accidental. Sure, it’s a lot of water, but it’s no Pacific. It was a two or three month trip by sailing ship in the Days of Yore, but it only takes five days or so now, dramatically less if you’re flying. Newfoundland and Ireland are about as far away from each other as Portugal and Romania; the only difference is that it’s water between us instead of land.
Distance isn’t a factor, and we can’t blame culture, either. It’s hard to paint a diverse and complex sub-continent with the same brush, but we have just as many European values in common as we do American (and I would say more, actually). Plenty of us even prefer the original BBC versions of all the television shows that the Yanks have ripped off.
Instead of being the tag-along partner to the American juggernaut, we could be a real player in the European community. We have fewer people than Spain, but have about the same GDP. That would place us sixth in terms of economic power in a union of 27 nations. Not bad at all. We wouldn’t be so dominant that our presence would be unbalancing, and not so small that we’d be ignored (like poor ol’ Malta.) Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to have our opinions command some attention?
There is already talk of merging the Toronto Stock Exchange with the London one. I say take this process to its logical conclusion. Instead of being simply the hewers of wood, carriers of water, and providers of cheap power to the leviathan on our doorstep, let’s jump in where we will have a real voice.
Our real problem boils down to laziness and lack of vision. It’s just easier to ship everything south and bow our heads when they smack us around than it is to pursue a course that might promise short-term frustration for long-term gain. Damn the tantalizing allure of sloth. I should really go and start a protest to get us all out of our collective lethargy. But The Daily Show is on, and the couch beckons.
Maybe I’ll go later.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The good guys march in a line

I haven't caught every major news event in my lifetime. But this is definitely the first time I can remember public acclaim and applause to follow in the wake of military intervention. After the departure of a despot, the Egyptian military has stepped in and dissolved parliament. This move is being celebrated in the streets by virtually all sides.

What happened to the days when dictators gained and then maintained power through the support of the army? What is going on when the greatest force pushing for democracy is the military? They dissolved parliament! Logically, that should be bad, horrible, an atrocity, and a harbinger of worse to come. Isn't this supposed to be the move of a villain? Heck, the Emperor dissolved parliament in Star Wars, and he's pure evil!

Sure, I get it. In this case, parliament is corrupt and elected under shady circumstances. Getting rid of them will mean a smoother transition of power in the future. Of course, that's probably what the Emperor said just before he fired all the politicians, too.

Still, maybe we're hearing the accurate story. The military probably are the White Hats in this case, but that only deepens the mystery. Doesn't the military know that its power should be used only in support of the Dark Side? What sort of training academy did these dudes go to, anyway? Defending democracy while a perfectly useful, evil dictator slips offstage? Madness, I tell you; sheer madness.

If this trend continues, every evil tyrant in the world will have to sleep with one eye open. If you can't trust the army to defend your iron-fisted policies, who can you trust? Harper might soon be dragged off in chains. If only the U.S. military had the morals of the Egyptians we might have been spared eight years of Dubya.

Go Army, indeed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why do rotten apples even need money?

Once again the bad apple threatens to rot the entire barrel. Canadian Revenue Agency offers a tax credit for the disabled. Unfortunately, the greedy have come out of the woodwork, as they always do, and have quickly taken advantage of a noble effort.
Entire companies whose sole purpose is to help you get this tax credit have sprung up. They get 30% of your rebate. Can you imagine they have any motive but the absolute purest? I’m sure they are diligent in their definitions of what constitutes a disability. My favourite case is the firefighter who is on active duty and has passed all the rigorous tests required for that position. He’s qualified for the disability credit thanks to one of these companies. What’s his disability? Excessive bravery? Civic virtue? He bench presses too much?
The people who have already received money are complaining that the government is trying to snatch it back. The gall of Big Daddy Gubmint! This is precisely the same as a bewildered thief, being dragged away in handcuffs, crying, “You mean you’re taking the jewelry back? That is total BS, man!”
Former employees of these “help-you-be-disabled” companies have come forward to say they were directed to ask leading questions (what a shock). “Are your headaches severe enough to be considered migraines?” “Are you sure you only get them a couple times a month?” “That must cause you a great deal of distress and depression.” I think their training manuals don’t go quite so far as to say, “Now add a wink, wink,” but it’s pretty close.
Obviously I don’t mean to make light of the thousands who have valid claims. Not at all. Instead what I propose is that we make the dreams of the loophole-lookers and abusers true. They want the disability tax credit? Fine, here it is, no strings attached.

Well, maybe one string.
You want the money that the disabled get? No problem. Let the CRA go door-to-door dispensing cheques... and disabilities. There are plenty that can be doled out. I can think of plenty of positives to this. We’d be creating jobs for a whole new type of accountant, a real “heavy-hitter” sort, previously employed only by lone sharks and the Mob. It would be a great stress reliever for overworked civil servants. Wheelchair sales would go through the roof.
You know what they say: If you can’t beat ‘em... beat ‘em up.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A pox on you, Rachel

I’ve heard of Americans pretending to be Canadians while abroad before. They pull on the sheep’s clothing over the wolf of their national reputation in order to not get judged as jerks before they even open their mouths. The stories of loud, obnoxious Americans tourists are legion. It’s as much a part of their national stereotype as “eh” and donuts is for us.
Like many stereotypes, there is a kernel of truth at its heart. Even if statistically only one out of every ten Americans that travel ends up being a dick, that’s the one you’re going to remember. After a few years of encountering tourists, the conclusion becomes a false “All Americans are A-holes.”
I worked in the hospitality industry for a few years and I reached that conclusion myself, even though I know that intellectually it’s wrong. But the men that made the biggest stinks over the hours the pool was open and the women who freaked out over the colour of the carpet had, time and time again, American addresses. By far the most annoying quirk that they evidence is a stupefying belief that their currency should be accepted everywhere like its an American Express card. They assumed their American dollars were not only just as good as the local flavour, but better, as they were always upset by the pathetic exchange rate they can receive over the counter (we're not a currency exchange, goober). If you won’t take their money, they get either angry or are honestly puzzled, as though the concept that a sovereign nation other than America would have the gall to print their own money is just too alien. (When you travel, get some local money! Everyone knows this!)
Tirade aside, my point is that I understand why a tourist would discard their usual love of country and adopt the guise of a humbler land. They want to avoid being served a spit-burger from some narrow-minded ass like myself. It’s a compliment in a way. The world likes us better, but can’t really tell the difference between us, so you pretend to be us. Thanks.
Then tonight I saw an American on TV who explained that she also pretended to be a Canadian while traveling. Aw, that’s sweet, I thought, until she went on. She doesn’t do it so that she’ll be treated better. Oh, no. She does it when she knows she’s acting like a jerk because she figures Canada deserves to get its reputation tarnished! She doesn’t want to add to the lexicon of obnoxious Americans, patriot that she is. America's reputation isn't deserved, she claims with perfect hypocrisy as she then goes on to embody the very reputation she decries as unfair. Classic.
Instead of being polite, though, she just keeps right on being obnoxious and then lumps it all on Canada’s doorstep. That is so... so American! Gah! Infuriating.
So if you encounter a fat, red-headed woman named Rachel, and she’s being a real A-hole but claims to be Canadian, quiz her a little. What’s our capital city? How many provinces do we have, how many territories? What’s our population? And if she can’t answer those questions, I beg you: spit in her burger.
And sneeze on her poutine.

Monday, February 7, 2011


I can’t believe that I’ve never seen this before. Maybe it’s new (though I doubt it) or maybe my timing has been bad (more likely) or maybe I’m a little clueless (most likely of all). I saw the schoolyard kids playing a game when I dropped my son off after lunch, and it really opened my eyes.
For most of my adult life I’d thought we knew how to play hard as kids. We really threw down, I believed. Kids were thrown happily down snowhills three metres high in the name of King of the Hill. We scrambled up trees so high that we began to suffer the effects of altitude hypoxia. Dog-piles could involve every child for three townships, creating the equivalent of seventeen G’s of pressure on the sucker at the bottom. Clusters of us would watch as the opposing side hurled steel-tipped lawn darts in great arcs to come slicing down into the ground at approximately the speed of sound. We would measure our skill at swinging by the number of kids we could cleanly clear by leaping off at the swing’s apex. Pellet guns, wrestling matches, dunking (what is now referred to so fondly as “waterboarding”), potato guns, slingshots, bows and arrows, firecrackers, and pocket knives, the list goes on and on. Virtually every one of our daily activities has been deemed unsafe in the modern world, and no parent I know would let their child roam the neighbourhood armed to the teeth with a child’s arsenal as we were.
So what were these new-aged children doing? At first I thought it was Red Rover. There were two lines of kids facing each other a distance apart, and one at a time children were hurling themselves at the opposing line, just as we used to do. But no one was holding hands. So how were they measuring victory?
They weren’t simply trying to break through the line, as we did with Red Rover. No, success or failure was determined by whether the chosen kid could land a vicious and high-speed flying kick! Each one would come ripping towards the opposing side and then launch themselves into some semblance of an aerial assault, ninja-style. Many of these little psychos got high enough to plant heels against chests. If the attack hit, both attacker and defender went down in a heap of tiny limbs. If it missed, the would-be martial artist would crash down to the icy snow, bouncing along like a skipped stone.
I watched for about ten minutes. Everyone was laughing. No one got angry. There were no injuries (other than perhaps internal; ruptured spleens and the like) and certainly no awareness that injury was even possible.
It really brought me back, witnessing an entire horde of children completing ignoring their own safety just to have a good time. Way to go, kids! The spirit of youth lives on!

Friday, February 4, 2011

More the fool, I

Gah, I did it again! I scrolled down and read the comments after a CBC story.
This one was about the meetings Harper is having with Obama regarding trade and security. The article quotes NDP MP Brian Masse as saying: “American politician continue to slag Canadians as terrorists and they go uncontested every single day.” Then, like a fool, I kept going down to the dark depths of public idiocy and read a comment: “Mr. Masse, get over yourself. Mud is flung from both sides of the border.”
Once again the urge to reach mystically through the internet to slap someone took hold of me. When Canadian politicians fling mud, they get reprimanded. When Americans fling mud, it becomes public policy. Doesn’t anyone recall, for example, that Janet Napolitano is still Secretary of Homeland Security? This bird firmly believes that every terrorist that’s drifted into the U.S. has done so from our side of the border. Just how many lunatic policies has just this one ignoramus managed to enact? They are an excitable people, Americans, and it doesn't take much to goad them into ignoring all reason and running roughshod over civil liberties and international relations alike.
No one can dispute that throwing a pebble at someone is wrong, but pitching a brick into someone’s face is just a little bit worse. In terms of national and global effect, that’s what Canadian versus American ill-will garners you (we’re the pebble, in case you weren’t sure). So while it is certainly true that both sides chuck particulate soil in a colloidal suspension*, only one toss results in a veritable mudslide. Canadian mudslinging becomes sketches on This Hour has 22 Minutes or Rick Mercer Report. American mudslinging becomes McCarthyism.
(*"particulate soil in a colloidal suspension" being, of course, another way of saying "mud." Thanks to Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory for the synonym, which I gleefully stole.)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

When animals attack!

While out for a walk tonight, we were attacked by a dog.
No one was bitten. I don’t think the dog even intended to bite. But he was a Golden Retriever, not a small breed by the usual standards, and when a dog that size suddenly barks and lunges at you on a dark street, you pee your pants a little bit.
This canine was leashed but it was one of those extendable leashes, and the owner had it played out to maximum, so when the mutt came at us, his human handler wasn’t anywhere near close enough to leap in and take the beast by the collar to keep him back. Instead said long-distance owner gave a hearty chuckle and called out, “Don’t worry, he doesn’t bite!” (I view this blithe assurance with the same degree of cynicism I would treat the statement of some stranger informing me that their friend won’t actually stab me, he just likes to carry a knife.)
He didn’t pull the leash in or make any effort whatsoever to control his pet. Instead he just jauntily strode by, talking to his dog in an annoying baby-talk. “Oh, why do you have to be so friendly, you big guy, yes, you, you’re a friendly one, aren’t you.” (Ugh. That sort of talk is one small step from doggie sweaters.) From his tone and demeanour we were left with the distinct impression that he was of the opinion that we were over-reacting and shouldn’t have flinched away from his slobbering precious.
Of course we were. After all, “he doesn’t bite.” What a silly statement issued with delusional confidence. The best a dog owner can ever truthfully say is “he hasn’t ever bitten yet.” Anything more is a bold-faced lie. All dogs bite. They bite each other when they play, they nip at flies, and they’ve even been known to take a chomp out of their own poop from time to time (yes, what a noble creature).
There are plenty of dogs I would trust to rush at me and not fear that my calf muscle would end up as a nice light snack. But when an unfamiliar dog comes for me, I don’t appreciate the cavalier attitude of the owner in question. Even if he doesn’t give a fig for me personally (and why would he, I don’t like his dog!) he should have a care for his animal. If the freak chance becomes a reality and his dog bites someone, he’s legally liable and his beloved pet faces the possibility of death by vet needle. Anyone who would baby-talk their own dog would certainly be heart-stricken by such an event, so take some care, Mr. He-Doesn’t-Bite!
And if he thinks I wouldn’t try to have a dog that bit me put down, he deeply underestimates my sense of vengeance. There are humans I would have put down if it were legal (come on, admit it, we all would), so I wouldn’t even blink at a dog.
The real lesson here is that dogs shouldn’t be allowed out of the house. And probably neither should I. (You know, I bet that same dog is the one that peed on my snowbank the other week, too. He looked about the right size. Wouldn’t that be a coincidence? Coincidence... or a systematic attempt at harassment, there’s no way to be sure.)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dial M for "Mass Appeal"

The Kepler telescope has found a crapload of planets out there. Scientists will have to do all sorts of astoundingly complex and exceedingly dull calculations to make sure the data they’ve received indicate actual planets instead of... well, they don’t say what. Is it static? Faulty electronics? Did the telescope drive under some high-tension wires? Most likely it’s just the standard admonition from smarty-types to the rest of us not to immediately get our hopes up the moment the first numbers are in.
We’re looking at over a thousand potential planets out there, in only a small fraction of the sky. Pretty neat stuff. Fifty-four of those are zipping around their respective stars in roughly the habitable zone. That means they may have liquid water, a precursor for “life as we know it.”
But what if they have liquid water and no life? Or what if their gravities are just too strong, or their sun too hot, or their summers too short to give life that little kick in the pants it needs to get itself started. Or the oceans could all be delightfully warm and predator-free, making it extremely unlikely anything would ever bother to crawl out and grow legs, arms, fingers, and eventually a manufacturing industry that can produce iPods.
How do the astronomers classify all of these potential options? I’m sure they do, somehow, since nothing bugs a scientist more than something that can’t be properly charted and lumped in with a hundred of similar relatives. Yet it’s obvious whatever structure they are using doesn’t work that well, since that pesky little fellow Pluto keeps jumping back and forth from one column to another.
I would like to suggest that when they begin to label and classify the newfound planets, they embrace a tried-and-true method. It’s detailed, thorough, covers every eventuality, and best of all, already has a veritable horde of knowledgeable experts more than willing to answer any and all questions. This system, of course, is the Star Trek Planet Classification guide.
We all know planets that can support life are class M. But are our astronomers aware that many other crucial classifications also exist alongside the ol’ mainstay M? From class A (a small, young planet with an undeveloped core) to class Z (hostile and cruel worlds with bizarre anomalies and a penchant for human lethality) there is no stone left unturned here. Is there any doubt that Star Trek would be diligent in its application of the scientific principle? What better way to make certain the imaginations of the public are captured than to use these classic terms, so memorable, basic and yet specific?
Is there any doubt that “class M” is a whole lot easier to remember than “within the habitable zone and likely possessed of liquid water?”
(For those interested in more details on this planetary windfall, here is the link:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Canadian smugness can live on

I’ll admit it. Most of my life I have felt a sense of superiority when I compared this country to America, especially when I compared our health care systems.
The richest nation in the world, unable and unwilling to make sure that the most basic needs of their citizens was met? Unconscionable. Meanwhile here in the north we may have wait times and waste, but we hardly ever leave someone outside a hospital to die. Nor do we put sick people in cabs and send them across town to the free clinic, just because they couldn’t produce an insurance card. You aren’t denied coverage for your life-saving surgery because this is the second time you were sick, and the government doesn’t send us bills for a hospital stay that force us to remortgage (and then lose) our homes.
Of course we have problems. I wasn’t blind to them. But at its heart our health care system was allowed to treat patients without worrying about the almighty profit margin, and that single difference allows it to be better. No matter how often America beats Canada in population, wealth, the Olympics, trade disputes, world renown, military might, or hockey, we could always fall back on knowing that we actually try to keep our own people alive instead of letting their last dollar equal their last breath.
Until recently. Thanks a lot, Obama! Blasted bleeding-heart Democrats have taken away our best and brightest spar, giving guaranteed health care to every single American. Sigh. I might as well move down there and start practicing the Oath of Allegiance.
Or should I? The whole thing is being challenged in the American courts (a lot). At first I thought it was just an under-handed effort to undermine legislation that might hurt the precious insurance companies (and it probably still is, at least in part). However, having listened more and read more leads me to believe the court cases have very solid ground on which to stand.
Part of Mr. Obama’s health care reform requires all Americans to get insurance through commercial companies. That isn’t universal health care! Yes, the law also compels those companies to grant insurance to people they would probably rather not insure, but so what?
As a Canadian citizen, while within this country, I will live and die knowing that I am always under the protection of the Canadian health care system. No effort on my part is required to get this wonderful gift, or maintain it. I can’t accidentally forget to renew my insurance or have it cancelled or have my insurer find a loophole that would allow them to let me go. I don’t have to worry about filing claims or having them rejected. Nor do I have to figure out which doctor or hospital I’m allowed to go to in order to be able to go for free. We all get it, automatically, everywhere. That is universal health care.
Democrats don’t have the political power to get real universal health care passed. American lobby groups are just too powerful, and likely to stay that way for some time. Inevitably even this lame, watered-down American version of what we enjoy will be beaten in court on the (valid) argument that forcing anyone to buy something is unconstitutional. That’s assuming it isn’t repealed entirely. How long will it be before they try again? Or will they ever really get it right? Why is it so hard to embrace such a basic, morally-justified concept?
Ah. My sense of self-satisfied smugness looks to be in no real danger.