Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas Cont'd

I don't let go of Christmas easily. Always keep the decorations up until Epiphany. So as the festivities continue and we get ready for the New Year, I thought you might enjoy this 30 second video that my brother and sister in law created. Elapsed time photos of building their gingerbread house. It's both fun and festive. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

It was just over 10 years ago at a university Christmas party when it struck me as odd when a friend of mine wished me happy holidays. I questioned, "Don't you mean Merry Christmas?"
"No, I mean Happy Holidays" she replied. I left the conversation perplexed and ever since I've been intensely aware of the 'war on Christmas.' Some years I've let myself get quite worked up about it. This year seems strangely different.

Now I find the ridiculous and supposedly inoffensive greetings that companies and "progressively" minded individuals simply humourous in a sad and pathetic kind of way. In a way the fact that Christmas is out of favour among progressive types makes saying Merry Christmas that much more powerful because it really means something. It's a thrill to see faces light up when you say the simple phrase. For me it's a thrill just to say it. It's a statement of Faith and that's powerful in itself that reminds us we are created beings who are loved and supported by our God who was willing to come to Earth, become human, sacrifice himself and rise again. So . .

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Please Bishops Don't Let H1N1 Dampen Christmas Celebrations

The dust is finally settling after the massive H1N1 overreaction.

Unfortunately not all of the effects are over. In my diocese (Hamilton) the Bishop's are still advising Catholics not to shake hands at Mass and I've heard stories from friends in Toronto that holy water has been removed from the entrance ways in churches.

I never liked this decision from the start, but now it's time for our worship to return to normal. It appears that everyone at a church service will have either received a flu shot or knowingly decided against it and accepted any associated risks.

Bishops, Please as Christmas approaches let us enjoy our worship to the fullest including by blessing ourselves, shaking hands, and receiving the sacraments in the method we're most comfortable.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Effective Diplomacy with China

Opposition leaders were quick to argue that the Chinese Premier's statement that Stephen Harper should have visited China earlier somehow weakens our country and our Prime Minister. Poppycock. In advance of the visit, China finally lifted a partial ban on Canadian Pork products and today Canada is on a list of approved travel destinations for Chinese citizens. John Ibbitson summarized the event as follows:
In sum, the agreement represents a significant breakthrough in relations between the two countries. But Mr. Wen was clearly not willing to let the occasion pass without expressing his displeasure at the Conservative government's previously chilly approach to the Middle Kingdom.
It seems to me Harper has successfully strengthened the trading relationship with China while staying true to his convictions and standing up for human rights. Premier Wen's comments show that Harper's efforts to signal displeasure with the lack of freedom in China have clearly had an impact on his hosts and have therefore been worth the effort.

Today Stephen Harper has demonstrated that our country can strike a balance between staying true to Canadian principles and building economic opportunities. Congratulations are in order.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Taking Advantage of US Health Care

The Guelph Mercury reports today that the number of Ontario residents heading to the US for medical treatment is growing exponentially. A new report documents:

A 450 per cent increase in OHIP approvals for out-of-country care since the beginning of this decade, a period of explosive growth in new technologies and therapies not covered or available here. The province agreed to fund 2,110 procedures or treatments in 2001, and 11,775 last year.

Patient demand has created a new breed of health-system navigators, known as medical brokers, who find U.S. options for the growing number of Ontario patients who elect to pay for medical services south of the border themselves.

Medical brokers negotiate discount rates with U.S. centres to get Ontarians faster diagnostics, second opinions and surgery. Brokers say that for every patient sent south by the Ontario government, there may be up to 10 others who go — and pay — on their own.

It's easy to say we don't have a dog in America's internal fight over health care, but clearly we do. Ontarians are flocking to American hospitals because wait times are shorter, and technology is better. Both of those advantages exist because the private American system ensures both innovation and adequate resources. If the Americans socialize their system, we may no longer enjoy the same access to the best health care providers in the world.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Climate Shame

Can't believe I missed this story about leaked emails showing 'scientists' trying to spin and suppress data that contradicted the global warming thesis that has gotten politicians whipped up into a world wide frenzy. I always had a suspicion that we were being sold a faulty idea with the hype surrounding global warming, now I'm sure:

Hundreds of private e-mail messages and documents hacked from a computer server at a British university are causing a stir among global warming skeptics, who say they show that climate scientists conspired to overstate the case for a human influence on climate change.

The e-mail messages, attributed to prominent American and British climate researchers, include discussions of scientific data and whether it should be released, exchanges about how best to combat the arguments of skeptics, and casual comments — in some cases derisive — about specific people known for their skeptical views. Drafts of scientific papers and a photo collage that portrays climate skeptics on an ice floe were also among the hacked data, some of which dates back 13 years.

In one e-mail exchange, a scientist writes of using a statistical “trick” in a chart illustrating a recent sharp warming trend. In another, a scientist refers to climate skeptics as “idiots.”

Some skeptics asserted Friday that the correspondence revealed an effort to withhold scientific information. “This is not a smoking gun; this is a mushroom cloud,” said Patrick J. Michaels, a climatologist who has long faulted evidence pointing to human-driven warming and is criticized in the documents.

Some of the correspondence portrays the scientists as feeling under siege by the skeptics’ camp and worried that any stray comment or data glitch could be turned against them.

This is scary stuff. How many millions of dollars have been spent on fighting 'climate change'? How many people have been genuinely fearful of an imminent environmental disaster because of the one-sided coverage of climate data? Maybe the upcoming Copenhagen conference will finally provide an opportunity for an honest discussion about the data.

Then again, maybe not.

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Food Post

Food is highly personal and we all need to eat something so it makes sense that it would be a hot topic. I just did a Google Blog search and found more than 71 million blog posts about food. Truth be told I'm pretty much fed up with people telling me what to eat, a few examples come immediately to mind.

Last night the lady cutting my hair said we shouldn't drink milk because we're the only animal in the world that drinks milk from another species or drinks it as an adult. Ugh - newsflash - we're not like 'other animals.' No other animals plant their own crops, raise their own livestock, or even trade different types of food. What silly logic.

Of course there are the militant vegans. Last week, the Globe and Mail gave front page coverage to that extremism in an article titled, "Is any meat OK to eat?" The article is full of bizarre assertions about animals such as, "We don't think it's right to create animals that can't reproduce sexually." The only animal I've heard of that doesn't reproduce on it's own is a donkey, and I've never seen that on a plate.

I think of my friend, affectionately known as French Fry because of her pretty clear food preference. Everyone seems to take an opportunity to make fun of her food choices, but she looks perfectly healthy to me. My only goal is to match calorie intake with usage close enough that I don't turn into a butterball. That seems to be working too.

I'm quite tired of the silliness and would prefer to be left alone to eat what I want. Unfortunately the debate seems to have been ranging for quite some time. But the good news is previous generations often figured it out.

The stoic philosopher Epictetus felt he had to address it saying, "Preach not to others what they should eat, but eat as becomes you, and be silent." Sound advice there. More than 100 years ago Mark Twain made a similar observation, "Part of the secret of success in life is to eat what you like and let the food fight it out inside."

Even today there are people who get it. Max Fisher wrote earlier this year, "My mistake--and the mistake of anyone bothered by the diets of others--is placing an objective value judgment on what a person chooses to eat and not eat." Right on.

The most definitive answer to the question, "what should I eat?", probably comes from the Bible. St. Peter says:
I looked into it and saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, 'Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.' "I replied, 'Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' "The voice spoke from heaven a second time, 'Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.' Acts 11:6-9
I won't argue with the Big Guy. Maybe I'll have a cheese burger for breakfast.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Remembering Our Soldiers

Happy Remembrance Day. This is really a beautiful song by Billy Ray Cyrus and I can't think of a better tribute today.

May God bless all our soldiers. If any of you are reading this today - Thank you for your service to us!

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Godspeed Dr. Dobson

On Monday I heard Dr. James Dobson announcing his retirement from the Focus on the Family radio programs. It was a fluke that I was listening to the program at all; I rarely have the opportunity to listen, but when I do I often feel fed and encouraged by the episodes. Dr. Dobson has an exceptional gift at his ministry of helping families live faithfully, lovingly and successfully.

Focus on the Family Canada's press release is fitting noting, “Dr. Dobson’s impact on families in Canada has been profound. Over 26 years, he has left a rich and lasting legacy to Canadians through his books and radio broadcasts.”

That's true. If anything it's an understatement. Whether dealing with practical issues like building a stronger relationship with your spouse and raising godly children or somewhat more controversial responses to attacks on the family from same sex marriage to abortion, Dr. Dobson has always taken an orthodox Christian position and delivered it in an unassuming, deeply respectful way.

It's a testament to his leadership and faithfulness to God's call that he has been able to build such a strong organization and set it up for future success after he leaves the organization.

Godspeed Dr. Dobson, I'm sure whatever you do next will also bear much fruit.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Not the Time for All Day Kindergarten

Moira MacDonald is spot on with her commentary in the Toronto Sun noting that:

The decision by the McGuinty Liberal government to not only plunge ahead with all-day kindergarten, but add $500 million to its previous $1-billion cost by opting for a full-day, rather than half-day kindergarten teacher (score another one for the teachers' unions), represents a gamble in the face of a $25-billion deficit for this year.

Whether the government wins its bet or not, those same kindergartners will be among those saddled with the bill, however slickly Premier Dalton McGuinty side-stepped questions yesterday about how to pay for it.

It is a huge gamble indeed. Setting aside the merits of whether full time schooling is really the right thing for kindergarten students, this decision is really a massive expansion of government at a time when we can ill afford the increase. Cutting $25 billion annually in spending or raising taxes on an ever-shrinking provincial economy is going to be painful enough adding a new and questionable cost now is simply wrong headed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

More Questions Than Answers

The Toronto Sun reports that married men are apparently much more attractive to women than single men. Sounds like a recipe for heartbreak to me:

According to a recent study out of Oklahoma State University, the urge to lure away a married man is a real phenomenon known as "mate poaching."

For the study, men and women were asked to describe their ideal romantic partner and were told they'd be computer matched with someone who met their criteria. Half of the participants were told their matches were involved with somebody else, whereas the other 50% believed them to be single.

Here's where things get sticky. When researchers described a man as single, just 59% of the women expressed interest in him, but when he was considered off-the-market, a whopping 90% were eager to get their hooks in.

Men, however, showed no preference for women in relationships.

I never would have expected those results. I honestly would have thought people in general would look for someone unattached so there's fewer complications.

I pointed the story out to a friend of mine at work, and she explained that if a man's married at least one other woman thought he was a good catch and at least he's willing to make a committment. Once a guy gets past a certain age she figures there must be a reason he's still single.

I definitely appreciated her insight but I'm still left with more questions than answers:

Why do women and men think so differently about this?

Aren't women who pursue a married man just setting themselves up for heartbreak?

Shouldn't married men be more aware of this to better guard their hearts and remain faithful?

Is it possible that I'M EVEN MORE ATTRACTIVE than I thought? ;P

I Want a Mark Carney T-Shirt

Mark Carney clearly gets it, telling traders to focus on inflation rather than speculatively driving our dollar higher:

Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said currency traders should focus more on how the bank will meet its inflation target when thinking about whether policy makers are considering action to stem its gains.

“Markets should take seriously our determination to set policy to achieve the inflation target,” Carney said at a news conference today, when asked if traders are taking seriously the chances of intervention. “Markets sometimes lose their focus, we don’t lose our focus.”

The primary responsibility of the central bank is to control inflation, that means raising interest rates when price increases threaten to destabilize the economy. It also means there's absolutely no need to raise interest when our dollar has strengthened dramatically - our dollar's strength will keep downward pressure on prices for the foreseeable future.

The strong Canadian dollar makes imports cheaper, as well as making Canadian companies' costs relatively higher than their American competitors. Anyone who participates in international markets, either by exporting, competing with imports, or selling services internationally is going to be hurt by a rapid rise in the Canadian dollar. That's why the Bank of Canada noted Tuesday that the dollar's strength will “more than fully offset” recent signs of growth.

I've noticed a lot of bravado coming from currency traders saying the drop in the dollar as a result of Carney's comments is a buying opportunity. I think it's time for those boys to take contorl of their testosterone. Bloomberg notes:

Carney also said today the bank still “retains considerable flexibility in the conduct of monetary policy at low interest rates,” and that “intervention is always an option.” He spoke during a news conference in Ottawa today after releasing a quarterly economic forecast.

“That is a pretty blunt smack down of some recent commentary,” said David Watt, senior currency strategist in Toronto at RBC Capital, a unit of Canada’s biggest bank. “It shows that the Bank of Canada isn’t musing about exit strategies; I’m not even sure it’s done with stimulus.”

RBC is right. All the tools remain in the Bank of Canada's court. The Bank recognizes that a persistently increasing dollar will seriously hurt our economy so the Bank is prepared to put the brakes on the dollar's ascent. I commend the Bank for its courage and sense of purpose and I'd warn speculators betting on a stronger Canadian dollar that taking on our central bank is likely to be a losing propostion.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ruby Dhalla's Dead Horse Beaten Again

Ruby Dhalla's Private Member's bill to extend old age security benefits to immigrants who have been in Canada for as little as 3 years was never going to go anywhere. Now even the Brampton Guardian says it's time for Dhalla to give up on the idea:

Last June, Brampton-Springdale MP Ruby Dhalla introduced a Private Member’s Bill to amend the benefits act so immigrant seniors can qualify to receive old age security benefits after three years instead of 10 years. . .

The bill has raised a storm of controversy, and rightfully so.

Now is not the right time to toy with this issue. The economy is stressed and government coffers are also strained.

Besides, the Private Member’s Bill doesn’t have a chance in hell of passing as long has the Tories hold power.

Dhalla’s bill is nothing more than grandstanding and an attempt to win votes from her constituents. If Dhalla and the Liberals are serious about pension and benefit fairness, put the issue in their platform and run on it in the next election.

Brampton is Dhalla's home turf and it has one of the largest concentrations of recent immigrants in the country. It's bad news for her if even this newspaper wants her to give up.

The Libersals have sensibly distanced themselves from this bill, and I can't see the proposal being included in the next platform. To me the proposal violates a basic sense of fairness, and I wonder, why would elderly immigrants even expect to receive a cheque every month from Canadian taxpayers if they haven't contributed anything at all to our economy?

Friday, October 09, 2009

Shouldn't a Nobel Prize . . .

go to someone who actually accomplished something?

So Barack Obama wins the Nobel Peace prize:

OSLO — US President Barack Obama sensationally won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday less than a year after he took office with the jury hailing his "extraordinary" diplomatic efforts on the international stage.

"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future," the Nobel jury said in making the stunning announcement.

It said the decision was unanimous.

The committee attached "special importance to Obama's vision and work for a world without nuclear weapons" and said he had created "a new climate in international politics."

I'm just not sure how they came to this conclusion. Vision is one thing - but impact is what matters. Over his watch, the situation in Afghanistan has progressively worsened and Iran appears to be on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons.

I don't usually put much faith in the opinions of music radio DJs but, tellingly I was listening to MacArthur in the Morning on 103.9 FM, and the one announcer said to the other, "Don't you think this is a little premature?"

"I think it's A LOT premature" was the response. My guess is that'll be the consensus opinion around the world.

Hey Panic Mongers - We Just Don't Care

The Canadian Press reports Canadians Don't see H1N1 as a Personal Threat.

In the story Dr. Michael Gardam observes, "It would be far easier to go down this road [encouraging vaccinations] if it was a more virulent virus."

No kidding this whole story has been overkill since day 1 and thankfully Canadians aren't buying it. Maybe now the media will move on and find another reason to try to create a global panic.

Here are some neat details from the poll:

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima poll suggests interest in the swine flu vaccine has declined in Canada, with only a third of people now saying they will get the shot, compared to 45 per cent in late August . . .

The poll, conducted from Oct. 1 to 5, suggests at this point people don't believe this virus will have much impact on their lives. Only 11 per cent of people described themselves as very concerned about H1N1, and 25 per cent said they were somewhat concerned. Nearly two-thirds of people said they either were not very concerned or weren't concerned at all about H1N1.

Three-quarters of Canadians surveyed felt they would be exposed to seasonal flu this winter, but only 45 per cent felt they would be exposed to the pandemic virus.

Only five per cent of respondents felt they were very likely to contract swine flu, and 72 per cent felt they were not that likely or not likely at all to get infected with the new virus. In contrast, 18 per cent felt they were very likely to get sick with seasonal flu. . .

The poll suggests half of people don't plan to get any flu shot at all this year. Of the 50 per cent who do, 27 per cent said they would get both seasonal and pandemic flu shots. In total, 33 per cent indicated they would get an H1N1 shot and 36 per cent said they'd get a seasonal flu shot.

Those numbers actually align pretty closely with the percentage of the population that rolls up its sleeve for flu shots in regular years - further proof, Gardam said, that suggests people don't see the pandemic virus as a greater-than-normal threat at this point.

Monday, October 05, 2009

My opinion of Harper just changed dramatically. I'd say overnight but I only saw a YouTube video of his Beatles' cover this morning:

[Note on the video. I've seen a few, this one has my favourite camera angle.]

I've campaigned for the Conservatives in the last few elections and I've kept donations going to my favourite conservative candidates or MPs, but, I've still had a mild discomfort with Stephen Harper. He strikes me as a brilliant strategist and a very effective Prime Minister, however, he very often seems cold and ruthless too.

Today, thanks to Lauren, he seems a lot more likable, even fun.

At home, he plays the piano “almost daily,” Mrs. Harper said . . .

[The] band met Mr. Harper through “a friend of a friend,” according to percussionist Phil Nolan, a high-school music teacher by day. “We've gone over [to 24 Sussex Dr.] a couple of times this summer to jam,” Mr. Nolan said Sunday.

Those jam sessions made Herringbone a natural choice for Mr. Harper's stage debut. “We got a phone call,” Mr. Nolan said. “It was Laureen's idea to play and so we decided we'd get together and see.”

He said their first real rehearsal was Sept. 27, less than a week before they were scheduled to play “the show of our lives.”

Together they chose the performance piece, Mr. Nolan said. The decision was not based on lyrics or symbolism. “My husband loves the Beatles, the song was in his vocal range and that is about it,” Mrs. Harper said.

Summertime jam sessions and covering Beatles' tunes. . . That's just plain awesome. We'll be jamming with some friends this Saturday night. It's something regular people do. All of a sudden Stephen Harper seems a lot more real.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Trying to Understand Liberal Infighting

I have to admit it's been pretty fun watching the Liberals scramble in the wake of Denis Coderre's resignation. As a Conservative I'm very familiar with revolts against the party leader. I've been on both sides, publicly calling for John Tory's resignation and staunchly defending Stockwell Day when he was leader of the Canadian Alliance.

At the same time the latest battle seems a little foreign. As I understand it Mr. Coderre and his Quebec allies had a favourite candidate to run in a very winnable riding and Ignatieff had already given his tacit approval. BUT Ignatieff's Toronto buddies decided they would pick their own candidate and convinced Ignatieff to approve theirs. Coderre was cheesed off and quit his party position.

So we've got the Quebec Liberal party elites angry with the Toronto Liberal party elites. If I were a Liberal party member in the riding in question I'd be mad at both groups. Where I come from a party membership entitles you to vote for your candidate. Apparently that's not the case if you are in a riding that the Liberals think they can win.

Canadians should be asking themselves not only how can the Liberals manage the country when they can't manage their own party, but also how much will they respect Canadian voters when they don't even respect their own party members.

Shameless Plug - Riding Fundraiser

On Saturday October 17, 2009 the Wellington Halton Hills Conservative Riding Asssociation is hosting a Murder Mystery Dinner at the Optimist Hall on Trafalgar Road west of Georgetown. Tickets are a very reasonable $40.00 each and the food is great. For tickets contact Laurie at "mlaurien - AT -" by October 9.

I've gone in years past and both the actors and the meal were excellent. If you're in the area it's definitely good value for your money. If you do plan on going please leave a comment, I'm still deciding whether to go and you might help tip the scales for me.

Those Nasty Conspirators

I've had this bumper sticker hanging around my cubicle for many years now. . .

An old friend of mine pointed out that it's still useful! That's right. Bill Clinton still believes there's a network of right wing conspirators that are out to get him and the rest of the Democrats. LOL. What a guy.

Don't worry Bill it's not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Congratulations Ivan Luksic

Ivan Luksic was officially nominated as the Liberal candidate for Niagara West - Glanbrook last night. I say, "Congratulations Ivan!"

Why do I care about a Liberal nomination meeting far away from where I live? Just one reason Ivan Luksic is a good man. I've kept in touch with him since my university days and I know that he is both principled and passionate. Too bad he flies the wrong colour banner.

I wish him all the best, and I have to say the Liberals are lucky they got at least one piece of good news yesterday with Ivan's nomination.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Jimmy - Give Us Some Credit

Jimmy Carter's downright stupid observation has been eating at me for a whole week now. Carter said, “an overwhelming proportion of the intensely demonstrated animosity towards President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.’’

President Obama rightly tried to distance himself from the comments, but his comments on CNN Sunday made this attempt seem especially lame: “Are there people out there who don’t like me because of race? I’m sure there are,’’ Obama said on CNN. “That’s not the overriding issue here.’’

“Not the overriding issue.’’ Hmm. That's enough to distance himself from the comments, but it still leaves plenty of room for the charges to stick.

Anyway, others have said more than enough about the comments and their political impact. The thing that drives me is that the label 'racist' is such a powerful condemnation of a person's character it really should not be used lightly. At the same time it's completely out of date. I honestly don't think I know anyone born withing 20 years of me that doesn't judged people based on their individual merit.

I just wish the lefties would give people some credit and talk about the issues instead of trying to insult their opponents, which in the case of health care seems to be a majority of Americans.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

About the Human Rights Tribunal Ruling

I'm quite sorry that I haven't taken the time to write anything about last week's decision that section 13 of the Human Rights Act is unconstitutional. The decision has already been celebrated and analyzed by much more timely, eloquent and informed bloggers. Still it's worth stating that this is a significant victory for freedom after decades of having left wing activists use the commissions as a punitive tool to beat honest Canadians into submission it's richly satisfying to see the cracks widen in this badly broken system.

In a decision released Wednesday, the commission's tribunal dismissed a complaint filed against Marc Lemire, a webmaster who runs, a site that bills itself as "Canada's freedom resource center."

The complaint, which alleged that messages posted on the site were discriminatory and exposed minority groups to "hatred and contempt," was filed by Ottawa lawyer Richard Warman.

In rejecting the complaint, commissioner vice-chair Athanasios Hadjis ruled that Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act violates the Charter of Rights and Freedom, "which guarantees the freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression."

This ruling creates a very significant gap in the law and now our politicians must rise to the challenge and dismantle the commissions in their entirety while still making any individuals with valid complaints aware of their options within the real court system.

The reforms can't come a minute too soon, and they shouldn't be limited to the blatant assault on free speech caused by section 13. On Tuesday the Guelph Mercury reported that an unemployed teacher is launching a complaint against a Catholic School Board policy of hiring Catholic teachers. I wonder what part of Catholic School this guy doesn't understand.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Inspirational Radio Ads

Yesterday was kind of a crummy day. I got the feeling a lot of people thought I was a jerk, and started to think they might be right. Long stories. Anyway on the drive home I heard three different radio advertisements that bear repeating. I'll have to paraphrase unfortunately.

The first one was on CKWR from a local insurance agent simply said 'feeling stressed and unsure how to act? try reading from Bible daily' and then there was a quote from the book of Proverbs that seemed to be just what I needed.

The next ad came shortly later after I had switched to Q107. It was from the Heart and Stroke Foundation and gave a detailed description of a heart surgery operation. It ended with something like, "what's so exciting about this operation? The patient hasn't been born yet, the operation is taking place inside the baby's mother. Research from the Heart and Stroke Foundation helps save babies before they are born." Awesome I thought, very pro life and very inspirational.

Later in the drive I think I was listening to Classical 96.3, there was a Ronald McDonald House commercial. It went something like this: "Look at your finger, now look at your whole hand. You're whole hand is 40 times stronger than the individual strength of all of your fingers and your thumb added together. Families are the same way. Help Ronald McDonald House keep families with sick children together." Again I thought this is wonderful; when would I hear such a pro-family message on a major radio station? More frequently it seems.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Desperate For Good News

I was surprised (pleasantly I think) by the media's coverage of Canada's GDP numbers. I read a note from RBC this morning that said consensus was that Canada's 2nd quarter GDP would shrink by 3% and that anything worse than that would be negative to the Canadian dollar. Actual 2nd quarter growth fell far short of that and yet the media have jumped on this as a good news story:

Canada's economy grew for the first time in 11 months in June, providing a glimmer of hope at the end of a period that still marked the country's third consecutive quarter of economic contraction.

Gross Domestic Product increased 0.1 per cent in June from May, led by drillers of oil and gas, wholesalers and real estate agents, Statistics Canada reported Monday.

Over the second quarter as a whole, GDP shrank at an annual rate of 3.4 per cent, compared with a contraction of 6.1 per cent in the first three months of the year, as exporters continued to struggle to find markets amid the deepest global downturn since the Second World War.

Statscan's latest GDP figures reinforce the Bank of Canada's outlook. The central bank, led by Governor Mark Carney, predicted last month that Canada's first recession since 1992 would end this quarter and begin a long, slow climb out of the hole created by the financial crisis.

I've gotta commend the media for finding the silver lining. People really are desperate for good news and it looks like we've found it.

Also I've gotta feel for the RBC forecaster, he was right about weaker overall growth in the quarter, but he got the market reaction all wrong.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Catholic Schools Outperform

This story made the front page of the Guelph Mercury last week. Apparently Catholic students in Ontario outperform public school students by a significant margin in standardized tests. I really wanted to title the post "Catholics are Smarter" but there's not enough data to support that statement - at least not beyond grade 6. Even so the C. D. Howe Institute report was bold in it's conclusions:

Students in Catholic schools perform better than their counterparts in the public education system, believes an analyst who has extensively studied Ontario's schools.

“For reasons we don't necessarily know, Catholic schools do better in Ontario,” said David Johnson of the independent C.D. Howe Institute.

“My conclusion is that Catholic boards are better. No matter how you slice this data, the Catholic boards outperform the public boards.”

The institute's latest report on education notes 10 of the top 11 schools in the province – based on test results of students in grades three and six – are Catholic schools.

Johnson, an economics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, noted across the province, students in Catholic schools always do better than their public board peers.

That's a pretty solid endorsement of Catholic education. Parents take note.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Welcome Warning from the Bank of Canada

I caught this story on the radio this morning:

In a speech Tuesday, the Bank of Canada's deputy governor, Timothy Lane, said there was a real danger that the nascent recovery would be hobbled if the dollar continued to rise.

"A persistently strong Canadian dollar would reduce real growth and delay the return of inflation to target," Lane said. "If a stronger dollar were to alter the path of projected inflation … we would need to take that into account."

Finally! The rapid rise in the Canadian dollar has put a crushing burden on exporters and our fragile economy can't afford the massive drag that the dollar's rise creates. So far the Bank of Canada has avoided taking measures like increasing the money supply through quantitative easing even though the American government increased it's money supply drastically at the beginning of the financial crisis and has shown little effort to reign the money supply back in.

The Bank of Canada and our government should continue to make every effort to ensure fluctuations in the exchange rate don't wreak havoc on our economy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My Reading List Just Got Longer

I'm still coming to terms with the fact that I read this book review in the Toronto Star. James Grainger has high praise for David Adams Richard's book, "God Is. My Search for Faith in a Secular World." I hadn't heard of this author before, but he's being compared with some pretty heavy hitters.
Author David Adams Richards is regarded as a rare voice of moral and spiritual certainty in the Canadian literary scene, rejecting the postmodern ambiguities of most of his fellow novelists and earning comparisons to Hardy, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy. Richards' best fiction dramatizes the struggle of those rare heroic individuals who try to live by faith, and the almost equally heroic individuals whose struggles with sin and temptation often drive them to destruction.
The book appears to tell a personal story of God's active involvement his life as well as targeting a deeply entrenched bias against religion in Canada:

Richards was raised as a Catholic, and though he fell away from the church as a young man and still quarrels with many of its teachings, he has found his way back to the faith again and again. In God Is., Richards shares his personal and theological enquiry into the nature of faith, broadly defined as the belief in a fundamental meaning and order to life, one created and sustained in the individual believer by periodic glimpses of God's love and guiding presence.

That Richards' novels of sin and faith have attracted a largely non-religious (and certainly non-Catholic) readership is proof of his talent and vision. But to make an argument, in non-fiction form, that our struggles with faith and sin define us as human beings is a pretty bold move.

As Richards argues in the book's first section, a bias against religion, especially the Christian religion, is practically de rigueur for even mildly progressive types these days. (No less an authority than Brad Pitt recently stated that he understood why gay couples would want to marry but he couldn't understand why people still needed religion.)

That bias, Richards claims, is particularly strong in the Canadian literary community, where the denigration of religious belief is a "kind of swaggering doctrine that in its own way is as rigid in its essential belief as the evangelical or Catholic dogma it mocks."

Richards is not the first to make the point that atheism or secularism requires just as much 'faith' in unprovable assertions, nor is he the first to show how decidely illiberal 'liberal' thinkers can be. However, anti-Christian bias seems particularly strong in Canada, and I wish Mr. Richard every success in battling against it.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A False Controversy

Today the Globe and Mail asks the question, 'Were Afghans Brave Enough?' as they reported claims that Taliban intimidation may call the result of Afghanistan's election into question:
Millions of Afghans braved Taliban threats to cast their ballot in a crucial presidential election Thursday as doubts surged over whether the turnout was enough to deliver a credible result.
The answer already seems clear. Yes, Afghans were brave enough. The reasons come directly from the article itself:
United Nations, American, Canadian and Afghan officials praised the election as a success, with Washington expressing cautious optimism that Afghans would respect the result.
The optimism is well founded considering that:
The violence fell well short of what was initially threatened by Taliban commanders who had vowed to deploy dozens of suicide bombers on voting day, promising death and dismemberment to anyone who dared vote.
While the threats may have been effective at intimidating some voters to stay home, John Manley's analysis seems apt:

John Manley, Canada's former foreign minister, monitored the election as part of a delegation from the National Democratic Institute. He saluted the bravery of Afghan voters. “If somebody told me I would have my right index finger cut off if I voted, it would certainly impact me. These are courageous people,” he said of those Afghans who cast a ballot. . .

Mr. Manley said in the coming days, everyone needed to take a step back: “You can't necessarily say this election needs to be perfect. It clearly won't be perfect, but the question we need to answer is, does it overall reflect the will of the Afghan people.”

There doesn't appear to be any reason to think that the result won't be accepted. The Taliban will not be able to orchestrate a popular uprising because the people they disenfranchised will be highly unlikely to join with them regardless of the result. Mainstream media should be careful about casting unnecessary doubt on the result.

The Foremost Responsibility of a National Government

Stephen Harper's visit to highlight our military exercises in the North is timely and necessary as other nations set their sights on Canada's rich natural resources. While it might seem like just another photo-op, our Prime Minister made a pretty bold philisophical statement on board the HMCS Toronto:

"Protecting national sovereignty, the integrity of our borders, is the first and foremost responsibility of a national government," Harper said.

"It is a responsibility that has too often been neglected in our history."

That's absolutely true. With all the debate about health care and social programs, it's easy to forget that government's first responsibility is our security. The Obama administration would do well to listen to that advice as well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

United Breaks Guitars: Song 2

After last month's YouTube sensation, United Breaks Guitars, Dave Carrol is back with the second song in the trilogy. It's as original as the first and definitely worth the 3 minutes to give it a listen.

I heard the original on the radio during my drive in to work and it just made me happy. I quite enjoy the sound of Sons of Maxwell and Dave Carroll. I may have to download one or more of the songs, it'll be great driving music.

Gran Torino

Gran Torino is an amazing, uplifting movie. If you haven't seen it rent it.
It's about an angry old man who first despises and then protects his Vietnamese neighbours. The characters are all very real and they all grow throughout the movie. I don't know what to say except that it's excellent, and that it has a very positive portrayal of the Church, which is rare for Hollywood.
If you follow the link to the Wikipedia article, you'll see the movie was from 2008. I found that strange because it wasn't on the Oscar pool that I filled out earlier this year. Hmm. . . that's probably another post altogether.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Steyn Makes a Good Point

I'll admit, I find it hard to care too much about the great debate on Obamacare. I will say that the level of service I received when I went to an emergency room in the US blew my mind when I'm used to waiting in line just to be ignored here in Canada. Americans are rightly concerned that under a nationalized system the level of care they can expect will steadily decrease.

What I find most interesting about the debate though is the fundamental, philosophical arguments that are being brought forward. One of the most interesting points was how becoming dependant on governments to meet all our basic needs hurts society. I read it first in a Macleans article by Mark Steyn:

A few weeks ago, Charles Murray gave a speech in Washington on “the European
model.” Please, no Carla Bruni gags. Mr. Murray is a very sober political scientist, and he eschewed such time-honoured jests.

Nonetheless, it was an arresting address, beginning with this diagnosis of “the European model’s” principal defect: “It drains too much of the life from life,” said Murray. “And that statement applies as much to the lives of janitors—even more to the lives of janitors—as it does to the lives of CEOs”—or novelists or musicians. As Murray sees it, government social policy is intended to take “some of the trouble out of things”—getting sick, having a kid, holding down a job, taking care of elderly parents. But, when government takes too much of the trouble out of things, it makes it impossible to lead a satisfying life.

“Trouble”—responsibility, choices, consequences—is intimately tied to human dignity. And thus the human dignity in working hard, raising a family and withstanding the vicissitudes of life has been devalued. And society is just a matter of passing the time.

It's true, it's in overcoming our 'troubles' that we gain both valuable experience and satisfaction.

Keep Life Jackets Optional

Yesterday the Ontario Provincial Police issued a press release calling for laws to make wearing life jackets mandatory when boating:

In the wake of a number of boating tragedies on Ontario waterways, Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) Commissioner Julian Fantino supports a review by
Transport Canada of legislation to make the wearing of life jackets or personal flotation devices (PFD) mandatory when boating.

A total of 23 persons lost their lives in 2008 while boating on waterways policed by the OPP and this year 20 people have perished. Only 2 casualties this season were wearing life jackets or PFDs. Since 2000, 350 people have lost their lives in boating incidents and of them, only 13 per cent were wearing life jackets.

"The vast majority of boaters are good, law-abiding people. We know that mandatory life jacket or PFD use will start saving lives immediately," Commissioner Fantino said. "It's already been a summer filled with needless tragedy for many families. Many of these deaths would have been prevented," added Fantino.

Saving lives is commendable, but I really hope this law doesn't come to pass. The law already requires a life jacket for each person in the boat. If there's any question at all about safety then most people would voluntarily put on their life jackets.

In most cases boating is a recreational activity that involves nice weather and calm water, it's more than rational to want to spend some of that time on the boat soaking up the sun and a hot, bulky life vest doesn't exactly lend itself to getting a tan or enjoying a breeze on a hot summer day. 20 deaths are 20 too many, but this must be an absolutely miniscule fraction of the number of people on the water each summer. This is one area where the risk should be up to the individual. Boaters who choose not to wear a life jacket aren't putting anyone else at risk and they are simply maximizing their enjoyment of the great outdoors. Let them be.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Canadian Government Must Not Delay Help for Hog Farmers

The American government seems poised to offer help to the hog industry in the form of loans, government purchases of pork, and help accessing markets:

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that USDA is undertaking an unprecedented effort to use the department's administrative flexibility to provide relief to individuals and businesses in struggling agriculture industries.

Vilsack has ordered USDA Rural Development and the Farm Service Agency to use all available means to help producers, processors and other small businesses who have been hit by worsening economic conditions.

"The Obama Administration is committed to doing everything it can to help families and businesses in agriculture to get through these tough economic times," said
Vilsack. "Not only is this effort critical to restoring economic prosperity in America's rural communities, it is essential to ensure that Americans continue to have access to a safe, secure, and healthy food supply."

And in addition to the loans:
The governors of nine key pork-producing states sent President Obama a letter Friday urging him to rescue an industry that's been battered by high commodity prices and worries about disease. "Today, the pork industry is facing an economic crisis that is catastrophic in nature," the governors said in the letter. They urged Obama to purchase an additional $50 million in pork for government nutrition programs, eliminate a ceiling on how much surplus product the Agriculture Department can buy and push to expand export markets, primarily to China.
Pretty reasonable really, nothing on the scale of the bank and auto bailouts. So why the vicious attack on Canadian hog farmers for doing the same thing? The Financial Post reported Friday:

Aid for Canadian hogs will read as an attack on farmers in the United States, Canada’s largest market, where producers say they’ll do what they can to stop the proposal.

“Essentially, what this does is it transfers suffering among pork producers from north of the border to south of the border, and we’re not going to stand by and let that happen,” said Nick Giordano, vice-president of the U.S. National Pork Producers Council. “We’re not going to want to wait. We’re going to scream bloody murder. We’re going to go political.”

What he means is a trade action, the kind that cost Ontario hog producers $5 million to defend less than 5 years ago. It's an empty threat. In order for the Americans to defend a duty they need to show injury and typically that involves increased shipments into the US market. However, the Canadian hog industry has shrunk dramatically in response to low prices, high feed costs, unfavourable exchange rates, and trade challenges like Country of Origin Labelling and the H1N1 impact on export markets. The Canadian Pork Council has put forward a very mild ask of the Canadian government for loans to help farmers restructure their operations and a program to help others exit the industry. The American industry looks like it will receive the same kind of help, there's no time for delay.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Newfoundlanders Fight Back

I've just returned from a vacation to Newfoundland. The Newfoundlanders have a great sense of humour - some of them certainly tell the best Newfie jokes. On the Island I found out they're pretty good at laughing at the rest of us too. Here are two examples. A Newfie told me:
A group of American tourists in Newfoundland went down to the harbour to buy some fresh lobster, but they didn't know how to cook them they asked the Newfies what to do. The Newfies said boil some water and throw in the lobster. So the Americans lit a big fire on the beach put a big pot on top and let it boil. When it was time to throw the lobsters in the Americans just couldn't bring themselves to kill the lobsters so they ran up the hill and released the lobsters in the forest.
But it's not just Americans the Newfies poke fun at. Driving through Gander I heard this advertisement on the radio:

Toronto used to be a great city . . . It used to have the world's tallest free standing structure, now it's the second tallest. . .

It used to be a clean city now they can't even handle their garbage. . .

They used to have a good hockey team, but the Maple Leafs haven't won a Stanley Cup in over 40 years. . .

Toronto needs your help . . .

Fly direct to Toronto from Gander International Airport.

Aside from the humour and the genuinely friendly people, it's a great vacation spot. There's breath taking scenery every where you go, a rich history, amazing wildlife on land and at sea and great parties. Plan a visit sometime.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mission to Mars?

I'll admit, I have no idea about the scientific merits of establishing a colony on Mars. However Buzz Aldrin did capture my imagination with this article:
Our next generation must think boldly in terms of a goal for the space program:
Mars for our future. I am not suggesting a few visits to plant flags and do photo-ops but a journey to make the first homestead in space: an American colony on a new world.

Robotic exploration of Mars has yielded tantalizing clues about what was once a water-soaked planet. Deep beneath the soils of Mars might lie trapped frozen water, possibly with traces of still-extant primitive life forms. Climate change on a vast scale has reshaped Mars. With Earth in the throes of its own climate evolution, human outposts on Mars could be a virtual laboratory to study these vast planetary changes. And the best way to study Mars is with the two hands, eyes and ears of a geologist, first on a moon orbiting Mars and then on the Red Planet's surface.

Mobilizing the space program to focus on a human colony on Mars while at the same time helping our international partners explore the moon on their own would galvanize public support for space exploration and provide a cause to inspire students. Mars exploration would renew our space industry by opening up technology development to all players, not just the traditional big aerospace contractors. If we avoided the pitfall of aiming solely for the moon, we could be on Mars by the 60th anniversary year of our Apollo 11 flight.

Much has been said recently about the Vision for Space Exploration and the future of the international space station. As we all reflect upon our historic lunar journey and the future of the space program, I challenge America's leaders to think boldly and look beyond the moon. Yes, my vision of "Mars for America" requires bold thinking. But as my friend and Gemini crewmate Jim Lovell has noted, our Apollo days were a time when we did bold things in space to achieve leadership. It is time we were bold again in space.
Right or wrong, it's an enchanting vision.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Goldman Sachs and Caritas in Veritate

I've gotta spend a lot more time reading Pope Benedict's latest encyclical, "Caritas in Veritate," or Love in Truth. When I do read it, I'll post on the encyclical again. In the meantime I think this article by Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs International is significant. Lord Griffiths says:

Despite heavy competition from some of the world’s finest minds, it is without doubt the most articulate, comprehensive and thoughtful response to the financial crisis that has yet appeared. It should strike a chord with all who wish to see modern capitalism serving broader human ends. . .

Pope Benedict’s words are not just platitudes. They affect every person at work every day. In the City they are a challenge to management to create a culture of prudence, responsibility and integrity.

There has to be zero tolerance for misleading clients, fudging conflicts of interest and inflating valuations. However great the revenue they produce, those who deviate must be disciplined. This kind of ethos cannot be imposed by regulation alone.

From what I know about the encyclical so far, I believe Lord Griffith's analysis strikes at the heart of the message in the Encyclical. It's encouraging to know that the Pope's words are being read and understood by those at the highest levels of finance. If Goldman Sachs follows the recommendation of the Pope and their vice-chair, maybe their record earnings will be sustainable.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Pope and Our Prime Minister

Despite the limited coverage of Prime Minister Harper's meeting with Pope Benedict, it was still an important event for our country. It was an opportunity for the Pope to talk about important life and social issues and Stephen Harper's recent comments about the meeting were reflective of many Canadian's deeply held respect for the pontiff:

"While I'm not theologically a Catholic, in my judgment the Catholic Church is a critical bulwark of worldwide Christianity. The Pope is an important moral and spiritual leader generally and for Christians generally, even though I'm not a Catholic."

Harper called Vatican City a small but important state. "It is an influential, well-connected state that is very influential in world affairs."

These comments show that the Vatican has a friend in Stephen Harper and that he respects the Pope's contribution to world politics. His comments on Vatican City are also important since there's always pressure from left wing lobbyists at the United Nations to strip the Vatican of it's status as a nation state. Finally, Harper's right about his analysis of the recent controversy over his receiving communion at Romeo Leblanc's funeral:
"People who want to cause embarrassment in religion and drive a wedge between
Protestants and Catholics" are driving the controversy, Harper told a Catholic news agency in an exclusive interview after his meeting Saturday with Pope Benedict. "That's whose agenda this is and that's not the Pope's agenda."
Those who are driving the controversy are not friends of the Church or the country.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Don't Call it a Wafer!!!!!

Today Stephen Harper responded to accusations that he took the Eucharist, but didn't consume it:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed reports that he pocketed a communion
wafer as "ridiculous" and "terrible" and said he would never do such a thing.

. . .

"First of all as a Christian I've never refused communion when offered to me, that is actually pretty important to me," Harper said.

Good for him for taking a principled stand. It's comforting to hear him address the issue directly because it actually is important. Strictly speaking he should not have taken the Host, but this issue has been badly handled all around. At most catholic weddings and funerals the priest will make a statement before communion inviting non-Catholics to come up and receive a blessing. If that didn't happen at this funeral, at least part the fault lies with the presiding priest.

I agree with Archbishop Richard that Harper clearly did not mean any disrespect. The thing that makes me angry isn't whether he received the Eucharist but the discussion around it - especially from Harper's so called defenders who have tried to downplay the issue saying it's unimportant and just a wafer. Terms like 'wafer-gate' drive me bananas. Catholics refer to the sacrament by a number of names most prominently the Host, the Eucharist, and the Body of Christ, so terms like wafer and cracker are just not accurate.

I haven't seen very much discussion on the relevant Catholic teaching. Simply put Catholics believe that the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ. It's not just some crazy church teaching, but Jesus' own words that form the foundation of this belief:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." Matthew 26:26-28
The Church's teaching that communion must only be taken by Catholics who are in communion with the church, free from mortal sin, and observed an appropriate fast also comes straight from scripture:
Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. 1
Corinthians 11:27
It really doesn't matter to me if you believe this or not, I suppose most people don't but PLEASE be respectful. The Eucharist is important.

Finally, I wanted to tip my hat to Owen who carried the flag on this topic in the comment section of my last blog post. Near as I can tell Owen is a good Conservative, a faithful Catholic, a fellow cyclist and quite the artist. Thanks as always for your comments sir.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Sweet Justice

The way this video is making it's rounds over the internet, there's a good chance you've seen 'United Breaks Guitars' already. Tonight it's the number 2 entertainment story on, right behind more crap about Michael Jackson. Even the Globe and Mail is reporting on it, noting the song has become an 'internet sensation'.

The song really hit's home with the story of a musician's guitar damaged by on his flight with United Airlines. Anyone who's been frustrated with poor customer service is going to enjoy this song. I can also relate as a guitar owner, there are many times I want to break my guitar - but I certainly hope nobody else does.

One last personal connection to this story: As I watched the video I thought this is the kind of band I'd love to sit and listen to at a fair or music festival. Come to think of it I'm pretty sure I did . . . the Sons of Maxwell played the Fergus Scottish Fesitval last year and I quite enjoyed them.

Definitely watch the video, I'm sure it will have over a million hits on YouTube by the morning.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Harper's Delivering the Right Message at the G8

I strongly approve of Prime Minister Harper's message to the G8. Further stimulus is not what the world economy needs right now. CTV reports:

Earlier Wednesday, Harper urged leaders to complete the stimulus initiatives that are already underway, before committing new funds.

"My own thought is before there's talk of additional stimulus, I would urge all leaders to focus first on making the stimulus that's announced actually gets delivered," Harper said. "That's been our focus in Canada and I would urge the same priority

Harper also signalled he will continue to push his message that the temptation for nations to move towards protectionist tendencies should be avoided at all costs, saying such moves could actually prolong the recession.

Harper is right. Access to credit, maintaining open markets and following through on previously announced stimulus packages what really matter. The crisis is over at this point further government spending will do more harm than good.

Friday, July 03, 2009

I Want to be a Good Man

I've stumbled upon the phrase "a good man" a few times in the last year - it was used in key moments during the movie Fire Proof and the 1970s version of the Poseidon Adventure. I'm coming to realize that the phrase really is powerful.

It hit me over the head when a friend of mine casually said, "you're a good man." I smiled and moved on, but inside I was bursting with pride. That conversation was months ago and I still feel good when I think about it. The beautiful thing about the phrase is it's a general endorsement of your entire character. In it's purest sense it's probably impossible to be truly good, I've got more than my share of embarrassing faults, but in a lesser sense of displaying integrity and generosity it's certainly something to strive for.

This song, "A Good Man" from Emerson Drive is going to be my theme song for the day tomorrow:

These are my favourite lyrics in the song:

My dreams aren’t that complicated…

I wanna be the one When all is said and done

Who lived a good life, loved a good wife, and always helped someone in trouble

On the day they lay me down I want everyone to gather ‘round

And say he was a father, brother, neighbour and a friend

He was a good man!

Yeah, me too.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Canada Day

I'm not a flag waving patriot by any stretch of the imagination. I remember the hollow concepts and faux nationalism under the Chretien government. Flag day, the CBC, and vague "Canadian Values" just don't make me all weepy. However, on a day like today it's worth reflecting on some of the things that do make me proud to be Canadian.

Our Armed Forces have served admirably in the past and present - most notably in World War II, but also in Afghanistan where our soldiers continue to risk (and sometimes give) their lives to protect our freedoms. These men and women are well trained and committed individuals, they're worthy of our respect and gratitude.

Our Parliamentary Democracy has stood the test of time. Regardless of the quality of our elected representatives, they are able to make informed decisions and are held accountable for them.

Our Committment to Free Trade is an example of how a small country can show leadership in the world. I believe the consistent and clear message from our government is essential to help fight protectionism and allow the world economy to recover.

Finally, the natural beauty of our country is indeed astounding and the truth is I like our climate. We are clearly blessed and I'm thankful.

God keep our land, glorious and free!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Strong Start for Hudak

Yesterday I heard music to my ears as I heard about the new Ontario PC leader's reaction to the Toronto garbage strike:

Mr. Hudak, 41, vowed to steer the Tories back to the right-wing, small-c conservative policies of his mentor, following his third-ballot victory at the party's leadership convention on the weekend. In his inaugural news conference yesterday, he weighed in on the strike by 24,000 unionized workers in Toronto that has left residents without garbage collection, daycare and a wide range of other services for the past week.

Union leaders need to "get a grip" on the fact that strikes do not sit well with the public when many middle-class families are struggling during the recession, he said.
"Public-sector union leadership needs to give a reality check to its demands."

No more mushy middle, he's taking a concrete position, and I'm pretty sure he's in line with public opinion on this one.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Every Little Bit Helps

Canada trades a paltry $92 million with Jordan every year, but a new free trade deal still matters. It's one more headline to fight the rush toward greater protectionism coming from around the world but especially from the US and China.

Keep up the momentum Mr. Day.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Final Thoughts on the Leadership Race

I spent the better part of my night scrutineering for Frank Klees in the Ontario PC leadership race. It seems like now's a good time to jot down a few final thoughts on the leadership contest overall.

I think it will be close, and that's a story in itself. Tim Hudak was the early front runner with major endorsements from his fellow MPPs and Mike Harris the former premier. Despite the fact that his campaign seemed to run out of steam he has some experienced organizers behind him and could easily win.

Christine Elliot had the money behind her, it was clear today with election signs near the voting stations, but my favourite example of her money advantage was with a push poll call that I received a few weeks ago. It was simply a survey by a research firm but the questions like "Why do you think Tim Hudak's campaign has imploded?" and "Do you think Tim Hudak's position on Human Rights Tribunals will drive voters away from the party?" were highly effective negative advertising. I should say the person asking the questions had no idea which campaign hired them, but I'm certain it was Elliot.

Frank Klees' membership drive is what made him a contender, I think he's handled himself well and his campaign material is good. I wonder about his organization, I volunteered to help on the campaign and I answered several surveys from his office, but the voters list I received today didn't list me as being his supporter.

I don't think that Randy Hillier is a contender, but you never know. He was ultimately my second choice, I want him to have a strong showing to send a message to the party leadership that the issues he fought hardest for such as conscience legislation and an end to human rights tribunals are worth considering.

My only complaint is that voting was on Father's Day. It's bad enough that the party would choose a Sunday over a Saturday to hold voting. It's disrespectful and unfair to people who want to set time aside for their faith and their families. Father's day is a specific chance to get together with your family and the voting certainly interfered.

I'm looking forward to Saturday when the ballots will be counted. I think it's safe to say that whoever is elected, they'll be stronger after surviving this hard fought campaign.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iranian Revolution - The Sequel

Like much of the world, I've been following the recent protests in Iran with interest. I commend the bravery of the protesters who are willing to rise up against a repressive regime that will not hesitate to kill it's own citizens on a massive scale to maintain it's grip on power. The news seems discouraging this morning as the streets are reportedly quiet after the 'Supreme Leader' vowed to maintain the crackdown:

The ayatollah, whose earlier command to stop protesting went unheeded, said: "I had insisted and will insist on implementing the law on the election issue.

He added: "Neither the establishment nor the nation will yield to pressure at any cost."

This is scary stuff. I hope the protesters are able to make some concrete gains after so much widespread passion has been revealed and so many people have already died.

I'm reminded of an Iranian taxi driver that wouldn't stop talking to me after the US invaded Iraq, he said, "I hope Iran is next," then he started into a litany of complaints about the current regime.

The good news is there's a rally planned for later today, I hope the momentum continues.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

More Country Lyrics

I heard a new country song today. It's not really very good from a musical or lyrical perspective, but chorus is neat:
God is Great, Beer is Good, People are Crazy.
Can't much argue with that.

When 'Positive Thinking' Rings Hollow

I've always been skeptical of the 'self help' industry. Sure there's always room for self improvement and there's a lot of good advice out there, but I often find many of the 'positive thinking' gurus slimy, shallow, and hollow. It seems to me that they play on a person's innate insecurity. Now a study from the University of Waterloo suggests that 'positive affirmations' can do more harm than good if you don't believe them:

As the researchers report in Psychological Science, those with high self-esteem who repeated “I’m a lovable person” scored an average of 31 [out of 35] on their mood assessment compared with an average of 25 by those who did not repeat the phrase. Among participants with low self-esteem, those making the statement scored a dismal average of 10 while those that did not managed a brighter average of 17.

Dr Wood suggests that positive self-statements cause negative moods in people with low self-esteem because they conflict with those people’s views of themselves. When positive self-statements strongly conflict with self-perception, she argues, there is not mere resistance but a reinforcing of self-perception. People who view themselves as unlovable find saying that they are so unbelievable that it strengthens their own negative view rather than reversing it. Given that many readers of self-help books that encourage positive self-statements are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, they may be worse than useless.

"Worse than useless." That's a harsh criticism, but it seems to fit the facts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pig Farmers Need Help Now

Owen Roberts had an excellent piece in the Guelph Mercury Monday. It's worth reading the whole article, but it starts off especially strong:

Canada's economy has traditionally relied on manufacturing and natural resources, particularly forestry and agriculture. So when the global recession hit, Ottawa started coming through with support. The auto sector teetered on the brink of collapse; Canadians shelled out $10 billion. Then last week, forestry received $1 billion.

And as for agriculture -- especially the export-dependent pork industry, which has been ravaged through no fault of its own by the economic crisis, a strong Canadian dollar, trade restrictions, and the ill-named swine flu (H1N1) -- well, it's still waiting.

That's baffling. Canada's pork producers are struggling, and it seems as if they're encountering more brick walls than support.

The Canadian pork industry generally, and the Ontario pork industry specifically, are efficient, modern and productive providing safe and healthy food for Canada and the world. The industry is constantly reinventing itself with a recent emphasis on traceability and animal welfare. Producers are also responsive to market signals with Ontario's breeding herd decreasing by nearly 20% since it's recent peak in 2004 as producers responded to low returns that were driven first by a strengthening Canadian dollar and then by high feed costs driven by US ethanol policy and high oil prices.

The most recent shock to the industry has come on the trade front through American Country of Origin Labelling (COOL) legislation and now loss of access to key export markets because of the H1N1 impact. Hog prices are close to $50 per head less than would have been predicted by futures markets before H1N1 hit the news at the end of April, so hog farmers are losing everything during a time when the industry was predicting a return to profitability.

Now it's not just pig farmers at risk, suppliers such as feed mills, trucking companies, and genetics suppliers have already had to downsize with more losses possible. Hog processing facilities, and other food production businesses like bacon and ready made sandwiches will soon be threatened by a lack of supply. Prices to consumers could shoot up dramatically and we may become dependant on US pork imports, which have less stringent health regulations.

An immediate cash hog payment will help the industry right size and emerge from this current crisis even stronger. Unfortunately the Federal Agriculture Minister doesn't seem willing to help. As Mr Roberts said, "That's baffling."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Jennifer Lynch's Straw Men

The Canadian Human Rights Commission gave a valiant attempt to sanitize their organization while continuing to expand their empire last week. Initial media coverage focused on the Commissions recommendation that Parliament curb its powers:

The Canadian Human Rights Commission says it still has a role to play in fighting hatred on the Internet, but wants Parliament to curb its powers.

It says it should no longer be able to levy fines of up to $10,000 against hatemongers and wants lawmakers to provide a clear, legal definition of what
constitutes prohibited hatred.

In a special report to Parliament, the commission also wants legal changes that would allow it to award costs in cases where accusers abuse the process and to quickly dismiss complaints that don't meet the definition of hate.

But the commission insists that the Internet remains a potentially dangerous realm where hatred can spread insidiously. The tribunal says it has to stick around to help rein in such hatred and help strike a balance between free expression and the right of people to live free from discrimination.

But any sense of balance was quickly lost when Jennifer Lynch, CHRC's chief commissioner, wrote an article Friday in the Globe and Mail where she quickly vilified her opponents as a means to justify the continued expansion of her organization's powers:

I believe critics of human-rights commissions and tribunals are manipulating
information and activities around rights cases and freedom of expression to further a new agenda. This agenda posits that rights commissions and tribunals, and the attendant vigilance over all the rights and freedoms Canadians now enjoy, no longer serve a useful purpose. In this way, the debate over freedom of expression has been used as a wedge to undermine and distort our human-rights system.

Ironically, a debate about balancing rights has not itself been balanced. One can only surmise that if these critics succeed, thus would begin a broader assault on freedoms they would subordinate to absolute freedom of expression.

Unreal. The CHRC's critics are merely interested in protecting free speech, speaking your mind anywhere, including the Internet, doesn't directly conflict with any other right. Where it does, criminal laws and civil courts provide a proper forum to solve any problems. In today's editorial the Globe and Mail is succinct:

In the end, freedom of speech and expression are unduly trammelled by hate-speech legislation, whether the criteria involve the inferred contents of someone's head, or the supposed likelihood of the effects of words, or both.

Words that actually incite physical violence should remain punishable under the Criminal Code, but human-rights legislation and the Code should be free of dangerously vague prohibitions of speech.

Well said.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Sun Contributes to Global Warming

Amazing really that the sun heats the Earth, but some folks at NASA have demonstrated it. Again, I'm not a scientist but this article strikes me as one of the most intellectually honest descriptions of the sun's influence on global warming:

For the past three decades NASA scientists have investigated the unique relationship between the sun and Earth. Using space-based tools, like the Solar Radiation and Climate Experiment (SORCE), they have studied how much solar energy illuminates Earth, and explored what happens to that energy once it penetrates the atmosphere. The amount of energy that reaches Earth's outer atmosphere is called the total solar irradiance. Total solar irradiance is variable over many different timescales, ranging from seconds to centuries due to changes in solar activity.

The sun goes through roughly an 11-year cycle of activity, from stormy to quiet and back again. Solar activity often occurs near sunspots, dark regions on the sun caused by concentrated magnetic fields. The solar irradiance measurement is much higher during solar maximum, when sunspot cycle and solar activity is high, versus solar minimum, when the sun is quiet and there are usually no sunspots.

"The fluctuations in the solar cycle impacts Earth's global temperature by about 0.1 degree Celsius, slightly hotter during solar maximum and cooler during solar minimum," said Thomas Woods, solar scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. "The sun is currently at its minimum, and the next solar maximum is expected in 2012."

Using SORCE, scientists have learned that about 1,361 watts per square meter of solar energy reaches Earth's outermost atmosphere during the sun's quietest period. But when the sun is active, 1.3 watts per square meter (0.1 percent) more energy reaches Earth. "This TSI measurement is very important to climate models that are trying to assess Earth-based forces on climate change," said Cahalan.

Over the past century, Earth's average temperature has increased by approximately 0.6 degrees Celsius (1.1 degrees Fahrenheit). Solar heating accounts for about 0.15 C, or 25 percent, of this change, according to computer modeling results published by NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies researcher David Rind in 2004.

I have a lot more use for this type of argument than the intellectually dishonest approach by Al Gore and others that insist human activity is solely responsible for changes in the Earth's temperature. An article on Daily Tech suggests this effect might be even larger, as demonstrated by this Cool graph that shows long periods of decreased solar activity were the primary cause of Europe's little Ice Age. Interesting stuff.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

No Stones to Throw at Obama

I had fairly low expectations from President Obama's speech in Cairo this morning. I expected him to suck up to his hosts, bash Israel, and commit America to a softer gentler foreign policy. To be sure he criticized Israel for their settlement policy and I'm sure most Israelis would find little comfort in Obama's hollow words, "America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable." But I'll commend the president for promoting democracy on Egyptian soil:

6:48 a.m. Big whoops in the audience -- listening in a country where dissent has been quashed -- when Obama says he wants to discuss democracy.

6:49 a.m.: The president delivers a pointed message to his Egyptian government hosts: "Government that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure," the president said. "Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away."

6:50 a.m.: "You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise."

It sounds like motherhood and apple pie over here, but making those statements over there could offer strong encouragement to Muslims living under tyranny. I'm curious to see how this will play out.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Beatles: Rock Band

September 9, 2009 they're launching The Beatles: Rock Band. This could be a fun fall. I just can't believe they haven't done that before. The good news is the game sounds truly innovative:
A key element in capturing that Beatles sound is the vocal harmonies, and for the first time, a guitar-based music game has allowed more than one singer at a time. Even for a musically minded type, pulling that off in front of an audience can be especially humbling. Also, trying to play an instrument and sing at the same time, while keeping an eye on both parts as they zip by the screen, is especially challenging.
Yeah no kidding, this game will be tough and will take hours to master, but only minutes to bring people together and get everyone laughing. I can't wait to play.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Damage Done to the Order of Canada

The Governor General's decision to formally accept the resignation of 3 Montreal recipients of the Order of Canada is another milestone in this sad chapter of the Order's history that began when Henry Morgentaler was appointed to the Order. One of the Montrealers resigning was Jean Claude Turcotte, Montreal's archbishop, who:

told CBC's French-language service last September that he was renouncing his honour to protest Dr. Henry Morgentaler's appointment to the order.

"I'm worried about how we treat life, from conception to death," he said. "I decided to take a stance that clearly reflects my convictions."

In fact there were 9 recipients of the Order of Canada who returned their medals specifically to protest the Governor General's action. That decision remains a stain on the honour that can only be removed when Morgentaler is stripped of the award.

Still, now is a good time to reflect on the courage of each of those 9 individuals. It's easy for someone like me to criticize Governor General's decisions because I've got nothing to lose. The worst thing that will happen is someone leaves a nasty comment on this post. These 9 people dedicated their lives to the service of their fellow citizens and received a rare acknowledgement that their work was truly extraordinary. I think it would be a very difficult decision to put your own pride on the shelf in order to stand up for the unborn. I commend them all.