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.

7 Pounds with Will Smith


A friend of ours recommended we watch the movie 7 Pounds last fall. I'm not going to try to remember who that friend was because I'd have to tell them the movie sucked. The movie begins with Will Smith's character calling 911 to report his own suicide and then attempts to fill in the back story. The movie is well acted in every scene but the story jumps around enough that I couldn't tell if Smith's character was supposed to be a creepy IRS agent or a noble and generous hero.

In the end it was revealed that Smith's character was a tortured soul who had killed 7 people including his wife in a car accident. Consumed by guilt he went on a mission to help save 7 other people by helping them out immensely, generally by donating an organ. The movie ends with the hero committing suicide so that his heart could be donated to his love interest and his eyes could be donated to a stranger. Actually that wasn't the end, in the end it showed the recipient of the heart transplant meeting the recipient of the eye transplant, both living healthy, happy lives. I just can't imagine that's how people would react - I'm sure they would be dealing with their own guilt and emotional torture every day.

The movie was simply wrong in it's portrayal of almost all of the characters. One thing it did underscore for me was the incredible and destructive power of guilt and how much we need true forgiveness - if only that was part of the movie.