Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Geeze Louise

I recently got a couple of anonymous emails slamming Gerard Kennedy that are so nasty that they have no credibility whatsoever. Does the author even think that he/she might cause anyone to change their support from an anonymous email full of lies and name-calling? I don't see how this type of trash could ever influence anyone to do anything but lose interest in the leadership race.

Likewise, the "Stop Iggy" web site is just too one-sided to be credible; in fact, while it seems to be argued rationally, I suspect most of it misrepresents his views and is flat-out untrue.

I also thought Ignatieff's campaign manager, Ian Davey, was out of line to smear Ignatieff's competitors in the Globe & Mail when an address list was stolen. My reading of his comments was that he was suggesting that one of the other candidates stole the list. I doubt that's likely, to say the least. It seemed like a cheap shot and it sullied the leadership race.

I don't see any evidence of serious underhanded dealings, but geeze louise, someone needs to tell some of these yahoos (I'm not including Davey here) to get some perspective already. There's no one in the race who isn't a great asset to the party.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

Reliving History?

When civil war broke out in Spain in 1936, Adolf Hitler was quick to support the fascist side. The Spanish Civil War proved to be an important training ground for the Germans. It distracted the world from Germany's rearmament (in defiance of the WWI treaty); it provided combat experience for German troops, especially its air force; and it allowed Germany to develop and test its armaments. With German support, the fascists prevailed in Spain in January 1939; Germany waged full-scale war later that year.

The 1937 bombing of Guernica by the German Condor Legion was a massive PR offensive against the rest of Europe, and was part of the reason European countries were frightened into appeasing Hitler in the disastrous Munich Agreement of 1938. But the fascists played it both ways, creating controversy about who actually bombed Guernica that was only settled in the 1970s.

In fact, western opposition to the fascists was slow to develop. Many did not want to support communism. The little that Britain and France did to oppose the civil war ended up hurting the socialist side more than the fascist side. Both sides had their good points and bad points, which led to controversy that distracted the world from the real threat.

Here we are 70 years later, and I think there are some lessons to be learned as we consider the activities and aspirations of Iran. I am by no means supporting the idea of bombing Tehran or following George Bush-style "democracy" at the end of a gun. Nor am I suggesting that there's anyone in Iran who compares to Hitler. But I think there are some disturbing historical similarities and that we should forget for a moment whether we sympathise more with the Palestinians or Israelis, put aside our disgust and outrage at the US, and think in a clear and non-partisan way about what might be coming.

What might be coming is Iran. Iran has clearly-expressed territorial ambitions in the Middle East, and it sees the west as its enemy. How will it achieve its ends? Probably in some ways we can predict (such as an Iranian-backed coup in Egypt; the gradual, partly democratic take-over of Lebanon and Iraq; and increased support for terrorism against the west) and some we can't (something wholly unexpected like a deal with Turkey to take on the Kurds; or a deal with the UAE or Oman that would allow them to close the Persian Gulf). Iran is not now a superpower, but that would change quickly if it had nuclear weapons, control of the world oil supply, and the support of a large proportion of the world's billion-plus Arabs.

It would be foolish to underestimate the intelligence or determination of Iran. Iran is a large, stable parliamentary democracy (it's an Islamic theocratic republic, but it also has free elections and a parliament) with a millennia-old civilization and a history as a colonial power. Just this week Iran demonstrated its Thaqeb submarine-to-surface missile. Iran's Hoot torpedo travels four times faster than conventional torpedoes (223 mph), and its Shahab-3 missile can travel 1,200 miles and carry a nuclear warhead.

I hope that all this comes to nothing. I would very much like to live in a world where Iran was our ally and we all co-existed peacefully. However, there is a chance that a few years down the road we will be embroiled in World War III and it may have eerie similarities to WWII, with the Middle East taking the place of Europe and - who knows - Iran, Syria and North Korea taking the place of Germany, Italy and Japan. (An old joke goes, "Just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean everybody's not out to get me." Just because the idiot George Bush called them the axis of evil doesn't mean they're not going to become just that.)

We need to keep our eyes open to the big picture. Also, we need to be a lot more careful about electing national leaders who will be up to the challenge of avoiding and possibly fighting a world war.


Friday, August 25, 2006


Andrew Cardozo is a member of some organization that is making a proposal to the National Capital Commission to change the names of major streets in downtown Ottawa. The idea is to make Ottawa seem more like a national capital by changing Wellington, Bank and Bronson to names like Confederation, Prince Edward Island and Maple Leaf. He wrote an article about it in the Hill-Times this week.

I have two suggestions to all change-happy municipal politicians:

1. Do NOT change the names of streets. Ever. Period. Once you've chosen a name, consider yourself stuck with it. Memorize this mnemonic: IOMMS (It's On My Map, Stupid).
2. When naming a street after someone, use the person's last name only.

I had to throw in the second, unrelated rule, because here in Waterloo we have recently been saddled with street names like "Father David Bauer Drive" and "Wes Graham Way", which befuddle the post office as well as the populace.



Okay, so it's irreverent and offensive and it takes some gratuitous potshots at Gerardo, but it's also clever and funny and in places, makes some zingers. (My favorite article is "Breakthrough Compromise: Half-Destroy Israeli State". It has a great punch line.)

Update: The HezboLiberal guys had to take down the site (they reprint the reasons on their original URL) but they are back up and running at


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Automating intellectual jobs

A while ago Whimsley wrote about lawyerbots that are toodling around the web looking for trademark violations. He says that companies create lawyerbots that operate on eBay, generating complaints to eBay when they come across a product that might violate their trademark. eBay processes the complaints programmatically, so sometimes an item is withdrawn from sale when no human has ever considered whether it should be or not. This has resulted, for example, in a third-party book about software being removed from eBay even though it violates no trademark.

Whimsley seems a bit grumpy about this development. Maybe I'm just being perverse, but I think it sounds pretty neato. (Wouldn't it be cool if we all had our own lawyerbot to protect our interests and automatically communicate with other lawyerbots. Just put my libel case winnings in my bank account, please!)

But the whole notion of lawyerbots raises the issue of the automation of intellectual jobs and how it's creeping up on us, just as in previous times we adjusted to the automation of manufacturing and service jobs. I can imagine many parts of a lawyer's job that could be handled by application-to-application processing. (Since I'm currently executor of a will and having to spend far too much time in a lawyer's office, that sounds good to me.)

I write computer manuals, and for a long time there has been talk about automating what I do. That's not going to happen; for example, when API references are generated from code comments, that just means that I have to go into the source code and write the code comments. But there has been automation that has reduced the number of writers who are required, with DITA and the reuse of text leading the way.

Similarly, we can and probably will automate vast chunks of what is done by lawyers, doctors, politicians, bureaucrats, engineers, computer scientists, and so on. This could lead to a reduction in prices, just as manufactured goods are much cheaper than they used to be. That could be important. For example, now, if you are charged with a crime and have enough money that you are ineligible for government-paid legal assistance, you will likely go broke defending yourself. Ditto if you get involved in a contested divorce settlement. Even handling a real estate transaction costs hundreds or thousands of dollars in legal fees, when most of the work is rote. It would be a social revolution if the cost of getting legal advice became more reasonable.

The Long Tail

Talking about his band Crazy Horse, Neil Young once said, "We can't play fast. But we can play real, real slow." That's a bit like Yappa. I rarely have breaking news, but I sometimes take a look at stuff that others have already moved past.

Thus it goes with the book that came out some months ago about the revolution in the marketing of books, movies and music brought about by online shopping. The Longtail, by Chris Anderson, describes how in the old days a bookstore buyer would choose a tiny subset of available books and those were what we could read, while nowadays you can go on Amazon or whatever and buy anything - if it's out of print, Amazon will make it available through some used book dealer. (Aside: It isn't true that every important book is available. I have been trying for years to find a copy of Anna Koutsoyannis's essential text A Theory of Econometrics, which someone stole off my desk at work.)

Actually I haven't even read the long tail book. A while back my brother sent me the link to a 2004 article in Wired magazine that led to the book. In the article, Anderson cites the example of an once-obscure out-of-print book called Touching the Void about mountain climbing. After the success of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, people started buying Touching the Void, mostly because of reader reviews on Amazon. It was reprinted and ended up outselling Into Thin Air.

About music sales, he cites an online music marketing business called Rhapsody, which in 2004 provided hundreds of thousands of songs - all of which were downloaded. The cost of delivering a small and big seller is the same, so it makes sense for companies like Rhapsody to have as much variety as possible. Anderson compares this to old-style retailers like Wal-Mart:

As egalitarian as Wal-Mart may seem, it is actually extraordinarily elitist. Wal-Mart must sell at least 100,000 copies of a CD to cover its retail overhead and make a sufficient profit; less than 1 percent of CDs do that kind of volume.

The "long tail" is the demand for the obscure items which didn't use to be available, but which now are not only available, but profitable. If there are only a few people in every US city who want to buy old copies of Dr. Who, that adds up to a lot of sales for a web site that offers it. Anderson's publisher writes in the book description, "After a century of obsessing over the few products at the head of the demand curve, the new economics of distribution allow us to turn our focus to the many more products in the tail, which collectively can create a new market as big as the one we already know." This changes the business of marketing, pricing and licensing. But it has other implications for society, many of which aren't understood yet.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Here are some excerpts from Keith Davey's 1986 political memoir, Rainmaker: A Passion for Politics. In case there's anyone who doesn't remember, Davey was a Liberal heavyweight: at various times party director, national campaign chairman, senator, strategist and advisor to prime ministers Pearson, Trudeau and Turner.

Some Secrets of His Success

When Davey met with his boss, he always made sure he brought a list of problems, at least half of which he had solutions for. When he attended a meeting, he brought agenda items that he was prepared to introduce and speak to.

On Party Renewal

A successive series of caretaking party administrations had gradually allowed the Liberal focus to shift away from the party and move in the direction of the Prime Minister's Office, the ministerial offices and the caucus. It was a subtle shift and the inevitable reality of a party so long in office. I, for one, had had a much easier time achieving things as party director because for much of that period we were the Opposition. - page 202 (talking about 1974)

Each new generation of Liberals seeks to alter that status quo with an enthusiasm which varies in direct ratio to the Gallup poll. In this regard, I well remember a Young Liberals Conference at Presqu'ile in 1957, not long after John Diefenbaker had defeated Louis St. Laurent. The talk was all about the "brass being out of touch with the grass," a theme which Mr. Pearson carried into his leadership campaign. A few years later when I became national director of the party and took as my watchwords, "communication and involvement," I simply represented that new generation of Liberals seeking to resolve identical problems. - page 283

On Elections

In the final analysis any campaign comes down to one major issue, whether it is personality or a policy (either a bread-and-butter issue or sometimes a placard or non-economic issue). Having determined the best issue, then that becomes the issue of the campaign. Polling is extremely useful in making this determination. ...The 1960 US election offers an early example of how and why polling works. The Democrats had to go to the seventh rated issue of concern to find the American people giving the Republican government a negative rating. That issue was the US image abroad and the Kennedys amplified it, bringing in such points of reference as Quemoy and Matsu - obscure Chinese islands unheard of before or since. - page 45

Our 1974 campaign strategy came easily. The facts were obvious. Not only was inflation the overwhelming number one issue of concern, nine out of ten Canadians thought the Liberal government was not handling it very well. However, when we compared the leadership characteristics of Pierre Trudeau with Bob Stanfield, it was an absolute rout for the prime minister. ...Our strategy was obvious. If people went in to vote thinking about prices, we had to lose; but if they were thinking about leadership, we had to win. Inflation was the problem and leadership was the issue. The Tories should have tried to make the opposite case, but instead of talking about the problem of inflation and making it their issue, they offered their solution. Any solution they offered would have been a critical strategic mistake... - page 177

I had come into politics for some very altruistic reasons, but mostly to try to help people help themselves. This would always mean broad social programs. ...In terms of practical politics, it is when the Liberal party shifts to the right that we lose elections. I have always believed that the Liberal party wins elections when we are most liberal. - page 38

An important campaign reality is not to play the Oppositions's game. Do not talk about their issues. If they say, for example, "You're fat," the response should not be, "I'm not." It should be, "You're bald." - page 339

[Re John Turner's election defeat] Essentially what had happened to the Liberal party was that after 25 successful years at centre-left, it had in only two months assumed a centre-right position. - page 346

The two most critical periods in a campaign are the first ten days and the last ten days. - page 196

On Leadership Races

Convention politics and election politics are very different games. At a leadership convention you lead to your weaknesses... To win a convention you need to satisfy the faithful about those weaknesses. - page 160

On Governing

Trudeau... endorsed as a solution [to inflation] some kind of temporary wage and price control - the very thing he had earlier rejected so strenuously. The prime minister did not blink, though he knew his critics would be out in force: a flip-flop at best, they would say, or at worst, downright deception. It was neither. Pierre Trudeau simply made a courageous decision, observing that only a fool would lock himself into any position forever. Situations change and so must solutions to problems. - page 201

Keith Davey's Ten Commandments of Canadian Liberalism (page 55)

1. Revere the leader.
2. Remember a leader is never cooked until people start to laugh at him.
3. Stay on the road to reform; keep left of centre.
4. Hang together.
5. Build a poll organization worthy of the name.
6. Lead to your strengths in campaigns; to your weakness in conventions.
7. Never negotiate through fear; never fear to negotiate.
8. Remember that in politics, perception is reality.
9. Recruit new, bright, young people.
10. Avoid public humour, but laugh a lot in private.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The Future of the WTO

The Doha round of trade talks has fallen apart, but the WTO is going strong, especially in the area of trade dispute settlement. There is now an imbalance in the WTO. Politically, it is very weak: member states are unable to reach consensus to make decisions and take action. They have not only been unable to reach consensus on the recent round of trade talks; they have even had trouble doing things like electing a Director-General. At the same time, the dispute-settlement part of the organization is very strong and active. In the eleven years of its existence the WTO has been sent over 350 disputes to settle, which is more jurisprudence than any other international organization.

The institutional imbalance could be a big problem.

Problems will arise if the dispute tribunals start to fill the vacuum left by political inaction by interpreting (and effectively setting) trade law. For example, the WTO agricultural agreements included exceptions that had expiry dates. The exceptions have now expired and negotiations to revise or renew them have been unsuccessful. What will a dispute tribunal do if asked to enforce a part of the law that was previously covered by an exception? Will it honor the exception, thus implicitly making permanent something that was supposed to be temporary; or will it rule that the exception doesn't apply, which will commit some members to something they only accepted with an exception?

In effect, the dispute tribunals could gain a sort of Supreme Court status, creating trade law by interpreting what is agreed to date. This is not what anyone wanted or foresaw when the WTO was created. Current WTO Director-General Pascal Lamy has worried publicly that the WTO dispute settlement system may be too strong, and others agree.

The WTO has released a report on ways to change, called the Sutherland Report. There's a pretty good description of its proposals here. A major part of the proposals aims to improve the organization's structure so that it can reach consensus and get things done.

The WTO is having problems getting things done for a lot of reasons:

- It has 150 member countries, and each has veto power on all decisions. There have even been cases where a WTO ambassador vetoed something without his country's approval, following his own agenda.
- The WTO grew out of GATT, which was an international agreement but not an international organization. The WTO has never developed the structure it needs to perform its functions. It has an insufficient management structure to guide the political process.
- World power is changing. For example, China, India and Brazil have become large players, and others are just behind. Old alliances are fracturing.
- There is disagreement among member countries about the mandate of the WTO. Should its mandate be just to liberalize trade? Or should it do other things such as encourage environmental and labor protection or economic development? Some even argue that it should be used to enforce international environmental and labor agreements.
- Many of the smaller economies, such as developing countries and Canada, and some of the big countries, such as China, have given all the trade liberalization concessions they can for the time being, and are busy implementing them. They simply can't negotiate more.
- Some of the larger economies such as the US and EU are dragging their heals on implementing their obligations, making other countries less confident about the fairness of the process.

Unfortunately, the member states of the WTO don't seem very interested in institutional change. As Debra Steger, a Canadian trade lawyer who helped create the WTO, says, "The Sutherland Report was met with a huge yawn. The delegations aren't interested."

The WTO is also facing very real questions about its legitimacy. It makes decisions that many feel should be made by representative governments, and it does it in secrecy. Other international organizations allow open hearings; the WTO does not, and should.

In Canada, there is no longer even a consultancy program whereby citizens, business, labor and NGOs can provide input to our negotiators. In some cases this has led to failed negotiations because the negotiators didn't know what to do. In all cases it has made people question the legitimacy of the decisions.

Despite its many flaws, the WTO serves a very important role in making trade negotiations open to all. Instead of letting the US, EU and Japan call the shots by making trade negotiations all about regional trade agreements, the WTO brings everyone to the table. Overall, the dispute settlement process has been very effective. The WTO needs to be reformed. Perhaps the collapse of the Doha round will knock some sense into people and energize them to make some changes.


Monday, August 21, 2006

On Being Partisan

On the one hand, I think Harper is doing all sorts of harmful things to our country, and will do much worse if he gets a majority, so I feel I should do what I can to oppose him.
On the other hand, he was elected democratically, and it's healthy for the country and the Liberal party to have the Liberals out of power every once in a while.

On the one hand, the record of the last two Liberal governments, especially Chretien's, is pretty spotty in a lot of areas, and it seems sort of hypocritical to criticize Harper when Chretien was no better. Chretien specialized in promises and lip service on things like foreign aid and the environment.
On the other hand, while Chretien had his failings, he successfully tackled some key issues that Harper is not doing so well on: the economy, the deficit, resisting US pressure to help it illegally invade another country, keeping Canada together. Having a healthy economy and low deficit makes social programs possible. Plus, Paul Martin was taking bold moves on some of the things Chretien let slide, like the environment and foreign aid. Plus, while Chretien may have been a bit negligent in not moving on certain issues, Harper will/is completely reverse the direction of policy.

On the one hand, it's sort of fun to get up a self-righteous head of steam in opposing the Harper government.
On the other hand, it doesn't lead to clear or objective thinking. It may be my age, but it doesn't feel right.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Why Harper Didn't Go to the AIDS Conference

Our PM was pretty cagey about the reason for his no-show at Toronto's international AIDS conference this week. The reasons are now becoming clear. Today's KW Record reports:

During a visit to Nova Scotia yesterday, [Health Minister] Tony Clement said activists and "so-called experts" had started to skew the dialogue towards grandstanding political demands during the weeklong gathering in Toronto.

"That conference in our view was becoming a place where you couldn't have a rational discussion,'' he said in an interview.

"It wasn't only the Canadian context. There was a delegate who demanded the resignation of the South African health minister. It was really becoming a very politicized conference..."

I think the issue comes down to control. The Harperites like to control the agenda, stay in the spotlight, keep the discussion on their terms. Harper doesn't want to be upstaged by people like Clinton and Gates, who (horrors) might even have a different perspective. He doesn't want to expose himself to a large group of committed professionals and activists who are anything but his "base".

Re Clement's comment on delegates attacking South Africa, I was lucky to hear Stephen Lewis's speech at the conference, and Lewis blasted South Africa's record on AIDS as by far the worst in Africa. As the UN special envoy on AIDS in Africa, Lewis is one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on the subject. Stephen Lewis understands, even though Harper and Clement evidently do not, that AIDS prevention is about a lot more than medical science.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Bob Rae's Record of Governance

Tim Armstrong, who was Ontario's Deputy Minister of Labour and of Industry, Trade and Technology, wrote an article in the Hamilton Spectator on August 14 that is a stong counter-argument to those who think Bob Rae did not do a good job as Ontario Premier. The article is
Deconstructing Bob Rae: Political mythmaking, Ontario style. In case the article disappears into a subscriber zone, I reprint it here...

The drumbeat theme of those opposing Bob Rae's Liberal leadership candidacy is, "A smart guy, with a terrible record as premier of Ontario." It's difficult to fathom whether this myth is the product of ignorance, malice, or both.

I was appointed as a Deputy Minister by Premier Davis and served under him and his three successors, Premiers Peterson, Miller and Rae. None of those premiers would claim to have achieved perfection. But the suggestion that the Rae government did not live up to -- and in some areas exceed -- the standards and accomplishments of its predecessors on behalf of the people of Ontario is untrue.

When Bob Rae assumed office, the province was faced with an economic crisis -- a deepening recession, unprecedented competitive challenges from a Free Trade Agreement with the U.S., high interest rates, an overvalued dollar and a budget deficit of several billion dollars rather than the surplus predicted by the prior administration. Over 300,000 manufacturing jobs were lost between 1989 and 1992.

When the Rae government approached the end of its term, Ontario led the way in growth among the provinces and had one of the strongest economies in the G7. Surveys showed strong consumer and business confidence.

Private sector investment was back with billions in capital spending. Labour productivity was at an all-time high, as were manufacturing exports. Health-care costs were under much improved control as part of a broader strategy that was reducing the deficit.

My most memorable work with Premier Rae involved the restructuring of Algoma Steel in Sudbury and Dehavilland Aircraft in Downsview. From the outset, the premier made it clear that he was determined, in the interests of the employees, the affected communities, and the provincial economy, that both companies would survive. His personal efforts in achieving success exceeded, in dedication, intelligence and shrewd negotiating skills, anything that I had previously experienced.

The costs incurred by Ontario in these restructurings, as well as those extracted from the federal government, have been recovered, many times over, in tax revenues alone. And the dismal alternatives to success -- weeds in the companies' parking lots, padlocks on their gates, and thousands of discouraged unemployed workers, their families on welfare or seeking social assistance -- were all avoided. These achievements were repeated, at Spruce Falls Pulp & Paper in Kapuskasing and other communities across the province, under the Manufacturing Recovery Program, a program designed and implemented with the full involvement of the Premier.

Bob Rae was, from the outset, under attack from many in the business community. After taking office, he faced vigorous opposition from organized labour, principally for his efforts to curtail what he perceived to be excessive wage demands and his commitment to share the necessary cuts in government spending fairly. In my experience in the labour relations field, if you displease both labour and management, you are likely on the right path.

There were other noteworthy achievements during this time. The Rae government successfully promoted the Jobs Ontario program, with increased investment in child care and training; incentives to employers to hire people on welfare and those whose employment insurance had run out; the elimination of payroll taxes on any new employee hired -- policies that, combined, created in excess of 50,000 jobs.

Ontario's welfare system was renewed, focusing on the needs of children living in poverty; the child-care budget was expanded; hundreds of thousands of poor families were removed from income tax rolls; and the new Trillium Drug Plan gave affordable access to all in need of therapeutic drugs.

The Rae government placed a renewed emphasis on aboriginal affairs, leading to the first Statement of Political Relationship between a provincial government and aboriginal leadership, acknowledging the need for government-to-government relations and providing new funding to address native poverty, with emphasis on housing, child care and improved sewer and water facilities.

Finally, as premier, Bob Rae held a deep commitment to the success of our federal system, and in particular, one that would accommodate Quebec's goals and aspirations, without jeopardizing Canadian national unity. He played a leadership role with the First Ministers that produced an affirmative vote in Ontario on the national referendum on the Charlottetown Accord.

Many other reforms were set in motion, many of which have been continued by successive governments. As to the Liberal leadership race, may the best candidate win. But in the process, the trumped-up myth that Bob Rae presided over an ineffective government needs to be put to rest.


Not to Worry About Bill C2

A recent editorial in the Globe & Mail (You say accountability, I say take that, Liberals) gave me some reason to worry about my eligibility for the leadership convention, given that I have donated money to the party this year. The editorial said, in part, "it costs $995 to be a delegate to their December leadership race, [so] anyone who contributed even $6 to the party would be breaking the law."

However, I contacted Liberal HQ and they said not to worry. It is true that Harper is trying to pass Bill C2 (The Federal Accountability Act) to reduce the political donation limit to $1,000, and that they want to make it effective this year, but the Liberals are fighting it. Currently the fight is in a Senate Committee. Wannabe delegates should assume that the limit will stay at $5,400 this year.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Cheese Biscuits

The key to this recipe is the cheese. Use high quality, old, sharp cheddar. Orange cheddar gives the wafers a nice color. Other than that the recipe is easy and pretty fool-proof.

1/2 cup butter (1/4 lb or 1 stick) at room temperature
6 oz cheddar cheese, grated (about 2 cups)
large pinch cayenne
1 cup flour
4 Tablespoons sesame seeds
40 pecan halves (about)

Beat the butter, cheese and cayenne until blended. Add the flour and beat until thoroughly blended. (You can use a spoon or a food processor or mixer.) If necessary, put the dough in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes so that it firms up enough that you can work with it.


Shape the dough into a log that is about 10" long. Roll the log in the sesame seeds, coating completely. Wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least several hours.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Cut the dough into very thin slices, about 1/4". Place on greased baking sheets. Press a pecan half into the center of each slice. Bake in the center of the oven for 12-14 minutes or until the edges are golden. Cool on racks.

These can be served as an hors d'oeuvre, snack, or with dessert.


I don't give a damn about CBC TV. I don't know why we subsidize a commercial TV station, what exactly we get out of it, or whether it's worth it. Maybe the commercial part of the network finances good Canadian programming. Maybe the commercial part is the tail that wags the dog and destroys the potential benefits. Who knows. I don't know if I'd miss it if it went away. I certainly wouldn't miss CBC Newsnet and its endless reruns of that stupid antique valuation show.

I care very deeply about CBC Radio though. There is nothing else like CBC Radio One. For much of my life I listened to CBC every moment I could and got much of my understanding of the country and the world from it. I had endless discussions about what was said by Kierans, Lewis and Camp in their weekly panel on Morningside. I rocked with laughter to Jack Farr's The Radio Show, Bob Robertson & Linda Cullen's Double Exposure, Arthur Black's Basic Black. I have tapes of Gzowski that I never tire of listening to. I loved the morning show, the noon hour show, the driving home show, and everything between and after. I loved the summer programming when Ralph Benmergui would guest host and there were great shows like Timelines and This is Art.

I once read that CBC management thought of audience complaints as being like those two old men on the Muppet Show who groused endlessly about nothing. CBC management has obviously never comprehended the deep sense of loss that Canadians have experienced as the CBC continues to dumb down its programming. The live Saturday morning show Go! is offensive and moronic. CBC news just gets worse and worse. The Ontario noon-hour show, which used to be pretty good, was overhauled this year to make it uninteresting; ditto DNTO. The latest insult was CBC management saying that thy wanted to appeal to dentists' offices.

There are still a few outstanding programs: The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti, Eleanor Wachtel's Writers and Company, the summer show with Sean Cullen, a few others. The problem, I think, is seldom with the hosts. The problem is with the producers and managers of shows. For example, Andy Barry is a great morning host - why is he completely absent for the last hour of the show, and only makes token appearances before then? I can vaguely remember when I really liked Shelagh Rogers, but I can't stand the pap crap that she has hosted recently (also, someone needs to tell her to stop chortling incessantly).

The CBC audience is so critical of the slow destruction of CBC quality because there isn't an alternative for us. I don't listen to commercial radio and I don't want to listen to music on the radio. I have radios in every room in my house, but they're mostly silent now. This true of many people I know. There's a hole in my life and I have partly filled it by listening to BBC or NPR on my computer, but it's not Canadian and it's not as good.

I used to write letters to the CBC with complaints, encouragement or suggestions, but I have given up. Could we make this an election issue?


Friday, August 11, 2006

Terrorism in the '70s

Terrorism didn't start on September 11, 2001. It's been around for a long time, and we've had more serious bouts with it in the past.

Back in the 1970s there was loads of terrorist activity from groups like the IRA, PLO, Beider Meinhof, Red Brigades, FLQ, and SLA. Airport security was very tight (the laxness of the last 25 years could be viewed as an anomaly). I was strip-searched and heavily patted down on more than one occasion. Once in the Geneva airport I watched a security guard squeeze all the toothpaste out of a tube. I was never able to carry my Swiss Army knife on a plane. In the summer of 1973 I passed through airports in Tel Aviv, Beirut, Tehran and Athens, and security was unbelievable; we were constantly surrounded by soldiers with machine guns. Passengers had their cameras dismantled with screwdrivers. It was scary, but I didn't complain - I welcomed the protection. Lots of things were getting blown up that summer, including part of the Athens airport.

Nowadays we hear a lot of discussion of why the Islamic terrorists are attacking us and what we have done to cause their anger. In the '70s there was less of that sense of western blame. The stated goal of groups like the SLA and Beider Meinhof was to overthrow western democracy and bring about the revolution. Those organizations were largely made up of middle class, educated westerners - not a group that seemed particularly oppressed. Back then, even the IRA garnered very little public support, although the Irish people were widely seen to be treated very unfairly by Britain. The IRA was a band of criminal thugs who committed crimes to finance their operations, who trained with and supported other terrorist organizations, and who killed innocent civilians. Likewise, there was public sympathy for the Palestinians, but the PLO were seen as murderers rather than champions of the cause - partly because many people understood at that time that Arab governments were ensuring that the Palestinians stayed in refugee camps so they would generate an army to fight Israel.


Foiled Again

My company (a big US outfit) issued a High Alert Security Advisory travel guideline today, restricting business travel to the bare minimum. Until I read the email outlining it I hadn't taken this UK bomb plot very seriously. After a while it all starts to feel like Snidely Whiplash with the babe tied to the railway tracks... it looks like endsville for the babe but somehow the story always ends with Snidely saying, "Foiled again!"

(Although, as the IRA used to say, The authorities have to be lucky every single time; we only need to get lucky once.)

I'm more concerned about personal inconvenience than bombs, but the stories that are coming out about the vulnerability of air travel are a bit unnerving, even to me. The talking heads are making a convincing case that airport security is bogus and designed to make us feel safe, rather than make us be safe. For example, it's nice that they check laptops, but terrorists could use any battery to detonate a bomb - even a watch battery. And restricting people from carrying water bottles or shampoo is not solving the problem... in a previous plot, liquid explosives were put in contact lens containers. And some explosives, like Sentex, are virtually undetectable. In fact, unless the authorities do complete body searches of every passenger there isn't much they can do to keep the bad guys from blowing us up. If then.

So it all seems to come down to figuring out what they're up to in the plotting stage, and that requires the cooperation of the communities where the terrorists live. Canada seems to have made some good moves in that regard, and it's heartening that Pakistan helped the UK government to uncover this latest plot. But the US isn't helping by pissing off our friends and allies in the Muslim world. I don't mean that we should appease our enemies, but that we should forge stronger ties with the majority of Muslims that aren't the enemy. As a start, this means avoiding racist discriminatory unfair treatment of Middle Easterners. A recent example: if a bunch of WASP exchange students went AWOL for a few days before showing up for university, would the FBI issue a statement that they would be deported - even before figuring out what they were up to?


Thursday, August 10, 2006

Transportation Malfunctions

Gerard Kennedy claims that he missed an all-French debate in Quebec City yesterday because his car broke down on the way.

People who are striving to become the leader of our nation should be a lot more responsible about their commitments. Don't forget that Joe Clark was ridiculed and labelled a loser for losing his luggage on a flight - and it wasn't even his fault. We can't elect a yahoo who misses important public meetings with lame excuses.

In addition, I want to give Kennedy the benefit of the doubt, but this sounds like a lie and I am very uneasy about being lied to so blatantly by a leadership candidate. I would like to see some evidence of this alleged breakdown... a tow truck bill, a CAA call log, or something of that nature.

It also sounds like Kennedy's French immersion is not going as well as hoped.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Life on the Outside

It's hard to believe that someone as powerful as Joe Lieberman could have been unseated by his own party. Democrats are claiming that this was a vote of confidence against Bush (since Lieberman's support of Bush was a main point of contention); Republicans are claiming that this proves that Democrats are weak on national defence; John Lennard wrote a thoughtful piece about the movement to get more real liberals in the Democratic party... to tell you the truth, I don't have any idea what it means, or even how it could have happened.

But I bet Lieberman wins the election as an independent, and that's where things might get interesting. In an evenly divided senate, Lieberman-the-independent could be a very powerful man. I would suggest that the Dems shouldn't piss him off too much, but I think that bridge is crossed. I can see Lieberman bringing a new role to US politics, that of an outsider rainmaker with his own agenda. It might get very interesting.


Police Line Do Not Cross

I got a postcard-sized flyer in the mail today. The only reason I read it before chucking was that I thought it was someone making fun of the Conservatives. Imagine my surprise when I realized it wasn't a joke! This is what it says, exactly as printed:

Stephen Harper:
Taking action. Tackling crime.
Hard time for serious crime.
More police.
Bolstered border security.
Getting tough on:
-Street racing;
-Child exploitation; and
-Youth crime.
"Canada's New
Government is tackling
crime to protect our safe
streets and the Canadian
way of life."
Stephen Harper, MP


Canada's New Government
Tackling Crime
For a Strong Canada
It boggles my mind that Harper is hell-bent on destroying Canada's world-leading record for preventing crime without incarceration. I live in the Kitchener-Waterloo riding. My MP, Andrew Telegdi (Lib), was an early promoter of an organization called Youth in Conflict with the Law which keeps youthful offenders out of prison by putting them in a bail supervision program. The outfit runs on a shoestring and yet has kept thousands of youth from falling into a life of crime. Now Harper wants to reduce the age at which a youth can be hauled into court from 12 to 10. He wants to build more prisons, he wants to put more people in jail, and he wants them to stay in jail for longer periods of time.

Off With His Head!

Stephen Harper dismissed a pilot this week who forced him to turn off his cell phone and Blackberry before a flight. A stewardess had first asked the Prime Minister to turn them off, and when he refused she got the pilot. Harper finally agreed, but after the flight he sent an aide to inform the pilot that his services would no longer be required on the PM's flights.

I have heard arguments that wireless devices are not really a threat to airplanes. Still, it's the law that they be turned off while a plane is in flight. No-one should be penalized or even criticized for upholding the law, especially a law relating to airplane safety.

I hope every relevant aviation authority, oppostion member and worker's group speaks out against this action. Harper should issue a retraction, as well as an apology to the pilot, the stewardess, and all air travellers.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Marking the Transitions of Others

I saw an acquaintance in the grocery store the other day. Pushing our carts in opposite directions, we passed close enough to touch and I said Hi quite audibly, but he kept his eyes straight ahead and pretended not to see me. We used to work together and he was let go in one of those secretive ways companies have - I didn't realize he was gone until months after he left. (During a downsizing of the Corel corporation, it came to be known as the animals-at-the-watering-hole syndrome; employees saw themselves as gazelles congregating in the dark, oblivious that their herd was being picked off.)

We should have had a going-away party for the guy, if only because we live in a small town and shouldn't be embarrassed to meet in the grocery store. In the software development world (where I work) a lot of people get fired or laid off - the work is very demanding and the market is volatile. Being let go is a time when you need support and encouragement, not silence and embarrassment. Those of us who are his former colleagues should have given him a card that said, "We'll miss you! Good luck!"

It's a given that we'll help family and close friends transition through the important events of their lives, but what do we owe to coworkers, neighbors and acquaintances? We pay taxes to finance services for people during times of need, but isn't there also a direct obligation?

A transition that often isn't handled well is moving. Where is the friendly welcome from neighbors? Many people would like to be friendlier with their neighbors, so why don't they reach out? There are probably a number of reasons other than indifference: They don't know if they're intruding; they don't know what to do; they don't feel part of the community themselves and so feel awkward welcoming other people to it.

Death is a transition that we're pretty good at marking, in part because religions have provided ceremonies and conventions that help us know what to do. We all know how funerals work: there is an implicit open invitation and the format is predictable. When the loved one of a friend dies we can attend the funeral, send flowers or a condolence card, or just say, "I'm so sorry for your loss." Would it were always so clear-cut.