Thursday, December 31, 2009

IWC Should Examine Afghan Detainee Issue

Petition: "Should Canada invite the International War Crimes Tribunal to investigate the allegations of war crimes in Afganistan?" Sign here.

The Petition


Allegations have been made that Canadian Forces in Afghanistan have handed prisoners over to the Afghan authorities with knowledge that there was a significant probability that those prisoners would be tortured against the requirements of the Geneva Convention. Canada is a signatory party to the Convention.

The Canadian government has gone through extreme lengths to avoid domestic investigation of these allegations, including concealing documents, misleading the domestic tribunal, and ignoring orders from the majority of the Canadian parliament to reveal its documentation on the incidents.

Given that the Canadian government has chosen to be unaccountable and not to participate in an investigation which will find the truth of these allegations, and that the unresolved nature of these allegations damages Canada as a whole internationally and places our country and servicemen at risk, it is proposed that the International War Crimes Tribunal be invited to investigate the allegations and make a finding of fact.

Conservative Talking Point: Prorogation is Routine

Just this morning I have heard or read several Conservatives say that prorogation is routine, and happens approximately every 1.4 years. On CBC, Hugh Segal said that parliament has been prorogued 15 times in the last 20 years. On CTV and in the Globe & Mail, Tim Powers said that parliament has been prorogued 105 times in the history of Canada.

This is disingenuous. Prorogation is usually done for short periods, at times that make sense, such as elections or the expected end of work. They are seldom controversial. Harper's current prorogation - shutting down parliament for a prolonged period to halt a parliamentary committee's investigation into government malfeasance - is most definitely not routine.

We should have learned during last year's federal crisis that we can't allow Harper's spin team to turn lies into conventional wisdom. Last year, Harper managed to convince Canadians that the coalition was undemocratic. This year, he's revving up the spin to convince Canadians that this prorogation is perfectly normal, business as usual.

I haven't been able to find information about the exact context of past prorogations. If anyone has that info, please let me know.

Update: The PMO released another talking point on prorogation, claiming that Chretien did it more than Harper, and specifically citing his 2003 prorogation as a way to avoid release of the Adscam report. This has been widely pasted into comments sections of newspaper articles and blogs, including this one. They neglect to mention that the prorogation occurred when Paul Martin took over as leader of the party. Since prorogations are supposed to occur when it is time to reset a legislative session, this seems in keeping with tradition, as a new PM would surely be resetting the agenda.

Update: Only in Canada: Harper's prorogation is a Canadian thing

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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Torturing Citizens

First he said he didn't do it. Now he says it's not his responsibility.

Why are we in Afghanistan? This was supposed to be a humanitarian mission. We're not supposed to be conducting a military occupation. We are treading a fine line here, and our government's lack of concern for the civil and human rights of Afghan citizens is making our presence there intolerable.

Other NATO countries came to the very pragmatic decision that (1) to win, we need to win the hearts and minds of the Afghans and (2) most of these insurgents are not Taliban: they're local citizens who are protecting their homeland. Hence they are very careful with the Afghans they detain: they monitor their treatment and they are careful who they hand them over to.

As well as being criminally negligent, Harper is just so very very stupid. Canada should be forced to pay reparation for every bit of damage we've done in Afghanistan, to both life and property.

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Monday, December 21, 2009

What's Long and Thin and Curves to the Right?

I don't follow golf. I don't know anything about Tiger Woods. I get all my news online and I haven't once clicked on a story about his Grand Debacle. That makes me qualified to comment on it, no?

I've heard people say that they feel betrayed by Mr. Woods because he said that family was most important to him, and his numerous extramarital affairs proved that to be a farce.

But is it? He might have slept around, but he didn't give up his marriage easily. When his wife found out about his girlfriends and hit him in the face with a golf club, he tried to blame it on a car accident. He gave her $5M to stay in the marriage. Surely he is just as concerned about his marriage as he always seemed to be.

Okay, he slept around. There seem to be two types of men: those who get caught and those who don't get caught. Don't hit the keys too fast: I'm joking. And women commit infidelities too. But come on: studies have shown that over half the population does it. Mr. Woods spent a lot of time on the road; he's movie star handsome, adorable and rich; celebrity is a powerful incitement to narcissism: it's not surprising that he got more than your average shmo.

What bugs me is the hypocricy of it all. While Bill Clinton was being impeached over a blow job it was widely known that his predecessor, George Bush Sr., was in a long-term relationship with a woman other than his wife. There wasn't any interest in ensuring that politicians keep it in their pants. All the interest was in finding out where he put the cigar.

No, there seem to be two things going on. One is voyeurism: when someone gets caught there's an opportunity to dig into their privates. Second, it's like those guys who are homophobic because they can't come to terms with their own interest in men (I don't know if these guys exist but they show up in movies quite a bit). You get to condemn the sinner, secure in the knowledge that everyone's attention is on the celebrity sinner, and nobody's looking at you.

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Comments

From time to time I threaten to delete comments and sometimes people ask me to delete comments, but it's something I've hardly ever done for editorial reasons.

However recently I've been getting hit by a spammer who embeds links in Chinese characters, or sometimes in a row of dots. I have word verification enabled but they still get through. So if you noticed that comments are coming and going, that's why.

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St Clair is to the Gun Registry As...

Toronto's St. Clair streetcar line is finally finished, after years of delays and going millions of dollars over budget.

If we followed the logic of the anti-gun registry group, we'd respond by tearing up the tracks.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Print Media Transition

Newspapers and magazines are having to find new business models as people turn increasingly to the internet for their content. That describes me: I haven't bought a newspaper for years. I still find the odd magazine convenient for when I'm on the go or the couch, but not much of that either.

This is a good trend. It's great for the environment: even if you recycle, there's a great deal of energy and pollution involved in thick daily newspapers. It's great for readers: I have hundreds of news sources bookmarked, categorized by type of publication.

So far, it's not so great for the publishers as they struggle to make their operations profitable. I find that the transition to electronic media is making some mistakes.

The biggest problem online is advertising. Advertising should enhance a publication, and so far, electronic media has not figured that out. Print ads tend to be informative, while online ads tend to not be. In the old print model ads were an integral part of the paper, and people flipped through the paper looking for sales, coupons, promotions, special events, etc. I would like papers to reproduce their print ads online - especially local papers where the print ads tell you about local businesses and events, zoning applications, etc. Papers can keep all their current online ads. Many magazines also have interesting ads that are lost online (think the back of the New Yorker or NYT Magazine... or even comic books).

Next, online publications are becoming too inefficient: it takes too long to open a page. The worst offender is the Huffington Post, where when you click a link you might as well go out for coffee. The Washington Post has always been a bear. Lately other publications, such as the Globe & Mail, have started to deteriorate alarmingly. It ruins the entire online model to make reading an unpleasant experience. This also applies to those ads that pop up, obscuring the article.

Finally, online publications are much more about the writers than print. I hardly ever click my bookmark to the Toronto Star home page, but I regularly click on my links to the Star's columnists, especially Chantal Hebert. If you want hits on your site, you hire great writers and you promote them.

I get the impression that print media think of their online component as an sideline to their main thing. They need to change that thinking. Their online product has to compete head-on with other online products. There is lots of competition, and they will simply lose us if they put content behind a subscription wall or provide an unsatisfying reading experience. To succeed, they need to play to their strengths: for example, the Waterloo Regional Record has great local coverage. I don't read it for the reprints of international or even national articles. Why then is the Local section not on a tab at the top, and only accessible from the home page? I open the Record every day and the only sections I look at are Local and Opinions. If they had local ads, I'd look at those too.

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Friday, December 18, 2009

A Solution for CCGG?

Waterloo's Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery never had a chance - at least not since it moved into its current building at the corner of Erb and Caroline. The architect created a building that is inaccessible, forbidding, and inefficient in terms of size.

Inaccessible - Far back from the corner, up steps and hidden behind some landscaping, the building is hard to get to, even if someone bothers to venture across the Waterloo Square parking lot and large intersection at Erb and Caroline. It's equally difficult to access from its parking lot, which is located behind it. The best thing anyone ever did for the building was to purchase a 99 cent neon orange "Open/Closed" sign that lets us poor citizens know when we should hike up to it and when not. The front doors are convenient to nothing.

Forbidding - The architectrual style is 20th century fortress. It's not unlike the last reno of Toronto's Art Gallery of Ontario - you know, the one that was so disastrous that they had to spend hundreds of millions to get Frank Gehry to undo it. It is the opposite of welcoming.

Size-Inefficient - The building simply isn't a gallery. With its soaring ceilings and sparse rooms, it's a great place for a public lecture or reception (I've been to several), but it's not sufficient to attract people to see art. For displays, there are two rooms: one big, for visiting exhibits, and one smaller, which has some model historical kilns and stuff like that. I've been a few times; my reaction was always that the admission (which was $2 and is now $5) was very low but still too much. To add insult to injury, the building's volume is so large that it must cost an arm and a leg to heat/cool.

I'm not blaming the management. The gallery store is the finest gift shop in town, and has been for years. The gift shop is always more interesting than the gallery. The building is just not good enough. The gallery is doomed. It is a bust.

So here's my solution: move the CCGG out of its current building to somewhere more accessible. Move it to Waterloo Square or one of the empty storefronts on King Street. (The gallery could have its shop downstairs and exhibit space upstairs.) Sell the building, or tear it down and put up something more usable, and use the money to create an endowment fund for the gallery.

Instead of being a grandiose monolith, the new gallery could be more like Waterloo's Button Factory or Harbinger, providing space for local artists to have short-term shows. Like CIGI and the Perimeter Institute, it could engage in more public outreach with lectures and classes. Like the old Ontario Craft Council, it could be a resource for local artists: creating a directory, holding contests, providing networking opportunities.

Then, instead of being a drain on public resources and a white elephant, CCGG might become a beloved community institution.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Walmart Effect

After a twelve year battle to keep it out, Walmart recently opened its doors in my community, or at least nearby in Woolwich Township.

Local retailers have been quaking for years in anticipation, trying to figure out how to stand up against the giant Borg-like invasion.

Our local Loblaws chain, known as Zehrs, glitzed itself up. It seems at least a quarter of the goods have signs saying they're reduced in price. The Zehrs I shop at had been a stable place for decades, but in an apparent attempt to keep us in the store longer, has taken to reorganizing its stock every few months. Shopping has become a tiring sensory overload.

Loblaws has also opened a bunch of Walmart-clones called Great Canadian Superstores that specialize in household goods and junk food.

The bizarrest effect is on Canadian Tire stores, many of which are trying to keep their clientele by selling groceries. There's something just wrong about buying milk at a tire store.

As municipalities across North America have learned, this is all fruitless. Walmart has: (1) A huge advertising budget and a good PR firm; (2) Low prices; and (3) Scads of convenient parking. I know someone who lived right across the street from the Waterloo Zellers but drove all the way across Kitchener to the Sunrise Mall to buy things at Walmart that were available at Zellers. No, it didn't make any sense and it didn't save any money, but Walmart advertises more than Zellers and it sucks in the shoppers.

Waterloo city Council hopes that Walmart will not compete with the independent, boutique-style shops in Uptown. However, those aren't the only shops in Uptown. We also have a small grocery store and a hardware store, and they serve a very important purpose: they mean that the growing residential population in Uptown doesn't need to drive for necessities. If they die, then there will be no environmental benefits to a compact urban core. The core will just be a pretentious place to live, and not a true urban experience. Uptown residents will get in their SUVs and drive to the big box stores on the outskirts of town to shop. It's not anyone's vision for uptown Waterloo.

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Brought Down by the Meanness that Drives Them Forward

I was doing some research on the government defunding of KAIROS, a multidenominational aid organization that Harper&Co have apparently decided is too left wing, and I came across this very good opinion piece in Straight Goods.

Our government makes us ashamed of Canada

Harperites' bully tactics and corporate ethics contradict Canada's national and economic values.

Dateline: Tuesday, December 15, 2009

by Ish Theilheimer

While the Olympic torch makes its way across Canada tugging at national pride, Canadians are being pelted every day with news that makes us feel shame internationally and a sense, at home, that the whole idea of Canada no longer matters.

A good example is the controversy that began with Richard Colvin's testimony to a Parliamentary committee about Afghan detainees. The government's initial response was to attack Colvin, a diplomat with an outstanding service record and an avowed supporter of the Afghanistan war. This reaction exposed the ruthless meanness of the Harper government and destroyed a lot of its credibility on Afghanistan and everything else.

The Harperites seem doomed to be brought down by the very meanness that drives them forward.

Harshness hurt the Harperites. Public opinion swung against them, even when they brought in top military generals to parrot the party. They were caught completely wrongfooted by hard-copy evidence in the form of a Canadian soldier's 2006 Afghanistan field notes, that conclusively disproved Peter MacKay's repeated claims that there was no documentation of Canadian detainees being tortured.

Someone had to had to walk the plank. The Conservatives appointed General Walt Natynczyk to the task. He was forced to change his story in humiliating, public fashion, saying he was suddenly given new documentation on the three-year-old file.

You can’t help but feel for the general. Like diplomat Richard Colvin or detainees handed over for torture, he appears to have been just another pawn sacrificed on the Harperites' strategic chessboard.

The Harperites could have quietly disagreed with Colvin, praised him as a dedicated public servant and shuffled him back to Washington. The story might have ended at that point. Instead, they were derailed by their apparently uncontrollable desire to smear Colvin and cause pain. They seem doomed to be brought down by the very meanness that drives them forward. Like the crack about artists at galas that lost Quebec for Harper in the last year's election, or last November's economic statement that targeted political party financing, the Conservatives exposed themselves once more as ruthless bullies.

A nasty attack-reflex can quickly undo a lot of Bollywood dancing and Beatles songs. The Colvin affair showed that the government has no heart, and totally undermined the PM's ability to lecture anyone about human rights when he visited China.

The Conservatives have stonewalled a public inquiry on the Afghan detainees matter because they know they can get away with it. This is true, technically, but polling shows the affair has hurt them badly among the constituencies they've worked so hard to win over — urban and suburban voters in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia.

And the time was awful. At the UN Copenhagen Climate Change conference, Canada is being held up to daily international ridicule, thanks to the Harperites. While the people of this planet are debating how to reverse the global catastrophe that's threatening our existence, Canada's representatives are stalling and obstructing.

This country, which used to be seen as an environmental leader — the Montreal Protocol brought world action to protect the ozone layer, for instance — now regularly receives derogatory Fossil of the Day awards. The whole world knows that our government is run by the tar sands lobby. Canada’s position that poor countries should equally share the cost of reducing pollution, when the rich ones have profited from profligately burning fossil fuels, can well be called immoral.

The Harperites have a very narrow agenda and anything that doesn't fit with it goes. For instance, on November 30, Bev Oda, the minister in charge of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), cut all funding to KAIROS, "an ecumenical partnership working to promote human rights, justice and peace, viable human development, and ecological justice." In a brief phone call, a CIDA staffer told KAIROS its projects do not fit with CIDA's criteria.

As contributor Dennis Gruending points out, KAIROS has been a leader in humanitarian assistance, such as setting up a legal clinic to assist women in eastern Congo. This sort of work doesn't fit with the new Canada. Axing KAIROS works for the Harperites, because they see KAIROS as a funding source for left-wingers, like the Court Challenges Program (which they also axed). Settling political scores and undermining potential opposition matters more to them than victims of famine and war.

Nor does this government care about keeping Canada in control of its own economy. Straight Goods has covered the five-month old Vale INCO strike in Sudbury. In Timmins, international mining giant Xstrata shut down the Kidd copper and zinc metallurgical plant. Meanwhile in and near Hamilton, ON, the former Stelco steel mills, now owned by US Steel, lie dormant.

In each case, the Harperites allowed the sale of critical — and profitable — industries, to foreign corporate giants with no commitment to Canada and almost none to Canadian jobs. In the Xtstrata case, the company closed down just months after the end of a three-year jobs agreement it was forced to adopt. If these three international giants walk away from their Canadian holdings as they appear quite willing to do, many thousand manufacturing jobs will be gone forever, resulting in widespread suffering and devastated communities.

Another example of the Harperites profits-before-people approach is last week's government decision to overrule its own regulator and license the foreign-owned cell phone company Globalive. It is no accident that the lobbyist who sealed the deal for the Globalive was Stephen Harper's old friend and former policy advisor Ken Boessenkool. A key colleague of Harper during his rise to political power, Boessenkool left politics for corporate lobbying, and has successfully represented corporate giants like Taser International and Merck Frosst Canada.

Today there are news reports that the government could prorogue Parliament until March. This would let the Harperites avoid more fallout from Colvin and Copenhagen and give Cabinet ministers plenty of opportunity to bask in the glow of the Vancouver Olympics. The government would have more opportunity for self-promotion at taxpayer expense, without the inconvenience of answering to an elected parliament.

Medicare under attack in the USA? So what. Cultural funding? Who needs it. Public broadcasting? Ditto, ditto. Working multilaterally with other countries on key issues like the environment, agriculture, fair trade, or health? Not a priority. We've become a corporate-driven, military nation, and our bizarre regional politics make this unlikely to change soon.

How ironic, that while our athletes will be going all-out for Canada's pride, our government is doing so much to make us ashamed to be Canadians! What does make us proud is that millions of ordinary Canadians don't buy Harper's mean vision. They are working, through the environment, labour, and social justice movements to maintain Canada's role as a nation of people who care about others and their world.

Ish Theilheimer is founder and president of Straight Goods News and has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca. He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.

Email: ish@straightgoods.com.

The article source is here.

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The Flip Side of Bully

A pattern is emerging, and it ain't pretty.

We have all noticed that the Harper government likes to circumvent democratic procedure when it suits them. What has slowly been dawning on me is when/why they do this.

It's not to support policies they believe in. It's when they screw up on the PR front.

A month after the election last year, Harper thought he could throw his weight around because the opposition couldn't topple him so soon after the vote. He went too far with his economic update, announcing he was cutting off all funding for federal parties and announcing that the government would [fly in the face of every other developed nation and the IMF to] enact no fiscal stimulus. When the opposition balked, he prorogued parliament - an option never used for this political purpose before, and very dodgy.

Recently the opposition has been trying to get to the bottom of the Afghan detainee torture issue. The Liberals have said they want to air any problems that occurred under a Liberal government as well as Conservative, but the Cons decided to take it as a personal assault and fought back in their inimitable no-holds-barred style. Peter Mackay thundered that it was all lies and had never happened. When a top general testified before a parliamentary committee that yes, it had indeed happened, the red-faced government decided to pull all Conservative members from the committee, leaving it without a quorum so it had to shut down.

A more minor occurrence of this pattern happened just yesterday. Harper didn't seem at all embarrassed about showing up at Copenhagen after lobbying furiously against any progress there, but then his spokesman was caught on camera screaming at an environmentalist, accusing him of perpetrating a fraud on Canada. The environmentalist, who throughout the ordeal protested his innocence, turned out to have nothing to do with it. Now Harper is delaying his arrival at the conference.

The flip side of bully is coward. They behave badly; they won't back down; so when they're called on their bullshit their tactic is to shut down democracy till the public has lost interest.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Canada Fights Back

Canada's recent stance on sealing is brilliant.

The anti-sealers are wrong. They're wrong to attack traditional hunting, wrong to attack the environmental hakapik, wrong to imply that sealing is less ethical than raising commercial livestock, wrong to overpromote this cause just because cute big-eyed white seal pups (which aren't even hunted) are effective in money-raising campaigns.

When our Governor General went on camera and ate raw seal heart - wowee! That was great stuff. After years of protests and boycotts against Canada, we're finally doing something to fight back. (Or at least thumb our noses.) In the long run our side will prevail because we're right.

Seal hunting is the traditional sustenance of small portions of our population, both aboriginal and non-aboriginal northerners following long-standing traditions. We're not talking about giant Japanese harvesting ships. We're not talking about Americans with semi-automatic rifles flying in helicopters. These are men who walk the ice floes with a stick with a hook on the end, just as their forefathers have for hundreds of years.

I don't wear fur or like fur. I don't support sport hunting. But we don't all live in cities. We don't all buy our food in plastic wrap. There is nothing environmental about the anti-sealing movement. It's an attack on a traditional way of life. Unfortunately, it's a tried-and-true way for organizations to raise a whole lot of moolah. So let's keep up the public displays of our Inuit culture.

My other musings on the anti-sealing movement

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cranking

Last night I went to a "crank" - a get-together at which people bitch about the world, which they call cranking - a nice reformulation of the word "cranky" into a noun and a verb. (And what could be more fun than that! ...especially a Christmas Crank.)

I thought that was pretty creative, but then I heard about complaint choirs. This is how it works: a group of the disgruntled gets together and each writes out their complaints, one per page, and puts the pages in a pile. Then they organize the complaints into themes (the group in the article chose public transportation, personal appearance, work, love, society, and the future). Then they give the compilation of complaints to a composer who turns them into a song, and the group sings it. Apparently singing ability is not a requirement (resulting in something new to complain about).

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Time to Step Up

"Accessibility" is one of those words people bandy about as an objective they want city planners to follow. At public forums, it is invariably the case that the public says they want a downtown that's "walkable," "accessible," "a people place."

Then it snows and the ideals go to shit.

Today I saw two very frail-looking, slow-moving elderly people pushing their walkers in traffic on Bridgeport near the intersection of Erb. Why? Knox Presbyterian Church hadn't ploughed the sidewalk on their property along Bridgeport Road. There was lots of traffic and cars were slipping in the snowy street; it was incredibly dangerous to be walking in the road. My guess is that the couple had gone to the library and were trying to get home.

Most winters the sidewalk clearing around uptown Waterloo is so poor that many elderly people in the uptown area are housebound for months. The uptown is ringed by seven residences for elderly people, from the full-care facility at King-William to the high rise Water Park apartments. The Adult Recreation Center (ARC) is also in uptown.

It's not just people with walkers, but anyone who's a little unsteady on their pins who can't get through the snow drifts that are left all winter in front of many properties. And it's not just home owners. The city often doesn't clear the pile of snow in front of the crosswalk at Erb and Peppler, so people trying to cross the street have to climb a sizable hump of snow. The sidewalk beside the city lots of Caroline are never well shovelled; at best we get a narrow track. The empty lot at 32 Alexandra, owned by the Auburn company, is rarely if ever ploughed.

The Waterloo city by-law "Snow and Ice", #82-12, states that sidewalks must be cleared 24 hours after a snowfall. This applies to occupants as well as owners, to vacant land as well as occupied. It applies to houses, apartments, churches, public land, schools, and every other type of property. Failing to adequately clear your sidewalk of snow and ice can result in a $2,000 fine, as well as the cost of the city clearing it.

The city mostly acts on uncleared sidewalks when they receive a complaint. We can all contact the city about uncleared sidewalks by calling 519-747-6280 or by filling out this form, which goes to the by-law enforcement department.

Fair warning: I am planning to rat on everyone in uptown Waterloo who breaks the by-law this winter.

(If requested, the city will help clear the sidewalks of the physically disabled or people over 65. Call 519-579-6930.)

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Guns

It's December 6, the anniversary of the Montreal Massacre. In 1989 Marc Lepine, holding a legally-obtained rifle, shouted that he was "fighting feminism", sent male students to safety, and then shot 14 female engineering students to death. In the subsequent years, Canadians concerned about the event have worked to decrease violence against women and strengthen gun control.

Given that today is the anniversary, the Globe & Mail published a thoughtful article about the event from the perspective of the survivors and the families of the dead women. One of their victories after 1989 was the long gun registry, and they are naturally upset that parliament has recently voted in favor of scrapping it.

I am in favor of gun control and the gun registry. It doesn't demonize rural Canadians: it simply asserts that guns (like cars) should be licensed. It has been an expensive program largely because of a pro-gun campaign to make it so: first, by scuttling the procedure and later by the Harper government's removal of license fees. Canada's chiefs of police are overwhelmingly behind the registry. The gun registry has been used by Conservatives to make a wedge issue just as Republicans used abortion.

But that's not what interests me today...

What interests me is the comments to the Globe article. There is not just a majority of comments that express negativity towards the victims and their cause, but the agree/disagree rankings are overwhelmingly against women, as well. Here are some excerpts of comments with current rankings from the thumbs up/thumbs down vote next to each comment:

  • "Women this and women that grows most nauseating. As a man, i am getting sick and tired of measures designed to protect women. Last time i checked, they were only half of the population." - 27 agree/4 disagree

  • "Should we should be more concerned about the murder of one gender above another. That's what this article seems to imply." - 19 agree/3 disagree

  • "Maybe feminists (or pseudofeminists) should stop being so inconsistent. Could that be part of what drove Lepine to kill? Trying to communicate with women who have only their needs in mind, regardless of whether what they say is nonsense or not, can be very trying." - 67 agree/19 disagree

  • "Saying "if it saved just one life, it was worth it" is one of the most illogical, short-sighted, emotive arguments out there - that money could have saved many more lives elsewhere, or (if it hadn't been taken from Canadian taxpayers in the first place) WOULD have contributed to more jobs, better jobs, less financial stress... a better Canada." - 76 agree/16 disagree

  • "The inconsistent, illogical, purely emotion-based approach of too many "feminists" alienates many men (and probably some women) from what should be an inclusive cause." - 58 agree/7 disagree

  • "The Montreal Massacre was a tragedy, no one will argue that, but no tragedy is worth sacrificing democratic freedom over. I am sick and tired of hearing about special interest groups trying to infringe on our democratic freedoms forged through a history of tragedy and struggle. I am absolutely disgusted by the exploitation of this massacre by selfish politicians and special interest groups seeking political gain." - 78 agree/10 disagree

  • "This is just another example of feminists taking something - anything - and making an issue about it... Marc Lepine had no resources with which to help him deal with the rejection and the unfairnes of it. Feminists had power. they had the journalists on their side, and politicians. No one wanted to tell them they were wrong. They were so angry they would have destroyed that person's career, in fact their entire life, if they could, just as they have mine, for talking out about it." - 24 agree/17 disagree

  • "I am sick of seeing the women's movement use the act of one madman to tar all men and/or gun-owners with the same brush. It amazes me they can get away with it." - 19 agree/11 disagree


And there was strong disagreement with the pro-woman side:

  • "I look to the people enforcing crime to get facts and evidence on the usefulness of the gun registry and police forces across the country tell us they use the registry and it's useful in their daily work. Unfortunately, the Conservative party held back RCMP's most recent report endorsing the registry until AFTER the House of Commons voted on canceling the registry. The Tories wouldn't want facts and information getting in the way of a purely political manoeuver. If we take the argument against registering our long to it's illogical conclusion then why do we register our vehicles? Cars don't kill people, drivers do. And is it really such a burden to go out and register a gun? The gun registry legislation isn't perfect, no legislation is. But when the police tell me they find it useful to do their daily jobs I'll believe them before a bunch of Tory hacks trying to solidify their rural voting base. " - 15 agree/16 disagree

  • "Shame on these flunkies we keep paying our taxes to every year when they won't keep a Gun Registry open to protect women while they spend $20 billion on a War continents away. Rurar votes is the key on this and we should tell our yahoo gun-macho-politicos that they are going to lose thousands of votes from those who agree with our Police Forces throughout the nation! Enough carnage! Register these guntoting morons same way as pedophiles. They're both endangering our society. Enough!" - 12 agree/59 disagree

  • "The purpose of the legislation was specifically directed at domestic violence issues and the protection of women. Long guns, not surprisingly because these are far more easy to obtain and far more likely to be around for non-criminal purposes, are a weapon of choice in domestic violence cases. A vocal minority overturned the long gun registry. They saved us a whopping 2 million dollars a year. Of course, that was after costing us that much because the CPC waived the fees. The long gun registry would otherwise have been a modest revenue-generating system." - 4 agree/3 disagree


Update: A more recent comment: "Don't confuse a revulsion of feminism with a dislike of women. They are not the same brand. Feminism is a Marxist based collective ideology..." - 5 agree/6 disagree

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Sunday, November 29, 2009

That Pesky US Agenda

Big news from a US senate report: the US military missed a chance to get bin Laden in the months after 9/11, when it would have been easier to find him.

This is not the first time we have heard this "news". The last time I heard about it, it was a broader story. US military were bemused by the weak efforts in the initial attacks in Afghanistan, and said it was contrary to good military procedure. It wasn't just bin Laden they failed to capture, but the Taliban, who were also easier targets at that point. Members of the US military said that the US failed to act sufficiently in the initial weeks, and that's why we're all still there - that essentially, they lost the war in the first month.

I'm not generally a conspiracy theorist, but I have to think there's a possibility that this was deliberate - that the Bush government wanted a long occupation of Afghanistan and wanted a prolonged war on terror. I don't know why they would want that: ...to further enrich their friends at Haliburton? ...to reap the political benefits of being at war? ...as part of an expansionist agenda in the middle east? ...or, and I'm not as sure about this one, to build a pipeline? All that happened, so it's not too wild to assert it was deliberate.

And why are we still there?

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Did Philip K Dick Dream of Palm Jumeirah?

I read a lot of science fiction, so I may be a little paranoid about the possibility of our freedoms being stripped away by a megacorporation that uses human life as a disposable raw commodity and makes us live in underground warrens where everything is painted white and lit by fluorescents and we have to wear identical one-piece jump suits with a number on the back and eat protein pellets and old people sit around telling children about things they remember from their youth, like voting and the sky.

Also, I just watched the movie Recount, which I recommend highly but which scared the crap out of me to the point that I had to watch it in short bursts because while the movie is engrossing, the story it tells (of the US 2000 election) is astounding and tragic and devastating.

That's my caveat as I start this post about Palm Jumeirah, Palm Jebel Ali and Palm Deira.

Pictures of this stunning development in Dubai have been wowing us for years. The first and largest artificial island, Palm Jumeirah (shown right), is designed for a population of 2 million people. Most houses have a beach and many have marinas. There are also dozens of high rise condo buildings, 100 hotels and on and on. In total, the development has three island complexes that were designed to house nearly 5 million people. Prices were originally very hefty, with a 14,000 SF undeveloped plot of land starting at about C$2M. Movie stars and other rich people bought up plots like crazy; some have already moved there. (The development is still years from completion, delayed by the current economic troubles, and prices have fallen.)

Futuristic paranoiacs (paranoid futurists?) like me are somewhat mollified by the thought that people with democratic freedoms would not just throw them away - and even if they wanted to, we have institutions to protect us from ourselves. To lose our freedom, there would have to be some sort of perfect storm of events.

When I started to research Palm Jumeirah and its sister islands, the first thing to set off alarm bells is that there will be no local government or citizen representation - the entire 5 million population will be administered by the corporation that built the islands. Or as that corporation, Nakheel, puts it, "Nakheel Asset Management (NAM) team will provide a top quality community management service to Palm Jumeirah's owners and residents." Note that's community management, not just property management.

Nakheel's literature about the islands has a large emphasis on "community", but community in their context means consumption and amenities. In pages about community, there are lavish descriptions of shopping, golf and gyms. There is nothing about local government, civil society, laws, codes of conduct, social services or means of communication. Your average North American subdivision provides more information.

The Palm artificial island development is just one of many megaprojects by Nakheel. Here's the Resident's Hub for residents of International City, another Nakheel development in Dubai (it's difficult to find how big it will be, but one of the five original districts is designed to house 120,000, and it seems that four additional districts have been added). The hub has a dizzying array of rules, many so vague that they could be interpreted to restrict almost anything, and after a lot of digging I found a page that suggests that Nakheel Corporation makes all decisions that would normally be made by the government. It's fair to assume that the Jumeirah islands will be governed in a similar way.

It's not just anywhere that you could strip away the rights of an entire city of 5 million wealthy people. Dubai has been ruled by the Al Maktoum dynasty since 1833. The government and private sectors are closely entwined, with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum being Dubai's ruler and Prime Minister of the UAE, but also the vice-president, founder and majority stakeholder in Dubai World, a private company that manages businesses for the Dubai government. (Dubai World was in the news recently when it informed its creditors that it can't pay its US$60B debt. That debt represents three-quarters of the debt of Dubai, so Maktoum was pretty crafty in creating arms-length liability for his government finances.)

The company that is building the Jumeirah islands - Nakheel - is a subsidiary of Dubai World, so while Jumeirah presents itself as a private development, it is really a project of the ruler of Dubai.

In 2006 Dubai had 1.4M residents, only 250,000 of which were citizens. Another 250,000 are foreign laborers, many living in appalling conditions and not making enough money to be able to return home. In response to falling property values, Dubai is introducing new laws to protect property owners, but in response to protests by foreign laborers, it has filled its jails. This is already a corpogovernment that exists purely to enrich itself.

This all took an obvious path. Countries in the middle east had to diversify beyond oil, and Dubai has been very successful in the areas of tourism and property development. At one point, property development accounted for 32% of its GDP. A lot of people like the idea of an endless summer, and the middle east has a very nice climate (in Dubai, there is little rain and it is never cold, although five months a year the average high is more than 100 F). So why not attract massive population shifts? Start with the rich, which gives a glamorous cachet to the idea of living in the Persian Gulf, and then build cheaper homes, and cheaper, and cheaper. Nakheel is already starting to develop a number of other artificial islands in the Gulf. Jumeirah is attached to the mainland by a bridge, but the newer islands are miles from land.

There are beautiful pictures of the Jumeirah islands taken from the international space station. When you see closer views, a few problems emerge.

In some photos the air is hazy, probably from sand or pollution. The houses are built extremely close together: several million gets you a few feet of space from your neighbours. The emphasis on beachfronts means there is a lot of driving required to get anywhere - some public transit is proposed, but there are no details of how extensive it will be.

The economic downturn has resulted in the reduction of public services. Tight corporate restrictions on resident activities means there aren't a lot of alternatives - or avenues for complaint.

At inception, there seemed little to worry about. If Brangelina don't like the way their community is governed, they can pack up the kids and move elsewhere. But when you start to consider a much larger and less powerful group of residents, many living miles from land, with all means of communication, transportation, life support and other community decisions being made by a for-profit corporation - and then think of possible futures when there might be a war or a severe economic downturn, when there might be water shortages or food shortages - then it isn't such a big jump to get to soylent green.

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Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Response to Janine Krieber

I believe that the Liberal party can and will recover, and I think Ignatieff was right to end the coalition last January. Nonetheless, I think Janine Krieber's recent Facebook posting is worth talking about. Keep in mind that this is someone with a personal stake in recent Liberal history (being the partner of our last, deposed leader), and that she is obviously bitter and lacking objectivity about events her partner was involved in. She's also a respected political scientist who had a ring-side seat at major events in our party.

I reproduce what Krieber wrote in italics, with my comments interpsersed in plain text. (Kreiber's text is from a translation in the Globe & Mail.)

JK: The Liberal Party is falling apart, and will not recover. Like all liberal parties in Europe, it will become a weakling at the mercy of ephemeral coalitions. By refusing the historic coalition that would have placed it at the helm of the left, it will be punished by history.

Krieber makes an interesting point that Liberal parties are not strong in Europe. The UK, for example, has been run by Labour or Conservatives for ages. In Ireland, a coalition of extreme right and extreme left took power.

Of course, the US is an exception to that. Also, while not currently in power, the Liberal party has never fallen from being one of the Top Two. The NDP, Greens and BQ are not contenders in Canada; and we have not changed our electoral system to one that favors coalitions. In fact, the public reaction to last year's coalition attempt (the reaction manufactured by Cons, but still) suggests that Canada is less likely to have a coalition than it was a year ago. So I think Krieber is just wrong in this, and is showing her partisanship to Dion, who took a hit when Canadians rejected him as leader of last year's coalition.

However, Krieber suggests two really interesting lines of inquiry:

  • Should the Liberal party try to take a leadership role among the opposition parties in Canada?

  • What lessons can Liberals learn from the demise of the center-left in Europe?

JK: Anyway, I became convinced of it the moment that Paul Martin treated Jean Chr├ętien so cavalierly. The party died at that moment. If the Toronto elites had been more in tune, humble and realist, St├ęphane would have been willing to take all the time and absorb all the hits needed to rebuild the party. But they couldn't swallow the 26%, and now we are at 23%.

I agree with Krieber that Liberals have to give their new leaders the time to get good at their jobs. I read somewhere that it takes a new opposition leader two years to learn the job. Polls between elections are like stock market dips when you aren't selling your portfolio. It's best to ignore them and just keep plugging away: instead of getting excited about every so-called setback, be like water dripping on stone. Think long term.

But Krieber should look to her own behavior: I don't know if it was the "Toronto elites" that questioned Dion, but currently it is most definitely the "Montreal elites" (including Krieber) that are hurting Ignatieff. The recent rant by Denis Coderre about Toronto elites, followed by this rant from Krieber, sound like Quebec's power elite can't handle the fact that every once in a while we briefly have a leader who isn't from Quebec. Historically, Quebec has dominated the party, but for years it has been delivering us less than 15 MPs. These hissy fits from Quebeckers bitter about Toronto are hurting the party.

JK: The time for choices is now. I don't want to see the Conservatives continue to change my country. They are, slowly, like any dictatorship, changing the world. Torture doesn't exist, corruption is a fabrication. Do we really have the right leader to discuss these questions? Can someone really write these insanities and lead us to believe that he simply changed his mind? In order to justify violence, he must have engaged in serious thought. Otherwise, it's very dangerous. How can we be sure that he won't change his mind one more time? The party grassroots had understood all of that, and the average citizen is starting to understand it too. Ignatieff's supporters have not done their homework. They did not read his books, consult his colleagues. They were satisfied that he could be charming at cocktails. Some of them are outraged now. I am hearing: Why did no one say it? We told you loud and clear, you didn't listen.

The problem Krieber addresses is: since Ignatieff published opinions that showed some support for US imperialist policies, can he counter Harper on issues such as the Harper cover-up of Canadian complicity in Afghan torture? Many Liberals are worried about this. See, for example, a thoughtful discussion by Mound of Sound.

My take is quite different. Ignatieff has written dozens of articles and books on international affairs, justice, democracy, nationalism, and the like. His leanings are very clear and they are not hawkish pro-torture imperialism. In the wake of 9/11 he didn't shirk from the tough questions, and wrote directly about the dark side of the then-well accepted war on terror. Those writings were in a particular historical context. When you look at his body of work, he is clearly a humanitarian who wants peace and abhors violence and injustice.

After studying international reaction to Rwanda, the Balkans, and other recent calamities, Ignatieff became a humanitarian interventionist. There is plenty to argue about that stance, but it should be addressed correctly, rather than imply, as Krieber does, that Ignatieff is pro-corruption and pro-torture, and posit that his only options are to continue to support them or be a flip-flopper.

I did not support Ignatieff for leader, in part because I saw him close up early on in his first leadership campaign and saw the depth of his political inexperience: no-one thought he would be "charming at cocktails". His strength is his broad understanding of the world, and his ability to lead Canada on the big issues. Krieber has let one issue (and her bitterness for her partner's rival) mar her reasoning. She is framing Ignatieff in a way that is unfair, incorrect and politically damaging.

Krieber's comments about the grassroots vs Ignatieff supporters is also misleading. There is a fundamental difference between Ignatieff and Dion: Dion came into the convention in fourth place and snuck up the middle to win the leadership. Ignatieff was the front-runner in both leadership races. Dion was never the pick of the majority: at best he was the compromise candidate, and it's probably fairer to say that he won because of the secret deal he made with Kennedy. Dion's treatment as leader reflects the fact that he never achieved popularity.

JK: I am starting a serious reflection. I will not give my voice to a party that will end up in the trashcan of history. I am looking around me, and certain things are attractive. Like a dedicated party that doesn't challenge its leader at every hiccup in the polls. A party where the rule would be the principle of pleasure, and not assassination. A party where work ethic and competence would be respected and where smiles would be real.

Krieber seems to be saying that she is considering a shift of allegiance to the Green party. (Or perhaps the Bloc? The NDP certainly does its share of leadership-questioning.) The two reasons she gives are telling. (1) She thinks the Liberals have no chance of forming a government and/or are not achieving anything. (Does she think the Greens are doing better on either front???) (2) She is obviously very bitter about Dion's treatment as leader.

It's odd that in publicly stating that she's thinking of leaving the Liberals, Krieber says nothing about policy. Perhaps she considers it a given that she supports the Green party, since the Green Shift was a version of a Green Party platform (the Greens want to abolish income tax altogether and replace it with a consumption tax based on environmental principles). I have written about that a lot already: see here.

But I agree with her that we need to be nicer to our leaders and to each other. Nothing succeeds like success, and nothing creates dissension like failure. The glass-half-empty view is that our popularity is low. The glass-half-full view is that we're in a phase of rebuilding. Ignatieff has got party donations back up and that is the sine qua non of a come-back. Now it's time for the power elites like Krieber to keep their bitterness private, hold off on public back-biting, and work on positive contributions to our regrowth.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

LRT: Complete Rail Route



Click the map to enlarge it. The green line is the LRT. The route runs from the Conestoga Mall (top left), to Fairview Mall (bottom right).

You can find this map here.

Update: The Region has released a better map here.

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

LRT vs iXpress: The UW R&T Park

The LRT is going to replace the existing iXpress bus route. In many locations, the LRT stations are going to be much less convenient than the iXpress. Here is one example.

As the following map shows, the iXpress currently stops in the middle of the Park (the bus stop is labelled iXp). The LRT, however, has to run along the rail tracks, and so it stops on the extreme eastern edge of the Park, towards the north end. This is a kilometer from some of the existing buildings in the R&T Park, and further than that to the campus.



In this map, which is from the university web site, I've x'ed out the portions that are not university land. The brown blobs are R&T Park buildings. This map is a little out of date: there are two new buildings on the west edge of the Park, far from the LRT stop, and one new Open Text building on the south-west edge, even further away.

The iXpress costs a tiny fraction of the what the LRT will cost. It is comparable in speed, and its service can be expanded to carry all the riders the region predicts to have for decades to come. Plus, its stops are more convenient. Why is the region planning to spend $800 million to give us less convenient transit?

Update: After a correction in the Comments section, I moved the LRT station on the map approximately 1/4" to the south.

Update: The University of Waterloo has just announced a massive increase in development in the R+T Park, filling up the north and west portions of the North Campus lands - the furthest from the LRT station (an area that runs off this map to the top and left).

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Truth is Stranger than Fiction Department

So has everyone heard this story already? Our esteemed government and their pals were sitting around at a fat cat dinner last week when someone got a text message that Margaret Thatcher was dead.

Now it turns out that Harper and the boys are totally enamored of the Iron Lady. Transport Minister John Baird even named his cat after her.

Residents of the UK would say that Thatcher's reign was so disastrous that she discredited her brand of hyper-conservativism for decades to come, but Harper and co. idolize her.

So these goofballs were sitting around mourning their icon and they dispatched a minion to write a statement. The minion woke up some people in the British government, presumably causing a lot of confusion before he figured out that the ex-PM was still kicking. It turns out that it was Baird's cat that went to Georgia on the front of a bus.

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Friday, November 13, 2009

What LRT Will Do to the King-Erb Intersection

The major intersection in uptown Waterloo is King and Erb. It is the busiest intersection in uptown, both for cars and pedestrians. It has historical landmarks on its corners. All the major parts of uptown are close by: restaurants, shops, cinemas, Waterloo Square, the library, an office tower, a hotel, and so on.

Of all the problems that the proposed LRT will cause for uptown, this intersection may be the most serious issue.

Here is a snippet of the Region's LRT map showing the King-Erb intersection after LRT (you can see the complete map here):



The proposed LRT tracks (shown here as a thick pink line) run along the right side of King (the east side), and then turn left across the Erb Street intersection to run along the north side of Erb.

The Region's map is a little difficult to read, so here's my rendition of it:



The LRT is scheduled to run every 7 minutes, so every 7 minutes all traffic is going to have to come to a halt to let the LRT go through. This isn't going to be a little streetcar turning left through our busiest intersection: this is going to be a train. In addition to those stoppages, we'll still need the same number of red lights that we currently have.

If you look closely at the lane markings, the LRT plan has only two lanes on Erb Street approaching King. One is a left turn lane, so there is only one lane on Erb that crosses King. That single lane is also a right-turn lane. Since there are a lot of pedestrians at King and Erb, cars turning right regularly hold up the cars behind them. Currently Erb has three lanes that continue across King Street. If you stand on the corner and watch traffic, you'll see that there is a very busy flow of traffic heading down Erb across King Street. That's because Erb is the main east-west artery through town. If you don't take Erb, you have to drive over to University or Columbia to the north, or Union to the south.

In addition to the problems that LRT will create at King-Erb, the current plan for the LRT messes up most of the major intersections in uptown: Erb-Caroline, Albert-Erb, and William-Caroline.

I know there are people who believe the solution to our environmental problems is to make driving so inconvenient that people leave their cars at home. That's not how it works. There are wide roads and big parking lots at the Wal-Mart that was built just outside the boundaries of Waterloo. The expressways go right to the malls, the big box stores, and Wal-Mart.

When you create this amount of havoc in a downtown core, you kill the downtown. Once it's killed, it is really difficult to revive it. Just ask Kitchener: they've spent decades and tens of millions of dollars trying to repair the damage done to their core and it's still a mess.

We cannot allow the LRT to go through Waterloo as planned. It cannot come into Waterloo from Kitchener and then turn left across King Street. That would be disastrous. I oppose the rail option on many grounds, and think buses are a far better alternative, but if we must have a train running through our town, it cannot go on this route.

Update: At the 11th hour, regional councillors voted to change the route so that it no longer turns on Erb. Instead, it turns half a block earlier and runs along the railway tracks. As this was the major request in my last submission to Council, I felt pretty good about that.

What LRT Will Do to the Junction of Albert and Erb

When Erb crosses Bridgeport-Caroline, it becomes a one-way street heading east. It is a very busy street, taking traffic from the west end of the city to the Conestoga Parkway, as well as taking people to destinations uptown and elsewhere.

As it approaches King Street, two lanes of Erb Street split off to the left and become Albert Street. At the moment there is an orderly flow of traffic onto Albert. The Region's LRT proposal, however, creates a problem here, because the LRT is going to run against traffic right through the lanes that are splitting off.

Here is a snippet of the Region's LRT map with some annotation by me (you can see the complete unadulterated map here):



Erb Street is one-way with traffic running towards the top of this map. The LRT (represented by a thick pink line) is also one-way but is running towards the bottom of this map, against traffic. Traffic on Erb that wants to split off to Albert will have to cut across the LRT tracks. The LRT is scheduled to run every 7 minutes, but there are no traffic lights to protect cars that have to drive on the tracks towards the oncoming trains. It's not even possible to put a stop sign here, unless they put one in the middle of Erb Street.

I don't know what this will do to traffic flow, but it seems to be extremely unsafe. This crazy plan is going to cause accidents. If it does, the drivers are going to have a good case for a law suit against the city and the Region.

Update: At the 11th hour, Regional Councillor Sean Strickland got the region to change the route so that it will not turn down Erb, but instead run along the railway tracks through Waterloo Square. Consequently, this problem went away.

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What LRT Will Do to the William-Caroline Intersection

The intersection of William and Caroline is a busy uptown location, especially at rush hour. Many people travel between Kitchener and Waterloo along Park Street, making the jog at William over to Caroline. People also take William Street to move between uptown and Westmount Road. The intersection of Caroline-William is only a short block away from King Street, and is close to the entrance to the Waterloo Square/LCBO parking lot. The First United Church is on the north-east corner.

The LRT passes through the intersection as it heads south on Caroline Street on its way back to Kitchener.

The Region is planning to have the LRT tracks go kitty-corner through the intersection. Here is a snippet of the Region's map, showing what this intersection will look like when the LRT is built (you can see the complete map here):



Caroline is the street running horizontally across the map. Notice how the thick pink line (the LRT) starts out on one side of Caroline but crosses over to the other side in the middle of the intersection.

What this means is that whenever the LRT goes by (which will be every 7 minutes, on average), all traffic in all directions will have to come to a halt. Had the LRT tracks stayed on the same side of the street through the intersection, the disruption would be much more minor: the LRT could have flowed through the lights with the rest of the traffic heading in its direction.

Since most traffic in this intersection is using the short jog on William to get from Park to Caroline (or vice versa), this means that at rush hour, the traffic waiting for the light to change will be backed up along Park and around both corners.

The problems at this intersection are minor compared to some other problem areas in the LRT plans for uptown Waterloo: the LRT is also going to make a mess of the King-Erb intersection and the Erb-Caroline intersection, as well as make it difficult for cars on Erb to turn on to Albert. These four huge problems are all in the very small area of our uptown core.

Here are some previous posts I've written about the LRT plans for uptown Waterloo:

Rapid Transit Part 1: Rapid Transit is Poised to Destroy Uptown Waterloo
Rapid Transit Part 2: First, Do No Harm
Rapid Transit Part 4: How Uptown Waterloo Could Fail

(By the way, I no longer refer to the LRT as "rapid transit" since I learned that the LRT will be only about 7 minutes faster than the iXpress is getting from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Mall, the end points of both transit lines.)

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

What LRT Will Do to the Erb-Bridgeport-Caroline Intersection

Bridgeport Road becomes Caroline Street when it crosses Erb. It's a very busy intersection, and will get much busier when the Barrel Yards development is completed 100 meters to the west on Erb. (The Barrel Yards will include hotels, apartment buildings, an office tower and townhouses.) It will also get busier when the west-side subdivisions are built, as Erb is the main route across town to the Conestoga Parkway. The south-east corner of Erb-Caroline is Waterloo Town Square. The library is close to the north-east corner. The north-west corner is the entrance to Waterloo Park, and all the uptown trails converge at this corner.

Here's a snippet of the Region of Waterloo's LRT map showing what the intersection will look like after the LRT is built (you can see the complete map here):



"Full movement intersection" means that cars can turn in all directions. These are special intersections on the LRT plan: cars are not allowed to cross over the tracks anywhere but at full movement intersections (there will be a curb running alongside the tracks to prevent cars from crossing them, or possibly the tracks will be raised six inches to prevent it). At all other intersections and all driveways, cars cannot turn left, but must go past their destination, make a U-turn, and head back.

"Railway control" means that there are going to be railway crossing signals, including gates and flashing lights, something like this:



Here's a drawing I've prepared of what the Region's map means. If you see any differences, let me know and I'll modify it. I have tried very hard to make it perfectly accurate, based on the Region's map:



The heavy dotted lines are the LRT, with one line coming from King Street and heading into Waterloo Park, and the other line coming out of the park and heading back to Kitchener. The map also shows the current train tracks; these are infrequently used and a train employee walks across the road ringing a bell when the train crosses.

As you can see, there will be three railway signals (marked in red), on Bridgeport, Erb and Caroline. The LRT is scheduled to run every 7 minutes, but there are tracks running in two directions so a train will go by every 3.5 minutes. That means that every 3.5 minutes the gates will come down, lights will flash, bells may ring, and everyone will have to wait until the LRT goes by. That is in addition to the normal red lights that regulate traffic.

These changes to this very busy intersection are obviously going to cause mayhem for cars, bikes, and pedestrians. I myself drive, bike or walk through that intersection every day: it's very busy. Besides long backlogs of idling cars, this is going to cause motorists to flood onto side streets to avoid the mess, and to cut through the Waterloo Square parking lot. That means that the disruption is going to spread far beyond this one area.

This is just one of the unacceptable effects of LRT on uptown Waterloo. If the LRT happens, this must be fixed.

As with all my LRT posts, if you see any errors leave a comment and if I agree I'm in error I'll modify the post.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Gun Registry

Throwing away the gun registry is madness. So argues the president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, for reasons of public safety. But I can go beyond his arguments.

The registry was a political powder keg right from the start. Those who opposed it did whatever they could to make its implementation as inefficient and expensive as possible, and then framed the entire issue as being about the cost of implementation. Canadians who didn't bother to read the details of what was going on - such as the many who rely on 90-second radio news clips for their understanding of the world - formed the opinion "Gun Registry = Bad". Canadian police have been saying for years that the gun registry is not only not bad, but essential for saving lives. That hasn't resonated as much as the Conservative malicious PR campaign. The irrationality of the argument is apparent now that the money has been spent to implement the registry, so why close it down based on the cost of implementation?

We have reached the point where it's near political suicide in some regions to support the registry, and consequently parliament is stepping through the process of dismantling it. I suspect that Liberals supporting the dismantling are like Democrats voting for the Iraq war... in the face of such strong public opinion politicians can't always vote their conscience. (Or who knows; maybe some have bought the anti-registration PR campaign too.) Our representative system is a mix of leading the public and following the public. Sometimes the latter is unavoidable. Sometimes that really sucks.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What are the Symptoms of H1N1?

Can anyone tell me the specific symptoms you get when coming down with H1N1?

The official sites are no help at all... they just say that H1N1 has the same symptoms as seasonal flu. But it's my experience that each flu virus has a specific set of symptoms, especially at onset. I used to get the flu every year (before I started getting flu shots), and I remember usually knowing when I got it, because someone warned me that it started with a very sore throat, or a sore neck, or a headache, or whatever.

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Unpleasantness as a Political Tactic

Many years ago I was on the board of a neighborhood association in downtown Toronto. All the members of the board were residents of the area except the president, who owned a gas station there but lived in the suburbs. At one point the interests of residents diverged from the interests of the gas station, and at the show-down meeting our president pulled an effective trick. He changed the meeting room to a small airless room, and he wore coveralls that reeked of gasoline. (Normally he wore a suit.) Then he insisted on giving a long-winded oration of his arguments, during which the rest of the board visibly wilted. Some even left. At the start of the meeting he was outvoted 7-1, but by the end of the meeting he won his vote.

A few years ago I worked with a guy who was uber passive aggressive. If he was mad at me or disagreed with me or – I can’t say I ever fully understood his motives – he’d stare at me fixedly during a meeting while ostentatiously picking his nose. Or stretch his legs wide apart and thrust up his pelvis while glaring at me.

These sorts of tactics are a bit hard to pin down: you feel quite certain they’re deliberate, but there’s always the possibility that the person is doing it without realizing it.

(People writing comments on blogs and newspaper articles are frequently unpleasant, of course, but I think of comment-writing as a combination of writing a letter to the editor and yelling at the TV: I think you have to expect a higher level of emotion than is usual when we communicate, and adjust your reactions accordingly.)

Nowadays I’m in a group that questions the transit plans of the Region of Waterloo, and we have been targeted by a group, mostly students it seems, who oppose our opposition. This antiopposition group has employed some pretty aggressive tactics, engaging in personal attacks such as calling members of my group liars, saying we are fear-mongerers, and publicly questioning our motives. They have done this on a call-in show on the local Rogers channel, at a public meeting, in an op-ed in the Record, in comments on this blog, and elsewhere.

So I’m wondering... is this just a tactic to dispirit us and keep us down? It doesn’t seem possible that the antioppositioners could really believe that we’re liars and so on: could they really be so partisan and hate us so thoroughly that they really believe any nasty thing about us that pops into their heads? They could just be bullies, but that begs the question of where they got the notion that public discourse is about attempted character assassination.

In any case their nastiness isn't helping their cause, and if anything is galvanizing people against them. I'm more interested in the general question... This issue is a little easier for me to discuss because I'm not the one being attacked this time, but I still don't understand it.

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Monday, November 09, 2009

Battling Over Celebrity Mugs

Canadian media are complaining about the way the PMO is restricting their access to the prime minister. The PMO releases staged photos of Harper, sometimes mislabeling them, and in some cases forces journalists to accept their claims about what happened.

Now my readers will know that I abhor the tactics of this government. There's a definite Big Brother quality to the cyncial manipulation and obfuscation they employ.

But. Coverage of political figures is a sad joke. Political photojournalists are too much like Hollywood paparazzi. The tiniest slip of the tongue is treated like an indictable offence. Unfortunate candid photos are used to totally discredit someone.

So what are the actual problems the Globe cites in the article I link to above? There appear to be three: a photo of Harper playing the piano was taken at a rehearsal, not the actual event; the claim that he ate raw seal is backed up by a PR photo that journalists didn't witness; and they weren't granted access to photograph him climbing a ladder onto a submarine. This is truly a case of "Where's the beef?"

The focus on photos makes this whole issue less about journalistic freedom and more about freedom to provide profitable infotainment.
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Monday, October 19, 2009

Much of Waterloo Region is Against LRT

I had another letter in the Record today (a little friendly disagreement with James Bow). My letter is just a drop in the flood of anti-LRT letters to local papers this year: to see all the letters, see this. For local news stories and columns that oppose LRT, see this. Meanwhile, here's my letter:

Raised rails a problem
October 19, 2009

Re: Parade can live with light rail — Oct. 13

James Bow says that a King Street light rail transit system will not disrupt Waterloo Region’s parades. As evidence, he says that Toronto parades run under street car lines.

Toronto has street cars and it has parades, but they don’t run on the same streets. The Caribana parade is on Lakeshore Drive west of the Canadian National Exhibition, avoiding street cars. The Toronto Santa Claus parade route is Bloor to University to Queen to Yonge to Front. Except for a short jog on Queen, none of those streets have street cars.

An additional problem with the Waterloo light rail transit is that the tracks down the middle of King Street will either be raised six inches above the rest of the street or surrounded by a curb. Those raised tracks or curbs will have a huge impact on our community. They will make it impossible for Waterloo to have its busker festival or other events in the street.

Even more importantly, cars will not be allowed to cross over the raised tracks or curbs. That means that if you own a business — or drive to a business — on King Street, King will effectively be a one way street. You will not be able to turn left into or out of any driveways where the light rail transit runs. That might not be a big problem on streets such as Queen’s Boulevard that are residential, but it will be a nightmare for busy King Street businesses.

As to Bow’s request that Peter Gay debate the merits of the system in good faith, that’s exactly what the group Taxpayers for Sensible Transit (to which Gay and I both belong) is doing. We have spent a lot of time reviewing the light rail transit and have come to the informed conclusion that, as currently planned, light rail transit will cause grave problems for our community. We suggest that bus technology would be a much better option.

Ruth Haworth
Waterloo

Friday, October 16, 2009

Financial Turmoil May Be Over... But It's Not Likely

Today the Conference Board of Canada came out with the prediction that the recession is behind us. Baloney.

Sure, it may be over. But it's not likely. The problem is, we're getting our economic news from people who want us to believe it's over - from economists and analysts at financial institutions that have a commercial stake in keeping us active in the capital markets, and from government and organizations who believe (with reason) that if they tell us it's over we'll start spending and make it be over.

All this is well and good, except that most of us have our retirement savings tied up in things that will lose big time if the rosy predictions are incorrect.

And it is very likely that the rosy predictions are incorrect. Recent US job numbers and car sales all point to trouble ahead. A second dip (which could result in a much worse depression next year) would be caused by a downward spiral of higher savings rate, higher unemployment rate, more business failures and lower spending. Additional pressure will come from workers whose EI has run out, consumers whose credit history is damaged, home owners who are continuing to default on mortgages, and possible coming problems with credit card debt and another wave of sub-prime mortgage balloons.

Rosy predictions by the Conference Board of Canada and the US Federal Reserve Board and so on are designed to increase optimism and hence increase consumer/business spending. But they have another effect. Just look at the Comments section on the Globe article referenced above: half the commenters are calling for an end to government stimulus spending. That idea is madness, but it seems to be catching hold in Canada and the US.

Smart money says we should be very conservative in our investing: especially if your investments have recovered, move the funds into something more crash-proof; and speak up to support the government stimulus package.

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Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Old Ladies, Crumpets Key Features in Political Analysis

Okay, so I'm no political strategist or insider or big media pundit, but it seems to me that the desperate hang-wringing and hysteria by Globe & Mail columnists (among others) about the strategy of the Liberal party is a Little. Bit. Silly.

Igs has a good plan. He's been leader about nine months. He spent the first 8 months raising money and learning the ropes. As soon as parliament reconvened in the fall, he announced he would no longer prop up the government. This has two main benefits: it forces Layton into the propping-up hot-seat and it puts Ignatieff in the limelight. It has one drawback, hopefully short-term: Canadians don't want an election and are letting him know via their answers to pollsters. (But not to worry: polls mean virtually nothing between elections.)

Media pundits are going wild. Here are a few of the hysterical outpourings in the Globe:

  • Women no longer like Igs! According to Michael Valphy, in six short months Ignatieff's support among women over 50 has dropped from 46% to 26%. What a fickle group we old ladies are! Worse, according to Valpy our main concern is whether a male politician is "sexy" or "a crumpet" - and while Ignatieff was a heart-throb in the 1990s he is now, well, just another old guy in a grey suit.

  • Bruce Anderson is very concerned about Ignatieff's strategy. He believes that Igs has been "hiding his light under a bushel" and needs to "make his pitch." Nice point; unfortunate that Bruce has missed the fact that that's exactly what he's doing.

  • Igs is down in the polls. Today, the Globe has trumpeted that with an article called Liberal Support in Perilous Slide. When this article was first posted in top position on the Globe home page, it was called "Harper in Majority Territory" - despite the fact that a poll this far before an election does not mean much, and they know it. Two months before she lost nearly all Conservative seats, Kim Campbell was miles ahead of Jean Chretien.


Some Globe columnists think Ignatieff is doing quite well, but the Globe isn't letting that slow them up in making it seem there's a landslide of criticism of him:

  • Greg Fergus actually thinks that Ignatieff might be the next PM, because (1) of his bold step announcing he will no longer support the government, (2) Ignatieff's vast international experience give him fresh, impressive ideas and make him uniquely qualified to run the country, and (3) under all the spin, Harper is doing a terrible job. Despite the content of the article, the Globe in its wisdom decided to make it look like another doom and gloom missive with the headline "It's Deep Breath Time for the Liberals".

  • Judith Timson wrote a positive article about Igs, with lines like, "Iggy marched into the House of Commons last week and delivered a highly focused speech about why his party wanted to bring down the government, which showed a man getting back in touch with his vision and sense of purpose" but the Globe slapped the headline on it, "Iffy Iggy: This is your 'real character moment'".


Heck, I know the print media is hurting and this is their way to sell papers. But in the long run this sort of crappy analysis is not going to help their reputation.

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Saturday, October 03, 2009

Flu Planning Requires Pragmatism not Hysteria

There's a lot of talk about flu preparation, but not - it seems - enough serious work on it. Here's an example of the sort of planning that should be going on. An enlightened company I know is appending this text to emails that set up job interviews:
Due to the Swine Flu we are taking some precautions. There will be NO repercussions based on your need to reschedule if:
  • You, a member of your family, or a person you are in close contact with experiencing flu-like symptoms - if yes, we will schedule the interview at the point that they are over the symptoms.

  • You can reschedule if you are experiencing symptoms prior to their interview - simply let us know.

  • Have you traveled to an impacted area? If so please push the interview out a minimum of one week.

If you're setting up appointments and you're not doing something like this, then expect to get sick people coming to your business and spreading the flu.

And what of organizations that sell tickets, like theaters and airlines? If there is a major flu outbreak and no plans are made to let people get a refund if they're sick, then flu will spread in those places. Similarly, if you have employees who don't get sick leave (yes, it's extremely common - just think part-time and contract workers), if you don't have a policy for them then they'll come to work sick and spread the flu.

Instead of solid pragmatic planning, what we're getting is confusing media stories. In the last couple of weeks I've read articles claiming that hand-washing might not help prevent flu (that was the headline, at least: the article actually said that it had been impossible to prove scientifically); that a seasonal flu shot might increase the odds of getting H1N1 (I've discussed that before); and that anti-virals like Tamiflu might be ineffective or worse. Newspapers exist to sell advertising and so they're looking for anything to spark reader's interest, but some of this coverage is sensationalist and irresponsible.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

Parental Benefits for the Self-Employed

The government has proposed an addition to EI: parental leave for the self-employed.

However, there's no EI for the self-employed if they lose their job and can't find another. This policy means that the only way the self-employed can get EI is to have a baby.

The old argument was that you couldn't let the self-employed participate in EI because the worker decides when to work and when not to work. However, self-employment is a lot more complicated than that now. We have multi-month contracts that are renewed on a rolling basis. We have to work through agencies so that the companies can protect themselves from civil suits or government regulators, since we are essentially regular full-time employees (who just happen not to get any holidays or benefits). The business of self-employment has become so bizarre lately that the agency I am forced to work through deducts EI from my pay cheque but I am not eligible for EI.

This proposal is not just unfair to the rest of the self-employed. It's also unfair to all those regular employees who pay into EI. If the self-employed are not paying into EI, then why is EI being used to provide parental leave for them? If they do this, why not use EI to pay for other government benefits wholly unrelated to paying in?

This new proposal by the government just reeks of pandering. It has no relation to good policy or fair policy.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Seismic Activity

Earthquakes just won't let up this week. There are indications that they will continue (link) and that they may even trigger earthquakes elsewhere (link, link) - even in British Columbia (link). Earlier today, California suffered some aftershocks of Tuesday and Wednesday's quakes in the south Pacific (link).

The good news is that the two big quakes earlier this week are apparently unrelated (link). The bad news is that a lot of the articles quote seismologists saying that we're due for a "big one".

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Irate Pirates

I made up this game today: Make a poem out of the letters in your name. Except that, for game development/demonstration purposes, I used the word PIRATES, which is why I call the game Irate Pirates. Here are a couple of goes: one doggerel and one haiku. Warning: These poems are really really really really bad.

Irate Pirate
I ate pears at Easter;
Pastries are tastier.
I set a trap,
I spear a rat.
A star repast?
Eat a pest!

Irate Pirate Haiku
Pirates stare at stars
Prettiest pirate apart
Tears atest its stress?

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The Flu Shot Controversy

A large Canadian study has found that people who got the seasonal flu shot last year were more likely to get H1N1 this spring than people who didn't get the shot. The report is not yet peer-reviewed, but reports of the report are causing Canadian officials to rethink their flu shot policy. However, the researchers should have expected that certain biases would provide this result, without implying that the seasonal flu shot somehow causes H1N1:

1. People who get the seasonal flu shot are more likely to get flu
Some people never get the flu, because of natural immunity or because they don't spend time in close proximity to infected people. These people are much less likely to get flu shots.

Conversely, some people are much more prone to getting sick, due to poor health, close proximity to infected people, or whatever. These people are much more likely to get the flu shot.

So in the sample group, you would expect more people who got the flu shot to get this new strain of flu. That doesn't mean that the flu shot caused the flu.

2. People who get the flu shot are more likely to be diagnosed with H1N1
This past spring, most people who got sick with H1N1 got mild cases. Most were probably not even diagnosed. The people who were diagnosed with H1N1 are probably those people who go to their doctor more often. People who go to their doctors more often are more likely to get the flu shot. Therefore, of the people who got H1N1, those who are diagnosed are more likely to have had the flu shot.
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Correlation does not imply causation.

This sort of research can suggest lines of laboratory research, but it means little without the research. And yes, that applies to all the other statistical health studies we read about in the newspaper.

Unfortunately, immunizations have become the hot topic of people who are paranoid about the medical profession: people who hate doctors, or mistrust science in general, or think BigPharma is manipulating health issues to boost profits.

As for myself, for most of my life I got the flu every year, usually getting sick as a dog and missing a full week of work or more. Every year since 1997 I've had a flu shot and in that time I haven't had the flu. Ontario has now decided to delay seasonal flu shots till after the H1N1 shots, and that increases my likelihood of getting the flu. So I feel I have a personal stake in this. For those who don't want to get flu shots - fine; as long as they stay away from other people when they get sick, they can do what they like. But as a public policy, flu shots work, and shouldn't be delayed until the middle of flu season on such a questionable and preliminary study.

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