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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