Category Archives: Politics

Pictures from Toronto

I don’t usually make a post that’s just a link to another article, but here is a collection of fantastic photographs taken in downtown Toronto yesterday during the protests. There are some pictures of the peaceful protestors, and then there are some of the idiots in black with masks from an “anarchist group” (a contradiction in terms) who were just there to smash and burn stuff. If you really believe in something so strongly that you think violence and vandalism (arguably terrorism) is the way to solve it, at least have the balls to show your face while you do it. Otherwise you’re just another coward.

As seen on twitter: “Nothing says “courage of your convictions” like wearing a mask and changing your clothes after committing acts of arson & vandalism.”

I especially like the one in front of Foot Locker, with the anarchist guy doing the Safety Dance.


Gie’s a minute for a wee blether

So there’s this kid in Alberta who’s graduating high school soon. His parents moved here in the 60’s from Scotland, as did mine, though he himself has never been there (don’t know what you’re missing, dude). He’s decided that he wants to wear a kilt to his graduation, to celebrate his Scottish heritage. Cool idea, right? I thought so, but his principal has told him that he is not allowed to wear the kilt to the graduation ceremony. Why? “It does not fit the dress code”.

Now there are thousands of people from around the world who have joined a facebook page that are going completely apeshit over this, telling Jacobs to go to court, that his basic human rights have been violated, that this is a hate crime… OK, take it easy people. This is not a huge conspiracy against the Gaelic people. More likely, it’s a principal who doesn’t want this kid flashing his junk at people while on stage, assuming he’s wearing the traditional undergarments. Don’t get me wrong – I fully support the kid. Not allowing him to wear a kilt is silly, but it’s not a human rights violation. “Scottishness” isn’t a religion that he practices (which is why all the comparisons to turbans and muslim headwear and such are faulty), so I don’t think he can play the human rights card. From the Globe article, it doesn’t look like he’s spent tons of time embracing his Scottish heritage – never been to Scotland and doesn’t plan to go, never worn a kilt, that kind of thing. Now I’ve never worn a kilt either, and there are lots of reasons why his never having been to Scotland doesn’t mean anything. But if he’s trying to claim that this is part of his own culture and upbringing, I’d have a hard time believing it. It’s not like he’s going to get to his graduation in a suit and tie and think to himself “This is just wrong. I should be in a kilt.” You want to take it to court, fine, but let’s not get all bent out of shape and start calling it a hate crime. That would be insulting to victims of actual hate crimes.

When I was in Scotland in 2000, my cousin Hazel got married, and we were there for the wedding. My aunt told me that I had to wear a kilt. I think she expected me to jump back and yell “What?! I’m not wearing one of those things!!”. Instead, I told her that it would be very cool and I was definitely up for it. When I was told she was joking and I didn’t have to, I was quite disappointed. Kilts are very expensive, so buying one was out of the question, but I should have looked into renting one. I may never have a chance again. Ach well.

Big British Brother

What is it about the British lawmakers that they are so stupid when it comes to security? They already have more CCTV cameras in public areas than anywhere else in the world, and in the last few weeks, I’ve read all kinds of stories about how London Police have put up posters asking people to report those who:

It’s now illegal to take photographs of British police officers. The London bobbies are probably the most photographed policemen in the world, and now taking pictures of them is a crime. (Note to self: tell Gail and the boys this before we go to London this summer.) I fail to see how photographs of police officers would be of any use to a terrorist. I don’t know if this includes the Queen’s guards at Buckingham Palace, but that might be a good thing to know.

Reporting people who take pictures of policemen or CCTV cameras is just silly, but asking people to report “suspicious people” is particularly disturbing. Like it or not, there are an awful lot of people who are particularly suspicious of Arabs or people who “look Muslim”. Say I put my suitcase under my chair in the waiting area of an airport and then walk to the bathroom, leaving the suitcase under the chair. This is a stupid thing to do, but it likely wouldn’t cause much concern. If an Arab man were to do it, there would be people screaming “bomb!” all over the place. Arabs (and other visible minorities) already have to deal with enough racism (blatant or otherwise) in their everyday lives, and these posters are just going to make things worse, while doing exactly nothing to prevent actual terrorist attacks. (Though the posters don’t specifically say “be suspicious of Arabs”, you know that many people will interpret them that way.) If I were of Arab or middle eastern descent and living in London, I’d be seriously considering moving somewhere more friendly to visible minorities. Like rural Texas.

And all the while, the UK government thinks they’re doing their citizens a favour. This is nuts.

Obama makes headlines

How is this for cool? This page has a whole ton of newspaper front pages from around the world the morning after Obama was elected. Most of the headlines are what you would expect — “Obama” (with and without exclamation point), lots about change, lots about making history, that sort of thing.

Gotta love this paper from Portugal, where a picture of a supermodel is bigger than the one of Obama and McCain. And this one, also from Portugal, or this one from Bulgaria, where there’s no mention of the election at all (as far as I can tell, I don’t speak Portuguese or Bulgarian). But this one combines the “best” of both worlds — a scantily-clad woman and no mention of Obama!

That last one isn’t from Portugal, it’s from Brazil — where they speak Portuguese. What does that tell you about Portuguese people? They like women in bathing suits and don’t care about American politics. Can’t fault them for that. Next vacation — Rio de Janeiro? Hmmmm….

Obama makes history

First off, congratulations to US President-elect Barack Obama. I don’t follow American politics all that much (hell, I don’t follow Canadian politics all that much), but I do like what I’ve heard from Obama in the past, and I’m also glad that a nutcase like Palin will not be VP. I’ve heard of a lot of Americans who are truly excited and optimistic about their future with their new President, probably for the first time in many years.

But onto the reason for the title of this entry. You might think that Obama is just another politician, just like every other guy who’s been elected President. But there’s something different about him, something that makes him stand apart from every other President the US has ever had. Yes, it’s true: Barack Obama has won two Grammy awards, both for Best Spoken Word Album. As far as I can tell, no other President has ever won a Grammy award.

To be fair, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter have each won a Grammy award, also for spoken word performances, but they both won theirs after being President. Hillary Rodham Clinton has also won one, so perhaps in four years…

And what is your business in the United States, Mr. bin Laden?

A Canadian man whose name got on the US no-fly list has legally changed it to avoid hassles whenever he flies. Because of identity theft, every time he went through customs in the US, he’d be pulled aside and questioned, sometimes for hours. So after enduring this for years as well as complaining to the TSA who said that they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) remove his name, he legally changed it, and now he’s fine. Good thing the terrorists don’t know about this idea.

This no-fly rule that’s based solely on someone’s name is just ludicrous in the first place. Names are not globally unique and can be easily faked. There have been stories of seven-year-old children being stopped and questioned because their names show up on a no-fly list. Senator Edward Kennedy’s name made it onto a watch list at one point, and a couple of times he was told he couldn’t board the plane. In all cases he eventually did get on the plane thanks to the fact that the supervisor recognized him. He managed to get his name removed after a couple of weeks, but the average person can’t just call up the DHS chief and say “Hi Tom, Ted here. Get my name off of your f**king list. Thanks.”

Terrorists may be misguided, brainwashed, or just plain evil, but you can’t say that they’re all stupid. What terrorist is going to be flying under his real name? The well-funded terrorists can probably get fake passports made in hours with any name they want and if they’re smart, they never fly under the same name twice.

Yet another example of how the US government is turning the “war on terror” into a complete joke. I’m not talking about the actual fighting in Afghanistan, more the silly restrictions that keep popping up everywhere. You can’t bring more than 100 mL of shampoo in your carry-on, but a bottle of water or contact lens solution (even more than 100 mL!) is OK. Do they check the contents of the bottle of water or contact lens solution? If you’re going to bring liquid explosives onboard, just put it into a contact lens solution bottle and you’re fine. You can’t bring a nail file because it could be used as a weapon, but a sharpened pencil is fine. Now they can confiscate any electronic device like a laptop and even an iPod without reasonable suspicion of anything, and without even explaining why they’re doing it.

How does any of this make people safer when flying? These are silly rules that do nothing but inconvenience innocent civilians. The actual terrorists can easily get around them and thus they provide no security.

As I said once before, “The terrorists may not have succeeded in significantly affecting the Western economies or changing government policies on anything (which, presumably, is at least one of their goals), but I’m sure they’re all having a good laugh at the stupid policies that have resulted from their activities.” I read a comment on Bruce Schneier’s blog that sums it up perfectly:

The purpose of terrorism is to create terror.

Mission accomplished.

Gail’s television debut

The drama with the school issue I wrote about before continues. There was a meeting at the high school last night, where over 100 parents and members of various school councils (including Gail) met to brainstorm on ideas of how to best solve the problems at the high school and Greenleaf without busing our kids away. Each participant with an idea wrote it down on a piece of paper, and Gail now has a huge stack of paper here with lots of different ideas. One of the “rules” for this meeting is that any idea was to be submitted, even if you thought it was silly or impossible, so some of the ideas are pretty “out there”, but it was great to see a lot of people come out and not only show their support but voice their opinions. Gail, some other Greenleaf council people, and members of other school councils will be meeting with our school board trustees next week.

Someone called the local TV channel and they sent a team up to the meeting. A few people, including Gail, were interviewed and appeared on last night’s 11:00 news. Since this was Gail television debut, I’m trying to find a link to the video online, but no dice yet. We did tape it (with actual video tape, no PVR yet…), so I suppose I could record it from there onto the video camera, and then transfer from that onto the computer, but I’m sleepy. Maybe tomorrow. She was also interviewed the other day for the local paper, and that story came out today.

Save Greenleaf!

I don’t write too much political stuff here. This is mainly because I don’t follow politics all that closely, and I don’t have strong opinions on a lot of political issues. However, there’s a local issue that’s recently come up that I really have to write about, since it directly affects my family, specifically my kids.

My kids go to Allan A. Greenleaf Elementary School, and Gail is the chair of the school council there (and has been for four years). They love the school, and Gail and I have grown to know the school and its staff pretty well. Over the years that Gail has been on the council, there have been lots of events intended to bring parents into the school and foster a real feeling of community: in particular the annual spaghetti dinner and silent auction which raises a ton of money for the school, and free family movie night.

Greenleaf is right next to Waterdown District High School (WDHS), the only high school in town. They share a parking lot, and there are a bunch of portables between them. WDHS has over 1200 1400 students, and is severely overcrowded; they have an astounding 29 18 portables scattered around the school grounds. They have to expand the school, there’s no question about that. The school grounds, which includes the high school, Greenleaf, and also the local YMCA, is bordered on the south by a fairly major street, and on the other three sides by farmland, all of which is owned by a developer. The school board has been in negotiations with this developer for years to buy some of the land next to the school so that they can expand. This deal recently fell through. I’m not going to comment on that, since I know none of the details of the bargaining, but the end result is that the school will have to expand on its existing land.

Here is a Google satellite map of the area. You can see the high school at the top right, Greenleaf at the top left, and the YMCA at the bottom left. The picture must have been taken a little while ago — I can only see 11 portables at the high school, and only two at Greenleaf, which now has eight or nine.

The board has come up with two plans to solve this problem: (1) build extensions onto WDHS, or (2) take over Greenleaf and make it part of the high school. If they go for option (2), they then have to decide what to do with the 700 kids that currently go to Greenleaf. The two options there are (2a) bus the kids to two currently empty schools in Dundas (~10-15 km away) while they build new schools in Waterdown for them to return to, or (2b) scatter the kids between the other three elementary schools in Waterdown. Either way, the school spirit and environment that they’ve built over the years will vanish, as Greenleaf will cease to exist. In option 2a, at least most of the kids and staff will be moved en masse so the environment would be similar, but they’d still be split in half and they wouldn’t be going to school in Waterdown. They’d be moving to older schools that have been abandoned and stripped (everything from the air conditioners to the fire bells have been removed). Also, there is no timetable for when they might return to Waterdown — the board doesn’t currently even own any land on which they can build a new school.

The board did mention another “unofficial” option: expropriate the land from the developer. They apparently have the power to force him to sell it to them at fair market value, though I believe there are some legal stumbling blocks that make this option difficult. Someone sent an email to the local city councillor as well as our MPP asking them about that possibility. The councillor replied (rather rudely) and said that the city could not help and it was up to the board, but our local MPP said that he spoke to the mayor about it and would look into this possibility. The MPP was helpful and polite, the councillor was unhelpful and rude. One of those two has announced that they will not be running for re-election next time around — three guesses which one, and the first two don’t count.

Option 1 (building additions to the high school) is not without its problems either. The renovations will take two years, during which time the high school students and the Greenleaf students will be going to school in a construction zone. There is only one entrance/exit into the school/YMCA area, so the school parents and staff and YMCA visitors and staff will be using the same entrance as the construction vehicles, and part of the plans include building a second storey above an existing one. While that’s happening, students will not be able to use the first floor of those areas.

The board has not stated which of the options they are leaning towards. They held a public information meeting at WDHS last Wednesday where they outlined the options. Lots of Greenleaf staff members and parents were there. Gail tore a muscle in her calf on Tuesday night and spent three hours in the hospital on Wednesday, but even the inability to walk didn’t keep her away from this meeting. She hobbled in on crutches to make sure she knew exactly what the options were so that she could present them to council at the regular council meeting the next night. The result of that (second) meeting was that the parents and staff are pretty much united that we don’t want to lose our school. We understand that the high school needs to expand, but the option of taking over Greenleaf and busing 700 kids to Dundas or scattering them among the three already-crowded Waterdown schools is simply not acceptable.

At the meeting, a third option was proposed, which will be presented to the school board. The original option (2) was to move the kids to an abandoned school, expand the high school, and then build a new school for the Greenleaf kids to come back to. We submit option 3: the construction should simply be ordered differently. Build a new school, move the Greenleaf students there, and then let the high school take over Greenleaf. The high school is apparently big enough to handle the current student load for another couple of years, so they’ll be OK during the construction of a new school, the Greenleaf students and staff don’t get scattered to the four winds, and after the new school is built, the high school can take over Greenleaf and grow as necessary. Everyone wins.

Greenleaf was built because a group of Waterdown parents wanted a new elementary school and formed a group to look into the possibility. The parents group contacted developers and did most of the legwork and then presented their findings to the board, and Greenleaf was built within two years. Given that, here’s no reason a new school couldn’t be built within the same two year time frame.

Disclaimer: My wife Gail Perrow is the chair of the Allan A. Greenleaf school council. The opinions expressed here are my own. I am not speaking on behalf of her or the council.

Update: Fixed some of the numbers which were inaccurate.

Just in case

This video is making the rounds on the internet. It’s called “The Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See”, but that’s a bit strong. It’s about global climate change (GCC) and what, if anything, we need to do about it. It’s strange in that the author doesn’t try to convince you that GCC is actually occurring, but that we need to do something about it anyway.

The logic is hardly groundbreaking — either GCC is occurring or it isn’t, and either we do something about it or we don’t. If it is occurring and we take action, we’re good, and if it is not occurring and we do nothing, we’re good. The two risks are the crux of the argument, and he describes the two extreme cases. If GCC is occurring and we don’t take action, ocean levels will rise, wiping out entire cities or possibly countries, millions of people will die and millions more will be homeless, there’s worldwide economic, political, and social chaos, and life generally will suck. If it is not occurring and we do take action, we could be spending billions of dollars solving a problem that doesn’t exist and we cause a worldwide economic depression. The latter is certainly the lesser of the two evils, so we need to take action against GCC, “just in case”. I have no real problem with that logic, and am happy to do my share to help.

Am I going to become a vegan or vegetarian because the more meat we eat, the more cows there are, and the more cows there are, the more gas they release, thereby contributing to global warming? No, because I don’t think that cow farts are really that big of a problem. I have actually seen this reasoning in defence of veganism, by the way.

Anyway, the logic he used reminded me of religion. I think a large number of people believe in God “just in case”. They figure that if God exists and I don’t believe, then I get to sleep in on Sundays, but I’m going to hell. If God does not exist, and I do believe, then I’ve wasted** my Sunday mornings and not much else. Going to hell is obviously worse, so I’ll go to church. I know that there are a much larger number of faithful church-goers who believe wholeheartedly in God, and this is not something they think about — God not existing is not an option in their mind. But I think the number of “just-in-case”ers is not insignificant.

Personally, I am as “devout” an atheist as the aforementioned “faithful” are devout Christians (or Jews or Muslims or…), so the option of “God exists but I don’t believe so I’m going to hell” doesn’t exist in my mind. In fact, I used to be a just-in-case’er myself, back before I “came out” as an atheist. It seems that some consider “atheist” one of the worst insults you could use, like “anti-American” (or its equivalent, “terrorist”) seems to be these days. Once I decided that the word “atheist” was not an insult and accurately described me, I dropped the whole “just-in-case” thing.

But the just-in-case’ers seem to be missing one crucial point. If God does exist, then he knows you’re a just-in-case’er, that you don’t really believe with all your heart, so you’re going to hell anyway. In that case, you’ve wasted your Sunday mornings and you’re going to hell. Worst of both worlds.

** – I also realize that people do more at church than simply pray. They learn valuable life lessons during sermons, meet people and make friends, perhaps get advice or counselling, etc. I talked with someone once who said that her mother was “the biggest atheist around”, but still went to church on Sundays because she simply enjoyed it. I’m sure a lot of the just-in-case’ers really enjoy their church-going time, and from that point of view it’s certainly not “wasted time”. But you know what I mean.

Tory the Tory and MMP

So we go to the polls on Wednesday, this time casting two ballots instead of the usual one. I think I’ve figured out who I’m voting for in my riding, and I think I’ve also figured out how I’m voting on the MMP issue. I see the appeal of MMP, particularly for the smaller parties. For example, there is no Green Party candidate in my riding, and if I were a Green Party supporter (I’m not), then I would have no way to actually vote for the party. With MMP, I could still support that party. Similarly, say I happen to support Party X but for whatever reason I don’t like Party X’s candidate in my riding. Under an MMP system, I could vote for the candidate (not party) that I think will best serve my riding, while still supporting Party X.

The fatal flaw of MMP in my mind is that 40 of 130 MPPs (that’s over 30%) will be unelected and will represent no constituents. They are guaranteed to vote along party lines. Most MPPs will, to be sure, but there is always the chance that they will not if whatever they are voting on may be especially helpful or detrimental to their constituents. Voting along party lines is not necessarily a problem, but if there’s something to be voted on, and Joe Party Leader says “my party is against this”, he knows that those extra unelected MPPs will vote with him, so he could have 25% of the vote before anyone even considers about how the people of the province feel about it. Because there are more MPPs, it also means that the person voting on my behalf (i.e. my MPP) has less power than under the current system, in the sense that his vote will count for less. Everyone I’ve talked to on this issue (which, admittedly, isn’t many) is also voting no.

I generally don’t align myself with a particular party, mainly because I don’t trust many politicians, and the ones I have trusted in the past have come from various parties. If I found that I trusted, say, the Librerals more often than the Tories, then I might call myself a Liberal, but I’ve noticed no such pattern. In particular, I’ve found in the past that I like the federal leader of a party while not liking the provincial leader of that same party, or vice versa. I did not watch the recent debate on TV, but I’ve heard interviews with both McGuinty and Tory, and I liked what each of them had to say (though it’s probably easy to spin your agenda to sound positive when there’s nobody arguing against you). Plus, my political knowledge is minimal enough that if some political leader explained an idea to me, I wouldn’t necessarily be able to see any flaws in it anyway. Having said that, I have yet to see a John Tory ad that explains why he would be a good leader; all of his ads seem to just talk about why McGuinty is not a good leader. It’s not “Vote for us!”, it’s “Don’t vote for them!”, which implies to me that either (a) Tory isn’t confident enough in his own agenda to actually talk about it, or (b) he doesn’t think there are any really good candidates, including himself, so he considers himself the “least bad” candidate. Either way, this is hardly someone I want leading the province for the next however-many years.

As an aside, obviously a politician named “Tory” would be a Conservative. But what if he wasn’t? Would the Liberal Party elect a leader named “Tory”?

Look at this, more political commentary on my blog. Somewhere, John Wayne Gacy and Joseph Stalin are putting on parkas.