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December 30, 2009

Cable Cars & Gondolas in Toronto?

CANADA - To the right and below is an artist's rendition of what cable cars in Toronto might look like. According to blogger Stephen Dale (see this is the future Torontonians might eventually see and he is pushing it as an alternative to subways and street cars.

He cites other examples from around the world as proof it can be done in Toronto:

#1. The recently approved BART Oakland Airport Connector in California, a $500 million USD people mover that will run on a 5-kilometre elevated right of way.

#2. The Metrocable in Medellin, Colombia, incorporates three aerial cable lines into the transit system of that country's second largest city. The cables were designed to serve low-income commuters in the outlying areas.

#3. Two cable systems in Caracas, Venezuela, are expected to carry 140,000 people daily when they're both completed in 2011.

#4. A four-kilometre cable car with seven stations in Perugia, Italy, offers wait times of about a minute between vehicles.

#5. Constantine Telepherique in Algeria is a series of aerial cable cars, some designed for transit and others for tourism.


#1. Gondolas are relatively cheap compared to subways which need to be dug underground.

#2. They can service areas where buses would normally go but without clogging up traffic like buses or street cars do.

#3. Its actually quite ideal for transit in suburban regions, like Scarborough, Mississauga and Brampton, and would work quite well on high-traffic streets like Queen Street West.

#4. Think of the tourist potentials!

#5. Gondolas are greener because they use electricity instead of diesel or gasoline.

#6. Its cheaper and faster than street cars and buses.

#7. Gondolas can over go over water or valleys easier, servicing opposite sides of the Don Valley Parkway, over and above the 400 series highways and even the Toronto islands.

#8. Gondolas have less land requirements than both subways and street cars.

#9. They have surprisingly high safety records, making them one of the safest forms of transportation in the world. Despite what you've seen in movies gondola accidents are almost completely unheard of.

Dale has a longer, more complete list of reasons on his website.

Politicians are often slow to come around to the idea, but one politician is now promoting the idea. "It can work in almost any urban fabric," says Glen Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg, who is currently planning to run in Toronto Centre in the next provincial election.

In the meantime the TTC has its hands full:

A $2.4 billion extension of the Spadina subway line into York Region starts construction next year.

A $950 million Sheppard LRT, a 120-kilometre, seven-line light rail network that will reach deep into the city's suburbs over the next two decades.

Stephen Dale blames a couple of common misconceptions for making cable a tough sell in North American cities.

"There's a general perception such systems are slow, which they're not, especially if you compare them with Toronto's streetcar system," says Dale. "The streetcars we have are built to go 100 km/h but they average 12 km/h on the street," even on dedicated right-of-way routes such as Spadina Ave.

"The other major issues are questions of capacity. People think (gondolas) can't carry enough. It can carry up to about 6,000 people per hour per direction," says Dale. "We have no streetcar line in all of Toronto that goes above 2,000, and when they're talking about the Eglinton LRT line, they're only imagining it having about 5,000."

Dale makes some valid points. Bicycles are effectively faster than street cars (going 20 to 30 km/hour, depending on the cyclist)... but sadly bicycles aren't really a solution in Canadian winters.

See Also:
The Bicycle Mechanic

Asteroid might hit Earth in 2029

TECHNOLOGY - Russia's space agency today issued a call for a massive planetary effort to ward off a giant asteroid named Apophis that might hit the Earth in 2029.

"People's lives are at stake," says Anatoly Perminov, the head of Russia's space agency. "We should pay several hundred million dollars and build a system that would allow us to prevent a collision, rather than sit and wait for it to happen and kill hundreds of thousands of people."

Russia is now considering building spacecraft and missiles designed to push the Apophis asteroid away from the Earth, and is asking NASA, the European Space Agency and the Chinese space agency to join in the effort.

The Apophis asteroid was first spotted in 2004. Scientists at the time estimated there was a 2.7% chance it might hit the Earth.

Politicians, typically unwilling to pay for anything that might prevent future destruction, have downgraded the threat and are now saying the chances of the asteroid hitting earth are less than 1% (the number varies depending which politician you ask).

The current scientific estimate is that the asteroid Apophis will pass within 30,000 km (making it visible to the naked eye and closer to Earth than the moon is). The danger is if it passes through a "gravitational keyhole" and get pulled towards us by Earth's gravitational pull.

If it missed there is also a 1-in-250,000 chance (according to NASA) it will strike the Earth when it passes by us again in 2036.

The cost of a mission to knock the asteroid off its course is estimated at $$80 billion USD, a cost to be shared by rival space agencies over a period of several years. NASA's current annual budget is a mere $17 billion.

In 1908 a 30 meter wide asteroid exploded over Tunguska, Russia and incinerated 2,000 square km of forest and killed everything in sight. Apophis is 270 meters wide and would incinerate approx. 18,000 square km if it exploded. If it actually strikes the Earth the impact could destroy significantly more.

The worry is it could crash or explode in a highly populated region, but chances are much more likely it would land in the ocean and cause a tsunami.

See Also:
Huge Asteroid Misses Earth

December 29, 2009

Is High Culture making a comeback in 2010?

ENTERTAINMENT - In a world of breast implants, Pamela Anderson and Paris Hilton is it at all surprising that people might start to reject the two-faced bloated consumer culture that has pervaded for the last couple decades?

Seriously, we may be looking at a huge cultural shift... classical music sales are up, especially for digital downloads/sales.

Part of it could be because retro music is hip, but there is a huge thirst now for classical music. Even small orchestras are seeing an increase in interest. (Check out Mooredale Concerts in Toronto).

Opera is seeing a similar increase.

As is ballet performances (see the Ballet Creole in Toronto), some more traditional and others alternative.

And even art galleries are seeing bumper crops of crowds.

Part of the reason might be because high culture is being reinvented a bit, with classical music being played on new instruments never used before, used as background music for video games (because there's no copyright on classical music), classical music mp3s can be downloaded for free without any fear of copyright infringement, Susan Boyle and other pseudo-celebrities bringing opera back to the forefront.

At least so far as 2009 is concerned high culture has made a small comeback... so I am willing to bet (because these trends aren't likely to change quickly) we will see more of the same in 2010.

In this new era of iTunes, YouTube and online art galleries we can expect classical music / ballet / art galleries to make a bigger impact, and presumably get more people out from behind their computer monitors and out for a night on the town.

December 14, 2009

Harper government defended torturer

CANADA - Ousted governor of Kandahar Asadullah Khalid has been torturing people for years, and according to documents dating back to 2006 the Canadian government under Stephen Harper has not only defended him against allegations of torture, but has actually conspired with him to conduct interrogations.

The diplomatic memos were never meant for public eyes, but clearly indicate that the Canadian military and diplomats operating in Afghanistan's Kandahar province not only were complicit in handing over prisoners to Afghan authorities to be tortured, but they did so conditionally with payment attached.

Essentially what it boils down to is the concept of "outsourcing torture".

With all the fuss about Guantanamo Bay / torture in the United States and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, the Canadian government chose to act differently and instead of torturing prisoners themselves decided to pay Afghans to do the torture for them.

When it was first learned governor Asadullah Khalid was torturing prisoners he was nearly removed from office in 2006, but the Canadian military/diplomats defended him and denied he was involved in any form of torture. Stephen Harper himself, when asked on the matter by Afghan president Hamid Karzai, denied Khalid was involved in torture. Thanks to his government's efforts the charges were buried under a layer of bureaucracy before eventually coming back to the fore and proven to be true.

And now these memos have come to public attention, showing the Canadian government not only knew these allegations against Asadullah Khalid were true, but that they were also involved in ordering the torturing to be done.

It is just another embarrassing episode of inquiry over Afghan prisoner abuse, a story which continues to unfold.

The latest report on this matter is uncensored and gives a lot more details about Asadullah Khalid, who in previous government reports had his name blacked out. Khalid was finally ousted from office in 2008 under charges of corruption, drug running, bribery and torture.

HST is "virtually revenue neutral"

CANADA - Ontario's controversial amalgamation of the GST and PST into a harmonized sales tax (HST) is "virtually revenue neutral" and not a cash grab some people say it is, argues a new report released today.

The report (by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) says low and middle-income families will come out slightly ahead under the changes, which includes increased property and sales tax credits and income tax cuts, while households with incomes above $100,000 will come out just slightly behind.

In other words the majority of the population (poor and middle class people) will benefit from the change, while rich Ontarians will end up paying slightly more.

"No group is significantly worse off or better off as a result of the province's HST plan," says Ernie Lightman, an economist and University of Toronto professor of social work who co-authored the report.

The researchers admit they are "surprised" to discover a vast majority of Ontarians will be better off or unaffected by the tax changes.

"Assertions that this is a tax grab have no foundation in reality," Lightman said.

If anything its a tax rebate, because the majority of Ontarians will see more money back in the form of income tax cuts.

The NDP, both provincially and federally, have roundly condemned the new tax. The Ontario Conservative Party has also gone out of its way to spread misinformation that the HST is a tax grab. The report says that this is wholly untrue because it ignores the income tax cuts.

Furthermore the report indicates the decrease in income taxes will actually boost the economy by giving people more spending money.

Here's how it works.

Hypothetically lets say you are making $30,000 / year and paying approx. 6% in income taxes. That is $1,800 in taxes.

However, if that is cut to 5% you end up saving $300.

Regardless of how much money you use for buying stuff every year (whether its $5,000, $10,000 or more) the sales tax you pay remains the same:

#1. 8% PST + 5% GST = 13% sales tax.
#2. 13% HST.

Regardless its still 13%. Low and middle income earners are overall getting a rebate thanks to the income tax cuts, money that can be spent at their discretion and will ultimately help boost the economy.

The only people feeling the pinch will be wealthy people who make more than $100,000/year.

December 11, 2009

Man gets Bionic Fingers

HEALTH/TECHNOLOGY - Frank Hrabanek lost his four fingers on his left hand in an industrial accident in 2007, but thanks to modern technology he now has a set of bionic fingers.

Touch Bionics of Britain has developed the robotic prosthetic fingers to help people who've lost fingers or thumbs to do things such as cut food, get dressed on their own, drive a car or go golfing.

The fingers are controlled using the muscles in his forearm and is an amazing breakthrough for amputees world wide. It takes approx. 5 minutes to learn how to use the fingers and the company is also working on a synthetic skin to cover the prosthetic so it will look more natural.

The amputee population that can benefit from these bionic fingers is estimated at around 40,000 in the United States and 1.2 million people worldwide.

December 9, 2009

Suicide Bombers in Iraq kill 127+

POLITICS - Yesterday in Baghdad two suicide car bombers and another vehicle blew up near government buildings, killing over 127 people and injuring over 400 more people.

A total of five coordinated attacks struck high-profile targets in the heart of Baghdad. It was the third time in the last 4 months that bombings have killed over a hundred people.

Targets in the attack included:
  1. A Labor Ministry building
  2. A court complex near the Iraqi-protected Green Zone
  3. The new site of the Finance Ministry (its old building was blown up in August).
  4. A police station in southern Baghdad.
  5. Near the Technology University in eastern Baghdad.

Iraq has been in a state of near civil war since 2003. The American military and Iraqi security is powerless to stop the attacks.

December 7, 2009

Closing the Gap on Climate Change

By Ai Lung Nguyen - December 2009.

ENVIRONMENT - According to an United Nations Environment Programs report the world should emit no more than 44 billion tons of carbon dioxide by 2020 to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.

We are currently emitting 47 billion tons.

Adding together all publicly announced commitments (globally, from all countries) would lower the gap to 46 billion tons annually by 2020.

That means if various countries managed to come up with ways to cut another 2 billion tons from our annual greenhouse gas emissions we could make a sizable difference in how bad climate change will effect the world. To close the gap we need roughly a 5% cut in global emissions.

It is unfortunately already too late to prevent climate change. The worry now is how we survive it and how bad it will get. Concerns like rising sea levels, ecosystem collapse and desertification of food producing regions raises major concerns about food shortages. The American Midwest is expected to turn into a dust-bowl like it did during the 1930s, which would be disastrous for American farmers, the American economy and food production.

Potentially if China, Europe and the United States cut back 0.7 billion tons each it would meet that target. China and the USA currently produce over 6 billion tons of greenhouse gases annually. Europe accounts for approx. 5 billion tons and has already made substantial cutbacks, proving it can be done while maintaining a strong economy.

December 4, 2009

Ontario jobs boom

CANADA - 79,100 more Canadians found jobs in November 2009, of which approx. 21,000 were in Toronto. As such Canada's unemployment rate has dropped to 8.5%.

If steady job growth is sustained it will be a sign the Big Recession may soon be over.

November 30, 2009

November Snow Free in Toronto

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - The city of Toronto was snow free this Novemeber, the first time in 162 years that the city went snow-less during the 11th month of the year.

Meteorologists cite global warming and climate change for the unusually warm November.

November 21, 2009

Monopolies in Canada

CANADA - If you live in Canada chances are likely you eat, buy something or some service from a corporation so big its essentially a monopoly.

Take Tim Hortons for example. No, I am not dissing Tim Hortons, but I am pointing out what a huge company they are in contrast to other Canadian coffee/donut franchises.

Another prime example is Rogers, the cable / internet / phone conglomerate, which is so big and corrupt it phoned my 15 times in the last week trying to sell me a cable TV package. I am very tempted to cancel my internet from them, but I won't because they have a monopoly.

Well, technically they don't, but lets just say their competition is limited to Bell Canada, Shaw and the measly scraps left to small start up companies that always fail because their service is grossly inferior. I really don't have much choice in the matter... its either Rogers, Bell or Shaw and I already know from experience all three are corrupt corporations.

Part of the problem is that Canada is such a small market its relatively easy to make a monopoly. You start locally, build up a monopoly in Ontario (or wherever), expand to nearby provinces and eventually go coast-to-coast. The savvy companies do this by offering better services/prices than their competitors while cutting out the stress and nonsense.

The corrupt companies use telemarketing, sleazy annoying advertising campaigns and by lying to the customers about the speed, size, efficiency, reliability of their product.

Rogers internet service is "the best" from my experience. It only goes down about once a month, sometimes not for two or three months. (That sounds bad, doesn't it?) Bell Canada and Shaw are equally as bad for reliability, but a tad slower.

Now I could lodge a complaint against Rogers for phoning me 15 times in a single week, but I know I would only get "the run-around" until I get frustrated and give up. There is no sense of satisfaction in leaving a complaint via email or online form because you KNOW nobody actually reads it and they're certainly not going to do anything about it.

Frankly its not just Rogers at fault, its the whole corrupt corporation mentality and the monopolies (or near monopolies) that exist in Canada.

Lets talk about the Big Five Canadian Banks for a moment. There is:

The Bank of Montreal (BMO)
The Royal Bank of Canada (RBC)
Toronto-Dominion Bank/TD Canada Trust (TD)
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC)

There is also a few international banks that operate in Canada, ie. the Korean Exchange Bank (KEB), which don't really offer any competition.

Collectively the Big Five have a monopoly and they coordinate with each other to match prices and services. One may offer a better interest rate, but they hit you with more service charges. They're all the same.

However they've grown so big that these Canadian banks have expanded into the United States and over the past two decades have been buying up small American banks to the point that approx. 70 - 90% of the Canadian banking industry's profits is actually from the USA. (And they're making billions of profits each year.)

Due to international expansion Canadian banks are now the largest in the world. They buy up foreign banks, jack up the service charges over the long term, and cut costs by using a larger distribution network. In the USA its against American law to just buy a bank and change its name, so the individual smaller banks have kept their brand name but they've become subsidiaries of a Canadian banking conglomerate.

During the current American recession Canadian banks have redoubled their efforts in purchasing small banks in the USA, sensing they can get some sweet deals while they are ripe for the plucking.

Thus Americans may think they are banking with their local bank which has been in there town for over a hundred years, but in reality there is a very high chance their little bank was sold over a decade ago to a big Canadian bank. Or soon will be sold.

Eventually these corporations are going to forming global monopolies, wherein one or two companies control 90% of the market.

Ie. Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola.

Coca-Cola currently offers nearly 400 brands in over 200 countries or territories and serves 1.5 billion servings each day. Pepsi follows closely behind. There is essentially no competition beyond those two and its simply a fight over market share and which one is the biggest polluter / abuser of human rights (ie. the toxic pesticides incident in India).

It all makes you realize the importance of supporting small local companies.

November 17, 2009

$300 for a Kindle eBook?

ENTERTAINMENT/TECHNOLOGY - The Kingle ebook is a wireless electronic book which allows you to download books whenever you want and read them on a wireless device that is easily portable... for a fee, of course.

The only problem is that in Canada its $300 CDN, and I don't know about YOU, but I don't spend $300 on books in a year. I spend about $30 or less. (I am not counting gifts.)

Across the United States border its a mere $259 USD, so if you're a cross-border shopper and looking for an ideal xmas gift its a good buy... in theory.

The Kindle can carry up to 1,500 books on its 2GB hard drive and can also play mp3s, share JPGs, Word Docs, PDFs and various other file types. And you can access newspapers, magazines and such through subscriptions.

But here's the silly thing... the fee for downloading a book is about the same price you'd pay to buy a regular paperback book, so the only reason to do this is to save paper. Some books do cost less in ebook form, but most sadly do not. Some are actually MORE expensive, because publishers are worried about people making copies and sharing them.

However at the same time you do get access to a free library of public domain books, classics like "Pride and Prejudice", the complete works of Shakespeare, etc.

Environmentally friendly? No. Because you have to recharge the Kindle ebook, which means approx. 35% of the energy comes from coal power plants... so instead of using paper, you're burning coal and adding to the greenhouse gases. So unless you have your own solar power station, you're not actually being environmentally friendly by buying an ebook.


I don't think its actually worth $300. Not when you could buy a notebook computer for $300 from Best Buy or Future Shop. You could still read everything you want on the notebook, plus you'd be able to access the internet, play games, movies, etc. and its easily portable.

Over the next 6 years the price of notebook computers is expected to drop dramatically because of increasing miniaturization of electronic parts, mostly driven by the cellphone, iPod and iPhone industry. Cheaper parts = more competitive/cheaper prices. Its expected that by 2015 the price of a new notebook computer will be $100.

See Also: The $100 Laptop

Skinny Cable for Canada?

CANADA/ENTERTAINMENT - Canadian broadcasters are urging the CRTC to allow "skinny cable", essentially a smaller and dramatically cheaper variation of basic cable.

But cable companies don't like the idea, because it comes with a price tag attached: They will have to start paying for the right to distribute public broadcasters like the CBC, CTV and Global.

The industry's woes during the recession is the result of huge cutbacks in advertising by corporations "tightening their belts". The hope is that if broadcasters can offer a skinny cable package, more Canadians will sign up for cable.

Also at the center of the controversy is the issue of public television providers (CBC, CTV and Global) which provide their services for free and cable companies don't pay a cent for those channels, but still make a lot of money selling them as part of basic cable packages.

The cable and satellite companies (Rogers Communications, Bell Canada and Shaw) are still raking in the cash despite the recession, but say that if the proposed changes go through that its essentially a "TV tax" which they will then add to cable bills.

Both sides have since gone into ad campaign mode, promoting their sides of the argument on (where else?) television.

At stake is the future of local broadcasting in Canada. Canadian news, Canadian weather, Canadian culture, Canadian programming. If a public broadcaster goes bankrupt (egad!) the Canadian public will end up suffering.

Frankly the mere fact that public broadcasting is getting repackaged and resold as "basic cable", without a cent going to the broadcasters is grossly unfair.

Lets compare for example what some companies in the USA charge for cable stations per month (all prices USD):

  • $0.08 Cartoon Network
  • $0.15 MSNBC
  • $0.33 Nickelodeon
  • $0.44 CNN
  • $0.60 USA
  • $0.60 FOX News
  • $0.80 Disney Channel
  • $0.89 TNT
  • $3.65 ESPN

Lets say for example CBC, CTV and Global each charged 5 cents / month for their services. Thats $0.15 CDN / month or $1.80 per year. Rogers Cable alone has 2.25 million customers, which equates to $4.05 million per year that Rogers would have to pay to the CBC, CTV and Global ($1.35 million each).

[Or some multiple of that if they charged 10, 25 or 30 cents.]

Note: Rogers Cable made over $704 million in profits last year. Rogers profit margin is huge, having made $1.95 billion in revenue in 2008.

Bell TV has 1.8 million customers and made almost $600 million in profits in 2008.

Shaw Cable has 1.5 million customers and made over $500 million in 2008.

The proposed "TV tax" would be peanuts compared to the huge profit margins these cable companies have. It should NOT be passed on to customers. The cable companies should simply give up now and save themselves the cost of lawyers and advertising in what will likely be a lengthy legal battle.

Its the 21st century now. Isn't it time public broadcasters get paid for the services cable companies have been taking for granted? If cable companies want to repackage public broadcasting and sell it as basic cable, fine... but they should at least pay for it.

National DNC List expiration dates

CANADA - Have you registered your phone number with Canada's National Do Not Call List in an effort to prevent telemarketers from calling you?

I know I did. I registered it over a year ago when the DNC List first became active.

What I did not know was that there is an "expiration date" on registering your number. Its not permanent. It expires within a year or two of the date your registered it.

So if you registered your number a long time ago, you might want to check again and make sure its still registered. Otherwise the telemarketing calls may resume sooner than you think.

I got 5 today alone, all from the same number. Unfortunately when I went to the DNC website to lodge a complaint against the telemarketer for violating the registry I discovered that I was "no longer" registered.

No notification, just un-registered again. So my advice for other Canadians is to check once a year and make sure you are registered. And while you are at it send a complaint to the CRTC about why they are de-registering people without their permission.

The telemarketing industry in Canada is big business. Its corrupt. Its understandable that they've managed to weasel their way into having the DNC List set on "temporary" status so they can resume their annoying phone calls whenever people's numbers cease to be registered.

November 15, 2009

Doubling Life Expectancy by 2030?

HEALTH/TECHNOLOGY - According to American scientist Ray Kurzweil the world "may" have the technology that immortality will be within our grasp by the year 2030, but it will only be available to people who can afford it.

Kurzweil hypothesizes that nanobot technology will have made such a breakthrough they will be able to swim through human arteries, warding off diseases and repairing damaged cells. Kurzweil himself is 61 years old and quite an expert on regenerative health and increasing life expectancy. The goal is to create the technology that doesn't just ward off diseases, but eradicates them / repairs the damage done by them.

Thus the causes of death would be accidental.

Or sheer decrepitness. Let me explain. As we get older we injure or break things. We chip our teeth, our bones break or become brittle (the latter could be solved wi

th diet and exercise) and a myriad other things that either can't be fixed after they happen or fixing them is expensive (ie. a new hip).

So lets imagine then that our life expectancy is DOUBLED, instead of becoming infinite. Say about 144 years, give or take a few decades.

British futurist Aubrey de Grey says "the first 1,000-year-old is almost certainly alive already." De Grey is the head of the SENS Foundation, an American group that tracks regenerative medicines such as stem-cell therapy. His theories are widely considered to be "fantasy" and actually hurts the legitimate scientific community because his ideas sound too much like those of a crackpot scientist. Even his critics however support more anti-aging research and government funding.

In October the Nobel Prize in medicine was given to three American scientists for research on the "immortality enzyme" which allows cells to multiply without damaging themselves. It is a considered a breakthrough in the fight against cancer and could also be used to regenerate old tissue.

So there is a lot of reason for scientists to be optimistic. In all the fields related to aging, huge progress is being made. Indeed we're already in position to extend life expectancy, but doing so would be both expensive and require people to make changes in their diet and exercise lifestyle.


+ Eye surgery.

+ Heart pacemakers.

+ Heart transplants and transplants of other major organs.

+ Cloning organs, skin and muscle tissue.

+ Organ thieves.

+ Neural implants for Parkinson's patients.

+ Therapy & exercise programs for Alzheimer's patients (exercise and problem solving puzzles have been proven to stave off Alzheimer's).

+ Human Growth Hormones that helps to regenerate old muscle tissue.

+ Artificial pancreas.

+ Free health / dental care (countries with free health/dental care have dramatically higher life expectancy rates).


+ Younger clones that are set aside in stasis for future brain transplants. (The plot from an old Twilight Zone episode and also the film "The Island".)

+ Regenerating necrosis (premature dead tissue), the repair of dead tissue (caused by exposure to toxins or trauma) using nano bots.

+ Restoring life to the recently dead, before their bodies begin to decompose.

After all we live in a world now where we carry computers (cell phones) in our pockets that have a thousand times more computing power than the room sized computers from the 1970s. Twenty years from now we could see dramatic changes in both computing power, nano technology and advances in health care.

Or maybe we will still be chasing the Fountain of Youth.

November 13, 2009

The Politics of Leather

ENVIRONMENT/FASHION - What is the most environmentally friendly garment you can wear?

The answer is uncoloured natural leather. And fur too.

Its not obvious at first, but let me explain how this is.

Leather is made by curing and drying animal rawhide and skin, it is an all natural process and the leftovers go into the meat and food industry. There are modern ways to cure leather, using different chemicals but the most commonly used method is Tannin, a natural chemical found in wine, beer, tea, fruits, berries, chocolate, etc.

So if you buy products made from leather, which is either not coloured or coloured using natural dyes, there really is no environmental damage done in the making of leather products.

The biggest complaint about leather (and fur) is from animal rights groups like PETA, which chiefly complain about the mistreatment of animals, the consumption of meat and the wearing of animal skin.

However I would like to point out these people are frequently self-righteous hypocrites.

  • #1. They frequently forget about the shoes, boots or jacket they are wearing. (Oh look, they're made from leather!)

  • #2. If they are vegetarians or vegans they have to take vitamin pills and supplements in order to stay healthy (pills made from mammals or fish).

  • #3. They're only concerned about the killing of "cute fuzzy animals" like cats, dogs, pigs, horses, cattle, bears, etc. They have little or no concern whatsoever for reptiles, snakes, fish or insects.

    Humans are omnivores. We are meant to be nomadic tribesmen, living off the land and hunting for food. Likewise the clothes we wear is meant to be suitable to the climate, and thus leather and fur, byproducts of our hunting, come in awfully handy. Leather requires very little effort to dry and cure and it provides us with durable clothing which is warm, doubles as protection against the elements and injury, is resistant to ripping, long lasting and lets face it, damn sexy to look at.

    If you buy a good quality leather jacket you could wear it for 10 years or more, depending on how well you take care of it and minor repairs like resewing buttons back on.

    In contrast you could go out and buy a jacket made out of synthetic materials and it will last you 3 - 4 years before it rips and becomes unwearable.

    The PETA people would argue you could buy synthetic leather, but I must point out the chemical process used for making synthetic leather is both environmentally damaging and hazardous to the health of the people making it. There is also "vegan leather", but that is both expensive and difficult to find (and it uses a lot of plant material, which means it isn't environmentally friendly).

    Its an ironic thing actually. Eating animals is environmentally friendly because it means there is less animals producing CO2 (a greenhouse gas). Wearing leather is likewise environmentally friendly because the process of making clothing using oil polymers pollutes. (Acrylic, plastic and all synthetic polymers are made from crude oil.)

    Eating vegetables is certainly healthy, but it has to be balanced. Certain necessary vitamins and proteins (like creatine) can only be gained from eating meat. Humans are omnivorous for a reason and you can't fight evolution.

    In conclusion: Leather is not as bad as some people think. Its natural, its longlasting and its so hot and sexy you will sometimes need to take it off. *wink*

    NOTE: I do not recommend leather upholstery for your car or truck. It slides too much and you will end up regretting how hot and sticky it gets.


    #1. Buy something that is both well-made and functional, so you can wear it again and again.

    #2. Go for something classic. Don't buy anything complicated that might go out of fashion really quickly. You want to be wearing the same jacket 10 years from now and it will still looking freaking awesome.

    #3. When in doubt, go for black or brown. They're easy to match with and look really good.

    #4. If you're worried about animal cruelty, don't buy suede or lamb leather. Look for sheep, deer or cow.

    #5. Check the lining to get an idea of the quality of craftsmanship. The smaller the stitching / thicker the thread the more robust it is. Avoid cotton linings. Check the thread to see if its polyester or cotton (polyester is stronger).

    #6. Buy local if you can. The quality will be better than mass-produced imported.

    #7. Watch out for cheap buttons and zippers.

    #8. Ignore big brand names. If its a big brand name its likely made in a sweatshop in Asia, which means its 99% advertising and 1% quality.

    See Also:
    Is Fur Dead? Fashion Vs. Anti-Fur
    The Rise of Ecofashion
    European Ecofashion
    Canadian Fashion and Chic
  • November 9, 2009

    Germany Celebrates Fall of the Wall

    POLITICS - 20 years ago the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin was opened. Within a year Germany was reunited and has since gone on to become the world's 4th biggest economy behind the United States, Japan and China.

    Today Germany celebrated the Fall of the Wall with a variety of celebrations, including 1000 giant dominoes falling across part of the city. The anniversary is practically a national holiday now.

    But no where is anybody complaining about the PRICE of reunification, or complaining about how East and West Germany could not trust each other back in the 1980s and were in a state of constant espionage during the Cold War.

    It reminds me of North Korea and South Korea. I used to live in South Korea and one of the things I noticed while there is that South Koreans tended to fuss about the fact they can't trust the North Koreans and that reunification with the North is going to be expensive.

    When you consider Germany's contemporary feelings and celebrations about the Fall of the Wall and reunification then South Korea's concerns just seem silly in comparison. If the DMZ across Korea went down today, twenty years from now concern about the "cost" would be dismissed as ridiculous.

    And worries about not being able to trust North Korea? Pfff. Sheer silliness too.

    When the Berlin Wall came down East German soldiers were dancing in the streets with the citizens. EVERYONE was happy to see it gone.

    There's also pressure to turn the DMZ into a nature preserve, because apparently tiger tracks have been spotted in the region. The Korean tiger was previously thought to be extinct in the wild.

    The tiger is a symbolic creature for Koreans, dating back to both Korean mythology about the birth of the Korean race and also Korean royalty and symbolic of Korea as a nation, commonly shown in artwork and maps depicting Korea as a tiger.

    Unfortunately reunification seems pretty far away. In the last couple of years North Korea has been testing nuclear weapons and long range missiles capable of reaching Hawaii. North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il also suffered a stroke and its only a matter of time before he either dies and/or is replaced by his 28-year-old son (Kim Jong Eun) as leader. Or a coup takes place, because its difficult to imagine the aged generals listening to a mere pup as leader.

    November 5, 2009

    Texas Army Base Shooting Kills 12

    UNITED STATES - Fort Hood, one of America's largest army bases and less than 40 miles as the bird flies from Waco Texas, was the site today of a massive shooting which has killed 12 Army personnel and wounded 31 others. It was the worst mass shooting to take place on an American military base.

    At 1:30 PM in the Soldier Readiness Center (where soldiers who are about to be deployed undergo medical screening for mental illnesses) an Army officer with two handguns opened fire, killing as many as he could before he was finally shot by army personnel.

    The shooter has been identified as Army Major Malik Nadal Hasan, a commanding officer in his late 30s and a mental health expert. There is no confirmation of whether his motive was psychological or religious.

    Two other suspects have also been detained in the mass shooting.

    The base went into lock down after the shooting and other American bases went on high alert.

    In recent years there have been other notable mass shootings in the USA:

    * 13 dead at a New York immigrant center in March 2009.

    * 10 killed in Alabama in March 2009.

    * 32 killed at Virginia Tech in 2007.

    President Barack Obama called the latest shooting "a horrific outburst of violence" and talked about how horrifying it is to lose soldiers on American soil compared to the tragedy of losing soldiers overseas in the line of duty. "We will make sure that we get answers to every single question about this horrible incident," said Obama. "We are going to stay on this."

    Fort Hood covers 339 square miles and is home to approx. 52,000 troops. The base is used for continuous training for armored missions overseas.

    November 4, 2009

    Opel not for sale, restructuring instead

    AUTOMOTIVES - General Motors has decided not to sell European automaker Opel after all. In a meeting yesterday GM backed out of the deal to sell Opel to Canadian auto parts giant Magna International and has decided to restructure Opel instead in an effort to make the automaker more cost efficient.

    GM has lost more than $6 billion USD in Europe since 2000. In its best year Opel only made $188 million in profits and is overall a fiscal ruin and in dire need of restructuring.

    GM, the world's biggest automaker in 2008, has been under pressure from Washington D.C. to drastically and rapidly make itself profitable again. The US government now owns a large chunk of General Motors.

    Frank Stronach, the 77-year-old owner of Magna International, has been hoping to become an automaker instead of just an auto parts manufacturer.

    November 2, 2009

    Ford's Billion $ Profit

    AUTOMOTIVES/POLITICS - The Ford Motor Company, the only one of the Big Three American automakers who did NOT receive a buyout from the United States government, has posted a billion dollar profit today.

    Wall Street and other financial markets are up an avrg. of 2% today as the surprise good news spread of Ford's third quarter profit of $997 million USD, and they didn't even need government money to do it.

    Ford has been moving aggressively on cutting back on materials costs, to the tune of $200 million. It also won concessions from unions that resulted in another $300 million in savings. Ford's United States market share rose by 2.2% to 14.6%, resulting in extra profits too.

    Ford's stocks are also up today, by 8.39% to $7.58 USD. Ford is up a sum of 12% since April, the height of the automotive industry's financial crisis.

    Chrysler and General Motors meanwhile are still in the red. Its expected however that once cost saving measures are in place that they will begin to turn a profit again.

    October 30, 2009

    2011 Lexus LFAs are not for sale

    AUTOMOTIVES - If you've always wanted to buy a Lexus supercar then you're going to have to wait a bit longer. The 2011 Lexus LFAs won't be for sale, they are only going to be available for a 2-year lease and only after completing the 2 year lease will you be given the option of buying the car for $375,000 USD.

    Why the lengthy lease process?

    Well, the problem is investment brokers who buy supercars and then flip them immediately by selling them on eBay. Apparently its become such a huge problem supercar companies are being forced to take steps to prevent this from happening. It has a bad habit of devaluing the brand (supercar companies spend a lot of money on advertising just so people will recognize and value their brand).

    You see well-made supercars typically don't go down in value, they go up.

    For example take the 1994 McLaren F1, at its time the fastest road car money could buy. It could go 240 mph, had 627 horsepower, was the first supercar with a carbon-fibre body and... its now worth almost $4 million USD, despite being originally sold for $970,000 USD. So in 15 years it has quadrupled in value.

    The Lexus LFA has a V10 engine with 552 horsepower, 65% of its body weight is carbon fibre making it very lightweight (and better for both performance and fuel economy), can go 325 km/h (200 mph).

    According to industry insiders the Lexus LFA is "an instant classic" and will be talked about for years to come because it is much better value, thus the parent company (Toyota) is taking action to prevent it from being flipped by people just looking to make a profit.

    I think its refreshing to see a car maker that is more interested in having customers who actually appreciate their "art" rather than be worried about profit. After all, thats what supercars really are: Artwork in Motion.

    They're meant to be seen as an aesthetic thing of beauty, to be appreciated both for its aesthetics and the technical achievements of its engine design.

    You don't go out and buy a $1.5 million Bugatti Veyron and then drive it to work every day. You buy it for its artistic value, its 1001 horsepower engine, because its currently the fastest road car available (and because you want to brag to possible sexual partners about the size of your huge engine...). True, it is an investment and in theory you could sell it years from now for more than you paid for it, but even Bugatti is being cautious about the sale of its cars. They're only selling them to genuine car enthusiasts who are going to enjoy it and show it off.

    Personally if I had a choice of supercars I'd pick a black Koenigsegg. Its the kind of car you could imagine Darth Vader driving. It also has a top speed of 259 mph (417 km/h), 806 horsepower...

    One of the inspiring things about supercars is the sheer raw power, which is difficult to achieve technically within a small space for an engine and still keep the weight down. A lot of technology goes into the design of these cars to maximize power, improve driving performance (so you don't crash when you go around a corner), decrease the weight so the performance is maintained and fuel economy is improved, and years of research into designing the body of the car so it will be aesthetically pleasing so people will want to buy it.

    What if Toronto got nuked?

    CANADA - There is a little program online I stumbled upon called "Ground Zero" which allows you to do a search for a city or location and a Google map will pop up of that location. Then you select a nuclear weapon of some kind (they vary in sizes) and test what would happen if that particular city was hit by a nuke.

    I chose Toronto and was disappointed to find out my home is right near the epicenter according to Google. Then I chose a 50 Mton Russian bomb called "Tsar Bomba", the largest explosion recorded in history.

    It wiped out all of Toronto and the effects were as far away as Burlington, Oshawa and Newmarket. Yikes.

    Of course, who actually has a 50 Mton nuke? For a bit more realism I chose a 1.4 Mton Mk28 which destroyed the city core and irradiated the rest of the city.

    Then I tried the "Little Boy", the 15 kilotonne nuke that was dropped on Hiroshima. It only destroyed the neighbourhood around me, but the CN Tower, the SkyDome, Queen Street and the vast majority of the city was left untouched.

    Conclusions? Even if a terrorist organization managed to build their own nuclear bomb (or several) why would they waste it on Toronto? The area it would damage would be relatively small. Only large enough to destroy PART of Manhattan Island in New York City.

    Even a 400 kilotonne "Joe-4" would effect Manhattan and corners of surrounding neighbourhoods. Sure, it would be destructive and historians/politicians would talk about it for centuries, but the sad truth is it wouldn't be as big as people expect.

    There would be, by sheer coincidence, a lot more survivors than dead people. The Hiroshima bomb killed 140,000 people and half of the fatalities occurred afterwards as people died slowly from radiation sickness, trauma, etc. At the time of the attack Hiroshima's population was approximately 340,000-350,000 people.

    Thus should terrorists ever get a nuke, why would they waste it on Toronto which has a low population density when compared to high density target like Manhattan? The answer is simple. Toronto, Canada's biggest city, isn't a target at all, which means nuking any city in Canada would be a complete waste of time.

    The 5 best targets are (I apologize to any people living in the United States reading this):

    Washington D.C.
    New York City
    Los Angeles
    San Francisco

    If a person or group of individuals managed to get their hands on weapons grade nuclear material and built a bomb, they likely would not build one really big one. To make it more worthwhile they'd aim to build multiple smaller bombs which individually could each destroy the core of a city target. Plus having multiple weapons increases the chances of one or more of them actually successfully reaching the target and be detonated. I stuck Washington D.C. at the top of the list because it has more political / social / military significance. NYC is a high density, wealthy area, Los Angeles is an industrial backbone / entertainment city, San Francisco is both a military target and technological target, and Boston is a military / scholarly target. The Pentagon (honourable mention) lacks the nearby population to make it a worthy target.

    Outside of the USA, Israel, Japan and South Korea are much more likely to be targeted by Iran or North Korea. Canada isn't even on their radar.

    For fun the Ground Zero program also offers what would happen if an asteroid hit the earth. Ouch.

    October 27, 2009

    The Mini Minivan

    AUTOMOTIVES - Its coming. Can you hear it? Its a bird, its a plane, nope! Its a clown car.

    Cue the circus music and watch as Mazda, Kia and other companies are planning to cash in on a new market for tiny minivans which are (in theory) more fuel efficient because of their smaller size but still allows drivers to carry 4-6 people.

    But not necessarily their stuff.

    And not necessarily more efficiently.

    Why? #1. Because people usually buy minivans when they have 3+ kids to take to hockey or baseball games, or they need the space for its extra carrying space. #2. Because the smaller engine that comes with such a tiny minivan might be more efficient at low speeds, but history has shown such vehicles become significantly less efficient when driving at speeds over 80 km/h.

    Check out the Mazda5 and the Kia Rondo. See also the Ford's C-Max, the Chevrolet Orlando, the Toyota Wish, the Volkswagen Routan and the Honda Stream.

    Mazda and Kia are not alone. General Motors and Ford are also planning mini models in 2011 while Honda and Toyota already have plans to introduce North Americans to the tiny minivans they've been marketing in Japan for many years. Even Chrysler (which invented the minivan in 1983) is thinking of partnering with Fiat to build a mini they can market in North America and Europe.

    Polling of Generation Y suggests the next era of adults will be focused on more fuel efficiency, smaller family sizes and lower prices.

    So even if they're not that efficient, they are still way more efficient than traditional minivans, crossovers and SUVs.

    Scientology Vs Gay Marriages

    RELIGION/SEX - Its nothing new that organized religions tend to discourage or frown upon all things sexual. The Vatican for example is still trying to prevent their priests from marrying (although some manage to do so anyway) and they have been pretty successful in some parts of the world when it comes to discouraging condom use (much to the detriment of southern Africa which is now been ravaged by AIDS) and gay marriages...

    So it comes really as no surprise the Cult Church of Scientology which supports the banning of gay marriages.

    For example Paul Haggis (the writer/director of the film Crash) recently quit the Church of Scientology after being an active member for 35 years. Why? Because the California chapter of the church supported Prop 8 in California, which effectively banned gay marriages in that state.

    Haggis contacted various members of his church, demanding to know why they had supported Prop 8. They replied that "heads would roll" and that an explanation was forthcoming... but it never happened. Apparently the Church of Scientology is just as bad as the Vatican is when it comes to returning emails / investigating their own misdoings.

    Scientology as a faith was founded by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in 1953. Its essentially a cult that believes alien spirits are trapped inside the bodies of humans and only by embracing the Scientology way of life can you free yourself from this prison. Kudos to L. Ron Hubbard for having a sense of humour and starting his own religion as a joke.

    I'm not kidding. Its almost as bad as zombie Jesus rising from the grave and a fictional afterlife in the clouds.

    But its worse than it seems. Scientology has been exposed as a complete hoax. It was never intended to be taken seriously, but as Americans are wont to do they just love to defend their obsessions with religion.

    According to recent news headlines:

    * Scientology church leader David Miscavige routinely beats up his subordinates in order to keep them following his orders. He's basically a mini Mussolini.

    * Scientology spokesman Tommy Davis walked out of an interview on the ABC program Nightline when he was asked about Lord Xenu, the intergalactic tyrant that supposedly trapped alien spirits here on Earth.

    * Celebrity John Travolta's son Jett died because of 'detoxification' treatments he was getting from the Church of Scientology instead of from a hospital.

    * In June the St. Petersburg Times published a lengthy package of information about the inner workings of Scientology, their beliefs and how the church is run by a bunch of millionaire low-lifes leeching off the money of their "believers". The information was garnered from high-ranking members who have since left the church in disgust.

    It seems to me that if people are leaving the Church of Scientology in disgust and later exposing it as a fraud, a hoax and a moneymaking scheme that its not a "faith" but more of an elaborate scam.

    In which case the IRS should be interested because the "Church of Scientology" has been refusing to pay taxes for decades.

    NOTE TO SELF: Make a new religion called "The Church of Intelligent Design" and use it as a front for a website design / architecture / industrial design business so all the workers don't have to pay taxes.

    October 26, 2009

    Only 20% of American stimulus package spent

    POLITICS - Some people are arguing the United States needs another stimulus package to jolt it out of recession faster.

    What they don't realize is that as of September only 20% of the stimulus has actually been spent so far. By the end of 2009 about 25% will be spent. The other 75% is slated to be spent during 2010.

    Thus 2010 is the year to expect recovery.

    Why the delay? Because roads, buildings, etc. take time to build. You can't expect these things to be built overnight. It takes at least a year or two.

    However these jobs end up going to people who already have experience in the construction and road works industry. What about all the Americans who lack experience, lack education and can't find work because they simply don't have the right skills and experience?

    What America needs then is jobs ANYBODY can do, and I'd argue the answer is in the farming and food industry. True, not everyone has a green thumb when it comes to growing vegetables, but its a fairly easy skill to learn and it guarantees at the very least food for the people doing the work. To make it profitable however you'd have to do two things first: #1. Have the land required to grow enough vegetables to make it profitable. #2. Have a place where you can sell those vegetables, ie. a local grocery store.

    Beyond that there's also the possibility of starting your own business selling jam, pies, tarts, salads, pastries and baked goods.

    And if not in the food industry there's also building or fixing things. Manufacturing something that people need is a good way to start your own business. To do this however you might need to sign for some training, depending on the task you want to do.

    And there's no shortage of American's out there right now available to do such work. If you combine the number of people who are unemployed, on welfare or only working odd jobs / temp jobs it adds up to a staggering 17% of Americans who either aren't working or are under-employed.

    Office jobs don't stimulate the economy, and frankly there's such a shortage of office jobs right now why bother looking for them? What America needs is manufacturing jobs that actually create a product instead of just sponging money off the system.

    If a person is unemployed they really have three options:
    #1. Find a job in a field where they have experience & the right skills.
    #2. Get more education to get a job in the field they want.
    #3. Start their own business, possibly by improving upon an existing product or turning it into a niche market (ie. fat-free high-protein cookies).

    See Also:
    American Economy Lacks Manufacturing
    American Economy Collapsing

    October 25, 2009

    147+ Dead in Baghdad

    POLITICS - If you thought the violence in the Middle East was going down you've thought wrong. Since George W. Bush made the choice to invade Iraq the violence has only gone from bad to worse to horrific.

    And leaving Barack Obama to clean up his mess is hardly very presidential. Its the act of a man who has been avoiding public attention ever since.

    Yesterday's tragic events for example: Multiple car bombings in Iraq killed over 147 people and injured over 721. The death and injury toll is continuing to rise in the deadliest attack in 2 years as the warring Shia and Sunni Muslims continue to battle for dominance.

    Shia Muslims believe that the descendants of Muhammad should rule the land, whereas Sunni Muslims believe in following the actions, words and examples of Muhammad.

    Needless to say that planting bombs in cars and killing innocent people of the opposing sect isn't very Islamic (the word Islam itself ironically means "peace"), but its not really about religion any more.

    Its more of a blood-feud that is as old as Irish and British people killing each other. Last I checked the IRA's biggest religious beef for Catholicism Vs Anglicanism, but there's nothing "Catholic" about attacking British people with car-bombs and letter-bombs.

    Yesterday's bombing also had political motivation. It targeted two government buildings and the dead include 35 employees at the Ministry of Justice and 25 staff from the Baghdad Provincial Council.

    Three American contractors were wounded but not killed.

    Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is currently seeking re-election. al-Maliki is a Shia Muslim, but he's been making efforts to reach out to Sunni Muslims and attempting to bring peace to Iraq. Its one of the reasons why he was elected in 2006 in the first place, taking over from Ibrahim al-Jaafari (also a Shia Muslim and a direct descendant of Muhammad). Before al-Jaafari was Ayad Allawi, also a Shia.

    Saddam Hussein and many of political allies were Sunni Muslims.

    Its important to note however that both factions seem equally willing to conduct violence and murder innocents for the sake of political posturing. Iraq is basically in a state of civil war as the two sects compete for control. Its also important to note that the USA originally helped the Sunni's and Saddam Hussein into power in 1979 and later helped Iraq against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.

    Yesterday's explosions were about two hundred meters from Iraq's Foreign Ministry, which is being rebuilt after massive bombings there in August 2009. Sectarian violence has been on the rise since 2006 and there is no sign of it going down.

    October 23, 2009

    Refugee claimant murdered by drug cartel

    CANADA - In 2004 and 2008 a Mexican woman came to Canada seeking refugee status from a drug cartel that was trying to kill her. She applied for refugee status, was denied and deported both times.

    Now the 24-year-old woman, identified only as Grise, is dead. She was found beaten and with a bullet hole in her forehead back in June 2009. Her wounds suggest she was tortured before the drug cartel killed her.

    The woman's mother Nuemi and sister Bebe are back in Canada now seeking refugee status one more time, hoping this time the government will listen to their story. Nuemi's ex-husband was murdered by Colombian drug traffickers / the La Familia Michoaeana gang in Mexico. The drug cartel believes the women have money Nuemi's ex-husband supposedly stole and have been hunting for them ever since.

    Mexico is practically a war zone when it comes to drug cartels. The police and even the military fear them.

    Meanwhile the Conservative government in Ottawa has been trying to decrease immigration in an effort to appease their voters. In this case political posturing has led to a woman being killed.

    Stephen Harper wastes $46,000 promoting his economic plan

    CANADA - If you took the GO train to Toronto this morning you may have noticed something new. Two big ads on the sides of the train promoting Stephen Harper's "Economic Action Plan". Price tag? $46,000.

    #1. This plan was only adopted because the Liberals threatened to force an election.

    #2. Harper has been wasting more money on advertising the plan than actually creating jobs. Sure, the GO trains got more advertising revenue, but how does that create jobs And then there's all the other ways they've wasted money, including TV commercials, radio spots and magazine/newspaper ads. Its a huge media blitz... but where is the money actually being spent?

    So far the Conservatives have spent over $34 million just on advertising.

    #3. The money is only being spent in Conservative ridings in an effort to secure votes in the event of an election. That means major cities are being ignored because the Conservatives only win ridings in rural regions (with the exception of Alberta).

    #4. And when they do spend money they keep having little photo ops and ceremonies with giant cheques, sometimes with the Conservative Party logo on it.

    It all just stinks of corruption that goes right to the top. Stephen Harper has ignored the reasons why he was elected in the first place and has become obsessed with just trying to hold on to power.

    Looking to host a party, have a wedding or a big office shindig? Try Toronto Party Rentals.

    October 20, 2009

    General Rick Hillier criticizes Stephen Harper

    CANADA - Canada's former top general who retired in 2008 after serving Canada in Afghanistan has written an autobiography and its shining a light on corruption and mismanagement within Stephen Harper's office.

    Hillier has had a distinguished military career. He first tried to enlist at the tender age of 8. He had to wait until he graduated high school at the age of 17. Early on he commanded a NATO tank unit in Germany. In Afghanistan he commanded 6,000 troops in 2004 and was promoted to chief of defence staff in 2005.

    Hillier is a man's man, he spoke plainly and bluntly and he is not the type to hide the truth. Hence why his autobiography is so important.

    According to Hillier he encountered a lot of bureaucratic nonsense when dealing with the Stephen Harper's office, largely due to a combination of office politics (different bureaucrats who are too busy stabbing each other in the back) and an air of utter incompetence.

    He also discovered Stephen Harper liked to meddle in military affairs...

    1. Like trying to prevent the flag-draped coffins of soldiers from being seen when they are brought back to Canadian soil and the military ceremonies associated with that. Harper wanted those images censored. This was apparently Hillier's "line in the sand" because it meant Harper had no respect for fallen soldiers.

    "Look, don't bring the Airbus in, or if you bring the plane in, turn it away from the cameras so that people can't see the bodies coming off, or do it after dark, or do it down behind the hangars, or just bar everybody from it," Hillier quotes the PMO staffers as saying. "They clearly didn't want that picture of the flag-draped coffin on the news."

    It is Canadian military policy that every Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan will be honoured as a war hero. Harper's disrespect for soldiers was the last straw for Hillier and prompted his early retirement at the age of 53.

    2. Bureaucratic interference risking the lives of soldiers in an effort to make Stephen Harper look good.

    3. That Stephen Harper knew about torture allegations but chose to simply ignore them because he was too worried about bad press and his image.

    4. It was Stephen Harper's decision to move Canadian troops from Kabul and reposition them in southern Kandahar province, where they are now at much more danger of being killed by roadside bombs. "It had already been largely decided that the Canadian presence in Afghanistan was shifting to the southern half of the country," Hillier writes.

    5. Hillier also has tough criticism for NATO, saying the military alliance is rife with political posturing and corruption, including Canadians from the Prime Minister's staff who are more worried about making a name for themselves and schmoozing than actually fighting/winning the war.

    6. Hillier also said it was "embarrassing" that Canada has to beg for equipment from other countries because Harper's approach to the war is all for show and he isn't willing to spend anything on equipment that will save the lives of Canadian soldiers.

    The book "A Soldier First: Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War" is scheduled to be released next week.

    Chrétien receives Order of Merit

    CANADA - Jean Chrétien has joined the ranks of Nelson Mandela, Dr. Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa of Calcutta and former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower today when he was appointed to the prestigious Order of Merit by Queen Elizabeth at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in Britain.

    Jean Chrétien was Prime Minister of Canada from 1993 and 2003, during which time he served as leader of the Liberal Party. He has served Canada in politics for over 40 years, including 30 years as a cabinet minister, leader of the opposition or as Prime Minister. Chrétien also played an enormous role overseas, helping countries to work together and brokering both peace and trade deals.

    Chrétien has been meeting the Queen since 1967. Some of their notable meetings were in the Northwest Territories, at the Olympics in Montreal in 1976 and at numerous Commonwealth conferences. Chrétien also traveled to London to brief the Queen on the repatriation of the Canadian constitution in 1982 and met her on numerous occasions while Prime Minister for a decade.

    "I think, of Canadians, I'm probably one of the public officials that has seen her majesty more often than any others," said Chretien afterwards. He is only the 4th Canadian to receive the Order of Merit. Former prime ministers William Lyon Mackenzie King and Lester Pearson and Dr. Wilder Penfield have been previously honoured.

    Asked why he was appointed, Chrétien said: "They said they were impressed by the fact that I served Canada for 40 years, with 30 years as a cabinet minister, leader of the opposition or prime minister." and "She thought that I merited the Order of Merit," he chuckled.

    Turkeys infected with H1N1

    CANADA/HEALTH - A Turkey farm in Kitchener Ontario has been infected with the H1N1 virus (formerly known as swine flu). Its unknown how they got exposed to H1N1 but it believes an infected worker must have unknowingly coughed whilst amongst them or touched some with his hands.

    The turkeys are still safe to eat if its been cooked so there will be no cull and the turkeys will still be used for food, but they have been quarantined to prevent the virus from spreading to other animals or humans. These particular turkeys are actually bred for their eggs, not their meat.

    Canada is only the 2nd country to have such an outbreak. Chile had a turkey outbreak in August.

    The real concern is what if the virus combines with a deadlier flu strain and creates an even deadlier / more uncontrollable virus, warns the World Health Organization.

    The Future of Touch Screens

    TECHNOLOGY - On the image below you will see not a laptop, but a gaming surface for the popular roleplaying game Dungeons & Dragons.

    As you can see it looks like a giant iPhone, with a touch screen which allows D&D players to create maps on which they place figurines. The players then talk to discuss/roleplay their character's actions and roll dice whenever they have combat or something they have to overcome story wise that needs to be rolled randomly. The above one comes with virtual dice you can roll on the surface by flicking them with your fingers.

    Usually when gamers play they use a whiteboard and markers, or possibly well-drawn out maps. Some even go overboard with figurines and dungeons tiles made out of plastic.

    WHATEVER. The point is that we now have the technology to make large touch screen laptops or tablets. The actual product is called "Microsoft's Surface" and its not limited to being used for just D&D games. Indeed there is a wide range of programs now being designed to go with these touch screen tablets which will allow people to do a variety of things, not just play D&D.

    Games are just one of many things you could do with it. Anything from cards to Scrabble.

    But there are other applications too, such as learning to play the piano, keyboard, sort photos, watch movies (all the regular things you could do on a computer) and a huge variety of activities that hitherto would have required you to go out and buy the actual piano/etc.

    The bad news? Your current laptop is now definitely obsolete. More bad news is that Microsoft's Surface currently costs about $10,000 USD because they're rare and still in the development phase, but this price will come down dramatically in 2010 when it enters mass production.

    And Touch Screens evidently won't be limited to just computers. For example there is a bar that has a touch screen programmed to change colour and draw lines when people, drinks, etc are touching it. This will no doubt have advertising and banking applications too.

    The technology used to make a touch screen is actually pretty cheap and easy. You can even make your own touchpad surface in a matter of minutes, but the difference is that it won't be on a screen. Because it is relatively easy to do however it means that Microsoft will have a lot of competition and the prices will no doubt drop once multiple companies get in on this and start lowering their prices to be competitive.

    See Also: The Future of Phones

    October 19, 2009

    2009 Cars of the Year

    AUTOMOTIVES - 2009 is almost over (heck the decade is almost over), but what were the best cars of 2009? Its very difficult to gauge which are the "best", but these are some favourites.

    2009 Tata Nano - 33 hp for $2,200 (all prices CDN).

    2009 Mazda3 - 148 hp for $15,995.

    2009 VW Jetta TDI Wagon - 140 hp for $23,195.

    2009 Mazda MX-5 (Mazda Miata) - 167 hp for $28,995.

    2009 Nissan 370Z Coupe - 332 hp for $39,998.

    2009 Hyundai Genesis - 375 hp for $43,995.

    2009 Jaguar XF - 300 hp for $61,800.

    2009 Rolls-Royce Phantom - 453 hp $440,000.

    2009 Bugatti Veyron Bleu Centenaire - 1,001 hp for $1.4 million.

    2009 Aston Martin One-77 - 700 hp for an estimated $1.7 million (prices haven't been released yet). The One-77 will be very lightweight compared to the Veyron and the release date is believed to be December, although this may be delayed.

    Pakistan invades Waziristan

    POLITICS - It should be noted that South Waziristan is actually a province of Pakistan, but it has become a lawless province in recent years because it has become overrun with an army of approx. 10,000 fighters including about 7,000 - 8,000 of Afghanistan's Taliban fighters, a few remnants from Al Qaeda (according to the CIA, but we know how inaccurate their info is), 1,500 hardened fighters from Uzbekistan, and mercenaries working for various local war lords.

    30,000 Pakistani soldiers invaded Waziristan on Saturday and so far they claim to have killed 60 militants by Sunday evening, losing 6 soldiers in the process. There is currently a ban on journalists in the region to prevent the Taliban from garnering info about troop movements and locations.

    The Pakistani army has tried three times previously to seize control of Waziristan since 2004, an area of approx. 3,300 square km, which has been under Taliban control for about 5 years now and serving as a base of operations for attacks across the Afghanistan border. Previous attempts to invade Waziristan called upon approx. 7,000 Pakistani soldiers, which proved to be an inadequate number.

    American, Canadian and allied troops are not allowed to cross the border in pursuit of Taliban fighters, and the United States and other countries have been pressuring Pakistan to remove the threat from their side of the border.

    The Taliban has also been staging attacks on the Pakistani government, killing 175 Pakistanis this month alone.

    Taliban spokesman Azam Tariq said Sunday the militants had inflicted "heavy casualties" on troops and boasted "We will defend our land till our last man and our last drop of our blood. - This is a war bound to end in the defeat of the Pakistan army."

    The Taliban has been seeking some sort of negotiation process wherein they could eventually return to their homes in Afghanistan peacefully, but are largely opposed to the social and political changes that have taken place in their homeland since 2001. The United States and current Afghan government is unwilling to turn a blind eye to militants who pose a potential threat if they are allowed to reintegrate into Afghan society.

    According to fleeing residents waving white flags the Taliban are offering very little resistance and are simply migrating to safer regions. Some of the Taliban are leaving behind arms and ammunition, perhaps a sign they've given up on violence or simply had too much to carry.

    Last week approx. 24,000 people fled from South Waziristan to neighbouring districts. 150,000 civilians have left in recent months after learning the Pakistan army was planning a huge offensive. Its believed 350,000 civilians are still living in the region.

    Pakistan's military and security forces are currently on high alert, fearing counter attacks by fleeing militants. Militants are also expected to stick to guerrilla warfare, sniping at entrenched army positions and supply lines, creating road side bombs and settling in for the harsh winter.

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