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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
Boston

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.




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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.

October 18, 2009

Bomb kills Iranian military commanders

POLITICS/RELIGION - In south east Iran today a sectarian suicide bomber has killed 5 senior commanders in Iran's Revolutionary Guard and killing 26 others, including local tribal leaders from the Pishin district. Another 2 dozen people were injured by the blast. The South Eastern area of Iran is in the middle of a Sunni uprising.

Among the dead are Iran's General Noor Ali Shooshtari, deputy commander of the Revolutionary Guard.

The attacker had explosives wrapped around his waist. A Sunni militant group called Jundallah (Soldiers of God) claimed responsibility. Jundallah is accusing Iran's Shiite-dominated government of religious persecution and has carried out several attacks against the Revolutionary Guard and Shiite targets in the south east of Iran.

Its disputed whether Jundallah has any ties to Al Qaeda, which is not a Sunni group. The Iranian government has accused Jundallah of being in cohoots with Al Qaeda and the Taliban, but the two groups have opposed religious beliefs and would actually be more interested in fighting each other than working together. The Taliban are Islamic fundamentalists which believe in strict narrow-minded interpretations of the Quran, whereas Sunni Muslims profess to believe in "the words and actions of the Prophet Muhammad."

Shiite or Shia Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhammad's descendants are his rightful successors and that religious/political leaders should be chosen from his direct descendants.

The competing Muslim ideologies often come into conflict with each other, and while they do dislike other religions, there is a stronger tendency for them to hate each other more because of the blood-feuds and rivalry which has existed for centuries.

NOTES:

1. The recent attack by the Sunni militant group Jundallah highlights the fact that these groups are actually relatively common in Iran. Its just one of many small militant groups, but the danger is whether they can gain popularity and new recruits by gaining media attention.

2. The attack also points to criminal gangs and drug smuggling in the poorly policed border regions near Pakistan.

3. The attack is unrelated to the unrest and protests that followed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's fraudulent re-election in June. Off camera comments suggested Ahmadinejad thought Israel and the United States might be helping the Sunni militant group, but that is nothing new from the usually belligerent Ahmadinejad.

4. The 120,000 members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard controls Iran's missile program and has its own ground, naval and air units. This is in addition to Iran's regular armed forces. Thanks to mandatory service for men and voluntary service for women Iran has one of the world's largest standing armies.

5. According to CIA analysts Jundallah is most closed tied to Baluchi insurgents in Pakistan, and has little or no ties to Al Qaeda.

6. Iran's government has recently announced they are enriching uranium at a centrifuge factory in Qom which has 3,000 gas centrifuges (centrifuges spin so quickly it causes the lighter isotopes to spin to the top, allowing scientists to extract the best ones for making enriched uranium, a precursor to making a nuclear bomb or high grade nuclear fuel). Iran is currently offering to sell low-grade nuclear fuel abroad, suggesting they are now in the process of separating the high-grade from the low. The CIA believes Iran has other more secret installations for developing nuclear weapons. To make a nuclear weapon you need either plutonium or very highly enriched uranium. The CIA alleges Iran's "Project 110" is aimed at making a nuclear bomb small enough that it can be fitted to a missile warhead and that "Project 111" is aimed at reshaping a missile so it can accommodate the larger size of a warhead.

October 15, 2009

Iraqi Civil War kills 85,000+

POLITICS - According to new figures released by Iraq's government, over 85,000 civilians have been killed in sectarian violence between 2004 and 2008. The Civil War is between Sunni and Shiite Muslims fighting for political/religious dominance, often using suicidal gunmen, suicide bombers and explosive devices. (Thanks to the internet its really easy to find instructions for making homemade explosives. Its important to note these extremists aren't targeting Americans, they're attacking each other. Under Saddam Hussein's secular government he brutally squashed sectarian violence by threatening their religious leaders. Under American control old sectarian hatreds have come to the fore unchallenged.)

The exact numbers are:
85,694 civilians dead
147,195 civilians wounded

What remains unknown is the number of civilians killed during the start of the Iraq War in 2003. According to the Associated Press (which has been keeping track) 87,215 civilians have died since the start of the Iraq War (by February 2009), but this figure is considered to be inaccurate because some deaths are not recorded by the media.

There is also an untold number of missing people, especially in a country where kidnappings are common.

The death toll includes 1,279 children and 2,334 women. They also tracked 263 university professors, 21 judges, 95 lawyers and 269 journalists who were killed. 2006 was the deadliest year: 32,622 dead civilians. The 2nd deadliest year was 2007: 19,155 dead civilians.

According to the Pentagon in the United States 4,349 American troops have been killed so far. Its believed American troops will be kept in Iraq for decades (at least a token force) in an effort to maintain their diplomatic efforts and ensure the security of American diplomats.

October 13, 2009

Loonie close to Par

CANADA - The Canadian dollar (aka the Loonie) may reach parity with the US dollar by December, possibly sooner.

Lately the Canadian dollar has been soaring due to strong economic resilience compared to the United States. The Canadian dollar is currently worth 97.13 US cents.

The Canadian dollar was worth approx. 65 cents US in 2001 and has been experiencing a meteoric rise in value when oil prices started to rise and the US economy went sour during the middle of the decade.

A high dollar is expected to hurt Canadian exports to the USA, however growth in China and other Asian countries is expected to actually increase Canadian exports and our economy won't be effected.

See Also
The Canadian Dollar and Exports
The Canadian Petro Dollar

Toronto Maple Leafs Officially Suck

CANADA/ENTERTAINMENT - The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost five games in a row, and frankly its nothing new. They lost 48 games last season. Its hard to tell it to a Leafs fan, who are used to being on the losing end of the stick, that the Leafs are just a bunch of losers. They keep coming out to games anyway.

So far the Leafs are the biggest losers in the league this season.

And I am going to explain why:

#1. The Toronto Maple Leafs has a horrible habit of hiring "no talent thugs". They're really good in a hockey fight (yeah!), but they suck at actually scoring a goal.

#2. The Leafs star goalie, Vesa Toskala took part in 22 wins, 17 losses, 11 overtime losses and 1 shut out during the 2008-09 season. So that is (overall) 22 wins to 28 losses. For the star goalie, don't you think the Leafs could do better? They are after all the wealthiest hockey franchise in North America (valued at $448 million), they should be able to afford a goalie who can block more potential goals.

#3. Last season the Leafs won 34 times and lost 48 times (including overtime losses).

#4. Goals wise the Leafs have only made 13 goals so far in 5 games this season. Thats 2.66 goals per game. During the 2008-09 season they scored 250 goals in 82 games. Thats an average of only 3.08 goals per game, a number so low they didn't even make the playoffs. In fact they haven't made it to the playoffs since the 2003-04 season.

You'd think that for the most profitable team in the NHL they could afford to get some good players who could actually win games.

On the other hand if you check their fight history, the Toronto Maple Leafs had quite a few fights in the 2008-09 season.

October 11, 2009

Canada refuses Gitmo inmates

CANADA/POLITICS - The United States is looking to get rid of another 10 Guantanamo Bay (Cuba) inmates who have turned out to be innocent of terrorism. So far 10 former inmates have been returned to their homelands or resettled in new countries. Another 203 inmates are awaiting trial.

The problem is where to send them? Some of them would be tortured or killed if they returned to their homelands... and for a variety of reasons its not safe for them to stay in the United States, thus the USA is looking for countries willing to take in the former suspected terrorists and give them a new home as refugees.

In Canada's case we were asked to take in Algerian Djamel Ameziane, who wants to be resettled in Montreal, but has been refused entry. Stephen Harper's office says Canada won't take any inmates, sparking rumours that Harper and Obama aren't as friendly as photo ops depict.

Australia and several other countries are also refusing to take inmates. So far inmates have been resettled in Bermuda, Portugal, France, Ireland and Belgium.

Pakistan rescues 42 hostages

POLITICS - A standoff in Pakistan ended today with the death of 9 Taliban hostage-takers who staged an audacious assault on Pakistan's army headquarters (Pakistan's version of 'the Pentagon'), taking 45 hostages. Pakistan's military fought back, staging a rescue operation today which rescued 42 hostages and killed the 9 hostage-takers.

Unfortunately 3 of the hostages were killed during the rescue attempt. Six soldiers and two commandos were also killed in the fighting.

One of the hostage-takers was taken alive, the leader Aqeel aka "Dr. Usman", a nickname he gained by working as an army medic in Afghanistan.

The problem is Waziristan, a stronghold for approx. 10,000 well-armed Islamic militants in north-western Pakistan along the border with Afghanistan. Pakistan's government has tried three earlier offensives in Waziristan and all have ended in failure.

The Fat Tax is Coming

HEALTH/POLITICS - What was once a joke in political circles is now becoming a reality: The Fat Tax.

First, lets look at one example of a Fat Tax already on the books.

West Virginia and Arkansas already have a tax on soft drinks. New York City is about to do the same thing, which may indeed spread to the rest of the United States and Canada.

FACT: Coke and other soft drinks account for a staggering 15% of the average American adolescent's daily caloric intake.

But other taxes are being proposed, such as taxes on 'unnatural' processed foods, fast food or anything containing an unhealthy ratio of fat/sugar/calories.

Its all part of America's ever widening battle with obesity. The idea is simple... tax unhealthy fattening foods and promote healthy alternatives / exercise.

For example last month Barack Obama openly mused about having a farmers' market across the street from the White House. It didn't happen, but this week Michelle Obama was cutting the ribbons to open a new farmers' market down the street a block away.

Michelle Obama also started her own vegetable garden on the White House lawn, again promoting the idea that Americans can save money and eat healthier (and get exercise) by growing their own vegetables.

Since 1999 the health costs of obesity in America have doubled. Its now over $147 billion per year.

Another closely related price is the $116 billion spent on type 2 diabetes, which is caused by overeating/lack of exercise.

Hundreds of billions more is spent on cardiovascular diseases and obesity-related cancers. The more we consume, the more toxic materials enter our bodies and cause serious health problems.

According to the current rates in the rise of obesity 75% of Americans will be overweight or obese by 2015.

Creating a Fat Tax is only one part of the solution. The money raised from that tax needs to be used to help make more Farmers' Markets, promote healthy eating, boost support for children's sports and recreational activities, and boost public exercise programs / public gyms.

Between TV and the internet obesity is a growing problem that will eventually endanger America's ability to be competitive in the global marketplace. To say nothing of America's dropping birth rate, skyrocketing national debt, dependency on oil and all the other problems the United States is facing.

See Also
Anorexia Vs Obesity in North America
Obesity in Canada
American Obesity Rates
Obesity in China Skyrocketing
i'm fat and lovin' it - McDonalds and Obesity
Obese Shoppers are Discriminated in Stores
Lose Weight Canada, Get Lower Taxes
Healthy Eating Out

October 9, 2009

McDonalds opens inside the Louvre

ART HISTORY - Shocked art lovers are going to be munching on more junk food in future trips to the Louvre in Paris.

Why?

Because McDonald's is opening a franchise right in the middle of the place. Visitors will now be able to much on double cheeseburgers while staring slack-jawed at old masters.

Actually that is not completely true.

The Louvre has been a tourist trap for generations and has an underground mall beneath the museum itself, so it technically won't be IN the museum. The mall connects to Rue de Rivoli, the busiest street in all of France.

8.5 million paying visitors come to the Louvre every year, and presumably quite a few of them will leave the Louvre's underground mall / tourist area a bit fatter.

This is nothing new to France, home to 1,100 McDonalds franchises, the 2nd largest market outside of the United States.

Barack Obama wins Nobel Peace Prize

POLITICS - Wow. Barack Obama hasn't even been elected a full year and he's already won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Too soon?

Even Obama thinks so. He is the first to admit the Nobel Peace Prize comes as a shock since he's been president for less than a year. The reason is he is receiving the prize is "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."

That's it? For diplomacy? I guess Oslo has been so upset about the lack of diplomacy under the Bush Administration that suddenly having a diplomat in power again comes as a bit of a shock.

While we do concede Obama deserves the Nobel Peace Prize for finally getting free health care for Americans, he still has to clean up George W. Bush's mess in Iraq and Afghanistan, fix the United States economy (which Bush left in shambles) and combat Climate Change.

No doubt by the time he is done Obama will be deserving of 3 or 4 Nobel Peace Prizes.

Perhaps Oslo is just getting a head start?

Canada's Unemployment Rate Dips

CANADA - Good news for Canadians worried about the economy... Canada's unemployment rate fell 0.3% in September according to Statistics Canada. This is the first monthly decline in the jobless rate since the start of the American Recession and the Housing / Mortgage Industry meltdown. The unemployment rate in August was 8.7%, in September it was 8.4%.

Joblessness is the worst in Windsor Ontario, hurt badly by the automotive industry layoffs, where unemployment is currently 14.3%.

In Canada we can thank the opposition Liberals for forcing the Conservative government to create a stimulus package to boost the Canadian economy. Similar results are also expected in the United States with US job numbers come out soon, which will be due to Barack Obama's stimulus package helping Americans get back to work.

In related news...

AUTOMOTIVE - General Motors has signed a deal to sell its Hummer SUV brand to a Chinese company.

Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Co. is purchasing 80% of Hummer, including trademarks, trade names, intellectual property rights. The other 20% of Hummer has been sold to Suolang Duoji, a private investor.

General Motors is now partially owned by the USA and Canadian governments.

October 6, 2009

Samsung to build 600 MW of Renewables

CANADA/ENVIRONMENT - South Korean industrial giant Samsung Group has announced plans to build 600 megawatts of renewable wind and solar power projects in Ontario.

The Energy and Infrastructure Ministry is now asking the province's power authority to "hold in reserve" enough transmission capacity to support "renewable energy generating facilities whose proponents have signed a province-wide framework agreement with the province".

500 megawatts will be set aside and 100 MW will be developed on Class 3 agricultural lands in western Ontario

Samsung seeks to become a major developer of renewable-energy projects and a manufacturer of support machinery/products for maintenance.

If the deal goes through Samsung will be investing several billions of dollars in Ontario and create hundreds of jobs, most of them in manufacturing. All indications are the deal is a go.

The deal has sparked some controversy from competitors as to whether Samsung is receiving special treatment, but the truth is the province has to make assurances in an effort to make Samsung feel comfortable investing billions in Ontario.

When dealing with such large numbers its sometimes necessary to give some special treatment to make both parties feel their needs are being met.

Ontario has a goal of dramatically increasing their solar and wind capacity by 2011 and it will require some large reliable manufacturing companies to do it.

October 5, 2009

Hard Planet Discovered

TECHNOLOGY - A new planet has been discovered, and its the first planet outside of our solar system to be discovered which has a hard surface we can actually walk on. The planet's name is Corot-7B.

So far over 300 planets have been discovered, but most of them are gaseous giants like Jupiter and Uranus. The only planets in our solar system mankind could potentially walk on are: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, although it should be noted Mercury and Venus would be awfully toasty and not very safe to walk on.

Corot-7B is so close to its star the surface temperature is approx. 2000 Celsius so you'd be fried in a hurry, but at least Corot-7B actually has a surface unlike the 300+ other planets we've discovered which are mostly gaseous.

Many scientists believe finding life on a planet requires several things:

  1. Land to walk on.
  2. Ample supply of water, a building block of life.
  3. A surface temperature comparable to Earth, which requires the planet be a certain distance from the star it orbits.


It might be possible to find life on a planet that is mostly water, but it would still need a hard surface beneath that water to provide nutrients to sea life.

Corot-7B was first discovered earlier this year, but scientists needed to study it and measure its density to prove it's rocky like Earth. They've determined it is approx. 500 light-years away, making it one of the closest planets discovered outside of our solar system. A light-year is a measure of distance of nearly 10 trillion km.

It would take 500 years to travel to Corot-7B at the speed of light (Warp 1).

Or fifty years traveling at Warp 2, ten years traveling at Warp 3, five years traveling at Warp 4, half a year at Warp 8... all of which is moot because we can't even go lightspeed yet.

So even if we did find a planet that might contain life on it, it would be so far away as to make it nearly impossible to travel to it in a single lifetime.

Egypt bans face veils in schools

POLITICS/RELIGION - In Egypt today the country's top Islamic cleric announced plans to ban students wearing face veils at al-Azhar schools, considered to be the 'Ivy League' of Sunni Islam learning institutes.

Girls covering their their heads, wearing niqabs or wearing head-to-toe burqas will be barred (by security guards) from entering school grounds for the middle schools, high schools and even university dormitories in Cairo. Students failing to follow the new policy will face expulsion.

According to anonymous official the new rule is for security reasons, saying the schools are worried about ultraconservative Muslim extremists sneaking in with bomb making equipment under bulky clothing.

Most Egyptian women wear the headscarf, but only a few wear a niqab, which covers the whole face.

Most Islamic scholars say the face veil is not a requirement but is merely a custom that dates back to ancient tribal, nomadic societies living in the Arabian desert.

It should also be noted in Christianity, women are likewise expected to go out in public with their hair covered for the sake of modesty, but very few Christians still follow that rule.

Earlier this week Sheik of al-Azhar Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi told a middle school student in a class he was visiting to take off her niqab, telling her the niqab "has nothing to do with Islam and is only a custom".

He then announced he would soon issue an order banning girls from entering al-Azhar schools wearing the niqab. "Niqab has nothing to do with Islam...I know about religion better than you and your parents," the cleric was quoted as saying.

Many Muslim clerics in Egypt are concerned about the spread of the old custom, saying its a trend being pushed by radical right wingers and it needs to be confronted.

"We all agree that niqab is not a religious requirement. The Taliban forces women to wear the niqab... The phenomena is spreading" and it has to be confronted, says Abdel Moati Bayoumi, a scholar in an al-Azhar affiliated research centre.

A ban on Egyptian nurses wearing full veil was announced last year, but has not been enforced yet.

On the opposite side of the argument are scholars who say "preventing women from wearing whatever they want is a crime"

An Egyptian court has already ruled a total ban on the niqab to be unconstitutional.

Raccoons nearly maul Florida woman to death

UNITED STATES - A 74-year-old woman was nearly mauled to death in front of her Florida home today when she tried to shoo away a family of raccoons.

Gretchen Whitted, of Lakeland Florida is in stable condition thanks to a neighbour who called for help.

The 5 raccoons were not rabid, but the parents may have thought they were protecting their young when they attacked. The five animals bit and clawed her repeatedly and left her so injured she needed dozens of staples, sutures and hundreds of stitches to put her back together again. She's going to look like Frankenstein for quite a long time.

Raccoon attacks in cities are almost unheard of.

It should be noted that while city raccoons are typically small, raccoons in the countryside can grow to 200 lbs and are basically as deadly as gorillas when they choose to fight.

Also today a Pennsylvania woman was mauled to death by her 350 lb "pet" black bear and two men were attacked by a 600 lb Siberian tiger when they broke into the Calgary Zoo and scaled a fence meant to keep people from reaching in to touch the tiger. The men survived, but are both injured.

Today's Lesson is: Don't feed the animals, they will eat you.

USA only 13th Best Country in the World

POLITICS - The United States is only the 13th best country in the world to live in according to a new ranking by the UN Development Program which tracks each the life expectancy, literacy, school enrolment and per capita gross domestic product of 182 countries.
  1. Norway
  2. Australia
  3. Iceland
  4. Canada
  5. Ireland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Sweden
  8. France
  9. Switzerland
  10. Japan
  11. Luxembourg
  12. Finland
  13. United States

Other noteworthy countries:

26. South Korea
27. Israel
51. Cuba
53. Mexico
88. Iran
92. China
134. India
180. Sierra Leone
181. Afghanistan
182. Niger

Iraq, North Korea, Somalia and Zimbabwe weren't even included in the new list.

October 4, 2009

Stephen Harper sings at Rich Gala

CANADA/ENTERTAINMENT - The leader of the minority Conservative government, Stephen Harper, sang at a high society gala today in Ottawa.

Almost a year ago Prime Minister Stephen Harper dismissed his cutbacks to Canada's arts community:

"I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see . . . a bunch of people at a rich gala . . . all subsidized by the taxpayers - claiming their subsidies aren't high enough when they know those subsidies have gone up - I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people." - Stephen Harper.

Harper's choice of singing a Beatles tune may resonate with some voters, but the blatant publicity stunt is being seen by Canada's artists, musicians, dancers, film industry as just plain hypocrisy.

"Wait, so he's bashing rich galas and later singing at one? What a hypocrite!"


October 3, 2009

Nano Cars Unleashed

Automotives - The Tata Nano has now officially hit the market. The base model costs a mere 115,361 rupees or about $2,600 Canadian. The model is already so popular that Tata Motors is planning to open another plant and expand production to 350,000 / year.

The Nano car is expected to revolutionize India and clog up its roads, but on the upside drivers will be safer compared to the scooters most people in India buy.

"I never felt safe. My wife and I can wear helmets but not my son. When the Tatas announced their cheapest car three years ago, I decided to buy one," says one buyer.

And being a car owner is a thing of envy for many Indians. The pollution outside the car is well-night intolerable and its natural for people to want the safety, security and clean air the inside of a car offers. To say nothing of not getting rained on.

It was this idea of safety and progress that inspired Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Motors, to conceive of a $2,000 USD car, a car many Indians would be able to afford and purchase, and would provide both safety and fuel economy.

In other words it would be the People's Car that helps to revolutionize Indian travel. And its not just India either... The car only went on sale yesterday, and already there are orders world wide for 200,000... with many more orders expected in the coming weeks and months.

India's population of 1.2 billion means there is no shortage of people who want to buy a car, many of whom are currently riding scooters. Its very much a status symbol to be one of the few people who own a car.

For the more wealthy Indians it also makes an ideal 2nd or 3rd car to give to their teenage / college aged children, making it a darling amongst both the poor, middle class and the rich.

Mind you for $2,000 USD you are really just getting the basics: Mirrors, grip handles, folding rear seat, front wiper/washer, digital fuel gauge, head restraints for front seats, as well as seatbelts, front and rear. Its powered by a 33 horsepower engine that gets from 0 to 60 kmph in 8 seconds and gets 23.6 km per litre. The Tata Nano's next closest competitor offers all the same gadgets, but at double the price.

Conclusions? India better get ready for more gridlock because this car is going to be exceptionally popular in the overcrowded country.

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