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March 31, 2010

3D TV Sales Research + the Future

ENTERTAINMENT/TECHNOLOGY - I just got back from interviewing some staff at Best Buy and Future Shop (if I had to choose I'd recommend Best Buy) regarding the 3D HDTVs that are currently on sale, the first 3D TVs available in Canada.

Regardless of location the product and price is the same:

Samsung 1080p 240 Hz 55" 3D LED HDTV is $3699.99

3D Glasses are not included and cost $449.99 each... so for a family of four that will set you back $5499.95 + 13% tax ($6214.94).

Worse, the glasses are apparently electronic and thus a necessity, otherwise the screen will be pretty blurry.

So far however its not a lot of families buying 3D TVs... according to sales staff 90% of purchases are by men, usually between the ages of 25 and 35 and individual stores in Toronto are selling an average of one 3D TV / day. (Not bad when you consider what a new product it is and just how ridiculously expensive it is.)

Comparatively you could get a regular LG 1080p 240 Hz 55" LED HDTV for $2499.95 + tax. Or if you're not so obsessed with size you can get something smaller for a fraction of the price.

The silly thing is the only difference between the Samsung 3D HDTV and the regular LG HDTV is the fact the Samsung has plug slots for plugging in your electric 3D glasses.

When you go to the movie theatre the glasses provided there aren't electric. Technology wise there's no need for them to be electric. A smarter route would be to have normal 3D glasses, a normal high definition TV, and a 3D compatible Blue-Ray/DVD player.

Note: In theory when you leave the movie theatre you're supposed to give your 3D glasses back but many people conveniently forget. The new 3D glasses aren't those cheap paper ones from the 1950s, but are plastic and reasonably well-made.

The Samsung 3D TV may be nice, but its price gouging people who are technologically NAIVE and gullible. More 3D TVs are expected to hit the Canadian market in the coming months and we should see a dramatic difference in both price and the type of technology being used.

In related news...

Canadian 3D graphics whiz Chris Bond is currently in the process of patenting a software program which allows him to edit and convert 2D films into 3D films. Normally 3D films are show with special 3D cameras, but with the success of the film "Avatar" the makers of "Clash of the Titans" decided 9 weeks ago to hire a Canadian company (which Chris Bond works for) to convert the film into 3D. Its not a cheap process, the cost to the filmmakers was $5 million USD.

While Chris Bond does work for the company, the patent pending is registered in his name and if successfully patented will quickly make him one of the richest men in the computer graphics industry since 3D movies are being touted as "the next big thing". The fact the technology can be used to convert older films into 3D suggests we could see a whole slew of classic/popular films converted to 3D in the coming years... and no excuse for new blockbuster films from being made 3D too.

The next Harry Potter film, Indiana Jones V, etc will all be made 3D. Sounds good to me, but television companies like Samsung need to get their act together and design 3D TVs that don't need electric glasses.

And then there's the issue of 3D video games... a realm that is certain to suck more money out of men between the ages of 25 and 35. 3D TV is here to stay, but I don't recommend people rush out and buy the first available sets because the technology used may be changing quickly.

More Bombings in Moscow

POLITICS - Two more suicide bombers attacked Russia today, killing another 12 people in Dagestan close to Chechnya. One of the bombers was disguised as a police officer. One of the suicide bombers detonated explosives in a car when police tried to stop the car in the town of Kizlyar near Dagestan’s border with Chechnya.

Its believed it wasn't an active suicide bomb attempt, but possibly may have been a bungled attempt to smuggle explosives north towards Moscow. The explosion may have been set off when the driver realized the car was going to be searched.

As investigators and residents gathered around the scene of the blast, a second bomber wearing a police uniform approached and set off a 2nd set of explosives, killing the town’s police chief and others.

Chechen rebels are fighting for the right to form their own government. Chechen militant leaders have vowed to bring their struggle to the heart of Russia.

Russia is refusing to give Chechnya independence because they need the oil pipelines that pass through the region.

Ontario raises minimum wage to $10.25

CANADA - Ontario's new minimum wage ($10.25 per hour) went into effect today and various companies are complaining about the effect on their profit margins, but employees province wide are celebrating the 8% (75 cents) increase.

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association claims their profit margins will be hurt by $255 million annually, but not so says economists. Increasing the minimum wage means = more spending money = more people able to eat out = more profits for the restaurant industry.

Everyone from McDonalds employees to underpaid skilled labourers (ie. bicycle mechanics) will see the 75 cent increase as a huge boost to paying off their debts and enabling to pay their bills more easily / have more spending money to spend elsewhere.

The end result of minimum wage increases is that it boosts the economy over the long term, but big corporations that rely on minimum wage staffers usually complain because they're not able to see the big economic picture.

Ontario’s $23 billion restaurant industry employs 400,000 people and creates thousands of spin-off jobs.

If just 100,000 full-time staff receive a 75 cent increase... That is 100,000 people X 40 hours X $0.75 = $3,000,000 per week in economic benefits. Which is then multiplied because that money then gets spent on foods, goods and services and creates a more robust economy.

Restaurant and small business owners claim they might go bankrupt because of the increase in minimum wage but I've NEVER ever seen this happen. If a company falls by the wayside by such an increase then such a company was likely doomed to fail anyway because of their inability to adapt and stay competitive.

EXCEPTIONS: Bartenders (aka "Liquor Servers") are only paid $8.90 minimum wage. Students (under the age of 18 and working less than 28 hours/week between September & June) have a minimum wage of $9.60.

March 30, 2010

Canadians struggling with mortgages

CANADA - Bills piling up? Forced to cutback? Not getting enough hours at work? You're not alone. 20% of Canadians is struggling to pay for their home / rent, up 6% since 2006.

According to the Conference Board of Canada’s report “Building from the Ground Up” many Canadian families are forced to cut costs in ways that are harmful to their health (ie. buying less nutritious food, recreational activities) just so they can keep a roof over their head.

The report challenges the Conservative minority government to do a better job and to form partnerships with real-estate developers and civil organizations to increase affordable housing in Canada, pointing to both the health of Canadians and productivity levels.

75% of Canadians are living in homes they can afford. (81.5% in 2006.)

20% of Canadians are struggling. (14% in 2006.)

5% of Canadians live in subsidized housing. (4.5% in 2006.)

The Conference Board defined housing costs as unaffordable if they exceeded 30 per cent of pre-tax income.

If this problem continues to get worse Canada could face a mortgage collapse crisis similar to the one in the USA, resulting in a deep recession.

Developers tend to focus on building expensive homes, leaving a large segment of the population unable to afford new homes. The private sector needs to be calculating the needs of Canadians more efficiently so they can accurately predict what kinds of homes people want to buy and can afford.

March 29, 2010

Should Canada have Free Basic Dental Care?

CANADA/HEALTH - What did Pharoah Amenhotep III, Queen Elizabeth I of England and John Glascock of the rock band Jethro Tull all have in common?

They all died from bad teeth.

Yet Canada, with its incredible free health care system, does not yet have free dental care for Canadian citizens.

Thus unless you have a dental plan at the place you work, getting dental care is going to be pretty expensive and simply not possible for many impoverished Canadians.

Canada does have free basic dental care for children and seniors, but adults are vastly ignored by the system. (Native Canadians also get free basic dental care, as do wards of the state.)

There are some rare dentists who will give free dental care to people in need, including immigrants or the children of immigrants. If you're looking for a Toronto dentist you can try calling the Toronto Academy of Dentistry at 416-967-5649.

If you live somewhere else in Ontario you can call 416-922-3900 or use the Find-a-Dentist search at youroralhealth.ca/index.php/Find-A-Dentist.html

In theory you could also go on your local Craigslist or Kijiji and try to barter for dental care, offering anything from grass cutting to business phones, Toronto party rentals or even geothermal installation... it really depends what your business is.

However in my experience barter isn't really an effective way of trading services. A better solution is to set aside a budget for your dental needs and whenever you have enough schedule a visit to the dentist. In theory people are supposed to visit the dentist at least twice a year... so depending on your financial situation this could be pretty hard to do.

You can also get free or half price dental care from dentistry schools. ie. Toronto Dental Services

However if free basic dental care was available from the government this wouldn't be an issue. I recommend contacting your local Canadian MPs or the Health Minister and harassing them on the issue. If enough Canadians complain and make it an issue the government might agree in an effort to prove their serious about improving public health and garner votes.

See Also:
dentistryfromtheheart.org


BENEFITS OF FREE DENTAL CARE

1. Higher employment rates. (Would you want to hire someone with bad teeth?)

2. Lower suicide rates. (People with bad teeth frequently have trouble finding work, romance and suffer from depression.)

3. Overall better health. (The government would save money in the future by having a healthier populace.)

4. Higher marriage and birth rates. (People with good teeth are more likely to get married and have children.)

5. Less stress. (People who aren't worried about their teeth are more productive, less likely to be involved in road rage and any number of dubious activities.)

6. More money. (People and companies that no longer have to worry about dental care costs will have more money to spend on other things, thus boosting the economy.)

BAD TEETH CAN KILL YOU. DON'T IGNORE YOUR TEETH! HARASS YOUR MP OR THE HEALTH MINISTER AND PUSH FOR FREE BASIC DENTAL CARE.

Female bombers kills 38 in Moscow subway

POLITICS - At least 38 people are dead today and another 65+ injured when crowded subways in Moscow were the target of terrorist attacks by two Chechen women. Witnesses at the two stations targeted by the attack say people were trampling each other to get out the dust-choked subways following the explosions.

Chechnya has been fighting for independence from Russia for almost 20 years. The tiny country between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea has been a hotbed of unrest with routine terrorist attacks targeting Russian politicians and the general populace.

Russia is refusing to negotiate with Chechen rebels. The region does have a large majority of Muslims, but the war they are fighting is not for an Islamic state but simply the right to govern themselves (which makes them similar to the IRA in Ireland or the Separatists in Quebec).

Chechnya declared independence in 1991, but Russia is refusing to acknowledge it as legitimate. They aren't the only ones claiming ownership either. Emir Dokka Umarov of the Caucasus Emirate also claims the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria as a Vilayat (Province). Russia wants the region for itself because of key oil pipelines that pass through Chechnya.

Today's attack and the high death makes it the worst attack on Moscow since February 2004. The fact today's attack was planned and carried out by female bombers suggests these attacks will continue for as long as Russia maintains its presence in Chechnya.

Past Bombings in Moscow Subways

Aug. 31, 2004: Female suicide bomber blows herself up outside the Rizhskaya station, killing 10 people. A little-known Islamic group supporting Chechen rebels claims responsibility. The woman's identity was never confirmed.

Feb. 6, 2004: A suicide bomber from the North Caucasus sets off explosives during morning rush hour on a train traveling between the Avtozavodskaya and Paveletskaya stations, killing more than 40 people and wounding more than 100.

Feb. 5, 2001: Explosives placed under a bench on the platform of the Belorusskaya station go off, wounding 15 people.

Jan. 1, 1998: Homemade bomb explodes in vestibule of Tretyakovskaya station, wounding three people.

June 11, 1996: Homemade bomb explodes on train in tunnel between the Tulskaya and Nagatinskaya stations, killing four people.

Tracking Pedophile Priests

RELIGION - Swiss President Doris Leuthard is calling for an international registry to keep track of pedophile priests to prevent them from being shuffled from location to location whenever a scandal catches up to them. By keeping track of these priests she hopes governments can keep them away from contact with children.

For years now whenever a sex scandal involving pedophile priests has become too hot to bear the Catholic Church simply moves the priest to another location and moves a new priest in, possibly even trading one pedophile for another and warning both of them to be more disceet this time around.

This idea comes as revelations that Pope Benedict XVI (formerly known as Cardinal Ratzinger) was directly involved in the cover-up of Reverend Lawrence Murphy following his sexual abuse of over 200 boys at a school for deaf children in the United States. Pope Benedict’s solution to the problem was not to defrock Murphy, but to instead just transfer him to a different location.

What is mindboggling is that there is literally hundreds of Catholic priests that have been switched to different locations all in the United States during the last decade alone, all because of child sex scandals.

Thus this idea of making an intergovernmental registry does make prudent sense. Governments usually track pedophiles independently and then occasionally share their information with INTERPOL. The same system could be made more effective and then applied to priests caught molesting little boys so they aren’t just transferred from one country to another, only to have the sexual abuse repeat itself. By tracking them local authorities could be alerted to a pedophile priest in their neighbourhood and they can then keep tabs on them and routinely conduct interviews to see if more abuse is occurring.

The Vatican denies Pope Benedict was involved in any cover up.

March 28, 2010

General Motors rehires hundreds of workers

AUTOMOTIVE/CANADA - Recovery is fully on the way for General Motors which has begun rehiring staff it laid off work in 2008 and 2009 in the wake of the American recession. That is good news for 600 autoworkers in Oshawa Ontario where GM has added a third shift.

Demand for GM's Chevrolet Equinox is up, sparking the need for more workers building them. If market demands remains steady those jobs are expected to remain secure for the time being.

General Motors is recovering from a massive restructuring including billions of dollars in public buyout (GM is now partly owned by the US and Canadian governments).

Kevin Williams, GM Canada's new president, says the company expects to eventually recall all laid-off production employees at the Oshawa complex, which had experienced a major downsizing and job losses in the last few years, including the closure of an award-winning truck plant.

The plant will start producing the new Buick Regal early in 2011, calling for additional people to be rehired.

Man cooks ex-girlfriend's dog out of revenge

UNITED STATES - A Winsconsin man in a motorcycle gang was convicted today of breaking into his ex-girlfriend's home and cooking her 5-month old puppy in her oven. He has been sentenced to 6 years in prison for the combined charges of burglary and animal cruelty.



Terry Kleiman, 32, will also have 4 years of extended supervision after he is released in 2016 for what the judge called "despicable" actions. The jury deliberated for a mere hour before finding him guilty

Kleiman broke into the woman’s apartment on November 23rd, 2008, hoping to find his ex-girlfriend. Its believed he would have murdered her had she actually been home, but instead he took out his revenge by stuffing her puppy inside the oven and turning it up 350 degrees F. He then promptly left to go out biking with his motorcycle gang. When the ex-girlfriend arrived home later she found her apartment filled with smoke and the smoking body of her puppy in the oven.

Kleiman could have received as much as 14 years for both the burglary and animal abuse charge, the maximum allowable sentence is 12.5 years for burglary and 1.5 for animal cruelty.

Animal cruelty is often cited as one of the early warning signs of psychopathic behaviour.

How to Host a Geothermal Party

ENVIRONMENT - Sounds strange doesn't it? Think of it like a Tupper-Ware Party, but for something that will actually save your friends money.

Here's what you do... compile a list of websites, diagrams, photos, price estimates, companies all about geothermal technology and installation.

You could also research Climate Change and have material available on other topics, but that's not really the point here. Your primary goal is to help people SAVE MONEY on the heating and AC, the environmental benefits are just a bonus.

Then you set a date for when you want to host your party. Try to pick a day most people don't work, they're not on holiday or vacation and they should be able to make the effort to come to your party.

Next you start calling all your friends, co-workers and colleagues at home or at work on the business phones. Basically you want to invite everyone you know, including your local Toronto dentist (or wherever you happen to live). Don't bother inviting anyone who doesn't own a house or land. Apartment and condo-ites have no need for geothermal because they can't install it anyway.

Follow up with emails, Facebook and whatever other means you have available. Don't forget to remind people of the event a day or two before the actual event. (Some people need reminding otherwise they might forget and spend the day indoors watching reruns.)

Next if your party is outside remember to do some grass cutting before the big day , prune the hedges, clean up the flower beds, fix or replace lawn furniture, clean the pool, etc. If you're planning a BBQ feast remember to clean the BBQ itself. You want to make a good impression on your friends and co-workers so they won't be distracted by your dying rose bushes and the lawn which is so long they're getting an allergic reaction.

You could also hire someone to help plan the party for you. Toronto party rentals/events are pretty cheap/easy to organize, especially if you outsource some of the planning required. Most large cities have party planning companies with the experience and know-how to get the job done properly.

You can also get guest speakers, make a speech yourself, hire musicians and make a huge effort of it. If you invite representatives from local geothermal installation companies they can probably do a lot of the work for you.

March 26, 2010

Is the Asian Aesthetic the Future of Art?

By Ai Lung Nguyen - March 2010.

ART HISTORY - Epochs in art are rare and usually the result of major shifts in the art world. In the 21st century however we will see the rise of China as a growing mega power, dwarfing the United States and old Europe in both size, scale, concept and popularity...

Korea, Japan, Vietnam and other Asian countries will no doubt follow suit. Whatever China does they will try to emulate and perfect in their own way, and contextually so will the rest of the world.

Beijing is the new capitol of the art world. Some might argue New York is still the capitol but this is wholly untrue. More art, both old and new, now goes through Beijing and the growing list of Beijing art galleries is testimony to the fact that the financial world and the art world are both shifting towards China and as China's economy continues to saunter and outpace all other world economies, so too will artists start to gravitate towards the new capitol.

New York will always be the capitol of the North American art world, just like Paris is in Europe, but New York's galleries are old... they are institutions now. Trying to open a new art gallery in NYC is an unlikely prospect because the costs of renting/buying a space are too high and galleries simply aren't profitable during the early years, resulting in many failing all too quickly.

But in Beijing the art world is booming. Galleries start up and are almost instantly successful. The people of China are in an art buying frenzy, but not just art by Chinese artists, but also art from international artists and old masters alike.

Thanks to globalization and the internet this trend will only continue to grow, but more so is another trend... that of Asian artists becoming more dominant internationally and attracting more attention, and likewise artists globally beginning to emulate the styles of Asian artists. Its happening already and it doesn't take much effort to find contemporary artists who have been influenced by the Asian aesthetic.

I propose an experiment... go look for a book depicting contemporary art, or do a Google search for the topic if you feel that's more convenient. But before you do so make a list of what aspects you think of when you think of the Asian aesthetic. Define that first and then compare that against contemporary art pieces and see how many have a similar aesthetic to Chinese landscape paintings, Japanese manga, modern Chinese art and whatever other aesthetic qualities YOU think exemplify this shift.

After all I could easily name specific artists or pop culture references like Disney movies, Quentin Tarantino films, cartoons like Samurai Jack, Astro Boy and a plethora of other artistic / pop culture references, but it wouldn't really matter. Only you can decide for yourself.

Korean Ship Sinks, possibility of war

POLITICS - The South Korean naval ship below sank today near North Korean territorial waters, setting the South Korean military into a panic over a possible renewed war with North Korea.

The waters between North and South Korea have been TENSE since 1953 when the Korean War ended with an armistice agreement, but the war technically never ended. Since then North Korea has been quietly developing a nuclear arsenal and honing its long range missile technology. Currently North Korea's missiles are able to reach as far as Hawaii.

Since 1953 the two Korean nations have fought three skirmishes in the Yellow Sea waters. In 2002 the North Koreans sunk a 130-ton South Korean naval ship in a surprise attack, but no war came from the skirmish. In January 2010 North Korea fired approx. 30 artillery rounds across the DMZ; South Korea fired 100 warning shots in response.

Today the 1,200-ton "Cheonan" was on a routine patrolling mission near South Korea's Baeknyeong Island with 104 crew members on board when the ship began taking on water. 98 South Korean naval officers went down with the ship and so far only 58 of them have been rescued. Another 46 are still missing and are believed to be trapped inside the hull of the ship.

There is no evidence the ship was struck by an enemy torpedoe, but an investigation is still pending.

Yesterday North Korea threatened "unpredictable strikes" against the United States and South Korea, adding credence to the idea it may have been a North Korean submarine.

In an armed conflict the South Korean military is better equipped and has a sizable populace of former soldiers since military service for men is mandatory for a period of several years. However a nuclear first strike by North Korea could demolish Seoul and other key cities, forcing the USA and South Korea to respond with more nuclear weapons. North Korea also has a long time hatred of Japan and could likewise launch nuclear weapons at Tokyo and other major Japanese cities.

The North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's health isn't good and there is speculation in military circles that he is seeking to go out with a bang.

UPDATE (March 27th): No cause for the explosion at the rear of the ship has been determined yet. No additional officers have been rescued and are now presumed dead.

Happiness, Conversation & Memory Skills

By Charles Moffat - March 2010.

HEALTH - On my lap as I type this is the book "Auto Repair for Dummies"... Its not that people who read such books are dumb, its just that the "Blankety Blank Book for Dummies" are so comprehensive and user friendly that I highly recommend them for practical any topic.

ie. Killing Zombies for Dummies.

See? Does it really matter? A comprehensive guide to how to kill zombies and survive the zombie apocalypse. Sounds like a book we could all read.

The reason I am reading Auto Repair for Dummies is not because I need to fix something. Its more for general knowledge, for fun. I just like learning things and my eidetic memory is such that I remember every word I read. I am also learning American Sign Language and read books like the Police Officer's Manual and Pocket Reference Guide's for fun...

Now the reason I speak of these is because there is a new study out linking happiness to have lengthy indepth conversations, frequently drawing upon memory of pop culture facts, trivia, general knowledge, niche topics and interesting facts. The study published in the journal "Psychological Science" has discovered that happy people tend to engage in lengthy conversations rather than simply small talk.

Let me elaborate... I bumped into an elderly man today at the grocery store who quite cheerfully commented on the fruit juices I was trying to decide upon. The next thing we know we're chatting about ingredients in ice cream, red dye made from beetles, artificially flavouring, etc... the kind of conversation that wouldn't happen if:

A. Either of us knew nothing about the topic.

B. If either of was in a bad mood and unwilling to talk.

Eventually I shook his hand and walked away to finish my shopping. We could have stayed and made small talk (or discovered a more engaging topic to discuss), but we both had things to find and purchase.

The point the study leads to is that grumpy people generally don't make an effort to make conversation, especially with strangers. They just want to finish whatever they are doing and get out.

Likewise people only want to talk about things they are interested in and know something about. I can't really have a conversation about French literature because I know NOTHING about the topic and would probably find it boring. That doesn't mean it is boring, simply that I don't know enough about it to find it interesting.

Because I like cars however it makes perfect sense to brush up on my knowledge of cars, how they work, how to fix them and presumably this will be useful sometime in the future either for fixing a car or during conversations about cars or automotive repair.

However this study also points to another aspect... people who engage in conversation are also more likely to be happy. (Which came first, the chicken or the egg?) The concept here is the reverse... people who engage in conversation feel their moods brighten because they are talking about things they enjoy, this releases happy endorphins into the blood and results in us feeling amused.

So if you're unhappy pick a topic you like and spark up a conversation with someone with a similar interest. This boosts your level of happiness and results in a cyclical effect of more happiness = more conversations = even more happiness and so on.

The same goes with other things like fun activities, sports, sex, human companionship, etc. If you're happy with the relationships around you then you will be happier overall, which makes you more motivated, more industrious and effective at your life.

In a bad relationship at home? Its probably effecting your mood at work and vice versa.

The study determined the following based on monitoring 79 students with digital recorders for 4 days:

The happiest person in the study had twice as much engaging conversations and less than a third of the small talk compared to the unhappiest person. Similar results were found for the other 77 students who were comparatively happy, not happy or more neutral (and ranked accordingly over a period of 4 days).

According to the researchers humans like to find meaning in the world around them and engage in conversation discussing the meanings. More meaningful conversations in our lives leads to more happiness...

In reverse people who engage in small talk have little in common with the other person and consequently feel less happy.

The researchers are now working on a second study to determine if its possible to deliberately trigger happiness via engaging conversations.

According to the study the effect seems to be strongest for men, who enjoy meaningful conversations more than women and see a stronger increase in their happiness levels. I think the reason is because men find it more difficult to find common ground with other men... Men have a narrow list of conversations they can usually discuss... sports, cars, computers, breasts, guns, swords... you know so-called "manly things". Thus when men stumble upon a conversation with someone they can really enjoy it creates a stronger effect.

March 25, 2010

Pope ignored molestation of children

RELIGION/SEX - A growing scandal is growing around Pope Benedict because he ignored the molestation of children by priests under his authority.

The scandal began years ago when an American priest admitted he was molesting deaf children in his congregation. Its not the first time Catholic priests have been caught molesting boys (in fact its pretty much the status quo), but the difference this time is that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005) was directly involved and chose to ignore the abuse & refused to put a stop to it.

Similar scandals in Ireland, Switzerland, Italy, Netherlands, Africa, South America and the United States have left the Catholic Church in damage control mode, trying to whitewash their involvement in the scandal while simultaneously denying any form of cover up.

Governments and concerned parents are constantly laying charges and lawsuits. There is a grow list of resignations of priests and bishops. The latest is John Magee who resigned yesterday, following DECADES of sexual abuse in Irish Catholic schools and Catholic Church cover-ups. Two more Irish bishops are expected to resign in coming weeks and four others have already resigned in the last year.

Cardinal Brady admitted he swore two boys to secrecy in a cover up after they were abused by Brendan Smyth, the notorious Northern Irish pedophile priest who died in 1997. Brady denies threatening or bribing the boys. Cardinal Brady is currently refusing to resign.

In the last decade hundreds of American priests have been arrested for being pedophiles, a list so long that "Catholic Priest" has become synonymous with the word "pedophile". In the USA the church tried to cover up the scandals by shuffling priests from location to location and simply ignoring the problem.

Then Reverend Lawrence Murphy, a Catholic teacher at a school for deaf children in Wisconsin molested over 200 boys between 1950 and 1974 (he was moved to another diocese in 1974 during a cover up). The Murphy case was eventually forwarded to the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in 1996, which decides on canonical trials, which at the time was led by Cardinal Ratzinger. Father Murphy admitted to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that he had committed the sexual abuse, but Ratzinger chose to ignore the abuse. He didn't so much as defrock or discipline Murphy, but instead helped him to cover up the scandal by cancelling any trial on the matter and ordering the investigation dropped.

These facts have since come to light and the Catholic Church is now in damage control, denying that the current Pope had any involvement in the cover up and denying there was ever a cover up.

Father Murphy is now dead, but as head of the canonical trials what other cover ups was the current Pope involved in? He was prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith from 1981 to 2005, a period with many sex scandals within the clergy.

From a religious perspective how can we trust a religious leader who has been actively involved in cover ups, conspiracy and sexual abuse?

March 24, 2010

Indiana Jones V & Rampant Speculation

ENTERTAINMENT - You might be surprised by the number of archeologists who believe in aliens... or more precisely they believe there are too many coincidences between ancient cultures to suggest these cultures were as isolated as people think they were.

Case in point: Pyramids built in South America, Central America, Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and China, sometimes built with the exact same building methods. ie. Temples in Elephantine Island (Egypt) and Tiahuanacu (Bolivia) built using the same copper-alloy holding the stones together in an earthquake-proof pattern.

The point I am getting at here is that archeologists like to speculate and when they see technological similarities between two cultures separated by thousands of miles they are forced to speculate as to why those cultures develop the same technology at the same time. Technology which oddly enough we modern humans still can't reproduce.

This speculation leads many archeologists down the path of fiction, trying to imagine how events could have transpired since the lack of empirical evidence suggests these ancient cultures had technology beyond our reckoning. We can't explain what happened with facts because there isn't enough evidence to support one theory over the other. Or worse, there is evidence, but its circumstantial or too unbelievable that it can't be proven (ie. ancient airplanes found in Brazil or ancient batteries found in Egypt).

Interesting Note: Context wise religions like Scientology (which believes aliens have visited earth many times in the past) have developed quite an interest in this branch of speculative archeology.

This is where Indiana Jones (or any other fictional archeologist) comes into play. We can try to explain events with magic (which we know could easily be explained as technology people couldn't understand at the time). The premise is simple... if we can't explain it with facts and evidence we are forced to explain it with speculative fiction and "magic".

The last Indiana Jones film (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) was just one of many fictional works that tied together the concepts of alien interference with human history. And it was quickly derided by the Christian right-wing who had become so used to seeing Christianity and "godly magic" as part of the central plots in the 1st and 3rd films.

And now the news... Indiana Jones is coming back for a 5th film, starring Harrison Ford and there is rampant speculation on what the plot might entail and which characters might be returning.

"The story for the new Indiana Jones is in the process of taking form," says Harrison Ford who is tight lipped about what the plot will entail.

Harrison Ford, director Steven Spielberg and creator George Lucas have "agreed on what the fifth adventure will concern," adding "George is actively at work" researching the plot/script for the 5th film. Ford has already signed a contract agreeing to make a 5th and a 6th Indiana Jones film insisting: "If the script is good, I'll be very happy to put the costume on again."

Producer Frank Marshall confirmed this in 2009 on his Twitter page with the post: "The story for Indy5 is progressing. It is still in the research phase."

Shia LaBeouf, who played Indiana's Jones' son Mutt (an inside joke since "Indiana" was the dog's name, and also referencing the fact he's a bastard child) in the 4th film has already admitted he will be returning for the 5th film, but won't say whether he will play a major role or just a single scene. Karen Allen, who plays Marion Ravenwood-Jones, is likewise expected to play a role.

Seeing how "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" broke box office records and has already earned more money than all three previous films combined the 5th and 6th installations will no doubt be a financial success.

And just to confirm this... Harrison Ford will be the star in all six films. There is no plans to replace him with Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) as the main character. It wouldn't be an "Indiana Jones" film if it was starring someone other than Harrison Ford.

According to George Lucas: "Indiana Jones is Indiana Jones. Harrison Ford IS Indiana Jones. If it was Mutt Williams it would be 'Mutt Williams and the Search for Elvis' or something."

Shia LaBeouf also simply doesn't have the star drawing power Harrison Ford has and has had several run ins with law enforcement, bad press which the studio wants to distance itself from.

There is also a question of the villain. Some people (not us) have complained they didn't like the Russians in the 4th film, perhaps because they're so used to hating the Nazis from the 1st and 3rd films its hard to adjust to anything but Nazis, however since the time frame has changed its pretty much a necessity.

North Korea perhaps? Greedy capitalists in the USA? China? Russia again? Obviously Lucas, Spielberg and Ford will have to agree on who to pit Indiana Jones against.

One possible villain is the return of Lao Che, a villain from the 2nd film who didn't die. That or his son, which also didn't die. Indiana Jones failed in the 2nd film to get the Eye of the Peacock diamond from Lao Che, a legendary diamond which had once belonged to Alexander the Great, a diamond Jones has been looking for ever since the end of WWI.

In such a scenario it might be only a bit role for Lao Che (or his son) since the diamond isn't really that important and is just a loose end from an older story.

"The process works like this... We come to some basic agreement and then George goes away for a long time and works on it," says Harrison Ford. "Then Steven and I get it in some form, some embryonic form. Then if we like it we start working with George on it and at some point down the line it's ready and we do it."

There is even speculation Sean Connery might play a role in a prelude scene (Indiana Jones' father is supposed to have died by the 4th film, but this doesn't mean they can't backtrack a bit and show a flashback moment). Connery turned down a role in the 4th film because he was so busy enjoying retirement / promoting the Scottish National Party.

There is even a bit of speculation that Sean Patrick Flanery (who played Indiana Jones in the TV series) might play a prelude or flashback scene as a younger Indiana Jones, just like River Phoenix did in the 3rd film (prior to the actor's death).

There is also Short Round (Jonathan Ke Quan is now an actor / stunt coordinator / tae kwon do expert), Sallah (John Rhys-Davies) and Harold Oxley (John Hurt) who could make appearances.

However there is one problem... I call it the Anti George Lucas Backlash Effect. Essentially what it is is obsessed fans who are so stuck in their ways they refuse to acknowledge the fact that characters change over time. In the case of Indiana Jones they get older (because the actor has gotten older) and unlike James Bond who has had many different actors portraying him Harrison Ford is expected to continue playing him for another 2 films which means we will get to see him age more so...

Interesting Note: In the Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series the old Indiana Jones is portrayed as having an eyepatch, suggesting there is a story behind that. Will Indy lose an eye in the 5th or 6th films? Maybe. Or maybe that doesn't happen until he's much older and is the result of health problems. Lets suppose Indiana Jones' does lose an eye in one of the films, will the overtly obsessed stubborn fans complain about it? Damn right they will.

But I want to point out something more interesting. These obsessed fans are the same ones who watch the film in the theatre 3-4 times. They're utter hypocrites because while they might diss George Lucas and what he's changed about their beloved character they still love the character so much it doesn't matter as long as the film is spectacularly good.

So regardless of alien pyramids, communists or nazis under the bed (or Lao Che?), whether its a Christian plot or not, who is in the film and who is not there is always going to be hypocrites who try to backlash against the film but are secretly the film's biggest fans.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull grows on you and I have no doubt in the combined abilities of Lucas, Spielberg and Ford to weed out the bad ideas and replace it with the kind of quality pulp fiction we've come to expect from Indiana Jones. True, it stretches the limits sometimes with "magic" and technology, but that is the whole point.

March 18, 2010

Harper's ability to Prorogue hamstrung, or is it?

CANADA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper will no longer be able to prorogue parliament unless he first gets approval from the majority of MPs, thats the new motion that was made today by the NDP and passed as all three opposition parties voted in favour and the minority Conservative government voted against.

Harper has been previously criticized for using his ability to prorogue parliament in an effort to curtail democracy and stop an investigation into war crimes committed by his MPs in the Afghanistan torture scandal.

Unfortunately the motion is not binding and the Prime Minister can simply ignore the procedural issue. Ultimately its the governor general who has the power to prorogue parliament, upon request of the PM.

However we should point out if Stephen Harper asks the governor general to prorogue parliament a third time to avoid a political scandal it will harm his chances of being re-elected. Canadian voters can only take so many scandals and corruption.

Protests against Stephen Harper's proroguing of parliament boiled over in February in Saskatchewan when protestors nearly stormed a hotel where the prime minister was staying. Police officers barricaded the entrance and saved the PM from being pelted with rotten eggs and whatever else they hoped to throw at him (shoes maybe?).

"If you collect a six-figure salary and get to fly around the country on taxpayers' dime, you should be able to handle a little direct criticism," says Christopher White, founder of the Facebook group 'Canadians Against Proroguing Parliament', which attracted national attention and collected more than 223,000 members.

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Sarah Thomson proposes Massive Subway Expansion

CANADA - Toronto mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson is proposing a massive subway expansion, something Toronto dearly needs despite its shortage of funds to pay for the expansion.

The solution is rather daring: A $5 charge for Torontonians using the DVP and the Gardiner, Toronto's busiest highways, but only during rush hours times Monday to Friday.

The highway surcharge would eventually be phased out (somehow doubtful when the city council realizes what a huge moneymaker it would be), but in the process it would pay for 58 km of track across the city, extending the subway to the airport, east through Scarborough and north to York University and Steeles. The total cost would be $11 billion, based on estimates that each kilometre of track costs about $200 million to build and maintain. The estimate includes renovations to existing subway stations.

Naysayers are saying this is political suicide, but polls show Torontonians (drivers included) support subway expansion because it will reduce traffic, road rage, congestion, traffic jams. Furthermore the elderly (statistically the age group which votes the most) uses public transit regularly. Its also strongly endorsed by young voters, green voters, subway enthusiasts and anyone who's ever been waited hours in a traffic jam on the DVP or the Gardiner.

The Mayoral Candidates

Giorgio Mammoliti - A Conservative who wants to build a casino and red light district, turning Toronto into a Canadian version of Las Vegas and Bangkok.

Joe Pantalone - A lefty who has name recognition. He's currently trying to distance himself from current Mayor David Miller.

Rocco Rossi - A Centrist with no clear policy and with no past history in office. He's been pretty quiet so far.

George Smitherman - A Liberal who is running more on his personality than his policies.

Sarah Thomson - A fiscal conservative but socially liberal. She's caught our attention with her bold plan for a bigger, better TTC. She wants a hiring/spending freeze until Toronto can get its budget fixed and more public/private investment in the TTC.

March 9, 2010

Virus Kills Cancer Cells

HEALTH - Canadian researchers have discovered a virus which causes a mild runny nose, but also kills cancer cells. Treatments using the virus are expected to start in 2012.

The virus was first learned of 10 years ago when it was learned it killed cancer cells in rats. Human trials over the past decade have determined the virus helps decrease the size of cancerous tumours. The researchers speculate long term use can help to wipe out the cancer.

It is not however a cure. Patients can still relapse if they have an unhealthy lifestyle (ie. smoking or over easting) or a genetic disorder. It is however being hailed a huge breakthrough in treatment.

The results of the study was published in today's issue of Cancer Research. Dr. Don Morris, an oncologist in Calgary Canada and his colleagues used a reovirus (a respiratory virus) to kill prostate cancer cells.

Peple exposed to the virus suffer a runny nose, a mild respiratory infection or mild diarrhea at most. The virus attacks and eats cancer cells, whereas normal cells are immune. The virus then replicates itself, going on to kill more cancer cells.

"Viruses are very specific in which cells they target," says Matt Coffey of Oncolytics Biotech Inc. in Calgary, which owns the patent on the reovirus. "Basically, the patients feel as though they have a minor cold or malaise while they are being efficaciously treated for cancer."

The researchers stressed they don't see reovirus as a cure for cancer, since it was rare that tumours completely vanished. The injections worked best when given with chemotherapy. Longer term tests are still pending.

The good news is that the virus attacks over 80% of different cancer cells. Phase 3 clinical trials are underway in the United States and Europe.

The research was funded by the Alberta Cancer Foundation, Oncolytics Biotech and the Prostate Cancer Research Foundation of Canada.

March 5, 2010

Conservative government guilty of Torture War Crimes

CANADA - A huge expose released today by CBC news revealed the Canadian government knowingly committed war crimes in handing over detainees to be tortured by Afghan officials hoping to gain intelligence.

Torture has been a war crime since the 1949 Geneva Conventions.

The Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay, famous for his many repeated visits to Afghanistan to speak with Afghan officials, was in charge of the scandal and what is essentially "outsourcing torture".

If convicted of this war crime Peter MacKay and any other members of Conservative Party of Canada who were involved will be the first Canadian politicians ever found guilty of a war crime.

The Conservative Party is currently fighting to prevent official documents from being released to the public, the same documents Prime Minister Stephen Harper prorogued parliament in an effort to prevent their release and in hopes that the scandal might go away. This suggests that the corruption goes all the way to the Prime Minister's office.

Opposition parties are demanding a public inquiry into the war crimes and who was involved. The Conservative Party is currently in damage control mode and trying to cover up the full extent of government involvement. Political pundits are already guessing as to when an election might be called.

March 4, 2010

No Flu this Winter

HEALTH - There is no seasonal flu virus in North America so far in 2010. Normally Canada sees about 4,500 deaths caused by seasonal flu annually (1,500 in Ontario alone). So far in 2010 there has been none and the flu season is almost over.

There is a lot of speculation for the cause of this in the health community.

1. H1N1 wiped out the other influenza virus. According to scientists competing viruses often do that with the more virulent virus usually winning, although they still don't know why that happens.

2. Clean freaks disinfected everything in North America combined with frequent handwashing / sneezing into sleeves. (Yuck!) Hardly likely considering the number of people who just plain ignored the H1N1 threat.

3. A low year for the virus. Sometimes (once a decade or so) there is just a really quiet year for influenza. The last time that happened was Winter 2000-01.

4. Mild winter? Yes its been mild, but statistical evidence shows the flu is not effected by the weather otherwise we'd see it more widespread the closer to the poles you get.

Influenza viruses have been under the microscope for decades but there is still much we don't know about them.

There is only one seasonal flu currently circulating (in China) and that is it. The rest of the planet is surprisingly healthy.

It should be noted influenza is caused by contact with animals, primarily pigs and chickens. Pig/chicken farmers forget to wash their hands and become carriers of the virus, giving it to other people and before you know it the influenza virus spreads like wildfire. In theory if countries imposed more rules around the farming of chickens and swine, resulting in farmers wearing gloves (and possibly face masks), washing more frequently and behaving more like scientists in a biohazardous laboratory we could prevent the flu from spreading to humans so often.

Evolution and Dinosaur Extinction

TECHNOLOGY - There are some bizarre myths (we might even call them scientific urban legends) about dinosaurs. The biggest of these is the idea that all the dinosaurs died off at the same time.

This is actually not true however. The dinosaurs died off in various stages, in a similar way cro-magnon man died off in different stages, replaced by a more superior biped.

The Cretaceous period included such beasties as the infamous T-Rex, pterosaurs and avian dinosaurs (early birds). The Cretaceous period didn't suddenly end either, it wound down slowly with creatures (both land and marine life) dying off slowly because of some kind of ecological crisis.

The chart below shows the extinction rates over millions of years of marine life (which dwarfs life on land and it should be noted most dinosaurs were either marine reptiles or amphibian). You will note the biggest stages of extinction were at the ends of the Cambrian, Ordovician, Permian, Triassic and Cretaceous periods.

Cambrian
Ordovician
Silurian
Devonian
Carboniferous
Permian
Triassic
Jurassic
Cretaceous
Paleogene
Neogene


What we see in the chart is that extinctions tend to be periodic, with the rate of extinctions rising until they reach a pinnacle and then there is a sudden drop off (mass extinction). These cycles can easily be explained by evolutionary and ecological shifts.

1. Predators: If one group of predators becomes too efficient at killing off creatures the other species must either adapt or be eaten. A more efficient killing machine need not be big either, it could be smaller but hunt in packs, or it could be microscopic like an influenza virus. It doesn't have to be a single type of predator either, but the evolutionary change of many types of predators. When other predators gain dominance the ones that can't keep up die off pretty quickly. (This can be seen in modern demonstrations such as the re-introduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, causing foxes to vacate the area which allowed more food for bears and other wildlife. The wolves ultimately restored ecological balance to the park.)

2. Ecological Change: The Earth goes through periodic hot and cold cycles. This may / may not be brought on by comets, meteors, ice ages, increased/decreased solar radiation, earthquakes, flooding, climate change or any number of reasons which might destroy the local habitat.

A recent review by 41 scientists reasserted the idea that a giant asteroid may have killed off the dinosaurs at the end of Cretaceous period... but it should be noted that if you look at the chart they were already dying off anyway.

During such mass extinctions only the creatures with some kind of evolutionary advantage managed to stay alive. Examples:

Turtles : Hard shell for defense.

Komodo Dragon : Poisonous to the touch.

Alligators / Crocodiles : Semi-Aquatic, able to sneak up on prey easily.

Birds / Small Reptiles : Their size and ability to hide / fly gave them a distinct advantage.

So were some of the dinosaurs killed off by some kind of ecological event or asteroid? Probably. But evolution killed off most of them and it did it gradually over a period of 200 million years.

March 1, 2010

Latulippe bashed Muslim immigrants

CANADA - The new man in charge of a Civil Rights and Democracy organization in Montreal has been appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper: His name is Gerard Latulippe, the same man who in 2007 bashed Muslim immigrants publicly.

Latulippe made the comments at a public commission struck by the Quebec government in 2007 where he said the concentration of immigrants in Montreal, as well as the “geographic concentration of more and more immigrants from Muslim countries” undermined “the proper functioning of Quebec society" and that these Muslims posed an “unnecessary risk of fostering domestic terrorism.”

And this is the man who is supposed to promote human rights and democracy around the world and in Canada?

Gerard Latulippe is also a former advisor to Stockwell Day (the current Minister of Defense and former Christian preacher) and once ran as a candidate for the Canadian Alliance/Reform Party.

Muslim rights groups are pleading the government pick someone more suitable.

Opposition parties have also condemned the nomination, saying the government needs someone less partisan and ideological.
"Its a bit like putting George W. Bush in charge of a peace organization. The man is totally unsuitable for the job."
Human rights groups are urging Canadians to contact Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon (Cannon.L@parl.gc.ca) and urge him to change his mind.

Canadian economy Soaring

CANADA - Canada's real GDP grew over 5% during the 4th quarter of 2009 and is expected to keep growing in 2010, beating a forecast of 3.3% growth. It was the largest quarterly growth in almost ten years.

So much so that the Bank of Canada is already planning to raise interest rates by July. For now the overnight lending rate remains at a historic low of 0.25%.

In theory this means the recession in Canada is over, but economists warn that we should wait to see if the USA also recovers from its recession. The United States GDP grew 5.9% in the 4th quarter, but still suffers from a huge trade deficit with China and high unemployment.

However it should be noted the 7% decline in the first quarter of 2009 has yet to be recouped. Recovery may be under way, but it may be awhile before Canada is fully recovered and sees a much lower unemployment rate.

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