Posts Tagged ‘media’

The Ethics of Food vs. Fuel: Just Politics as Usual?

May 30, 2008

A couple days ago, the federal government decided to require all gasoline to contain 5% ethanol.  This more or less parallels existing policies in the U.S. and in European countries.  But is following in their footsteps the right, or even best, thing to do?  Is it the ‘Made in Canada’ environmental policy Stephen Harper promised, for that matter?

The announcement went largely unnoticed because the media and opposition were more interested in reporting and following up on the fallout of the Bernier affair (double entendre entendree).  It was given only a passing mention on the news with no examination of the logistics or implications.  This is despite the fact that the same media had been reporting on the growing global food crisis for the previous few weeks.  Those reports revealed that one of the causes of the crisis was the shift of much agricultural production away from food to fuel.  Food, particularly corn, that was being produced for food is now being used to produce ethanol.  This has resulted not only in a huge spike in food commodity prices, but also in food being taken off the ground in front of the hungriest people in the world (let’s face it – they don’t have a table to take it off of).

To add insult to injury, the economics and environmental benefits of ethanol production for fuel don’t even make sense.  It actually requires more than a barrel of oil to produce a barrel of ethanol.  So, instead of burning 5% more gasoline in your car and adding that much more carbon emissions to the atmosphere, an ethanol refinery will spew out even more emissions to produce the cleaner burning replacement fuel.

So, who benefits from this policy?  Well, farmers do, to begin with.  They benefit from high commodity prices that make farming more profitable than usual.  These are good times for Canadian farmers, relatively speaking.  Our unsubsidized farmers are not only able to make a decent living, they are also investing in new productivity enhancing equipment and machinery that will allow them to continue to survive and compete on an unlevel playing field against subsidized farmers elsewhere.

The government also benefits.  The optics of doing something tangible about global warming boosts their credentials in the eyes of voters.  All those happy, prospering farmers are voters, too.  Let’s not forget that this is a minority government that could, in theory, fall at any time.  In practice, of course, that hasn’t happened and isn’t likely to any time soon.  Whether you voted for Stephen Harper’s Conservatives last time or not, you have to give him credit for keeping a minority government alive for three years when, statistically, they last only eighteen months.  In fact, this one will probably see out a full term, unless opposition leader Stephen Dion does something out of character.  The accomplishment is even more impressive when you recall how self-defeating and fractious the newly re-merged Conservative party was a few years ago.  When the day comes that he is no longer Prime Minister, a struggling company might do worse than to hire Harper as their CEO.

Regardless of when the next election comes, a lot of farmers and ‘armchair environmentalists’ will probably remember this decision.  That increases the government’s chances of winning a majority.  The decision to require ethanol content in gasoline may prove to be not so much about a sustainable environment, as a sustainable government.

Advertisements

Life by Proxy

May 4, 2008

A couple nights ago, there was a story on the news about the little McCann girl who went missing in Portugal.  This one took a different angle.  It looked at it from the point of view of a Canadian clergyman who was assigned to the Anglican church in the Portugese town where it happened, a few days after the tragic event.

In the course of the story, the minister’s wife spoke of how she and the entire congregation prayed constantly for the little girl’s safe return.  They’re still waiting and praying.  She then asked, “How can so many people pray for the same thing and it not happen?”  If ever a question answered itself…  It was screaming out.  I wanted to scream it out.  “Because there’s no one on the receiving end of the prayers, of course!”

How she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see it is beyond me.  Why millions of others can’t see that prayers aren’t answered is beyond me.  Everyone in a competition can pray for victory, but only one will win.  Millions have prayed for loved ones to come home from wars who didn’t.  Other people will survive complicated surgeries or be found by the police, but these are the results of human actions, not  prayers.  I guess people really are that desperate.

At best, praying for someone is extending good wishes and hopes by proxy, albeit an imaginary one.  But, why channel good wishes through a third party?  Why not give them directly?  It expresses the sentiment you feel and, ultimately, is more sincere.

Prayer could actually be seen as a selfish act.  It makes the person praying feel better.  It does nothing for the target of the prayers.  There was even a study done in Europe recently that monitored results for people who prayed and those who didn’t.  It made no difference.

I was going to say, “At worst, prayer is a selfish act”.  Then I remembered another news story that demonstrates it can be worse.  If any of you are thinking praying can’t do any harm, think again.  Remember the story of the girl who died because her parents chose to pray for her rather than take her to a doctor?

If you want to help someone or extend your good wishes, do it in the real world.  Send them a card or letter.  Phone them.  Tell them face to face.  Take them to the hospital or feed them.  Contribute to a fund or charity (one that does practical things rather than convert people and pray for them).  You might just give them a little comfort, rather than yourself.  You might even save their life.  Praying won’t.

Showdown: Law of the Land vs. God’s Law

April 24, 2008

The arrest of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs in the U.S. for forcing an underage girl to marry an older man, and recent removal of young women and children from the sect’s temple compound in the belief there may be more underage girls who have been married off, have again raised the question of when the British Columbia and federal governments will finally act against a similar sect in Bountiful, BC, led by Winston Blackmore.  It’s no secret that the Bountiful sect practices polygamy and that polygamy is illegal in Canada.  Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham has written extensively about the goings on in Bountiful.  It’s featured on local TV news in Vancouver from time to time and, occasionally, there’s a story about it on national news broadcasts.

So, why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?  They’re afraid.  They’re afraid any prosecution will fail because it will violate the Charter of Rights.  They may, by extension, be afraid of being sued for violating someone’s rights.  You see, whoever drafted the Charter included some stuff about freedom of religion, as opposed to freedom of views on the subject of religion, that could be construed as meaning there is no higher principle than one’s religious values.  The result is that BC’s Solicitor General, Wally Oppal, has been waiting for months – although it seems years – for advice as to whether or not prosecution would be constitutional.  I hope he gets it soon and, if it wouldn’t be, that changes will be made to the Charter.

The core conflict was summed up by one of the American sect members in a televised interview with the CBC a couple nights ago.  He said it doesn’t matter if the girls are underage.  He pointed out that the Book of Mormon instructs him to take many young women.  He then made the definitive statement, “When it comes to an issue of whether I choose to obey the law of god or the law of the land, I choose to obey the law of god.”  That is the situation in a nutshell.  Do religious rights supercede secular laws or are they subject to secular laws?  Do secular laws supercede religious rights or are there different laws for different people?

If we allow different laws for different people, how will we decide who gets special treatment and who doesn’t?  There have already been some special, and controversial, exemptions on religious grounds upheld by the courts.  Sikhs in the RCMP can wear turbans instead of hats, for instance.  On the other hand, a request some years ago by a muslim group to allow the use of Shar’ia law within their own community was denied.  That would seem to represent a precedent.  The underlying principle was that you can’t have a group of people enforcing a different set of laws.  There has to be one set of laws for all the people.  I like underlying principles.  They are something you can build on.  They are a solid foundation.

There is nothing stopping the BC government from laying charges under the current laws of the land.  Polygamy is illegal.  If the members of this particular religion want to challenge the charges under the Charter of Rights, let them.  Let it be decided by the courts.  One of two things will happen.  Either the principle that secular laws supercede religious rights will be firmly established, or the opposite will be.  If it’s the latter, I’m sure enough people will be sufficiently reviled by their Charter of Rights upholding polygamy and the partnering of young girls with old men that some changes to the Charter may actually be possible.  The changes would have to make it clear secular laws come before religious codes, that there are principles that outrank religious belief.  Those changes could even accommodate atheists and agnostics, recognizing their equal rights.  If things go really well, maybe we could even lose those opening words recognizing that there is a god.  They only serve to snub non-believers, after all.

What is the BC government afraid of?  Is it the legal costs?  Are they really going to allow some religious nuts to flout the law to save a few million dollars in legal fees?  Is it the constitutional issues?  Are politicians really so afraid of constitutional talks that they’d allow archaic traditions that exploit young girls to go on in a country that prides itself on, and, in many ways takes its identity from, being progressive?

Once again, the issue appears to be leadership.  No doubt the BC and federal governments will adopt a wait and see attitude.  Wait for the Americans to do something and see what happens.  I say go after them.  If they challenge under the Charter, fight them.  Dare to establish a precedent and a principle.  If the Charter is flawed, change it.  Bring it on.

Blame Canada!

April 20, 2008

Normally, I try not to get too caught up in American politics.  I don’t want to follow every development in Washington.  There are some things you can’t ignore, of course, but I don’t need to know everything that goes on.  I don’t watch American news, particularly the cable news channels.  Even so, we get plenty of American political coverage on Canadian TV – more than is necessary, in my opinion.  Two of the funniest shows on television also happen to poke fun at American politics, providing me with all the knowledge I need.

The current presidential primary campaigns in the U.S. are a perfect example of too much foreign coverage.  Canadian networks have followed every step of the year long run up to the next election.  I try not to pay attention to all of it.  A periodic update on the races, results of major primaries, and reports of major gaffes would probably suffice.  One story has caught my attention, though.

NAFTA has become an issue in the campaign, with both Democratic candidates claiming that it is costing Americans.  Hillary Clinton even mentioned Canada by name, saying she will renegotiate the trade pact because American companies can’t get their products into Canada due to invisible barriers.

She’s right.  I just can’t find an American product anywhere in Canada.  I hunt high and low for American brands, but they’re just not there.  They’ve been squeezed out by Canadian brands like…. uh…. you know…  Well, I can’t think of them at the moment, but they’re pretty ubiquitous and have so much clout that they can actually get the government to prevent American brands from entering Canada.

Really?  You think we put bogus barriers in place?  How about American refusal to accept NAFTA panel rulings on softwood lumber and imposing tariffs?  They use the Canadian stumpage fee system as an excuse but stumpage fees apply to trees cut down, or raw logs.  Yet, there seems to be no limit to the number of raw logs they’ll import from Canada for their mills to process.  They apply the tariff to processed wood, not logs.  Where do stumpage fees figure in that?  Looks like an excuse to protect American mills and reduce the Canadian forestry industry to a primary one.

American farmers are directly subsidized.  Canadian farmers aren’t.

There was also the U.S. cattle and meat packing industries exploiting the Canadian industry during the BSE crisis.  American producers picked up young Canadian cattle for a song from desperate ranchers while the U.S. border remained closed to older Canadian animals for longer than was necessary.  This was despite the fact that there had been cases of victims of mad cow disease in the U.S. (in New Jersey, for example) that were not related to Canadian cattle.

How about security restrictions, even against their friends and allies?  Why did MDA have to try and sell its space division to an American military contractor for a chance to sell some satellites to the U.S. government?  Both Democratic candidates should remember that they have stated the need to mend relationships with friends and allies that have been damaged by the Bush administration.  Sen. Clinton’s comment sounds a bit like more of the same foreign policy derived from ‘South Park: The Movie’.

Are there some protectionist practices on this side of the border, too?  Probably.  The CBC reported that some agricultural shenanigans are used by both sides.  But, if NAFTA is opened up, it works both ways.  Both sides will have things they want to change.   That won’t address the American tendency to flout the rules and ignore rulings they don’t like, though.

I Am Canada and So Can You

April 11, 2008

Don’t ever let anyone tell you you can’t make a difference.  Don’t ever allow yourself to fall into the trap of fatalistic defeatist bullshit thinking that says, “What can I do?  I’m just one person.”  This one person made a difference.  In fact, I may have changed the course of a nation.

Almost three months ago I wrote about the proposed sale of MDA‘s space division to an American defence contractor and how the transfer of its Radarsat2 to American control represented a threat to Canadian sovereignty.  I also urged people to write to the Prime Minister, other relevant cabinet ministers, and their MPs.  A couple weeks later, I reported that some of you must have paid attention and spread the word because Industry Minister Jim Prentice had just announced that he would review the sale.

On March 18th, in an email to me and cc’d to Defence Minister Peter MacKay, he wrote that he was continuing his review and mentioned the criteria he takes into account.  I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, because security considerations were pretty vaguely defined.

Well, yesterday, it paid off.  It looks like the government is going to stop the sale, as reported in this news story.  As Stephen Colbert would say, “I did it!”  You can thank me for saving the country later.  I’m considering changing the subtitle of this blog to “Saving the Nation One Post at a Time”.  And any goalkeeper, the last line of defence, will tell you that posts are his best friend.

Now, of course, I’m not the only one who was against the deal but, if I can toot my own horn for a bit, no one else seemed to notice or care about the security and sovereignty considerations until I brought it up.  I wrote emails to the media, too.  One sour note in the news yesterday was that NDP leader Jack Layton was trying to take credit for it and claiming that the government was coming around to his way of thinking.  I must have missed those speeches.  Maybe he expressed concerns about losing Canadarm, but I didn’t hear a word about Radarsat2 or security concerns from him.

The scale of this achievement shouldn’t be underestimated.  The network news reporters are saying this is unprecedented.  It’s the first time a cross-border acquisition has ever been overturned by the government for security reasons.  That it was done by a Conservative government whose priorities seem to be to guarantee and increase the flow of capital into the country and maintaining friendly relations with a security obsessed administration in Washington is even more noteworthy.  It is an indication that they are aware that there is something called Canada that is more important than any business transaction.  That is not a principle most Canadian governments could convincingly say they upheld.

I want to make it clear, I’m no commie.  I have no problem with companies making an honest profit, and I generally don’t like taxes.  But, there was a higher principle at stake, here.  It’s amazing what you can do with a blog, an email account, and knowing how to speak someone’s language.

Always Have a Plan B in Your Pocket

April 5, 2008

There’s been speculation in the media that the U.S. may not just be in a recession, but that this could prove to be a depression.  There are probably more Bear Stearns banks out there that are teetering on the brink and the full depth of the credit crisis is still not known.  Great – a full blown depression – and I thought the recession that started the 1990s, which was bad enough for me, was supposed to be the longest one since the great depression.  According to theories of economic cycles, the next really big one wasn’t due until about 2050, the same time global warming should have melted the polar icecaps and glaciers, and become pretty much irreversible.  Now THERE’s a party to stick around for.  Well, it may be that this will be the real big one.  Am I worried?  No.  I have a Plan B in my pocket.

A little while ago, my new passport arrived.  I now have another option.  I can now take my English teaching qualifications and experience anywhere in the world.  There’s over one and a half billion Asians who all seem to want or need to learn English.  No matter how bad things get here, I can always go to Asia and find a job waiting for me.  A job that pays well, by local standards, and usually carries a certain level of respect with it.  Best of all, I’d be taxed at Asian rates.  Asian tax systems seem to have been designed by the same people who design their electronics.  Smaller is better.

One of the places I could go to is Taiwan.  A Taiwanese woman told me once of a place on the east coast where the aboriginal women, who were there before the arrival of the Chinese, are particularly beautiful.  She went on to tell me about the working conditions, pay, etc., but she had me at the beautiful women.

Another thing I hadn’t realized about Taiwan until I recently looked at a map is that it is on the Tropic of Cancer.  Hmmm… live on a tropical island with low taxes surrounded by beautiful women…  No winter.  Sounds good, but I wonder if my lily white skin could take that sun.

‘Tropic of Cancer’ is a novel by Henry Miller.  It’s a first person account of his life, observations, sexual exploits, opinions, and any thoughts that may have run through his head, no matter how dark.  It was controversial at the time.  Aside from the prejudices of his time, it’s still a good book and I liked it.  Much of it takes place in Paris, where he’d gone to write.  I could write in Taiwan.  I could spend more time on my writing because I wouldn’t speak Chinese well.  I’d have nothing to do but sit in the brilliant sun writing brilliant words while the beautiful women frolicked around me.  Well, after I’d put in my Asian hours at work, of course.

As I mentioned elsewhere, someone in Taiwan has been reading me in Chinese.  They were reading one of my posts about Vancouver real estate.  This was just after I’d seen a news story about the election in Taiwan.  Apparently, people were so sick of corruption that they elected a new government that would be a little friendlier to China and is even willing to discuss the possibility of re-unification.  I guess not everyone is on board with that, though.  It looks like someone may be considering buying in Vancouver, just in case.

It wouldn’t be the first time, of course.  People from Hong Kong moved to Vancouver in droves in the run up to its return to China.  Many of them returned when it was apparent Hong Kong would continue to prosper.  Many Taiwanese came here in the past, when China started rattling sabres and staging naval exercises near its “rogue province”.  This election could spark another wave.  Just in time to offset the doubts Vancouverites are starting to have about the real estate market and the way the business works.

As enticing and romantic as going abroad sounds, I’m in no rush yet.  Besides, I’ve lived overseas before.  But, it’s good to know you always have a Plan B in your pocket.

Go Ahead, Wreck Your Home

March 14, 2008

Do government agencies use subliminal advertising techniques?  For months now, the Lottery Corporation has been running commercials to promote their ‘play on-line’ service.  In other words, they’re promoting on-line gambling.

The commercials are ostensibly humorous.  One features a middle aged suburban man teeing up in his living room and driving a golf ball through the sliding glass patio door, shattering it.  Another has a woman rolling her bowling ball down a wood-floored corridor, which then crashes into the wall at the end and damages it.  Both end with the corporation’s web address and a voice-over telling you to “Play at home”.

The images in the ads seem to go beyond humour.  They appear to appeal to the habitual gamblers’ deep, dark desire to destroy their lives/homes.  It strikes me as unethical and very hypocritical, given that subliminal advertising is supposed to be illegal.  I guess the government will look the other way when they are benefiting from the revenue generated.

For those who aren’t familiar with it, subliminal advertising refers to using techniques or tactics in advertising that suggest something subconsciously.  There is always a grey area, of course, because much of an ad’s work is to create an image to appeal to a target market.  This is usually not achieved via directly spoken or written information.

A famous example of subliminal advertising is the image of popcorn or drinks on a single frame of film inserted into a movie in a theatre.  The audience doesn’t consciously notice it, but they suddenly feel the urge to buy some popcorn or a soft drink.  This would have been commonly done back in the days when there was an intermission.

These lottery ads remind me of the screaming faces airbrushed into ice cubes in liquor ads.  Those ads tapped into the fears and insecurities that the alcoholic feels.   Although the lottery ads don’t have hidden images, there does seem to be a subconscious message, appealing to an addict’s self-destructive tendencies.

This gives an indication of how much government depends on lottery revenues and begs the question, which is a higher priority for them – revenue or society?  Should government prey on its own people to generate revenue?

Just a thought.

Preying For God

March 5, 2008

If anyone doubts my claims that religions, particularly Christian missionaries, employ predatory recruitment and conversion practices, grab a sick bag and watch this news story.  In a case of perfect timing, I just watched the news and saw this story about what’s happening in post-tsunami Thailand.  It confirms what I wrote about yesterday and in the past.

http://www.cbc.ca/national/blog/video/internationalus/christianity_comes_to_thailand_1.html

The scum of the earth claim the moral high ground while they prey on the needy and desperate.

It still doesn’t answer the question of what is being done with the huge sums of money donated to charities after the tsunami to help the victims recover and rebuild.  If they had been used for their intended purpose, these predators might not have much of an audience.

Not So Passive Aggression

March 4, 2008

Passive aggression can be a dangerous thing.  The good people of the church appear to be quiet and peaceful, on the surface.  In practice, however, they are aggressively expansionist.  They want to spread the word, spread the faith, and convert the heathen.  One of their favourite methods of doing so is under the guise of Christian charity or aid.

Conditional charity is not uncommon.  Asking recipients to pray or attend a service in return for food or other assistance happens, as I’ve mentioned before.  This can lead to international incidents with consequences.  A while back, a group of South Korean missionaries were taken hostage in Afghanistan.  One was executed, I believe.  Their government negotiated the release of the rest, eventually, no doubt after paying a hefty ransom.

There is a debate going on in South Korea about this incident.  What the western media didn’t seem interested in reporting is that these missionaries weren’t just helping people, they were trying to convert them and spread Christianity.  Should the government be responsible for them?  Should they bail them out and pay taxpayers’ money to save them from a situation they got themselves into?  Why should the country pay for their aggression and mistakes?

South Korea has the second highest proportion of missionaries in the world.  As I’ve mentioned before, it is a growth market for Christianity.  How did it become so popular in a traditionally Confucian or Buddhist country?  It’s growth has its origins in the aftermath of the Korean War.  I use the term ‘aftermath’ loosely because, technically, the war is not over – there is only a truce.  After the cessation of hostilities, the U.S. military stuck around to keep North Korea in check.  With American soldiers on the ground, Christianity was able to spread.  This should come as no surprise.  Religion has often followed armies around and spread with empires.  Christianity spread throughout the Roman empire and expanded with it.  The pace accelerated after Constantine’s army, reputedly ordered to display the Christian logo on their shields, were victorious at Milvian Bridge and he took control of the empire.

Faith and the sword became partners again in the medieval age when Christendom responded to the spread of Islam with Crusades and Inquisitions.  I’m no expert on the subject, but I suspect this may also be when the death sentence for leaving Islam may have been introduced.  If you think you have problems today, consider yourself lucky that you weren’t a Moor given a choice between “Convert or die” and “Convert and die”.

Missionaries came to the New World, protected by European soldiers, to convert the indigenous populations.  The results were often disastrous.  From the New World the faith has spread to Asia.  So many souls to convert and save.  So many donations to collect.  The temptation is too great to ignore.

It’s not enough to keep the faith and live by the word.  They have to spread them.

Why Are Women So Bitchy?

February 25, 2008

The Oscars have come and gone again.  Another red carpet parade of fabulously dressed stars, directors, producers, and other creative people running the gauntlet of media whores who jostle and compete to call them over for the privilege of asking, “Who are you wearing?”

As if that’s not bad enough, after the show the women do the obligatory ‘get the claws out’ thing and name the worst dressed women who failed to meet the required standard of perfection for such a spectacular event, as defined by a handful of European designers.  Who cares if you think she didn’t pull it off?  She got an invite to the Oscars.  Did you?  Who are you, anyway?

These women – and don’t forget our Canadian gay guy who has managed to establish himself as some kind of authoritative commentator who should be listened to, for some reason – don’t actually do anything themselves.  They aren’t designers.  But, they trash other women for wearing dresses they liked without worrying about whether the world at large would like them or even – gasp – approve!  I wonder if these ‘style commentators’ aren’t actually sounding offended at not being consulted.  After all, it’s what they do, and if people don’t think they need to consult the experts – in their magazines and style columns – they’ll have to find something real to do.

Women complain that guys don’t respect them enough or objectify them, but they should listen to themselves.  We don’t do that.  I would never dream of trashing a woman for what she wears, no matter how bad I thought she looked.  The only instance when I might have, that comes to mind at the moment, involved an obese older woman in a skirt with celullite spilling over her knee high nylons.  I couldn’t even be bothered to tell anyone about that until now, about twenty years later.

Last night the women on CTV even dug out some file photos and picked some of the worst disasters of all time.  Of course, they included Bjork and her swan dress, commenting, “What was she thinking?”  Have they ever listened to Bjork’s music?  I doubt it.  They only know of Bjork the somewhat famous person.  They don’t know or care what she sings about.  If they had listened to Bjork’s music they might have had an idea what she was thinking.

I don’t claim to be an expert on Bjork.  I haven’t heard all of her music, by any means.  But what I have heard, going way back to The Sugar Cubes, I like.  She is a true original.  She expresses what is inside her. She is an artist, not just a media personality – and certainly not a poser.  I totally got the swan.  How can you hear her pain and not get it?  If you don’t get it you haven’t heard her music, or haven’t really listened.  So, it seems women also accuse men of not listening to them, but don’t listen themselves.

I’m a guy, with a dangling thing between my legs.  I want to use it to penetrate women for carnal pleasure.  Should I really have to tell them this stuff?