Posts Tagged ‘U.S.’

The Nuclear Fusion Family

July 18, 2008

Recently, a Korean nuclear fusion research facility succeeded in creating plasma from hydrogen.  In fact, they were the second to produce plasma.  A Chinese facility also did it, in 2006.  This is a big step on the road to developing nuclear fusion as a viable source of clean, safe energy in the future.  It’s expected that there will be nuclear fusion reactors producing electricity by the 2040s.

Unlike nuclear fission, fusion does not result in radioactive waste.  It also doesn’t produce greenhouse gases.  That means it will be an integral part of a sustainable energy future.  Korea and China are partners in the ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) project, an international initiative to develop nuclear fusion as an energy source.  The list of ITER partners includes almost every industrialized country, except Canada.  Besides Korea and China, there is the EU, the US, Japan, India, and Russia.  Why Canada has not decided to pursue this is beyond me.

The government touts our new identity as an energy superpower, so why aren’t they investing in the energy source of the future?  The day will come when nuclear fusion and other sources replace harmful oil and gas powered plants, so why not be a major player in the new fusion industry that will emerge?  That would help maintain that energy superpower status.

The government also talks of significantly reducing greenhouse gases by the middle of the century.  Why not invest in a technology that will help make it happen?  By not being a part of this, it looks like they aren’t interested in expediting the development of a clean energy alternative because they rely on oil revenue.

Could it be that the cost is prohibitive?  No.  The KSTAR facility in Korea cost about $307 million.  Surely an energy superpower like Canada, which is doing quite well relative to other industrialized countries these days due to strong fundamentals and high commodity prices, can afford to develop a technology that will change the world for the better and secure its position as an energy superpower for probably the entire century.  Think of how much oil and gas revenue will come in over the next thirty-five to forty years until electricity from fusion becomes reality.  The costs pale by comparison.

We shouldn’t stop at fusion, either.  With energy and commodity prices as high as they are, we are in a luxurious position.  We should be investing in science and national projects that will challenge Canadian industry to develop the technologies and industries of the future, and raise our profile in the world.  The more successes we have, the more top scientists and success-oriented people we will attract, which will result in more successes.  This kind of success spiral will result in ongoing, sustainable economic growth as new technologies find applications in the consumer marketplace as well as in industry.  Think NASA.  The economic benefits from its Apollo program were enormous.

This is our opportunity.  Let’s take it.

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Star Shaped Pegs in Maple Leaf Shaped Holes

April 22, 2008

I find it embarrassing that many Canadians know more about the American political system and landscape than their own.  Even worse, and what makes me mad, is that many – maybe most – Canadians apply American politics to their own country.  They associate certain Canadian parties or candidates with American parties or candidates they like or dislike and, based on a perceived similarity, choose who or what to support accordingly.  They don’t think in terms of Canada, and what’s good for it.  They don’t think about what we are or what we need.  They assume a direct correlation and don’t stop to think that we are a completely different country with different political problems to solve, different priorities, and a different outlook.

This is influenced by, among other things, the fact that we are at different stages of development, or political and economic maturity.  The U.S. is at its zenith.  They are the only superpower in the world, at the moment.  Canada is still in its ascendancy, or adolescence.  Obviously, a superpower at its zenith and an up and comer have different needs, outlooks, and priorities.  For one thing, when you’re on top it can seem that the only way is down, so you act to prevent or delay the inevitable downfall.  You tend to look at the world in terms of perceived threats.  You look over your shoulder.  Right now, China’s ascendancy is looking like a threat to American dominance.  By contrast, when you’re growing and developing you tend to look to the future, and new goals and opportunities.  This outlook could be seen by a superpower as not being in line with their interests, especially if you happen to share a continent with them.  By assuming and applying American views, we often work against our own ambitions.

The U.S. became independent about ninety years before us and in a completely different manner.  They fought a revolution, striking out on their own immediately.  Canadian independence came in stages, starting with Confederation in 1867, then our first independent declaration of war in WW1, then the Statute of Westminster in 1931, the first Canadian passports in the 1940s, and repatriation of the Constitution in the 1980s.  The final step of letting go of the apron strings and ending the symbolic relationship with the British monarchy to establish a Canadian republic – specifically, a secular republic – is one I’m looking forward to.

Here again, however, perceptions of American parallels interfere with true perceptions of Canadian realities.  Historically, any movement in Canada for full independence has been called a republican movement because the result will be a Canadian republic.  Unfortunately, when most Canadians hear the word ‘republican’, they think they hear ‘Republican’.  They apply American politics to Canadian politics and think a movement for a fully independent Canada would lead to Prime Minister George W. Bush – or something like that.  Most Canadians tend to dislike the American Republican party and its policies.  That probably explains why the American right wing media often portrays us negatively.  Those same Canadians tend to associate the Conservative party with American Republicans.  However, it is the Conservatives who are most commited to maintaining the links with the monarchy.  So, Canadians’ perceptions of the possibilities for their own country, and desirability of them, are skewed by inappropriate and inaccurate application of American models to Canada.

Canada is not at its zenith.  At times, though, it seems like we’re not even trying to get there.  We aren’t planning for our own future success.  No one seems to have a vision for the future beyond selling raw materials to the Americans and, now, the Chinese.  If we’re going to think like Americans, why don’t we think about building our own successful nation?  Why don’t we become a powerhouse?  If, as a certain book store chain said, the world needs more Canada, shouldn’t we let it know we’re here?  To do that, shouldn’t we be a bit more proactive?  Wouldn’t we then stand a better chance of having a positive influence in the world?

How’s this for a start – if the world needs more Canada, doesn’t it need more Canadians?  Then we’ll be a bigger market.  Bigger markets can produce bigger companies.  Bigger companies are more visible and have a better chance of expanding to other countries rather than being acquired by foreign companies.  They can become global players, creating wealth at home and spreading Canadian values abroad.

We need leaders who are bold enough to move us forward.  That may mean choosing a more difficult path.  It may mean standing up to those who may think our own path is not in their interest.  Unfortunately, our political leaders follow public opinion and tell people what they think they want to hear, regardless of whether the public’s opinion is an informed one or not.  I haven’t heard of a really fresh idea in Ottawa in about forty years.  And, where do the public get their opinions?  Very often from American media.  Just as unfortunate is the fact that our business leaders tend to be market followers rather than market makers.  The easy money is in exporting logs and oil and metals – let the Americans do the hard part.  Leaders are supposed to lead.

American socio-political models just don’t apply to Canada.  They debate whether to have a national healthcare system.  We’ve had one for decades.  Yet, many Canadians vote for the Canadian party they associate with the American struggle to get what we already have, when what we really need is a few of those big companies that keep buying us up.

We won’t realize our full potential until we stop applying current American views to current Canadian situations and Canadian goals.  We have to start thinking of, for, and about ourselves.

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.

Pope Ropes a Dope, Does Boffo Box Tax Free

April 17, 2008

The pope is in North America on his latest concert tour.  This is one tour I won’t complain about not coming to Vancouver, as it covers the U.S. only.  The easily impressed flock to see him so that they may feel graced by his presence.  They buy up all the souvenirs and concert T-shirts and hold up their lighters shouting, “Yaaaaahhhh!”

Seriously, this is big business.  A papal tour is worth hundreds of millions.  I mean, $695 for a porcelain statue of the guy?  The mark up on these mass produced mementos is – dare I say it – a sin.  Well, it would be if there was a god for it to qualify as a crime against, but, you get the idea.  The pope has criticized Canada in the recent past for not doing enough to narrow the gap between rich and poor.  Then the church gouges its own followers like this?  Talk about excessive profits.  Is a ‘toy pope with your Happy Meal’ McDonald’s deal next?

Ever since they were introduced by his predecessor, papal tours have been a nice little earner for the Catholic church.  Souvenirs of all kinds have been sold at extortionate prices to the suckers – I mean, faithful.  Remember the famous John Paul II pope-on-a-rope soap?  I wonder if it washed away sins.  His tours turned him into a larger than life personality – rivaling Jesus, himself – that the church capitalized on.  Well, who could blame them?  There was a lot of money to be made.

But, what about all that money?  Couldn’t all those good Catholics have used it to feed hungry people instead of the church and their own pride?  Let’s face it, those souvenirs will be shown off as proof that they’ve seen the pope.  Bragging rights will be theirs.  Bragging will ensue.  Some might say the profits are used to feed the hungry.  Are they?  I’m not so certain of that.  The Catholic church is a large organisation with broad financial interests.  They invest on the stock market and are probably one of the great institutional investors of the world.  At one point, I believe,  they were the largest – possibly the majority – shareholder of Coca Cola.  That’s pretty big.

They know how to market the pope like a rock star.  Pretty savvy.  They know how to exploit their star to turn a healthy profit.  That’s entertainment.  They know how to invest and manage huge sums of money.  That’s rich.  And, they don’t pay a penny in taxes.  That’s really rich.  Even Hollywood couldn’t hide profits that well.

I’ve written before about how the church doesn’t use nearly all the money it takes in for charity.  In fact, the crumbs they give out to the truly needy along with their prayers are probably nothing compared to what they have available to them.  This is a very large corporation with vast assets that generates huge revenues and profits, but doesn’t pay tax.  It’s time that came to an end.

Take a Gander, Why Don’t Ya?

April 9, 2008

I watched the movie ‘Flight Plan’ on TV last night.  Well, most of it, anyway.  I missed the beginning.  Normally, Jodie Foster’s presence in a movie automatically lends it a certain quality.  It can usually be assumed to be a cut above.  Not this time.  There was a glaring mistake so bad it insulted both my intelligence and my national pride.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the story is about a woman whose daughter goes missing in a passenger jet mid-flight over the Atlantic Ocean and her subsequent struggle to find her and convince everyone else on board that she was ever there.  The plot thickens as it twists and turns then at some point the decision is made to make a premature landing in Newfoundland.

Initially, I was impressed by how perfectly the characters pronounced “Newfoundland”, with the emphasis on the last syllable and virtually eliminating any vowel sound from the second syllable.  Most Canadians west of the Gulf of St. Lawrence don’t even say it right, enunciating and emphasizing the middle syllable instead.   Gander was later mentioned by name.  “Well”, I thought, “they seem to know their stuff.  Here are some Hollywood types who actually took the time to find something out about Canada.  At last, a little respect”.

All that came to an abrupt end when the plane landed at Gander, Newfoundland,  and dozens of FBI agents were waiting for it.  FBI agents!  What are FBI agents doing in Gander, Newfoundland in the middle of the night?  What country is Newfoundland a part of?  And what country is the FBI an agency of?

This is cultural imperialism aimed at Canada, plain and simple – a complete and utter lack of respect.  You know as well as I do that if the plane had landed in Britain, MI5 or MI6 or MIwhatever agents would have been waiting.  But, we don’t even rate our own federal agents in the movies.  What, they’ve never heard of the RCMP?  Everybody’s heard of the mounties.  And, when it comes to airport showdowns, they taser with the best of them.  They always get their man, necessary or not.

Maybe the producers went even further and simply annexed Newfoundland and Labrador for the U.S.  Maybe they figured that would make the plot simpler.  Maybe they’re not even aware it’s in another country.  The movie industry already considers Canada a part of the U.S.  We’re included in the ‘domestic’ market by distributors.  Why not just extend that into the plots of movies?

Ms. Foster, I’m officially over my ‘Taxi Driver’ crush.  Having said that, if you’re ready to respect me… call me.

Passport To Everyday Life

February 5, 2008

I just went to get a passport photo.  I even put on a tie, a rarity in Vancouver.  Although I don’t have any immediate plans to leave the country, you never know when you might.  Hey, it’s possible that I could win a fabulous vacation somewhere warm and exotic.

Imagine it happens to you – and you don’t have a passport.  What if your prize has to be claimed within a limited window of time?  Or you want to take it before winter is over.  Have you seen the lines of people at the passport office?  Have you heard how long it takes these days?

Ever since the Americans decided that Canadians would need a passport even for day trips, there’s been a huge backlog.  That kind of annoys me because if I did  go somewhere, it wouldn’t be to the U.S. – not without a specific reason, anyway.  No offence to any American readers, but it’s just not exotic enough.

Florida?  Seen too many pictures of other people ‘relaxing’ there.  Vegas?  I spent the longest week of my life in a casino here, one night.  The thought of a whole city like that makes me appreciate other possibilities all the more.  Hawaii?  Hmmm… maybe, but if you’re going to go that far, why not carry on to Tahiti or some other Pacific paradise?

It’s not really a vacation if you go some place you see every day.  The U.S. is all over the media.  It’s in the papers, on TV, in movies, on the internet.  Shit, I even just excused myself in advance because I assumed they would be reading this.  If I were to go on vacation, it would be to get away from ‘them’.  Is there a corner of the world that hasn’t heard of them yet?  Some place that doesn’t cover the entire year long campaign before they actually hold an election?

What the fuck is a primary, anyway?  And why the fuck should an American even care, let alone me?  Why can’t they just get down to it like civilized people and say, “Here they are – Asshole #1, Asshole #2, Asshole #3, and Asshole #4 –  pick one.”

Anyway, as I said, I have no plans to go to the U.S. or anywhere else, right away.  But it seems we need photo ID for so many other things these days, and my old passport expired.  So I have to spend ten bucks on photos and another hundred on the application, just in case I ever need it.