Monday, May 31, 2010

Men with talents

I don't usually show ads on this blog, but this one from Heineken made me chuckle. I hope it will do the same for you.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Australian customs officials will search your laptop for porn.

• Powerful people (CEOs, portfolio managers, politicians, elite athletes) are better liars, according to an article in Harvard Business Review.

• The flatulence of mammoths, and other big grass-eating animals, released huge quantities of methane. When humans decimated them, that greenhouse gas tapered off, and a prolonged global freeze began about 12,800 years ago, according to researchers.

• In Putnam County, Florida, Judge Peter Miller sentences thieves convicted of retail theft to spend two hours carrying a sign that reads "I stole from a local store," either outside the victimized store or outside the county courthouse.

• There is dissatisfaction in some quarters with the quality of education. The following was posted on America Speaking Out, a website of the Republican party: "A 'teacher' told my child in class that dolphins were mammals and not fish! And the same thing about whales! We need TRADITIONAL VALUES in all areas of education. If it swims in the water, it is a FISH. Period! End of Story."
How about that?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A reasonable man

I have not previously endorsed politicians or political parties here. Most specifically, I have never expressed positive sentiments about the NDP, nor have I ever supported the NDP via the ballot box or in any other fashion.

I feel this disclaimer necessary here, in the heart of Bill Davis country, before proceeding to applaud the actions of one Pat Martin, NDP member of parliament for Winnipeg Centre.

Martin is frequently mentioned in the news, and I have noticed that his views tend to accord with my own. As a fair-minded man, I believe credit should be given where it is due, so here is a sample of his positions on various recent matters. Judge for yourself:
• He thinks that parliamentarians who receive thousands of dollars for making speeches to corporate or non-profit groups are "loathsome, unethical" and exemplify "sheer gluttony." Apparently, nothing in the conflict of interest code prevents MPs from accepting honorariums.

• On the issue of Auditor General Sheila Fraser auditing the systems and administrative practices of the House of Commons, doggedly resisted by MPs, Pat says, " I am convinced that stonewalling the Auditor General is probably the dumbest move in Canadian political history." A bit of hyperbole there, Pat, but I agree completely with the sentiment.

• Prior to the last federal budget, Pat suggested changing the tax rules to give charitable donations the same favourable federal tax treatment as donations to politicians and political parties. Is the need and merit of politicians greater than those of society's most vulnerable? Pat thinks not, and so do I.

• Commenting on the fact that the CRTC has fined only 12 telemarketers for violating the do-not-call list, and only two have paid any part of their fines, Pat said, “The CRTC never fails to disappoint. Increasingly they are becoming a cardboard cutout of a regulatory watchdog.” Yep.

• When the federal ethics watchdog cleared Conservative cabinet minister Lisa Raitt of any wrongdoing in a complaint involving a fundraiser organized for Raitt by a lobbyist for the Cement Association of Canada, Pat commented, “If there is nothing wrong with that then our Lobbyist Registration Act is a joke and our … conflict of interest code is a joke." Looks that way from here, too.

• Pat tabled a bill in 2008 proposing the elimination of the penny, which has become nothing but a nuisance. “They have no commercial value. I think the biggest proof that pennies have outlived their usefulness is the little dish of free ones next to cash registers,” Martin said. I agree. (This issue is currently being debated in the senate.)
A reasonable man and a credit to the voters who sent him to Ottawa.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Social enterprise, the middle ground

There was a time when organizations sorted themselves into either of two camps. Many still do, but that is changing.

At the extremes, one camp is firmly rooted in capitalism, believing fervently that only competition, and the discipline of the bottom line, can ensure efficiency and effectiveness. They believe profits are good and necessary for reinvestment to keep enterprises competitive, to reward entrepreneurs who start businesses, and to pay a return to investors.

They believe that the for-profit enterprise is the optimum achievement engine. Their mantra is growth which, they believe, will cure society's ills by creating jobs and raising living standards for all. They think the non-profit camp is filled with well-intentioned idealists, and would like to see charities run more like businesses.

Extremists in the other camp see capitalism as evil, and business people as money-grubbing vultures whose only goal is to get rich by exploiting people and natural resources. They believe profits are bad, that they increase costs to the consumer, and unduly reward the wrong people for doing the wrong things.

They believe that the non-profit organization is the best vehicle for moving society forward. They believe profits are incompatible with the pursuit of social goals. Their mantra is community service, and they think businesses should pay much more attention to the social impacts of their decisions.

There are kernels of truth, and erroneous perceptions, in both belief systems. I won't get into those today.

Today, I will tell you about an emerging movement that occupies the middle ground between these two camps. That movement goes under the banner of social enterprise.

Social enterprise is still struggling to define itself, but shows great promise.

This new approach embraces organizations, both for-profit and non-profit, that use business strategies to achieve a social purpose. They view profits as a means of furthering their objective of making the world a better place.

They may be for-profit companies that have a central social purpose, or non-profit organizations that include a business dimension to reduce their dependence on charitable donations and grants.

A small sample of such organizations includes Ben & Jerry's, Habitat for Humanity's ReStores, CharityVillage, Tammachat, Jamie Oliver Restaurants, The Co-operative Group, Divine Chocolate, Cafe Direct, 826 National, and Acumen Fund. Many more are sprouting up in North America, and around the world.

All of this requires reoriented thinking. Two friends of mine, Nicole Zummach and Elisa Birnbaum, have launched an online magazine, SeeChange, to do just that. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Speed test: texting vs. Morse code

[Sent by B.B.]

Which is faster, text messaging or 170-year-old Morse code from the era of the telegraph? Here's the proof.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• More people in India now own cell phones than have access to a toilet. In 2008, just 366 million of India's 1.2 billion people had access to a toilet, while 563.73 million were subscribers to a cell phone plan.

• The Houston (Texas) Police Department is looking at unpiloted drone aircraft for use in local police work. Catch the video on the secretive test flight.

• One alcoholic drink per day is one of 26 ways to lower your bad (LDL) cholesterol.

• And staying with this theme, a French study finds that moderate drinkers are healthier than teetotallers and heavy imbibers.

• The world's largest chocolate maker says it may have come up with a chocolate bar that could fight wrinkles and slow the aging process.

• A new poll by the respected Pew Research Center finds that, among Americans younger than 30, identical percentages react positively to “socialism” and “capitalism” (43% each). Older and wealthier folks reacted much more positively to "capitalism" than "socialism."
How about that?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Pharma wars, who to believe.

Big bucks are being spent to get you wondering about the merits of the Ontario health minister's initiative to reduce drug costs by attacking some sweetheart deal that pharmacists apparently have with generic drug companies, whereby the drug companies pay them money for some reason that is not too clear.

The multi-million dollar campaign by such as Shoppers Drug Mart says the minister is attacking "frontline healthcare."

It is all reminiscent of that recent fight between the cable companies and the broadcasters over who should pay for "community television," or something.

I didn't understand that one, either. Neither did anyone else I spoke with about it.

Anyway, the minister is supported in this by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the Cancer Society, and the Canadian Association of Retired Persons.

Good enough for me.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Putting our problems in perspective

In April, 1980, this child in Karamoja district, Uganda, was about to die of hunger. A missionary held her hand.

Photo Credit: Mike Wells, United Kingdom.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sorry, guys! Staring at women's breasts will not prolong your life

This is what had been circulating out there are on the intertubes:
Ogling over women's breasts is good for a man's health and can add years to his life, medical experts have discovered.

According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, "Just 10 minutes of staring at the charms of a well-endowed female is roughly equivalent to a 30-minute aerobics work-out," declared gerontologist Dr. Karen Weatherby.

Dr. Weatherby and fellow researchers at three hospitals in Frankfurt, Germany, reached the startling conclusion after comparing the health of 200 male outpatients, half of whom were instructed to look at busty females daily, the other half told to refrain from doing so. The study revealed that after five years, the chest-watchers had lower blood pressure, slower resting pulse rates and fewer instances of coronary artery disease

"Sexual excitement gets the heart pumping and improves blood circulation," explains Dr. Weatherby. "There's no question: Gazing at breasts makes men healthier." "Our study indicates that engaging in this activity a few minutes daily cuts the risk of stroke and heart attack in half. We believe that by doing so consistently, the average man can extend his life four to five years."
Sadly, the study is a hoax.

They had me right up to that part about those control group guys who were told to "refrain" from ogling for FIVE YEARS which, of course, is impossible.

Monday, May 17, 2010

More plain talk, please

Politics is a mean-spirited bloody enterprise at the best of times, and a disgusting display of fact-twisting for partisan ends at the worst.

Nearer the latter end of that continuum were recent remarks in a release from Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak, in which he said "Unbelievably, [Premier McGuinty] has now trivialized soldiers, veterans and their families by likening his HST to the sacrifices of soldiers." There was more, but you get the drift.

This was in response to McGuinty opining that today's generations seem unprepared "to do the difficult things that they used to do in the old days," suggesting that they need to "step it up," as did their parents and grandparents in difficult times like war and economic depression.

I think this is the line that the Premier should have taken from the beginning in selling the new Harmonized Sales Tax, which will add provincial sales tax to a long list of previously untaxed services. Instead, he went around talking about needing the HST to make business more competitive. None of us, including business owners, understood what that meant.

Then there were assurances that businesses would lower prices to offset the increased taxes, so it appears that Queen's Park is in the jobs elimination business, because reduced business revenues inevitably result in staff reductions. Who writes this stuff?

All of this was followed by the provincial finance minister telling us that lower taxes on adult beverages, one of the few tax reductions that would have resulted from the tax change, has already been offset by increased mark-ups at the LCBO, because lower prices would be "reckless."

How much bullshit are we expected to accept? Why are politicians so incapable of straight talk?

As for Hudak, he needs to remember that over-the-top hyperbole just erodes credibility.

Except for the fanatics at each end of the political spectrum, the huge majority of us in the middle are just looking for someone we can trust. Honest, straight talk is a good starting point.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Grandmothers naturally and subconsciously favor granddaughters, according to a study at University of California, Santa Barbara.

• A student's grandmother is far more likely to die suddenly just before the student takes an exam, than at any other time of year. No, really. You can look it up.

• Men get bored with their new cars after only four months, while most women are loyal for fourteen months.

• A Japanese man has married a character in a videogame.

• Jupiter has lost one of its stripes and scientists are baffled as to why.

• Science to the rescue: The Better Marriage Blanket absorbs night time flatulence using a military grade fabric designed to protect against chemical weapons. Another wonderful civilian spin-off of military research. Available in twin and king sizes.
How about that?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Canada's game

On the morning after the Montreal Canadiens' marvellous victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins to advance to the third playoff round, here's a look at a simpler time. This 1953 National Film Board short is titled Here's Hockey!

If you played shinny on a frozen pond, or peewee hockey at the town rink, if names like Richard, Belliveau, and Harvey resonate with you, take a 10-minute coffee break and watch.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Stayin' positive

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Donor greed fuels charity scams

A front page story this morning about a corrupt sleazebag who operated a phony charity in order to line his pockets. The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has performed an audit and shut the whole thing down.

That's a very good thing, of course, but I'm always a bit ambivalent when I see these stories paraded across the headlines. I know that they give the cynics out there more excuses to justify their failure to support the thousands of needy, deserving and well-run charities that make this a liveable country.

Often, these scam operations attract "donors" by offering income tax receipts for amounts larger than those actually donated. That was the case here. Any donors receiving a proposition like this should run the other way. Don't even stop to ask questions. It is patently illegal and, at some point, CRA will likely catch up to you and, at a minimum, disallow your tax deduction.

Finally, I think the steam would be taken out of some of this activity if the tax rules were changed to give charitable donations the same federal tax treatment as donations to politicians and political parties.

Support a politician and you get 75 per cent for the first $400, 50 per cent for the next $350, and 33 per cent on the remainder up to $1,275. Compare that to the tax credit of 15.5 per cent for the first $200 in charitable donations, and 29 per cent for amounts over that.

Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin suggested that change prior to the last federal budget, but it had no chance.

The pols evidently see their own need and merit to be greater than those of society's most vulnerable.

Update: Here's the fascinating tale of a guy who saved us $3.5 billion, and exposed some of the biggest charity tax frauds in Canada’s history.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A gentleman's game

Tim Clark was depressed. He had played 205 PGA tournaments without a win. He was the guy who couldn't close the deal. At one point, he even put his clubs away for two weeks in frustration with his inability to get the job done.

And yet, all along, he was right there, keeping pace with the world's top golfers with 40 top-10 finishes, eight second-place finishes, consistently earning more than $2 million annually in prize money, year after year.

Yesterday, he won big --- The Players Championship, the so-called "fifth major." It changes everything. He's no longer the nice little guy who couldn't get it done. For a while, anyway. But if more wins don't follow, he''ll join that big group of guys who won that one big one, then faded into obscurity.

Only in sports does second place feel so bad. Imagine that, to be second best among the very best in the world, at anything, can feel like failure. Yet it does.