Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Canadian cover story

We're reading in the headlines that the latest bunch of Russian spies caught by the Yanks were posing as Canadians.

What's new? Assuming the identity of the world's "nice guys" has been going on for decades, and everybody does it.

A veteran of Canada’s clandestine services is said to have confided that "The Germans use [the Canadian passport] to document their illegals, the Russians use it to document their illegals, the British have done it for the same reason, even the Americans have been known to use it on more than one occasion."

In the sixties and seventies, young Americans travelling through Europe sewed the Canadian flag on their backpacks to ease their way with the natives, many of whom then held the U.S. in low esteem.

In 1973, Israeli Mossad agents on a (botched) mission of vengeance for the murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, travelled on doctored Canadian passports to Lillehammer, Norway.

In 1997, Canada recalled its ambassador to Israel after Mossad agents were caught posing as Canadian tourists and using forged Canadian passports, this time during an assassination attempt on a Palestinian militant leader.

Who do CSIS agents impersonate?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Say Geez!

Two young ladies perch on a fence in their party frocks.

They smile for the camera.

Then, just as the shutter clicks...

Monday, June 28, 2010

Guests get the party, we get the bill

Like a lot of people, much of the planning for the G20 summit made little sense to me, including:
• The selection of downtown Toronto as a venue for the event.

• The obscene cost of $1 billion for security.

• The huge size of the security force --- 20,000 police and other personnel, many shipped in from other provinces.

• The surreptitious passage of a law, without debate in the provincial legislature, authorizing police to arrest anyone unable or unwilling to produce identification within 5 metres of the security perimeter known as "the cage."
So where do I stand now, after witnessing this weekend's events?

The first two points are linked. If a billion dollars was thought necessary to maintain order, big trouble was expected. If big trouble was expected, why would anybody want it to take place in the downtown core of Canada's largest city? How many worthwhile programs will be sacrificed in order to pay this bill? Further, what value was received by the city and its people in return for the torments inflicted upon them? It seems a no-brainer. Mind unchanged on both counts.

On the third point, I'm undecided. I have no expertise in this area. I can only say that the events of Saturday, as black bloc anarchists smashed storefronts, burned police cruisers, and repeatedly attempted to breach the security perimeter, seemed to justify meeting the threat with overwhelming force. There appeared to be a real risk of the situation getting out of control and, in the end, public order must be maintained. That in no way excuses several reported incidents of overreaction by police that appeared to result in the injury, detention, or arrest of innocents who posed no threat.

On the final point, I would like the premier to explain why this law could not have been properly debated well in advance of the summit, rather than railroaded through at the behest of the police chief on the eve of the event. The passage of laws behind closed doors is a slippery slope, indeed.

It will take a while to assess whether the party was worth the hangover, but we didn't really have much choice. If Canada is going to play with the big boys, we have to pick up the tab once in a while, and it was our turn. Let's go light on the tip, though.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Saturday night cage fight

They called it "the cage," the security zone surrounded by a tall fence designed to keep the world's most powerful politicians safe from whomever might wish to disrupt their meetings.

Penetrating the cage was the objective for a hard core group of G20 protesters, and Chief Bill Blair made it clear that the mission of the Toronto Police Service was to prevent that by keeping protesters well away from it.

Fair enough. In hindsight, that should have warned peaceful protesters, gawkers, and downtown residents that the 20,000 security personnel on hand were not primarily concerned with their protection, and that they could be collateral damage if violence broke out on the streets.

I'd guess that most of them were surprised to be caught in the path of a police charge.

Did the cops go overboard in achieving their mission? Chief Blair and Michele Paradis of the Integrated Security Unit say, "No." According to a Toronto Star article, Paradis said "Our officers did not engage," and Blair said reports of rubber bullets were "put out by these anarchists, ... misinformation ... to mislead the public and the media." To be fair, both statements were made before darkness brought even more tense confrontations, and much manoeuvering by both sides through the downtown streets.

There is testimony that there were some police excesses, perhaps explainable at the end of a day of violence but, if true, unacceptable from professional law enforcement personnel. Of these, perhaps the most compelling were the on-the-scene tweets (Twitter reports) from Steve Paikin, who was in a crowd of protesters on The Esplanade when things became overheated. Steve is host of the respected TVO public affairs program The Agenda, and is known for having a balanced approach.

Here's just one snippet from his account of events on The Esplanade late last night.
"the journalist identified himself as working for "the guardian." he talked too much and pissed the police off. two officers held him. a third punched him in the stomach. totally unnecessary. the man collapsed. then the third officer drove his elbow into the man's back. no cameras recorded the assault. and it was an assault."
Read the rest of his observations for yourself on his Twitter page, and judge for yourself.

There will undoubtedly be plenty of second-guessing in the days and weeks to come. As Day 2 of the G20 begins, we wonder whether the worst is over.

Update: As the word circulated that he was scooping the conventional media, Steve Paikin increased the number of his Twitter Followers (a measure of popularity) from 2,559 on June 25 to 6,474 when we checked this morning, June 27.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• There are approximately 277, 000 more people on the planet today than there were yesterday, and there will be another 277,000 tomorrow.

• A California computer hacker took over more than 100 computers, and used them to extort sexually explicit videos from women and teenage girls by threatening to release their personal data. In some cases, he turned on victims' webcams to catch them in "intimate situations."

• A unique population of honeybees, isolated for perhaps the last 10,000 years, has been found living at an oasis in the northern Sahara Desert. The bees showed no signs of the Varroa destructor parasite that is suspected of contributing to the Colony Collapse Disorder that's been affecting commercial bee colonies in North America and Europe since 2006

• In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary was first to climb it. It has always been mountaineers' once-in-a lifetime challenge. "Super Sherpa" Apa has climbed Mount Everest 20 times.

• A Florida man was run over by his dog in a pick-up truck.
How about that?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Solicitations for spudacious spectacular

Thanks to Lucy Izon for drawing our attention to Potato World, where you can "Take our new Experiential Tour and experience hands on the cutting and planting of seed potato, the difficulties in moving a 165 lb barrel of potatoes and hand cutting french fries."

Located in New Brunswick's St. John River Valley it is, "also the home of the Potato World Hall of Recognition, acknowledging the contributions of New Brunswickers to the potato industry."

Look for it just off the Trans Canada Highway at exit 153, and don't miss Dazzle N Denim night, coming up on July 16.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Thousand horsepower tricycle

If you're a motorhead, you've gotta love this. Sorry about the short commercial.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A concerted effort

On the weekend, my wife and I subjected ourselves to a rock concert.

As sixth-decade seventh-decade people, it had been a very long time since we had attended a rock concert. Our tastes now tend toward classical (hers) and jazz (mine), although we have plenty of oldies from the sixties and some Willy Nelson on our iPods.

We were there to hear Adam Lambert, an amazing talent and runner-up on the 2009 season of American Idol to a guy nobody remembers. Lambert's career has now achieved escape velocity and appears headed for Galaxy Superstar.

The canned warm-up music blasting from 3,000 speakers at the Molson Amphitheatre persuaded us pretty quickly to invest in the earplugs on offer near the entrance, and we settled in to sample the state of popular entertainment in the 21st century.

We figured there would be a few warm-up acts before the main attraction, so we were not surprised to see the comely Aleesia (you'll remember her 2009 release, Bubble Gum), attended by a half dozen nymphets doing a sort of Motown backup singer thing without the vocals. The binoculars were useful.

Next up was Spose, pride of Thunder Bay, Ontario, according to the emcee. Their tune, I'm Awesome, features liberal use of the "m" word, and is based on the repetition of 2 1/2 chords. One of the Spose gentlemen seemed to have some sort of rash in his genital area, as he grabbed his crotch throughout the performance.

If Spose had been around in 1989, Noriega would have surrendered in two minutes, tops.

To get the full effect, use your most powerful sound system, crank the volume to 11, and hold your largest speakers to the sides of your head.

As FeFe Dobson was coming on stage, we decided it was snack time. Gnawing on a foot-long, we chatted with some other music-lovers, speculating on the likely timing of Mr. Lambert's appearance. Someone had a program list, and revealed that to be 9:00 pm. Seemed to be news to most. Groans all round.

Hmmm. What to do? Take 5 more hours of aural punishment, or pack up?

Five minutes later, we were on our way, and we weren't alone.

Sorry Adam, but there are limits, and we discovered ours.

Memo to self: Invest in hearing aid companies.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Today's catch

One morning, the husband returns the boat to their lakeside cottage after several hours of fishing and decides to take a nap.

Although not familiar with the lake, the wife decides to take the boat out.

She motors out a short distance, anchors, puts her feet up, and begins to read her book. The peace and solitude are magnificent.

Along comes a Fish and Game Warden in his boat..

He pulls up alongside the woman and says, 'Good morning, Ma'am. What are you doing?'

"Reading a book," she replies, (thinking, 'Isn't that obvious?')

"You're in a Restricted Fishing Area," he informs her.

"I'm sorry, officer, but I'm not fishing. I'm reading."

"Yes, but I see you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment. I'll have to take you in and write you up."

"If you do that, I'll have to charge you with sexual assault," says the woman.

"But I haven't even touched you," says the Game Warden.

"That's true, but you have all the equipment. For all I know you could start at any moment.'

"Have a nice day ma'am," he said, leaving.

[Author unknown]

Friday, June 18, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• More than 1 billion people live on $1.25 or less a day.

• Canadians are the #1 fruit juice drinkers in the world. Cost of one apple juice delivered from Burger King: $1.59.

• Procter & Gamble's Dawn is the preferred detergent for cleaning oil-covered birds. The company sent 2,000 bottles to the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Hanes sent 50,000 pairs of pantyhose to create “booms” to absorb spilled oil.

• Globally, internet users spend an average of six hours per month on Facebook, according to survey company Nielsen.

• An Indonesian man claims to have been seduced by a cow. The village chief gave the owner of the cow the equivalent of $562. The cow was reportedly drowned in the sea to rid the village of bad luck. No word on whether the cow "friended" him on Facebook.
How about that?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Why we work

When you offer people a larger incentive, their performance actually suffers.

This is just one of the surprising ideas expressed in an entertaining video based on Drive, a new book by Dan Pink.

He draws on four decades of scientific research on human motivation to show us how organizations have got it wrong when it comes to their employees performance and satisfaction.

Pour yourself a coffee and spend a worthwhile 10 minutes.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

This too shall pass

Two of the greatest qualities one can possess are patience and wisdom.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Breathtaking breathholding

World champion freediver Guillaume Nery base jumps underwater into the depths of the Blue Hole, a 663 ft. deep hole in the Bahamas. The video was shot by Guillaume’s girlfriend, and French champion, Julie Gautier, who was also on breath hold (no breathing apparatus).

Monday, June 14, 2010

Not SMall

How big is it, really, this social media thing?

Pretty big. In this 4-minute video, we learn that Facebook is the third largest country in the world; social media is bigger than pornography; YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world; and many other surprising facts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• A New Zealand funeral home caught a fake mourner attending up to four funerals a week to stock up on food, even filling up Tupperware containers to take home.

• According to polling firm Ipsos Reid, weekly Internet usage of online Canadians has moved ahead of the number of hours spent watching television, for the first time ever.

• A related New York Times article says juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can undermine our ability to focus, while provoking excitement, a dopamine squirt, that researchers say can be addictive.

• A sewage treatment plant in the German town of Treuenbrietzen is playing Mozart's music in the hope that it will stimulate microbes to break down sewage more efficiently.

• For those too busy for speed dating, online dating, trolling for dates in the deli section of the supermarket, or other entrapment strategies, there are now online dating concierges who will search for promising prospects and provide support services to get the relationship off on the right foot. Maybe some Mozart would help.
How about that?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Putting our problems in perspective

In September 1965, a mother and children wade across a river to escape US bombing in Loc Thuong, Binh Dinh, South Vietnam.


Photo Credits:Kyoichi Sawada, Japan, United Press International

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A long way off the grid

Have you heard about space solar power? I hadn't or, if I had, I'd forgotten about this promising energy source that some think could be available within a few years.

The concept involves putting solar panels on satellites in orbit, converting the energy to electricity, and transmitting that via microwave beams to collectors on earth. Alternatively, the solar panels could be installed on the moon. With no clouds or night to interfere, space-based panels are much more efficient than those on earth.

It all sounds a bit like science fiction and, in fact, the idea has shown up in literature and films as far back as Isaac Asimov's 1941 short story Reason, but it is a subject of serious study. The environmental impacts of such a system are thought to be a small fraction of those associated with the conventional energy sources it would replace. In 1975, NASA successfully demonstrated that wireless transmission of energy is possible.

Perhaps most encouraging is the Japanese plan to implement a space solar power system by 2030. Here's their video:

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A square idea

Clever people, those Japanese. Now they are growing square watermelons that won't roll around on a refrigerator shelf. They do this by inserting the melons into square, tempered glass cases while the fruit is still growing on the vine.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Click!

Photography is the art of light and shade, and two recent snapshots of America reveal extreme contrasts.

Light radiates from the news that Rima Fakih, an Arab American, has won the Miss USA competition. However you may view the merits of beauty contests, or lack thereof, it is encouraging to see a barrier breached by a segment of the population that has been viewed unfavourably in many quarters since 9-11.

In the state of intense sunshine, Arizona's anti-immigrant climate is casting a growing shadow, made longer last week by a Prescott city council member and his supporters who wish to "lighten" the dark-skinned faces on a just-completed public mural. More than 15% of the local population are people of colour, but councilman Steve Blair doesn't see "anything that ties the community into that mural."

Friday, June 4, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• Marijuana prices are plummeting in California, thanks to increased competition driven by the legalization of pot for medical purposes.

• If a statue of a warrior on a horse has both front legs in the air, the person died in battle; if the horse has one front leg in the air, the person died as a result of wounds received in battle; if the horse has all four legs on the ground, the person died of natural causes.

• The secret behind accupuncture's effectiveness has been discovered by researchers at the University of Rochester. Twisting the needles seems to cause enough damage to make cells release a painkilling chemical that is picked up by receptors on nearby nerves. The nerves react by damping down pain.

• While all cigarettes are hazardous to health, American cigarettes are the worst, containing higher doses of the most potent carcinogens than smokes in Canada, Australia and the UK, according to researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• Psychologists have discovered that self-control is an exhaustible resource. You already knew that, didn't you?
How about that?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grandma's flight test

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Putting our problems in perspective

In November, 1992, a mother lifts up the body of her child, a famine victim, to bring it to the grave in Bardera, Somalia.

Photo Credit: James Nacht
wey, USA, Magnum Photos, USA for Libération, France.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How to succeed in business the Amish way


When I think about Amish businesses, my thoughts turn to small, farm-based enterprises that sell maple syrup, fresh vegetables, cheese and such from roadside stands or at farmers markets.

I was surprised to learn that Amish entrepreneurs have created many larger enterprises, some with sales in the millions of dollars, and their success rate is 95%. This contrasts with the fact that only 50% of new businesses in the broader society survive their first five years.

How come?

There's a new book out, Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive, by Eric Wesner, that explains that.

From reviews of the book, here's what I have gleaned about some of the Amish secrets for entrepreneurial success:
• Amish culture emphasizes hard work. At an early age, children are expected to rise early and start their farm chores. People brought up this way have the work ethic entrepreneurs need to tough it out in the heavy going, particularly in the early stages of building a business.

• Amish communities are based on cooperation. Neighbours help each other, and will get together on major projects, like building a barn. That kind of teamwork and face-to-face social networking is essential for business success, too.

• Amish entrepreneurs go with what they understand, and with what the world associates with their areas of expertise. Don't look for them to be in computer repair, cellphone sales, or fast food franchising. More likely, they will be making furniture or selling homemade food products.

• Amish business people understand the importance of value, not just in their products, but in the customer relationship. "We work hard to give customers quality product at a reasonable price, and we strive to give courteous and competent service," says one merchant quoted in the book.

• The Amish are rooted in faith and family, and they are not willing to do things that compromise their values or way of life. That stable foundation helps them through the inevitable ups and downs of the entrepreneurial life.
Pretty good attributes for anyone contemplating a run at the high risk world of business start-ups. For the rest, you'll have to buy the book.