Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Reflecting upon the events of June 27

I will start by saying that I have long supported the police. I have friends in law enforcement, and I believe they do a difficult, necessary, job.

I think their contribution to the functioning of society is generally underappreciated. Further, much of their work is boring, routine, and lonely, a far cry from the excitement portrayed in TV crime dramas.

But they occupy a unique position in society. No one else is authorized to carry weapons and use force against fellow citizens. This unique authorization demands that they act with restraint and regard for the laws they are charged with enforcing, and that they be subject to civilian oversight.

While I posted some thoughts here immediately after the G20 summit, I restrained my comments, fearing that, in the heat of the moment, I would say something ill-considered.

In my gut, I was disgusted by the way police in full riot gear were shown riding roughshod over the civil rights of hundreds of Torontonians who just happened to be in the wrong place at the right time, who had no malicious intent, who were just going about their business (as they been encouraged to do by the mayor).

I was incensed that 200 people were surrounded by police with riot shields and truncheons, made to stand in a cold downpour for 4 hours, and then released when television coverage of the situation became too embarrassing for the authorities.

Typical arrests included a CTV News cameraman, two National Post photographers, a uniformed TTC ticket-taker on his way to work, a guy walking his dog near his own condo, a teenager who had eyewash in her backpack. TVO's respected public affairs commentator, Steve Paikin, was given a choice between leaving a peaceful (his observation) sit-in or being arrested.

This is the kind of thing that happens in dictatorships, not in a civilized democracy where civil liberties are an expectation. The law-and-order-at-any-cost crowd will say it was an acceptable use of force, but severe damage was done to the relationship between citizens and the guys we used to call Toronto's Finest.

I was also disappointed by the police chief's lame attempts to justify the extreme measures, and the wholesale detention of 800 people in what were later shown to be appalling conditions.

Here's what I would like to have heard from Chief Blair:
"We were given an extremely difficult assignment when our national government decided to host an international summit in the heart of Canada's largest city at a time of year when the streets are filled with citizens and tourists.

This situation was complicated by my own confusion with regard to the scope of special police powers authorized by the provincial government, and by the decision to supplement our own officers with those from police forces from jurisdictions across Canada, most of whom had never even visited Toronto, and therefore had no sense of connection to the city or its people.

While most officers were well-intentioned, some officers overreached their authority, and infringed the civil rights of innocent people. Some of the command decisions also were, in hindsight, ill-advised. We can now see that the hard line taken against all protestors and uninvolved citizens on the second day was an overreaction to the events of the first day, when Black Bloc vandalism threatened to get out of control, and the integrity of the fenced security zone was threatened.

On behalf of the Toronto Police Service, I apologize to the people of Toronto for our breaches of their Charter rights --- the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, the right to freedom of association, the right to security of the person, the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure, the right not to be arbitrarily detained or imprisoned, and the right to be informed promptly of the reasons for arrest or detention.

We have learned much from this and I promise that, if similar situations occur in future, we will do better. I hope we may regain your trust."
It's not too late.

Update: Two days after my post, Chief Blair acknowledged that some of the police tactics on June 27 were mistakes. I claim no credit.

Update: [June 25, 2011] An Angus Reid public opinion poll revealed that, one year later, 54% of Torontonians felt the police response was unjustified, a dramatic increase from the 23% who felt that way in a poll taken immediately after the summit.

Update: [March 14, 2012] The lawsuits against police pile up.

Update: [May 16, 2012] Police come under heavy criticism in OIPRD's long-awaited report on police activities during Toronto's G20 summit.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Shit happens

[Quoted from You Can't Fix Stupid]

In Paderborn , Germany, zookeeper Friedrich Riesfeldt fed his constipated elephant, Stefan, 22 doses of animal laxative and more than a bushel of berries, figs, and prunes, before the plugged-up pachyderm finally let it fly, suffocating the keeper under 200 pounds of poop!

Investigators say ill-fated Friedrich, 46, was attempting to give the ailing elephant an olive oil enema when the relieved beast unloaded on him.

"The sheer force of the elephant's unexpected defecation knocked Mr. Riesfeldt to the ground where he struck his head on a rock, and lay unconscious as the elephant continued to evacuate his bowels on top of him," said flabbergasted Paderborn police detective Erik Dern.

With no one there to help him, he lay under all that dung for at least an hour before a watchman came along, and during that time he suffocated.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• 56 per cent of Canadians admit to using profanity when chatting with friends, compared to 51 per cent of Britons and 46 per cent of Americans. WTF?

• 33% of Canadians, and 41% of Americans, check their email as soon as they wake up in the morning.

• 60% of Britons would like to retire in another country, compared with 54% of Germans, and only 13% of Spaniards.

• 5% of Icelanders claim to have met one of the Huldufólk (mythical Norse hidden people), and 53% of the population won't take the chance of offending them by denying their existence.

• 80% of Swedes said they had "much or very much trust" in Ikea, the world's largest furniture store chain, compared with 46% who said they trusted the Swedish church.

• About 30% of North Koreans are spying for the government, according to a former senior bureaucrat who escaped the country two years ago.

• 95% of Canadians support the idea of organ donation after death, but half of us don't intend to actually donate any organs, according to an Ipsos Reid poll.
How about that?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The pendulum swings to blue

It is appearing increasing likely that folks in these parts will soon be governed by right wingers at all levels.

The latest Ipsos Reid popularity poll has Conservative challenger Tim Hudak edging out Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty, while redneck tough-talker Rob Ford has a solid lead going into the final stages of the Toronto mayoralty competition.

At the federal level, Michael Ignatieff's summer bus trip across Canada has failed to ignite the hoped-for explosion of public support, practically ensuring that he will continue to duck opportunities to force an election, and leaving Stephen Harper in charge of head office in Ottawa.

As is often the case, Canada is just a bit out of sync with political sentiments south of the border, where they finally installed a Democrat in the white house after two terms of the Cheney/Rove administration.

At all levels, Canadians are disappointed with their current governments. There is a sense that the country, the province, the city, are all past their peaks, that there is little fresh, creative thinking, or even hope that anyone has solutions.

There is a widespread perception that statesmanship is dead, and that the pols play their cynical power games with little regard for those they describe as "everyday Canadians." To add insult, they are happy to give themselves salary increases and fat pensions, and reward their friends with patronage appointments, while ignoring the hardships borne by those less favoured.

No wonder people are pissed off!

Torontonians desperately wanted their burg to be world class. They were thrilled in 1987 to hear Peter Ustinov describe it as "New York run by the Swiss," and revelled in the Blue Jays' World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. Those were heady days, but the big smoke is now mired in bedbugs, traffic gridlock, fiscal deficits, TTC ineptitude, underfunded schools, street litter, overwhelmed community housing, and intransigent unions, among other things.

For 30 years, residents have been promised a revitalized waterfront, and have seen it stalled by competing interests, few of whom had much interest in the public interest. Scandals have fed a belief that corporations and city hall are in bed together (sometimes literally), and that smart business operators with the inside track are cutting sweet deals in the shadows.

Provincially, it's mostly about money. The premier says he needs to get more of it, and creative accounting is the order of the day, according to the Auditor General, who caught the province billing $500 million in unauthorized user fees. This was followed by the new Harmonized Sales Tax, which is sucking huge quantities of new cash into the Queen's Park vacuum when consumers purchase previously untaxed services. Now McGuinty is looking to ultimate fighting and online gambling for new revenues. What's next from "Premier Dad," cockfighting, gladiators?

All this is against a background of the e-Health scandal ($1 billion wasted), the ill-conceived Eco Fees, and an Auditor General's report that found all sorts of mismanagement that added to taxpayer expense.

Mr. Hudak need only stand back, keep silent, and watch Dalton drive into the wall. Hudak handlers should focus on the second of these, by the way.

Federally, it's about strategy and public perceptions. Harper doesn't feel the love except from his prairie base, despite attempts to warm up his image with a Christmas sweater and a bit of piano playing, and it would be a stretch to describe his cabinet as a brain trust. The Progressive wing of the party has pretty much thrown up its hands and stepped aside, so the Reformist agenda forges ahead, unrestrained.

The pushing of the parliamentary pause button, twice, raised a few former PC eyebrows in some precincts. But most of the Harper government's "missteps" and controversial positions (long gun registry, status of women, Suaad Hagi Mohamud, Omar Khadr, Copenhagen, voluntary census, arts funding, and so on) largely offended people who would never vote Conservative anyway and played well to the party's core adherents.

Meanwhile poor Iggy is going nowhere, despite loyalists' attempts to portray him as just another guy hanging around with a beer in his hand at the barbeque, speculating on Kaberle's future with the Leafs. He has lost the affections of Quebec, and dissension in the Liberal family suggests he may well be gone before the party leadership is next contested. Amazingly, he even accomplished the feat of losing to Stephen Harper in a personality poll. That's like losing to Stephen Hawking in the 100 yard dash. Can you believe it! Plus there's that whole Harvard episode.

Blue appears to be the more popular colour as we head into a round of political redecorating.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Tasty charts

Bar Chart

Pie Chart

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Caddyshack commerce

We wonder why some people laugh when we call golf a sport?

It might have something to with golfers' naïve belief that their inner Tiger will emerge if they can just discover the right equipment.

Here's a sampling of gizmos designed to take strokes off your game and make your wallet lighter, too.
• If you're one of those people who hate to carry a little pencil and score card, you can lug around this computer instead. Programming the Golf Master Pro Golf Scoring System is bound to take your mind off that last shank into the fescue.

• The Tee Pal is a light-weight, ergonomic golf ball teeing device. It allows the golfer to easily and precisely tee his ball without the need to exert himself in any way. No reaching into the pocket. No bending over. No pushing of the tee into the ground. Features onboard tee storage, too.

• Tired of losing golf balls? You'll never have to mourn another dimpled friend if you have the RadarGolf System. Its special balls use radio-frequency technology to stay in contact with the handheld monitor. No word on whether they transmit under water.

• The Golf Swing Analyzing Watch is water resistant down to 100', so peel off those shoes and socks and dive into that water hazard after those radar golf balls.

• Being spherical makes golf balls so confusing. How do you figure out which side to hit them on? The Check-GO Pro Golf Ball Sweet Spot Finder finally solves this problem by spinning your ball gyroscopically at 10,000 rpm and blinking its LED.

• Can't wait to get back to the club for an adult beverage? Bring The Club with you. It's a drink dispenser that looks like an actual driver. Gives new meaning to DWI.

• Tired of that playing partner who drives it down the middle of the fairway every time, while you alternate between duck hooks and banana slices? The Radio Controlled Golf Ball is the weapon you need to level the playing field. Set it to spin off into the weeds at the flick of a switch.
Once you have have all this stuff in your golf bag, it'll weigh a couple hundred pounds, so you will need the California Roadster Stretched Limo Golf Cart to transport it around around the course.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Sovereign of the sidewalk

Is that bully down the block hassling your kid? Get her the Battle Trike, and even things up.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• The world is losing one language every two weeks, and half of the world's languages may disappear in this century. Approximately 2,000 of the 6,912 languages are spoken by less than 1,000 people.

• A microbe with an appetite for carbon monoxide could provide a cheap way to produce fuel from car exhaust. Azotobacter vinelandii, a microbe found around the roots of various food plants, can create propane out of carbon monoxide. Eventually the enzyme might be tweaked to create the more complex molecules of gasoline.

• Apple has filed a patent for a futuristic ‘smart’ bike with a docking station on the handlebars for an iPad or iPhone that will provide the rider with real time information on speed, distance, time, altitude, elevation, incline, decline, heart rate, power, cadence, wind speed, path completed, expected future path, heart rate, power, and pace, and perhaps even voice commands for gear changes.

• Car owners could soon be filling up their tanks with a new whisky-derived fuel, according to scientists at a Scottish University. It uses the two main by-products of the whisky production process --- 'pot ale', the liquid from the copper stills, and 'draff', the spent grains --- as the basis for producing the butanol that can then be used as fuel.

• The plague, which killed millions during the Middle Ages, has turned up in Saskatchewan, found in the carcass of a dead prairie dog.

• There are many sunscreens that recent research by the Environmental Research Group has shown can actually do more harm than good. Check to see if yours is helping or hurting.

• Amazon now sells 143 e-books for the Kindle reader for every 100 conventional hardcover books.
How about that?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gone with the wind

A plastic bag journeys to its eternal rest in this spoof with a message.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Highway to the future circa 1958

In 1958, highways were seen as the route to a better future. This Disney cartoon is typical of that decade's optimism, and its certainty that technology would produce a better world.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Your brain on computers

My life is enriched by three Freds who are among my friends. One of the Freds recommended that I read this article from the New York Times.

This Fred was possibly trying to suggest that I am too wired, too "on the grid," as they say these days. Or maybe not. This Fred is very subtle.

The gist of this article is that going "off the grid" --- disconnecting from cellphones, WiFi, the web, your blog, eMail, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, multitasking --- at least temporarily, can be good for you.

The article describes five neuroscientists who did just that, rafting Utah's San Juan River and hiking its canyons for a week. They were interested in discovering whether such a trip might reverse the effects of the digital information bombardment of their "normal" lives.

There is a growing belief that the constant incoming data stream affects people's ability to focus. In my own case, it might be that, or it might be the gin and tonics.

Some believe that daily digital stimulation can even tip some people, who would normally be OK, into attention deficit disorder, depression, or schizophrenia.

Can wandering around in the woods be restorative? A University of Michigan study showed it improves the ability to learn.

My friend Fred says, "In my own experience, even walking in the forest on my horse for a few hours refreshes my thinking."

Personally, I'm not really a nature guy. I find looking at trees or rocks or lakes gets boring real fast unless there is something else going on, like golf. But maybe I need to give it a chance. I'll put it on the bucket list.

By the third day of the trip, time slows down for the neuroscientists. There is no sense of urgency. They are relaxing, forgetting to wear their watches.

But, on the way home, they start to check eMail. Re-entry into the "real" world.

Conclusions? None. Remember, these are scientists. One can hypothesize, but conclusions require proof (Bloggers are not subject to this rule). Some new research directions have been suggested by the trip, though. These include the addictiveness of digital stimulation and the effects of rest on the brain.

Thought-provoking stuff. Turn off your phone and read it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Let's go for a drink

Friday, August 13, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• A team of British engineers has developed a car that runs on poo or, more accurately, methane gas produced by human excrement. Feel free to make up your own jokes.

• The Sorrento Hotel in Seattle offers its guests night school. Several subjects are offered, ranging from a discussion of chamber music to lessons in the preparation and history of cocktails.

• A Toronto organization, Not Far From The Tree, prevents locally grown fruit from going to waste by sending teams of volunteers to harvest the fruit on trees whose owners are not inclined to do so themselves. One-third goes to the owner, another third goes to the volunteers for their labour and the final third is distributed via pedal power to charities and community organizations in the neighbourhood.

• An English amateur mathematician spent 20 years calculating pi to 707 digits, finishing in 1873. 71 years later, it was discovered that he had made a mistake at the 528th digit, and all the digits following it were wrong.

Sandwich bags that give the appearance of mouldy bread are available to discourage lunch theft from the office refrigerator.

How about that? Have a safe Friday the 13th.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Free at last

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Heaven and Hell

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Lessons in a mayo jar

[Author unknown]

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, wordlessly, he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls.

He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. So the professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with an unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two cans of beer from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the grains of sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor, as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things--your family, your children, your health, your friends, your favorite passions--things that if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, your car. The sand is everything else--the small stuff. If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to get medical checkups. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house, and fix the disposal. "Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented.

The professor smiled. "I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show you that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers."

Monday, August 9, 2010

I'll be right back

Ever need to leave your seat to get a beer, go the washroom, or whatever, but know that some s.o.b. will grab it as soon as you're gone?

Carry one of these, and you'll never have that problem again.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Things I learned this week

I learned that:
• People read books much faster on paper than on the Amazon Kindle and the Apple iPad, according to a study by the Nielsen Norman Group.

• The color red apparently makes a man more attractive, more powerful and more sexually desirable to women, according to a study appearing in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.

• It is widely believed that most human beings use only 10 per cent of their brains. This is false.

• Your probability of dying during a given year doubles every 8 years. This is the Gompertz Law of Human Mortality.

• Male users of the online dating service OkCupid are two inches shorter, and earn 20% less, than they claim in their profiles.

How about that?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The road to happiness

No, wait! Apparently, it's not that simple.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


David Jon Kassan fingerpaints on the Apple iPad. Talent transcends media. Amazing.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Geezer Channel

Capitalizing on the fabulous success of GeezerOnLoan and GeezerOnViagra, heeeeeere comes GeezerTeeVee, your own specialty channel devoted to programming for the senior set daily, with blackouts for 1:00 to 3:00 pm naptime, 3:00 to 4:00 pm happy hour, 4:00 to 6:00 pm early bird special time, 7:00 pm to 7:00 am sleep time, and Sunday morning when you ought to be in church.

Here's our exciting lineup for the fall season, so please ensure your rabbit ears are adjusted properly:

• Waiting for Gas

• America's Idle

• Amazing Hats From Around The World (Documentary Series)

• CSI: Mimico

• ER
-Episode 1: How boring conversations in waiting rooms can seem to prolong life

-Episode 2: How 1970s magazines in waiting rooms can seem to prolong life

-Episode 3: What to do when you have forgotten the nature of your emergency

• Law and Order: Special Prostate Unit

• Travels Incontinent

• Pretirement, old before your time, and loving every moment

• The Investment Show
-Episode 1: It’s a great time to be stinking rich

-Episode 2: Cautiously pessimistic, a strategy for avoiding disappointment

• Tipping, a scourge on humanity

• The Percy Faith Story

• Lawrence Welk, The Vegas Years

• Penn and Teller Play Park Manor Live

• Three O'clock Jump --- The Thrill of Nature's Call

• So, you think you can foxtrot?

• Makeovers and Combovers

Monday, August 2, 2010

While you were out