Sunday, January 31, 2010

The egg trick

It's Sunday. Let's just relax and not think about politics, religion or crime [other than the Leafs blowing a 3-0 lead last night. ed.]

Thanks to Agent 71 for alerting us the existence of a terrific website: http://www.milkandcookies.com/. There you'll find all kinds of great clips from the days when TV was non-rehearsed and FUN!

Click here to see Dom DeLuise perform the "Egg Trick" on the Tonight show...the real, funny Tonight show, with Johnny Carson.

Ah yes, those were the good ole daze. If Carson was still around, Leno and Letterman wouldn't have a chance!

Footnote: Be sure to follow the links for other clips that will make you laugh, like this example of the famous Great Karnak.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Swedish goalie's strange save

Walt hasn't talked about hockey for awhile. Readers who follow the NHL, especially the Leafs and Canadiens, will understand why.

One of the reasons the Leafs aren't going to make the playoffs (you read it here last) is that their number one goaltender is a Swedish kid who sprawls, swims, flops and has a tendency to drop his stick in moments of crisis. They call him the Monster, but for the wrong reasons.

What is it, anyway, with these Swedish goalies and their tendency to dive for the puck as if they think it's lying at the bottom of a swimming pool? Here'a a funny video clip from Puck Daddy showing Johan Hedberg of the Atlanta Thrashers doing the ole floperoo, then having a little trouble figuring out where the rubber went. Enjoy.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Quite the little shit-disturber"

So said Michael Wilson of Garth Turner. Mr. Wilson used to be Canada's finance minister, and was more recently the Canadian ambassador to Washington. Mr. Turner was a member of Parliament, Minister of Revenue at one time, and, so far as I know, the only M.P. to lose his job for writing a blog.

Mr. Turner got drummed out of the Conservative caucus for telling the truth, as he saw it, about his colleagues, particularly the mean and mean-spirited Prime Minister (Stephen Harper) under whom he served. He was regarded as something of a loose cannon, not a team player, dontcha know. That's not acceptable to the King of Control-Freakery.

Turner details his experiences with Mr. Harpoon and his colleagues in a new book called Sheeple: Caucus Confidential in Stephen Harper's Ottawa (Key Porter, 2009). It's shamelessly self-serving, but worth a quick read. Here's what Turner has to say about his former party and his former boss.

The mainstream, modern, and moderate Conservative party that many people voted for last time is anything but. In reality, its caucus room is permeated with a kind of old-time religious fervour completely at odds with contemporary Canada. Worse, true power is not even being exercised by the people you elect, but by unaccountable backroomers who have the ear of an iron-spined prime minister consumed with gaining more power in the next vote.

The people who populate Canada's [Conservative] Government promised one thing and have delivered another. They preached openness and have closed their ranks. They promised transparency yet operate in secret. They said they'd be accountable yet have no interest in listening. They said they'd be tolerant yet punish dissenters.

The prime minister is a man who knows what he wants and is working hard to achieve it. Self-motivated and self-sufficient, he does not ask for advice from those the voters sent to Ottawa, simply because it's not required. For him, democracy's only messy when it's uncontrolled.

This was written before Harper shut down Parliament for the second time in a year. Mr. Turner would no doubt say "I warned you!"

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The "Mongoose Civique" and other terrible cars

Car lovers...and haters...cannot afford to miss Peter Cheney's excellent piece in the Globe and Mail: The 12 worst cars ever built.

Nine of the dirty dozen [I could see that coming. ed.] are illustrated in full colour, the remainder in shocking black-and-white.

At low points in my life, I have been reduced to driving two of these horrors, all the while wearing a balaclava so no-one would recognize me. They are now only bad memories. Thanks to Mr. Cheney for reminding me!

Footnote: The Mongoose Civique? Don't just look at the pix; read the copy to find out which one was almost so named.

Canadians feeling alienated from politics

Now there's a news flash for you! All you have to do is eavesdrop on the conversations at Tim Horton's and you'd know that the prevailing sentiment is "a pox on all their houses". Actually no-one talks like that any more but Walt will refrain from the language I've heard to describe people's attitudes to politicians in general and "Call Me Steve" Harper in particular.

The Institute of Wellbeing [C'mon, you're making this up! ed. -- No I'm not! Follow the link! Walt] reports that fewer Canadians are voting or volunteering for formal political groups. Agent 3 reports that the political organizations he belongs to are suffering from declining membership, and those who still belong are hard to drag out to meetings.

The CIW's Democratic Engagement Domain Report released on January 27 affirms that nearly half of those surveyed say they aren’t happy with the way Canada’s democracy works. Agent 3 confesses that he doesn't attend meetings as much as he used to, because nothing the rank and file do seems to make any difference. The leaders and rulers, he says, have no concern or respect whatsoever for the opinions of the people.

The report also cites recent surveys which say an overwhelming majority feel that federal government policies have made their lives worse, not better. democratic engagement, released Wednesday, says Canada is experiencing a huge democratic deficit that is only getting worse.

It also highlights the low voter turnout in the last federal election -- the lowest in Canadian history. The aloof and autocratic Harper claims that the Canadian people are behind him [with knives drawn? ed.] and don't want another election. He conveniently forgets that only about 35% of the 55% or so of eligible voters who turned out actually voted for his party.

"The disconnect between Canadians and those who govern on their behalf is deep, wide and growing," the Institute's CEO, Lynne Slotek, said. "At a time when people are demanding greater accountability and transparency, they see their government institutions becoming more remote and opaque."

"Remote and opaque..." Yes, that describes the Harper government, the one that shut down Parliament, perfectly. But do the Canadian people really care? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A veiled threat?

AFP reports today on a French proposal to ban Muslim women from wearing the niqab (full Islamic veil) in public. The recommendation to the National Assembly is the broadest move yet to restrict Muslim dress in France.

"The wearing of the full veil is a challenge to our republic. This is unacceptable," the report said. "We must condemn this excess." The commission called on parliament to adopt a formal resolution stating that the all-encompassing veil was "contrary to the values of the republic" and proclaiming that "all of France is saying 'no' to the full veil."

One of the Communist deputies, André Gerin, used stronger language. "The wearing of the full veil is the tip of the iceberg," said Gerin, the chair of the commission. "There are scandalous practices hidden behind this veil." He vowed to fight the "gurus" seeking to export a radical brand of fundamentalism and sectarianism to France.

The National Assembly resolution would pave the way to legislation making it illegal for anyone to appear with their face covered at state-run institutions and in public transport, for reasons of security.

Denmark, Austria and the Netherlands are reportedly considering similar measures. But in North America, political correctness requires us to not discuss or even think about anything that would smack of discrimination against those who cling to the values and customs of the old world while enjoying the freedoms of the new.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Exploiting Haiti

The earthquake disaaster that has afflicted Haiti has called forth a huge outpouring of goodwill from the people of other countries, particularly the USA and Canada. Concerts have been held, disaster funds collected and relief efforts organized. Thus we see human nature at its best.

We also see human nature at its worst. Apart from looting and numerous examples of sauve qui peut, stories are beginning to emerge of unscrupulous individuals exploiting the goodwill for their own selfish gain. We've heard already of bogus charities and people kidnapping supposedly orphaned children for adoption (read sale) to well-intentioned North American families. But here's a new one.

A man wandering around the ruins of Port-au-Prince spied a credit card issued by a Canadian bank. (Whether the card was clutched in the hand of a corpse is not known.) Thinking quickly, he presented himself at the Canadian embassy. Using the credit card as his ID, he got himself refugeed home to Canada right away quick.

On his arrival in Canada, the Red Cross showered him with clothes and cash to replace those he'd obviously lost in the quake. Not satisfied with what he received, the man went on a shopping spree. Or he would have, had a store clerk not been suspicious that the man couldn't speak French, as most Haitians do.

You guessed it. The man turned out to be Nigerian. He is now being held in a detention centre in Montréal. But wait, there's more.

The Nigerian has now claimed refugee status. This being Canada, he will be allowed to remain here until he has had a hearing plus appeals if he's not happy, all the while being fed, clothed, housed and so on at taxpayers' expense.

I don't think I need to comment further, but will pass on the explanation given by the Canadian Red Cross. They said that their mandate is to help people, not to be concerned with immigration status. Besides, even if the man isn't Haitian, he's still a victim!

Taking it to the streets

Hitting the bricks, waving placards, raising voices in protest is something Canadians don't do very often. Especially in the winter when it's cold and you want a tot of brandy in your Tim's just to keep from freezing.

But yesterday, according to "From facebook to filling the streets", more than 25,000 fed-up Canucks braved the elements in two dozen cities to protest again Tory Prime Minister Stephen Harper's slap in the face of democracy. I refer to his totally unnecessary and indefensible decision to prorogue Parliament, so that he can effectively govern by fiat until spring.

Nothing like this has been seen since...let's see...since Clarence Campbell suspended Maurice Richard for the rest of the NHL season. And that demonstration [riot, surely! ed.] was confined to Montréal. This time people turned out from coast to coast!

What's it all about, anyway? What is it that has normally placid and apathetic Canadians so exercised? An editorial in the Globe and Mail puts it down to our collective disgust at "the subjgation of parliament to prime ministerial whim".

The way I see it, something more, something greater, has been demonstrated. Mr Harpoon clearly thought he could get away with avoiding parliamentary scrutiny of his government and himself by shutting Parliament down twice in one year.

Harper seems to have thought that the Canadian people would not notice or would not understand or would not care...or all three. He was wrong!

Now let us see if the people will remember, come the next general election. And please let it be soon!

A lesson from Alexander the Great

The great Greek king, Alexander, after conquering many lands, was returning home. On the way, he fell ill, and was bedridden for many months.

With death drawing nigh, Alexander realized that his conquests, his mighty army and his sharp sword were of no use. He called his generals to him and said, "I will depart from this world soon. But I have three wishes. Please fulfill my wishes without fail!"

"My first desire," said the great kind, "is that my coffin must be carried by my physicians alone.

"Secondly, when my coffin is being carried to my grave, the way must be strewn with the gold, silver and precious stones I have collected in my treasury.

"My third and last wish is that both my hands should be left dangling outside my coffin."

The people who had gathered there wondered at Alexander's strange wishes, but no-one dared to question him. His favourite general kissed his hands and pressed them to his heart. "O king," he said, "I give you my word that your wishes will be fulfilled, just as you have asked. But why do you make such strange requests?"

At this point, Alexander took a deep breath. Then he replied, "I would like the world to know the three lessons I have just learned. I want my physicians to carry my coffin so people will realize that no doctor can really cure anybody. They are powerless, and cannot save a person from the clutches of death. So let people not take life for granted.

"The second wish, of strewing my way to the graveyard with riches, is to tell people that I could take not even a fraction of my treasure with me. Let people realize that it is a sheer waste of time to chase wealth.

"As for my third wish to have my hands left dangling outside my coffin, I want people to know that I came into this world empty-handed, and empty-handed I now leave this world."

Words to live...or die...by. A tip of the hat to Agent 35 on the other side of the world for this one.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Beginnings of an advice column?

I've been thinking hard about what kinds of content really appeal to you, my dear readers. A mainstay of many newspapers for many years was the "advice to the lovelorn" column. In the UK and former British colonies they're known as "agony aunt" columns. I love that phrase.

Agent 46 sent me a heart-rending plea for advice from a young(ish) married woman. I was so moved that I thought I'd have a go at answering. If this works, perhaps I'll make this a regular feature...

Dear Walt,

I hope you can help me. The other day, I set off for work, leaving my husband in the house watching TV. About a mile down the road, my car stalled and I couldn't get it started again. So I had to walk back to get my husband to help me.

When I got home, I couldn't believe my eyes! He was in our bedroom with the neighbour's daughter!!!

I am 32, my husband is 34 and the neighbour's daughter is 19. We have been married for 10 years. When I confronted him, he broke down and admitted they had been having an affair for the past six months.

He won't go for counselling, and I'm just a wreck. I need your advice urgently. Could you please help?

Sincerely,
Sheila

Dear Sheila,

A car stalling after being driven a short distance can be caused by a variety of faults with the engine.

Start by checking that there is no debris in the fuel line. If it is clear, check the vacuum pipes and hoses on the intake manifold. Also check all grounding wires.

If none of these approaches solves the problem, it could be that the fuel pump itself is faulty, causing low delivery pressure to the injectors.

I hope this helps.
Walt

The awesome power of a wife's love

Walt is feeling lazy today so will just pass along a little story forwarded by Agent 9.

A very old man lay dying in his bed. Even though he was at death's doorway, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookie wafting up the stairs.

He gathered his remaining strength and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort forced himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands.

With labored breath, he leaned against the door frame, gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death's agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven. There, spread out on newspapers on the kitchen table were literally hundreds of his favorite chocolate chip cookies!

Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man?

Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself toward the table. The aged and withered hand, shaking, made its way to a cookie at the edge of the table, when he was suddenly smacked with a spatula by his wife. "Stay out of those," she said. "They're for the funeral."

Friday, January 22, 2010

The coolest cars Detroit never built

Here's a great slide show from Forbes. Forget the 21st-century examples and feast your eyes on the 1963 Chrysler Turbine (I saw this one "in person"), the 1958 Ford Nucleon (powered by a small nuclear reactor) and the 1938 Buick Y-job (the most beautiful of all pre-war cars). Enjoy!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Be aware of ignorance

This morning we saw yet another example of the paranoia which grips the USA today [wouldn't that be a great name for a newspaper? ed.] because a barking mad Nigerian supposedly tried to ignite suspicious substances in his underpants. [No jokes about flamers, please. It's not funny! ed.]

US Airways flight 3079, en route from New York to Louisville, was landed in haste at Philthydelphia when a teenage passenger was seen with strange objects strapped to his arm and forehead.

Little did those responsible know that the mysterious objects were tefillin, a set of small boxes used by orthodox Jews when saying their prayers! The little boxes contain passages from the Bible. When used in prayer, one box is strapped to the arm while the other box is placed on the head.

Even though the USAir Express flight originated in New York, home to 1000s of the Jewish persuasion, it seems not one of the crew or passengers had ever seen an orthodox Jew praying before, hence the panic call to the bomb squad.

“It’s something that the average person is not going to see very often, if ever,” said FBI spokesman J.J. Klaver. I guess I'm not average then, for I've seen it many times, especially when flying commuter aircraft such as those used by USscair. Some of my best friends, and all that.

It shows you the depth of knowledge of the FBI agents and others charged with protecting us from the evil Muslim terrorists. The tears must be rolling down Rick Shenkman's legs!

The best comment on the whole...er...schemozzle came from Rabbi Benjamin Blech, an assistant professor at New York's Yeshiva University. He called the incident “both humorous and outlandish” and a “wake-up call” for religious sensitivity.

But his best line was this: “We should be aware of ignorance just as much as we should be aware of terrorism.” Amin.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Only in Massachusetts you say? Pity!

Canadians will understand this headline when they hear news of the shocking outcome of yesterday's election in Massachusetts.

To the astonishment of nearly every and the dismay of Barack Hussein Obama, a little-known Republican state senator, Scott Brown, rode an old pickup truck and a growing sense of unease among independent voters to an extraordinary upset when he was elected to fill Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat.

Mr. Brown defeated the state's attorney-general, Martha Coakley, by a decisive margin. Coakley had been expected to win easily in a traditionally Democratic state, in spite of being more humorless than Hillary Clinton and even more patrician than John Kerry. But she blew it!

To explain the headline to Americans, it is the strapline to an old commercial for a certain brand of tea, available only in Canada. Pity! The Republican victory in Massachusetts, you see, was achieved with the support of a fledgling populist group styling itself the Tea Party!

In a campaign that rang all the right (and I do mean RIGHT) bells with Massachusetts voters, the Tea Party candidates ranted and railed against bailouts, handouts, reckless spending and more taxes. They kept pounding home the theme that the US government has grossly overreached itself and is out of control.

Now I ask my Canadian friends, why haven't you got a party in Canada standing up to say those same things? Don't you think the Canadian government and your provincial governments are guilty of the same profligate spending and egregious attempts to have the government control every aspect of your lives?

A similar message was preached a few years ago by Alberta's Reform movement. But the Reform Party got co-opted into the Conservative Reform Alliance Party (CRAP) and the promise of limited, back-to-basics government vanished like snow after a chinook.

A poll just before the Massachusetts election showed that 58% of Americans supported the principles of the Tea Party. In Massachusetts, the silent majority has spoken at last. When will it happen in Canada?

Click here to read "Tea Party rattles America's educated class".

Footnote: The online edition of the Boston Herald had a better headline: "Scott Brown bags it!"

Colossal piece of animation

Thanks again to Agent 46 for this link to one of the best pieces of computer animation I've seen in a looooong time. Click here and enjoy.

The bridge - only in Canada?

Thanks to Agent 46 for sending this picture from beautiful Alberta. This is the actual turn-off from Banff to Highway #1 to Calgary. Great picture isn't it?

They had to build a separate crossing for the animals, especially the elk, to replace an old natural crossing where there were entirely too many collisions. Of course, being westerners, the thought of having their pickups and SUVs damaged may have been as motivating as preservation of the wildlife, but the result is good all the same.

It didn't take the animals long to learn that this was their very own bridge! And you thought animals are dumb! Really....?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Selling insurance to soldiers

Thanks to Agent 3 for this little story...

Corporal Boulanger was assigned to the Army induction centre, where he was to advise new soldiers about their government benefits, especially their Group Life Insurance plan.

It wasn’t long before the lieutenant in charge of the centre noticed that Cpl. Boulanger had almost a 100% record for insurance sales, which had never happened before. Rather than ask about this, the lieutenant stood in the back of the room and listened to Boulanger’s sales pitch.

Boulanger explained the basics of the GLI plan to the new recruits, and then said, “If you have GLI and go to Afghanistan and are killed, the government has to pay $200,000 to your beneficiaries. If you don’t have GLI, and you go to Afghanistan and get killed, the government has to pay only a maximum of $6,000.”

“Now,” he concluded, “which bunch do you think they are going to send to Afghanistan first?”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tourists are subject to local laws

The Burj Dubai is open for business. And I do mean "open" since the greater part of the office and commercial space still hasn't been leased out.

But never mind. Even if it isn't quite as grand as the architects planned (right) it's still a triumph for someone with a huge edifice complex.

In case you're tempted to visit, let me remind you that Dubai is a Muslim country [statelet, surely. ed.] and if you visit you will be subject to its laws.

Here's an example of Islamic justice, Dubai-style. A 23-year-old British woman is awaiting trial on serious charges, after reporting to Dubai cops that she had been raped on New Year's Eve by a waiter at a 5-star hotel.

No, she is not charged with being a victim -- a bit much even for sharia law -- or enticing or entrapping the alleged rapist. That would be a bit much. Rather, she is charged with having drunk alcohol and having had sex in the hotel with her fiancé.

Puzzled? Oh, I forgot to tell you that the British citizen was of Pakistani origin...and a Muslim. It seems imbibing intoxicants and fornicating fiancés, though technically illegal in Dubai, are winked at for us infidels, but still forbidden to Muslims. The woman and her fiancé (also a Muslim) are thus in big trouble with the mullahs.

"The woman confessed that she had sexual intercourse with her fiancé and that she had alcohol," said a cop involved with the case. "We cannot just ignore such a terrible offence."

Footnote: If you decide to go to Dubai anyway, possibly on a shopping expedition, Walt recommends Emirates airlines. Seriously.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

139

Sgt. John Faught, RIP

Sergeant John Faught, of the Princess Pats, this weekend became the 139th Canadian soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.

Canada is scheduled to (ahem) withdraw from Afghanistan in just over a year. How many Canadians will have died there before the troops come home? Walt is hoping it won't be more than 144. That's gross.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

One person's view of fast-tracking immigrants from disaster zones

"Job of the book" posted this comment on the Globe & Mail 's online report of Haitian immigrants being fast-tracked because of the earthquake.

This is not an ok idea. We are having a hard enough time bringing in the kids of immigrants we want, and now we're going to increase the numbers from an area that has excessive gang violence?

Let's face some facts. Immigration isn't about letting in anyone and everyone out of charity. It's about bringing in people we want to contribute to our society because we think they will contribute positively to this society. Add to it rather than detract from it.

For example, it would not be a good idea to give citizenship to someone with AIDS because of the amount of money that sucks out of the system. They will never be able to repay it really. It's a financial drain. You can harp about the morals all you like, but the fact is we want people who will contribute more than they take.

To that end, I would like to see a repeal of that family reunification legislation that gets used by people to bring over their elderly parents for free health care when nothing from them will be put back into society.

I would also like to see priority given to people who already have degrees and will just straight up contribute to this society. There's a limited number of resources available here in the form of tax dollars, and it has to be spread around as much as possible.

I'd also like to see that spots for grad schools, especially medical school, are reserved for Canadian citizens. We fund/subsidize med schools because we NEED doctors. It's stupid to then give the spot away (not even the money, just the spot) to someone who will then leave the country.

Though, since a sizable number of Canadians do the same, going to the U.S. to make money and returning once they have a family that could use the socialized services here, I'm also going to propose that med students, as part of their agreement to attend these med schools, must then practice their first 10 years in Canada. Doesn't matter where in Canada, but no leaving the country.

We aren't providing charity, it's an investment!!!!

Click here to read the article, and literally hundreds of comments in the same vein.

Observations on Haiti

If you think Walt was hard on Michaëlle Jean, have a look at the comments sections in online stories in the press in which her connection with Haiti is mentioned. It's not just me. There is a lot of anti-Jean sentiment out there. Anti-monarchy sentiment too.

Granted, Her Jeanness managed to shed some tears on TV. She is an experienced TV presenter, remember? Cue the sobs and choked voice. But has she given Dollar One to the Haitian relief effort? Not publicly, at least.

Stephen Harper ought to be glad the earthquake struck Haiti, if only because it's pushed his campaign against democracy in Canada off the front pages. And he can say "See? If I'd done something really bad by suspending Parliament it would have been Ottawa!"

Finally, Walt notes that the refugee industry has gone straight from first to fourth gear with an alacrity greater than Mr. Harpoon's padlocking of the doors to the Centre Block. I saw a suggestion that Haiti be "temporarily" recognized as a province of Canada so all the dispossessed could come here without having to bother about nasty old immigration. A big thumbs down to that one.

Ditto the idea that the 1000s of refugee applications pending should be fast-tracked. I say that because I can't see the sense of moving Haiti's problems, which have existed for centuries, to Canada. We do not have the capacity (nor, I dare say, the will) to absorb 1000s of poor, uneducated and unskilled victims [vizmins? ed.] all in one fell swoop.

One more cynical thought. Once man finishes nature's job of levelling Port-au-Prince, there should be more room and lots of opportunity for the survivors. Let the dispossessed stay where they are and throw themselves into the job of reconstruction and development...with foreign aid that you and I pay for of course.

If you want to send help to Haiti...

Walt recommends Development and Peace. In Canada call 1-888-664-3387. Click on this link for more information. In the Archdiocese of Toronto, ShareLife is taking donations. Click on the button at the top left of their home page.

In the USA, Walt suggests the American Red Cross.

Beware of scammers. If anyone solicits you for a donation, check to be sure that the charity they claim to represent really exists, and that they are indeed representing that charity. The best way to give is online.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lesson from life -- the boulder

Agent 38 sent this one too...

In ancient times, a king had a boulder placed on a roadway. Then he hid himself and watched to see if anyone would remove the huge rock.

Some of the king's wealthiest merchants and courtiers came by and simply walked around it. Many loudly blamed the king for not keeping the roads clear, but noone did anything about getting the stone out of the way.

Then a peasant came along carrying a load of vegetables. Upon approaching the boulder, the peasant laid down his burden and tried to move the stone to the side of the road. After much pushing and straining, he finally succeeded.

After the peasant picked up his load of vegetables, he noticed a purse lying in the road where the boulder had been. The purse contained many gold coins and a note from the king indicating that the gold was for the person who removed the boulder from the roadway.

The peasant learned what many of us never understand! Every obstacle presents an opportunity to improve our condition.

Lesson from life -- the cleaning lady

Thanks to Agent 38 for passing this along...

During my second month of college, our professor gave us a pop quiz. I was a conscientious student and breezed through the questions until I read the last one:

"What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?" Surely this was some kind of joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times. She was tall, dark-haired and in her 50's, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank.

Just before class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our quiz grade."Absolutely, " said the professor. "In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say 'hello'."

I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two quotes worth noting

This is the last time I'm going to quote from Just How Stupid Are We? by Rick Shenkman. I'm taking it back to the library today...that's why. But I would be remiss if I did not pass on two great observations on conservatism and the role of The People in American politics.

Skepticism of popular government grew naturally out of the bedrock conviction that man is fundamentally depraved, sin is universal, and redemption is rare. So essential were all of these beliefs to conservatism that one is hard-pressed to imagine what is left of a conservatism that exists without them.

In the twenty-first century conservatives have joined liberals in competing as flatterers of the vox populi. Whatever The People believe is right. On Fox News nary a single commentator is given time to express skepticism of The People. In their hurry to curry favor with viewers, Fox News conservatives are unwilling to suggest that the voters are ever in error. It is never the voters who make mistakes. It is liberals. We are all populists now.

Shenkman on Obama

A few days ago I recommended Just How Stupid Are We?, by Rick Shenkman, a regular commentator on Fox News and CNN. I repeat the recommendation. You should read the book, if only for Shenkman's comments on the election of President Obama.

The book itself was written before the 2008 election, but the author has added an epilogue in which he refutes the argument that the election of Obrama proves that the American people -- those who vote, that is -- are smarter than he gave them credit for.

Shenkman says what should be obvious, that the election of Obama was based on pure emotion, rather than reason. (That is why Walt called it wrong, by the way. I never thought US voters would take leave of their senses completely.)

Obama's message was that a vote for him was a vote for hope-and-change (n. singular). What exactly would be changed was not spelled out, and the American people, the great unwashed, were gullible enough to fall for it.

Here's what Shenkman says:

One wishes not to so generalize Barack Obama's profile as to make him indistinguishable from other pols. He clearly is different.... But he behaved just like an ordinary pol on so many occasions that one begins to suspect that his chief calculations were more similar to theirs than different.

Did he really believe the American people are smart? Of course not. Like McCain, he counted on people not being smart.

And of course he was right.

But perhaps "the people" are waking up. Yahoo! polled its readers yesterday on the question "Has Obama brought meaningful change to the world?" 36% said yes. 64% voted NO.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Haitienne who won't be feeling too much pain

Walt is watching reports from Haiti, coverage of the disastrous earthquake that struck that poor country -- the poorest in the Western Hemisphere -- a couple of days ago. Walt is waiting to hear a comment -- any comment at all -- from one of the most famous daughters of Haiti, Michaëlle Jean. Where is she?

For those who think "Who is she?" might be a better question, I will elucidate. Michaëlle Jean is none other than the Governor General of Canada. She referred to herself as Canada's head of state, until reminded that actually Queen Elizabeth II is Canada's head of state, with Her Jeanness being only a proxy or agent.

The beautiful, talented and fragrant Ms Jean owes her appointment largely to the fact that it suited the impeccably PC Liberal government of Paul Martin to appoint a bilingual "woman of colour". The myth about her being a refugee who had made good in the world of journalism didn't hurt either.

It is a myth, you know. Far from being a barefoot girl who escaped from the slums of Petionville, Ms Jean was, in fact, the pampered darling of a well-to-do sugar daddy, who also happened to be a separatist. Through his connections Ms Jean landed a job with Radio Canada (a nest of separatists) where she did nothing to distinguish herself.

But it cannot be denied that Michaëlle was the right colour, from the right province, and looked good in photo ops. Thus she became Canada's stand-in monarch.

Where is she now? During her reign she has exhibited a fondness for swanning around the world, on the taxpayers' dime of course. When Prime Minister Harpoon wanted to prorogue Parliament, Her Jeanness had to be called back to Ottawa [from where? ed.] to give the royal assent. Where is she now?

Walt would also like to know exactly how much the G-G is going to contribute to the Haiti disaster relief fund. She draws a pretty good salary, not forgetting free rent for a pretty big chunk of prime real estate, free rides on government jets and numerous other perks.

Saying "I feel your pain" -- not that she's said anything yet -- wouldn't be enough. Surely she could spare a little change for the dispossessed and bereaved of her native land? We shall see.

Why dumb is bad

From freezing Florida, Agent 17 sent me a link to "The Stupidest Game Show Answers of All Time". Watch it and have a chuckle at the dumb blonde and other ignoramuses. Then think about this.

These people are allowed to vote! And their vote counts for as much as yours and mine. Worse, as Rick Shenkman points out in Just How Stupid Are We?, never in the history of America have "the people" wielded so much real political power.

Public opinion polls drive public policy. Petitions and ballot initiatives lead to stupid and unworkable legislation. Elected officials can be recalled because "the people" have changed their collective mind (if you'll pardon the overstatement) and don't want them in office any more.

Yet "the people" know next to nothing, as these video clips demonstrate, about geography, politics, economics, civics or the issues of the day. Shenkman says we have stopped reading and learning about these things because we are preoccupied with entertainment and the culture of consumerism.

And what is the result? Bad policies, bad decisions and bad government. We -- and I include Canadians and Britons along with Americans -- are reaping the harvest of the dumbing-down of our society.

It's bad for us to be so dumb! Dumb. Bad. Dumb. Bad. Dumb. Bad. Keep repeating until it sinks in.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Alas! The Beaver is no more

Walt is pleased to pass along, with only minor edits, a sad story reported today by Agence France Press.

OTTAWA (AFP) - Canada's second-oldest magazine, The Beaver, is changing its name after 90 years because the title is too often censored by online porn filters, preventing it from reaching new online readers.

The Winnipeg-based magazine was launched in 1920 to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Hudson's Bay Company and the fur trade that led to the early exploration of Canada.

"The Beaver was an impediment online," publisher Deborah Morrison told AFP.
"Several readers asked us to change the title because their spam filters at home or at work were blocking it," she said. "I've even had emails bounce back because I had inadvertently typed the term in the heading."

"Nearly a century ago, it probably seemed the perfect name for a magazine about the fur trade and Canada's northwest frontier. There was only one interpretation for the word then.
"But you're likely to find a lot of (porn) sites now if you search for the title of our history magazine online," Ms Morrison added.

The magazine that chronicles Canada's past will publish its last issue under the old banner in February/March. Thereafter, it will be known under the less evocative name of Canada's History.

The contemptuous...or contemptible...Mr. Harper

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper made one of his infrequent revelations of his true self on Monday. In an interview with BNN (Business News Network) he let slip his true feelings about Parliament.

He is openly contemptuous of it. He dismisses it an unnecessary check on his power to govern Canada. He wishes it would just go away.

Mr. Harper (I will no longer write "Call Me Steve", for he reveals himself as a dangerous autocrat, and ought to be taken more seriously) actually said that having Parliament sitting creates instability, because your elected representatives, Canadian friends, like to "play games" like holding enquiries into Harper's decisions regarding Afghanistan, or calling for votes on his legislation, or generally asking his lordship to be accountable to the people.

Yes, the Prime Minister, who holds office by grace of the votes of about 37% of the 50-odd percent of Canadians who bothered to vote, suggested that his prorogation of Parliament gives him the opportunity to do the serious business of the nation without the distractions of democracy, e.g. having to appear during Question Period to answer those annoying queries from opposition MPs.

Here are a couple of other viewpoints.

The Harper government's attack sheep, the pencil-necked Tony Clement, said that prorogation was only of interest to "the chattering classes" and certain "Ottawa elites". He'd only had "around three dozen" e-mails from his constituents in snowbound Parry Sound, Clement said. Walt says that if 36 voters in Parry Sound, where the chief concern is getting out of winter's blast, bestir themselves to e-mail their M.P., the issue is one of serious concern!

Also yesterday, Mr. Harper’s sometime mentor and chief of staff, Tom Flanagan, now teaching politics at the University of Calgary, gave his own explanation for prorogation. On CBC's Power & Politics with Evan Solomon the professor said that everyone knows the only reason Mr. Harper prorogued was to “shut down the Afghan inquiry.” Mr. Flanagan was talking about the special Commons committee investigation into the Afghan detainee affair. The committee now finds itself silenced as a result of the prorogation.

Mr. Flanagan also said that it's too bad Mr. Harper doesn't really like democracy. Exactly. Contemptible.

A couple of days ago I gave you a link to en editorial in the Economist saying just that. In case you didn't read the piece, let me just quote the last paragraph. Read it and heed it.

Mr. Harper is a competent tactician with a ruthless streak. He bars most ministers from talking to the media; he has axed some independent watchdogs; he has binned [British English for "trashed", ed.] campaign promises to make government more open and accountable. Now he is subjecting Parliament to prime-ministerial whim.

He may be right that most Canadians care more about the luge than the legislature, but that is surely true only while their decent system of government is in good hands. They may soon conclude that it isn't.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Over 100 years ago

Before the Model T, even before the Model A, there was the Ford Model R.
It appeared in 1909, just over 100 years ago.

What a difference a century makes! Here are some statistics for the Year 1909.

The average life expectancy was 47 years. Fuel for this car was sold only in drug stores.

Only 14 percent of North American homes had a bathtub. Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.

There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.
The tallest structure in the world was the Eiffel Tower!

The average wage in 1909 was 22 cents per hour. The average worker made between $200 and $400 per year. A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

More than 95 percent of all births took place at home. Ninety percent of all doctors had NO college education! Instead, they attended so-called "medical schools", many of which were condemned in the press AND by the government as "substandard". The five leading causes of death were: 1. Pneumonia and influenza; 2. Tuberculosis; 3. Diarrhoea; 4. Heart disease; 5. Stroke.

Sugar cost four cents a pound. Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen. Coffee was fifteen cents a pound. Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used Borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering the country for any reason.
The American flag had 45 stars. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada, was only 30!

Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and iced tea hadn't been invented yet. There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day. Two out of every 10 adults couldn't read or write and only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores. Back then pharmacists said, "Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health."

Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic helper.

There were about 230 reported murders in the entire U.S.A.!

One more sad thought.... 95 percent of the taxes we have now did not exist in 1909.

I am now going to make this available to readers all over the world, at the speed of light. Doing this could scarcely be imagined in 1909. Try to imagine what our world may be like in another 100 years.

Stupid Americans

Do you watch CNN? Or the liberals' nemesis, Fox News? If you stay tuned after these "news" outlets have finished talking about the adventures of Balloon Boy, you will occasionally hear Rick Shenkman talk about hard news and, especially, politics.

Over the weekend, Walt has been reading Mr. Shenkman's latest book, Just How Stupid Are We? (Basic Books, 2008). It's probably going to be the most depressing book I'll read all year, and I commend it to you highly.

In a word, Mr. Shenkman thinks the public -- "the people of America", as politicians love to say -- is abysmally dumb, and getting dumber. Yet although "the masses are grossly ill-informed and irrational, and our politics driven by myths, the political system [has been] reconfigured in such a way as to give the masses more direct control than ever before".

If that doesn't scare you, I don't know what would. To make matters worse, only some thousands, out of millions of American voters, will read Mr. Shenkman's book. Only these few will read his diagnosis of what ails American politics or his prescription for a cure.

Only these few will read such gems as:
"Americans are vastly inferior in their knowledge of world geography compared with Europeans. (The old joke is that 'war is God's way of teaching Americans geography.')" or

"In 2003 the Strategic Task Force on Educatin Abroad investigated Americans' knowledge of world affairs. [They] concluded: 'America's ignorance of the outside world' is so great as to constitute a threat to national security."

Walt's Canadian followers needn't sit back and feel smug either. Similar studies in Canada -- English Canada at least -- have concluded that Canadians' knowledge of what's going on in the world, or right around home, is not much better.

Don't believe me? Show your neighbours an outline map of the world and ask them to locate Afghanistan. Or ask them who the head of state of Canada is. (Hint: It's not Call Me Steve Harper.) Ask them who they'd call if they wanted a pothole in their street fixed. (Hint: It's not the local M.P. or M.L.A.)

Just How Stupid Are We? provides concrete proposals for reforming our institutions -- government, the media, civic organizations and political parties -- to make them work better for the people. But first, Mr. Shenkman argues, the people must reform themselves!

Footnote: George Mason University's History News Network features Rick Shenkman's blog on its website. You can buy the paperback there, and read the latest stupid news and stupid comments.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Mr. Harper's arrogance has not gone unnoticed

Canadians, who are thought to be so uninterested in politics as to be capable of sleeping through a military coup, seem to have taken some note of the arrogant and dictatorial action of their prime minister in proroguing Parliament.

According to a report by EKOS released yesterday, most Canadians say they are aware of Mr Harpoon's decision to prorogue Parliament so as to be able to rule without having to account to anyone. Roughly two-thirds of those who understand what Harper has done say they disapprove.

Even in American and Britain, where little attention is paid to Canadian politics, eyebrows have been raised. Yesterday I pointed you towards articles in the Guardian and the New York Times. Today I recommend "Harper goes prorogue" (geddit?), an editorial in The Economist.

"Parliamentary scrutiny may be tedious," the writer says, "but democracies cannot afford to dispense with it." Just so.

For a longer and fuller treatment of this theme, consider an op-ed piece by Michael Ignatieff, Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. Make fun, if you will, of the Iggster's questionable abilities as a political leader, but you have to give him credit for being a thinker.

Here's the nub of Mr. Ignatieff's argument: This shutting down of Parliament is not a rash or impetuous act. It is part of a consistent pattern of behaviour on the part of Mr. Harper’s government. Whenever Stephen Harper gets into political trouble, his first impulse is to steamroll over democratic institutions that get in his way.

If you agree that Harper's bypassing of Parliament so as to rule directly and without impediment is bad for democracy and bad for Canada, let your voice be heard. And remember it come the next federal election.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Steven Harper speaks out on dissent

When a government starts trying to cancel dissent or avoid dissent is frankly when it’s rapidly losing its moral authority to govern. (Stephen Harper, Canadian Press, April 18, 2005)

This quote appears in a letter sent to Agent 3 by Bev Hodgson, the Liberal candidate in the Canadian riding of Niagara Falls. She goes on...

"Shutting down Parliament in the middle of the night is signature Mr. Harper. This is the fourth time in just three years that he has shut down Parliament in order to wiggle his way out of a bind. No Prime Minister in Canadian history has shown as much disrespect for Parliament!

"Shutting down Parliament has of course raised speculation about a spring election.
Canadians have said, loud and clear, that there is no need for an early election, but it seems we are heading for one anyway.

"Turning the snubbing of Parliamentary democracy into a criticism of the Senate is one of Mr. Nicholson’s best spins yet -- this after Mr. Harper has appointed more Senators than any other Prime Minister in Canadian history, and is set to appoint another five.

"We all know that Canadian News doesn’t often reach into the US or the UK, but this extraordinary move by Mr. Harper has raised eyebrows abroad as well as at home. See "Shafting Democracy in Canada", from the Guardian, and "Canadian Leader Shuts Parliament for 2nd Time", from the New York Times.

"As well, Canadian Reporter Kady O’Malley dispels the myths that are being spun by the Conservatives in "Memories of Order Papers Past", on the CBC News website.

"I hope you will join us," Ms Hodgson concludes, "in denouncing this latest tactical move by Mr. Harper."

Eagerness to please is not a security policy

You have to laugh at Canadian Transport Minister John Baird, the Harper government's trained pit bull. When it comes to dealing with the Americans, he's more like a chihuahua bitch! Reminds me of an old Warner Brothers cartoon in which a little lap dog dances circles around a big brutish bulldog, the little dog just about wetting himself in an effort to please the big one.

Today's Toronto Star has a good editorial on the Canadian overreaction to the American overreaction, about which I wrote this morning. Have a look at "Canada's abrupt rush to scanners" to see how Call Me Steve and his toadies are all but tying themselves in knots to suck up to His Obamaness.

The terrorist threat

Walt has been told to "get real". How can you write about funny TV commercials, a follower asks, when we are surrounded by Serious Threats to Our American Way of Life? OK, he didn't put it quite that way, with the caps and all, but that was the gist of it.

Walt says: Can we (Americans) purleeze stop overreacting? More important, would Canadians and other foreigners stop overreacting to the American overreaction? Security is tighter now at Canadian airports than it is at US airports!

If I really wanted to get an explosive onto a US airliner, I'd forget about trying to board the plane at Pearson or Trudeau. I'd drive across the border to, say, Buffalo, with the explosive in my gotchees (wonder if it's itchy) and get on the plane there.

All the restrictions, patdowns, and "naked picture scans" being put in place in Canada and Europe strike me as extreme overkill, like burning down a house to kill a mouse. The effects on air travel to the "land of the free" (what a laugh that is) are already hurting international business and the not-yet-recovered economy.

If I lived in the Netherlands or Canada, let alone Pakistan or Nigeria, I'd just stay home. Come to think of it, maybe that's been the plan all along.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

TV commercials Walt actually likes

Having quite justifiably poked fun at whoever made those ridiculous commercials for Fallsview Casino (see post, last month I now take pleasure in presenting two commercials which are more entertaining than some of the programs in which they are inserted.

The first is for Rickard's, brewers of beer which they want us to believe is delicious.

video

There are two versions of this in English, and one in French. In the English versions the "middle guy" looks vaguely vizmin. In the French version, everyone is pure laine. Coincidence? I think not. Fine commercials though.

While researching this, I stumbled on a spoof commercial made by a fan of Rickard's Red. I'm having trouble getting it to upload, so will invite you to click here to go to YouTube to see proof that non-professionals, like Curtis, can do even better than ad agencies.

Saved the best for the last. Click for Pepsi Max's "I'm Good" commercial. Yeah, I know it's derivative -- America's Funniest Videos -- but it made me laugh so hard tears were running down my legs!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

If Moses had been a cartoonist

Spare me the philological argument. Just assume with me, if you will, that Moses actually wrote the first five books of the Bible. He may have been a divinely inspired writer, but, as anyone who's tried to read the Pentateuch knows, he could have used a good illustrator.

Poor William Blake, whose little paintings were, in his day, considered the work of a madman, didn't come along until some 5000 years later. We waited another three-quarters of a century for the advent of Gustav Doré, whose engravings grace many an old family Bible.

Now, some 150 years later, we have a remarkable illustrated version of the Book of Genesis, courtesy of R. Crumb.

That's right. Robert Crumb, comic book artist. Creator of such characters as Fritz the Cat, the Furry Freak Brothers, Flakey Foont and of course Mr. Natural. ("Is dis a system?")

Crumb is someone who almost defies description, let alone pigeon-holing. He is not just a simple cartoonist in the style of, say, Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons. Yet most critics would not have considered him a serious illustrator or artist...until now.

I picked up The Book of Genesis off the library shelf -- it almost jumped into my hands -- expecting it to be a satire or parody. It is not. Crumb "simply" draws a series of pictures, laid out as comic book panels, to illustrate the text assembled from the Robert Alter and King James versions of the Biblical version. There's a short written commentary at the end to précis the Biblical text, kind of like a listener's guide to an opera.

The power and savage beauty of Crumb's work is the drawings. Crumb is no mean draftsman. One 3 x 5 inch drawing of Noah's Ark must contain hundreds of brush-strokes. Perhaps it's a cliché, but Crumb's depiction of the faces makes the people come alive. Cain looks malevolent. Abel looks innocent. Adam looks like a naive superman. Eve looks voluptuous. Parental guidance is definitely advised!

The characters, even God, look not like the heroic classical figures of Doré, but as something within us believes they should look. They look real! Except for the serpent. We think of him as a snake but forget that the text says that as punishment, God took away his four legs. So Crumb draws him as he was, like a large lizard.

The dust jacket says: "Crumb's Book of Genesis, the culmination of five years of painstaking work, is a tapestry of masterly detail and storytelling that celebrates the astonishing diversity of one of our greatest artistic geniuses."

Walt says The Book of Genesis is a work of art. Even if you think the story is just the old Gilgamesh legend retold, you should have a look at it. I promise, you've never seen anything like it.

Footnote: Those interested in the "comix" are recommended to The Life and Times of R. Crumb, edited by Monte Beautchamp, with an introduction by Matt Groening. You can find copies on Amazon for a cent. There's also a DVD called Crumb: Special Edition.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Why Obama wants to destroy the Catholic Church

Thanks to Agent 71 for passing along this commentary by Michael Voris, S.T.B., on President Obama's plan to eliminate, or at least neutralize the Catholic Church in the U.S.A. Why? Because it opposes his plan to socialize America. This is for all Christians! Even if you're not Catholic, please, for the good of the nation, watch this!

Sorry I haven't been able to upload the video clip, but clicking on the link will take you to YouTube. Please pass it on!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

This time next year

Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Fall election after all?
Walt's prediction: December 31st will see Harpoon still in office, thanks to the fecklessness of the gutless Grits
.

Now, four months later, you can chalk up another bang-on prediction for Walt. Lifetime percentage .994.

After a lot of sabre-rattling in the fall, Ignatieff and his ever-changing team of advisers discovered -- surprise, surprise! -- that the Canadian people really didn't want an election, even if it meant being stuck for the rest of the year with Smarmy Steve Harper and his coterie of toadies.

Through a mix of Liberal weakness, Tory brutishness and sheer luck, Mr. Harpoon seems at the moment to have power grasped firmly in his talons. He has steamrollered the opposition. Run right over them. Harper's coercing the Governor-General into proroguing Parliament -- he didn't even bother to go and see Her Jeanness, just phoned -- is merely the latest bruising bodycheck.

Indeed, Harper looks to be on course to become the most successful Conservative prime minister since Sir John Eh. But wait. As John Diefenbaker said, "It's a long road that has no ashcans." [What does that mean? ed.]

Walt fearlessly predicts that by this time next year, someone else will be Prime Minister of Canada. It may not be Afghanistan that does him in, although it should be. Perhaps the opposition can succeed in pinning the blame for the HST on the federal government. Or it could be the Tories' desire to change leaders before another election, in hopes of finding someone who can lead them to a majority.

But hear me, Harper is neither invulnerable nor invincible. Look for his authoritarian regime to fall by this time next year. Then and only then will I wish Canadians a happy new year!

Footnote 1: Click here to read "Harper's dark democracy creates dangerous legacy" , excellent analysis of the Harper regime by James Travers, national affairs columnist for the Toronto Star.

Footnote 2: Am I the only one who really hates the official portrait of Call Me Steve, embedded above? That cat-that-ate-the-canary smirk makes me want to hit him right on his big long nose.