Monthly Archives: May 2003

SARS-Mongering


According to new reports now, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak in Toronto is back on the front burner.  What has been happening is this:  The Ontario Government is jiggering the way they report potential cases of SARS.  Some days they use the World Health Organization rules, other days the Center for Disease Control rules.  On different days still, they use the Texas Rule (Is it dead?  Yup, then ta hell with it”) of Reporting.

This is all just so much silliness.  SARS is confined to one hospital and a couple dozen patients, who are almost all healthcare workers.  Depending on whose reporting rules you use, having a head cold can count as a possible SARS infection. 

The prudent and sensible action is to quarantine those who exhibit symptoms.  The symptoms are:  Tiredness, dizziness, dry cough, low-grade fever, aches and pains, chills and congestion.  If this sounds like someone on Benadryl who is allergic to pollen, or the documented side effects of almost all prescriptions medication, then you are just as confused as we are.  The quarantine is simple:  Ten days. No contact.  If you don’t develop full-blown SARS, then you’re fine.

SARS can and does kill, essentially like Pneumonia, except the transmission carrier is not a Pneumococcal virus, but the Corona Virus.  Pneumonia is so common in hospitals that patients who don’t get post-operative Pneumonia are considered strange and unusual.  If you swabbed your hands right now and cultured the swabs, you would find Corona Virus growing like summer corn along with e.coli, salmonella and a host of other scary sounding bugs that could all, potentially, kill you. 

Did you know that you have close to 40 liters of Volatile Organic Compounds in your possession right now?  A known carcinogen, a known mutagen, highly toxic, explosive, highly flammable, this substance can cause brain damage or death if even small amounts are ingested?

On top of all that, it’s stored with little or no regard for general public safety, health risks or even good labeling.  People even store it in rusty, sometimes leaky, metal cans.  It’s all through the water supply and the food chain, poisoning untold numbers of children, seniors and pregnant women, causing potential birth defects, premature birth, skin rashes, burns, blindness, irreversible brain damage and deaths.

Where is the government in all of this, allowing people to have and store such potent, dangerous, chemistry in such an irresponsible, lackadaisical way?  We demand a thorough investigation!

It’s called Gasoline.  You have some in your car.

When you see a SARS story, do try to keep it in perspective.

To Visit or Not To Visit


Occasionally a plaintive cry comes across the desk that demands our help:

What is up with your government?  As soon as I decide not to visit Toronto any time soon because of SARS, they come out with this article.  Now I do not know.  Help me my friend.

Stephen

The article was a Washington Post story about the most important tourism initiative in Canada in the past fifty years.  Canada is in the process of decriminalizing marijuana possession for small amounts.  Get caught with less than half an ounce (15 grams) of ganja and the police will give you a ticket and a fine.  Just like double parking, or running a red light, you get a fine. 

The object of the change is to keep those who are stupid enough to get caught with some herb from getting a felony criminal record.  The other side is those who wholesale, grow or distribute, will get whacked with bigger sentences and more mandatory prison time.

Toronto is a nice city, despite the SARS thing, which is truly overblown.  The Dope Tour industry is another issue.  The law hasn’t passed yet, so getting caught with fixin’s is still a criminal charge and generally a bad thing.

When the law does pass, expect to see bus loads of Americans come up to Canada, buying up 14 grams of spliffage at a time.  Sit down at a nice park bench, spark up and not worry about it.  You’re more likely to get your ass kicked for having a cigarette in a restaurant than getting in trouble for smoke.

I can see nothing wrong with the change.  I’ve been in bars where people are drinking beer and shots.  You know that someone is going to get a pool cue across the head during the upcoming fight.  Drinkers have the potential to be mean and aggressive. 

I’ve also been in bars with marijuana smokers.  The worst to expect in those situations is someone saying “I love you, maaaan…” or getting dinged by an errant Hacky Sack. 

So, Stephen, come on up!

Road Map Unfolding?


The Israeli Parliament has approved, barely, the US Road Map for Peace in the Middle East.  The deal is supposed to keep the Israelis and Palestinians from each others’ throats long enough to let things settle out.  Just like the Camp David Accord or any of the other hundred of Memoranda of Agreements, Accords, Treaties, Truces, Peace Initiatives and general meetings over the past 50-some years.

The background on all this goes back to before Year 1.  I’m going to try to explain this as best as it can be explained because it is truly complicated.  Stay with us now, it gets messy, but we’ll keep it short.

Jerusalem is the center of the Jewish and Christian religions, as this was the place where Jesus and the Lads did their thing.  Egypt and Moses, Loaves, Fishes, all the Old Testament doings.  And Mohammed was in there too, along with his brothers Stan and Ollie.  In the Day, there was no Israel, just villages and towns with a whole bunch of religions living together and lots of sand, rocks and gravel. 

Bring up the Grecian Empire, the Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire.  Throw in a Crusade or two, where Christians in England, France and Germany thought the Muslims were desecrating the “Holy Land” and could only be stopped by slaughtering as many people as possible.  The Muslims thought the Crusaders were desecrating their Holy Land and figured that killing as many Crusaders as possible was turnabout and therefore, fair play.

Eventually we get to WWII.  Jews were treated poorly before WWII in most countries of the known world, with ships full of Jewish refugees being turned away from many countries, including the US and Britain.   Much Guilt ensues after the Allies find out what Auschwitz and Belsen were built for. 

The League of Nations and Lester Pearson come up with the idea of a Jewish Homeland on a chunk of real estate that was known as Palestine at the time.  England was the defacto territory holder, not actually running the place, as there were too many religions, holy places, fights, sand, rocks and gravel to really get into it.  In 1947 The League of Nations does a key toss and says “Here ya go, a Jewish Homeland!  Enjoy”

The League of Nations overlooked a little point when they handed over the pink slip.  There were a few million Muslims, Bedouins, Christians and others already living on that map reference.  Most of the people there operated on a simple principle:  If I am on the land, farming, or herding, or whatever, it is MY land.  This had been the custom for thousands of years.

The soon-to-be Israelis came ashore fighting, tossing out as many non-Jews as they could, then building houses, kibbutzim, cities, farms, villages and towns on the confiscated lands. 

The now-Israelis brought technology to the area in a major way, irrigating the Negev desert into farm land along with a deep sense of entitlement.  Israelis also seem to have a deeply held sense of paranoia having had to fight to come ashore then fight every last inch until they reached the artificial borders of Israel.  Two thousand years of being without a homeland, followed by Global Genocide tends to do that to a people.

Those who were already on the land were also justifiably deeply pissed that some group of suit-wearing old guys from far away gave their land out from under them, without so much as a thanks for stopping by.  This explains the Palestinian attitude.

In a highly simplified and massively condensed version, the essential Middle East Conflict can be reduced to:  “We were here first!  Yeah but we’re here now and WE were here first! Were not!  Were too!  It’s our homeland!  No it’s not! Is too!  UN says it’s OUR homeland!  Is not!  Is too!..”

This conflict can go on, as it does in the playground, forever.  Until Mom or Dad step in and tell both the kids to shut up, they’ll keep beating each other over the head. 

As the final judge here, both the Israelis and the Palestinians have a right to be there.  The Palestinians don’t have the right to blow themselves up in shopping areas and the Israelis don’t have the right to run tanks over Palestinians houses just for shits and giggles.

The US Road Map for Peace is designed to get these two whiny, spoiled little brats to share.  Unfortunately the Road Map doesn’t have the one extra feature that all parents have in this situation.  Take the toys away and don’t let either kid play with them.  Conversely, a good whack across the backside for both kids would probably do them a world of good too, but in a geopolitical sense, this just doesn’t work.

Will the Road Map work?  I hope it will, but we’ve got too many centuries of bad behaviour and a bunch of monomaniacal personalities on both sides who can’t forget, won’t forgive and refuse to change the subject.

Sens Fold


Ottawa has been in the grips of “Sens Fever” meaning the Ottawa Senators National Hockey League team.  Finally, tonight, the New Jersey Satanists beat them 3-2.  The Senators can now go to the golf course and the city can return to what passes for normal.  Thank heavens.

Mad Cows


Canada just seems to keep stepping in it.  First it was not joining the US in the War In Iraq, then the SARS outbreak in Toronto.  Now, a single cow, currently dead, had Mad Cow Disease.

The usual precautions have been taken.  The herd has been quarantined and the meat from the cow in question is being tracked back to the chicken and pig feed it was made into.  The other cows are being watched closely for signs of the disease, like hoarding guns and ammo, buying dehydrated food and digging a bunker in the pasture when they think nobody is looking.

There are days when a country just can’t get a break.  Except the Mad Cow thing isn’t news here.  We’ve had humans with Mad Cow Disease.  The list includes a current candidate for Prime Minister, a former Prime Minister, a Senator from British Columbia and a political action group leader.  For those who don’t stay up on Canadian Politics, the names are:  Sheila Copps, Kim Campbell, Pat Carney and Maud Barlow. 

Oh, sorry, I think I got that wrong.  My apologies.  The aforementioned are not Mad Cows.  They’re just plain nuts.

Rebuilding With Friends


As predicted, the money teat is out for the rebuilding of Baghdad.  The former WorldCom, now MCI again, got a tidy contract to put a wireless network into Baghdad.  A sound idea on the face of it; give a country just gutted in a war, a nice wireless network to get the cellphones and pagers working, skipping over the step of running copper from house to house.  I can live with that as an infrastructure building operation.

Except WorldCom has only one wireless install under its belt, in Haiti.  Other majors, like ATT&T, Sprint and Verizon didn’t even get to sniff the manila folder holding the tender for the job.  Not that the winner, or the other potential bidders are any screaming hell at setting up wireless networks, as evidenced by the performance of their networks in the US.  Sprint is probably the least inept, at least in the major urban areas, where its coverage is near useable and the bandwidth is almost acceptable. 

Why did WorldCom get the contract?  I suppose I could spend a few minutes researching the issue, but the short form will suffice:  Money.  Siemens, or Thompson (Germany or France) didn’t grease the skids enough and the US carriers forgot that rebuilding jobs like this take briefcases of cash to fix in advance.  Amateurs.  Rookies.  Newbie Mistake.

Is this cynical?  Not really, it’s just the New Business Paradigm In The Global Economy. 

Conditions Apply


If you want to scare yourself, read the Bill of Sale or Application for just about any major goods, products, credit card agreement, or even an airline ticket.  In tiny grey print on a light grey background you’ll see that the seller, or credit grantor has all the rights, including the right to tell you to go spoon a goose at their sole discretion.  Which is fine, as it is their condition of sale and we merrily sign up and carry on hoping that things all work out in the end.

When things don’t work out, as they sometimes do, they point to the fine print and then to the invisible “conditions” and policies that the company has put in place to prevent you from getting it fixed, replaced, refunded or worked upon.  I think it is time for all of us to put some conditions in place when dealing with companies. 

Herewith, my Conditions.  I’m contemplating printing out a very small copy and handing it to everyone I meet in the course of normal business, or even human contact.

Purchaser agrees that: We can change the conditions of this agreement at anytime without notice, including but not limited to policy, refunds, management, merchantability, response to questions, advocacy, medical information, privacy, protected information and any other information or thing that may be contained into or wrought into those devices, articles, systems, procedures or intellectual properties of us. 

Severance of one or more conditions will not render the entire agreement void. 

The agreement will be in force until We inform you of release of conditions by registered letter, verbal or telephone communication to the last known address of the Purchaser. 

We are entitled to collect such information as we require for performance of our agreement and you are required to provide this information in a timely manner in a format that we will specify.  Failure to provide information will result in penalties as described in our policies which are on file at 59 Ashpark Crescent, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada during normal business hours. 

You specifically agree to provide a photographic likeness, credit and comprehensive medical information that will become sole possession of the vendor for use at our discretion to describe, annotate and statistically derive management information for our use. 

Any material change to your information must be reported immediately to us, including but not limited to, income, health, healthcare provider, serious diseases as listed in Policy Appendix A, shirt or collar size, gender, hair colour or style, tobacco use, engagement in risk activities or driving abstract. 

Purchaser agrees that entering into communications with us will suffice as acceptance of all provisions of this agreement.  If the purchaser is not an agent of the company represented their acceptance of these terms will be considered acceptance by the company, their agents, heirs and assigns without restraint as if the company has signed the agreement.

Simply put, these Conditions, if you read through it, allows me to do a ton of things just like big companies do:

Telemarketers calling?  It is not our policy to answer questions over the telephone for security purposes.  If you wish to continue speaking with us, we require the following information.  Your name, address, telephone number, SSN or SIN account number and a completed credit report before we can speak with you. 

Credit Card Hawkers:  I’ll sign up, if your company provides me with a Dun and Bradstreet credit report so I can see if they are worthy of my membership.  We require a credit application from you, personally, for informational purposes to start the approval process.  You can’t or won’t do that?  I’m sorry, our conditions insist on it and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Charity Callers:  I’m sorry policy does not permit donations at this time. Thank you for calling.

Door to Door:  In order to listen to you, we require a completed application for communications before we can talk to you, including a non-disclosure agreement.

Car Salespersons:  Our policy insists that your company provide financial information before we consider buying your car.

Boss:  Under the terms of the non-disclosure agreement, I cannot discuss your statement without a release from the vendor according to our policy terms.

The whole idea is to turn that corporate pseudo-customer service babble against the purveyors of mouthcrap.  By politely answering their questions with policy statements you jam it back down their throats.  If they choose not to adhere to your “policy”, then you can turn them down, without guilt, or fear, or discomfort, as its “just policy” nothing personal.

The genesis of this was a quote from the actor and racer Paul Newman in an interview years ago.  PL was asked how he turns down all the offers to give speeches, interviews, commencement addresses, charity time and items for auction.  His quote, which stuck with me, is this: “It’s not something I (we) do” 

In a very succinct statement he has said “No” without entering into an argument and leaving no room for a comeback.  I’ve tried it a couple of times with telemarketers and it just leaves them speechless.  If they press, I just restate it.  It’s not something we do.

One persistent fellow asked me what I meant and I explained it politely, as Explaining myself to you is not something I do.  Thank you for calling.

Try it sometime.  Works like a charm.

Mister Happy Pulls The Pin


Ari Fleisher, the US President Press Wank has pulled the pin on his tenure as the Voice of Doom for Dubya.  Fleisher is well known for his selfless devotion to the Bush Presidency and his almost perpetual frown at the Washington Press Corps.

Fleisher is not a stupid man; he realizes that the job is just a deck chair on the Titanic and you can never win.  Journos won’t let you win, break even, or even quit the game, so why take the gig in the first place?  For starters, it is a resume-maker and career capper without parallel, but not while you’re in the job.  The money tit comes out after you leave.  The speech circuit, the dinner circuit, the university gigs and the requisite book are all on the table now.  Ari can take his pick of the money and run like a mad bastard for the bank.

Fleisher’s stated reason for leaving is he’s had enough and wants to spend some time with his new wife of six months.  Both are noble statements and probably accurate, except most observers of the Voice of Doom are not convinced he has a dick, let alone somewhere to stuff it, aside from up the ass of journalists.  Surprises exist every day.

The bets are now on for the replacement.  The job description is horrid:

Be the President’s mouthpiece 24-7-365. 

Explain things to stupid reporters using small words and simple concepts.

Be able to speak out of both sides of your mouth at the same time, as well as out of your ass, depending on the current political reality sweeping Washington this afternoon, or this minute.

Harvest the live infant stem cells for the hourly injections that keep Alan Greenspan alive and the economy running.

Ensure Trent Lott is muzzled at all times.

Teach Dubya English.

One front runner that has been mentioned is Victoria Clarke, whom you might remember from the Gulf War.  She was the Pentagon Mouthpiece and was known as Ari Fleischer With Balls.  She has the pedigree, the dour attitude and the ability to keep her teeth clenched while fielding inane questions.  She also collected the live insects for Donald Rumsfeld’s lunch feedings, so she know her way around handling the guys in the big chairs.

The Press Wank job is the only job that might be tougher than Commander in Chief and may all have mercy on those who apply.

Architectural Changes


Walking bombs are now all the rage in the Middle East, as a way to persuade various groups to do something or the other.  Known as suicide bombers or martyrs depending on your perspective, the basic concept is terror bombing, plain and simple.

The reason for walking bombs, as contrasted to car or truck bombs is easy enough.  The Beirut Barrier checkpoint is used all over the Middle East to keep trucks and cars from getting near things.  It’s a simple construction; three Jersey blocks, those concrete triangle barriers you see on freeway construction, set in a maze to force trucks and cars to go, one at a time, through a checkpoint with tight S-turns. 

This lesson was learned when a truck bomb blew up the US Army barracks in Beirut in the 80’s:  The truck sped up to the front door of the building and went boom, collapsing the building and killing a couple of hundred Marines.  Don’t allow vehicles to come near buildings in areas of the world where life has little or no value.

In North America we see some of this construction.  The new US Embassy in Ottawa has steel posts, called bollards, along the curb mounted six feet under ground, projecting four feet above ground on the sidewalk.  Each post is about four feet apart and circles the embassy, so bicycles and pedestrians can pass through. 

The idea is to keep the blast and overpressure of an explosion away from the building structure by not letting a vehicle get too close to the building.  The estimates with bollards in general are, you can drive a five-ton truck at 40 miles an hour into these things and still not get through the barrier.

Oklahoma City, as an example, was a “successful” blast because the Ryder truck bomb was within a few feet of the building.  The architects had put a turn-in lane close to the building to allow cars and buses to drop people off at the door.

Britain, especially during the Irish Troubles, did it a bit differently.  They hung blast drapes over the buildings that were likely targets.  Blast drapes look like that green or orange construction mesh you see on a building site.  The drape moves with the blast, dissipating the overpressure wave, reducing the effects and containing some of the damage.  Britain really doesn’t have the physical room for bollards and distance from the sidewalk for safety, so nets and drapes work for them.

Suicide bombers, the walking bombs, can pass through bollards and Beirut Barriers by the simple expedient of being on foot.  Security forces naturally look for individuals with big coats and a bulky build during hot weather.  Carrying a heavy backpack or big bag is also suspect. 

The technology is not complex: A vest stuffed with explosives, either dynamite, or plastique is worn under a coat.  The wearer walks into a crowded area and pulls the detonator, turning their body into small chunks of meat and using the blast wave to kill as many others as they can.  Vest pockets stuffed with nails, screws and scrap metal ensures the damage area is wider and more hideous.  Suicide bombs are easier to make in volume, as you don’t need a lot of explosive to cause a lot of damage, roofing nails are easy to get even for Palestinians in Israel and the wearer is not expected to come back looking for another fitting. 

This week, the walking bombs have added a new twist.  Line up with the rest of the folks at the security checkpoint to enter the shopping area.  Just before you get to the scanner or pat-down area, pull the cord and say goodbye.

The endpoint is the same.  People, regardless of political viewpoint become terrified of being in public areas.  Imagine going to the local Wal-Mart and seeing that hefty guy over there trying on overalls suddenly disappear in a cloud of blood, meat and bone, while bits of metal fly into your face and body and your ears ring like the Bells of Hell from the blast.  Talk about taking the fun out of retail.

Is this kind of terror coming our way?  North America is wide open, from a security standpoint.  The bad guys can get Ryder trucks, explosives and willing drivers as easily as we can get regular unleaded at the local Esso. 

North Americans have never lived under that kind of suspicion of every sidewalk planter, pedestrian, truck and car around you, that the Middle East lives under every day.

EnvironMental


Is the weather screwed up?  Ottawa is having its usual April showers, except today is May 16, 2003.  The old doggerel goes “April showers bring May flowers.  Mayflowers bring Pilgrims.” 

We’re getting our April showers, now.  If there were more Starbucks around the neighbourhood, I would figure we moved the house to Seattle over the winter.  Every day is a rainy day, making the park and woods and lawn sproing into green. 

Unfortunately, after a particularly nasty winter, our lawn is missing. It is not a big lawn, perhaps 8 feet wide and 25 feet long, with a crab tree in the middle but it was ours and we liked it.  Grubs and bugs ate most of the lawn in the fall, then burrowed deep to hide for the winter.  About two weeks ago I raked up the grisly remains and threw down a half-ton of grass seed, hoping to re-grow some turf cover.  I can hear the little grubs waiting below the surface of the dirt, just waiting for the seeds to sprout. 

The City Government has decided that spraying chemicals is illegal, immoral and fattening so I have no weapons of chemistry at hand to kill the little bastards.  The organic warriors insist that a lush green thick lawn is the best defense against weeds and bugs, except they miss the one step:  How do you get to lush, green, thick when the seed is carried off by birds, the little root shoots are considered a self-filling buffet by bugs in the ground and the neighbourhood dogs insist on pissing on the tree.  Sod?  Sure, if you want to spend $300 bucks for grub lunches.

There are occasions when Better Living Through Chemistry is needed.  DDT is an example.  We’re accustomed to looking at DDT as a horrid chemical that will give us all neural tube defects just by being in the same time zone as a DDT bottle.  Except, DDT, in the rest of the world, is an important chemical that prevents the spread of malaria, dengue fever and a few hundred other fatal illnesses by killing the bugs that carry the diseases. 

In Days Of Olde, the City would DDT fog the streets to kill mosquitoes.  As kids we would ride our bikes behind the fogger truck early in the morning, zooming in and out of the insecticide cloud, just for the sheer joy of it.  West Nile Virus, or for that matter any other bug-borne illness was as rare as intelligent life in government.  You could sit outside at night and not have to strap yourself in to prevent the bugs from carrying you away.  Birds still sang, frogs croaked and fish swam. 

I’m not going to apologize for DDT or other heavy chemistry that messes with nature, but nature is an evolving thing.  We could all have a purple martin condo with fat purple martins eating themselves into a coma every day and still have enough bugs around Ottawa to put small dogs and children at risk.  There has to be a balance between benign neglect and active control.

As an example, the City is allowing many areas of parks to return to wildscape.  Grass swards don’t always occur in nature, so the City won’t mow areas on the margins of parks.  Makes sense to me, cut the grass on the ball diamonds, soccer pitches and commons, but let the edges and some areas go back to their natural state.  Cut down on the spraying in the wild areas, as nature will handle most of it if we just ignore it for a while.

Nature is messy.  A real wildscape has scrub birch, long grasses, thorn bushes, rocks, moss, dandelions so big that they have pay-per-view cable, foxes, skunks, squirrels, groundhogs, poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac, scrub cedars, ratty pines, crabgrass that swallows cars and strawberry plants that just seem to appear for no good reason.  Taxpayers get agitated over nature’s natural mess in the middle of the city, especially in that ten to twenty year transition from manicured park to real wildscape, or that transition season or five where the Creeping Charlie wants to reclaim the city streets.

We can live with a less chemical environment, as this is a good thing, but sometimes we have to fudge nature a bit.  Chemicals are not always bad.