Monthly Archives: October 2007

Probiotic, Prebiotic and Twelve Grains

Today’s burning question:  What the hell are the 12 Grains in my bagel?

Wheat, Flax, Rye, Oats, Millet, Triticale, Corn, Rice, Sesame Seeds, Barley, Sunflower Seeds and Buckwheat would be the answer from Dempster’s Bakery.

Others include Spelt, Poppy Seeds, Soybean flour and Quinoa.  I know, technically, Sesame, Sunflower, Soy and Poppy are seeds or legumes, not grains, but somehow they’re now called grains, at least when it comes to advertising. 

Then there is the whole probiotic and prebiotic.  Probiotic means bacteria your gut can use to digest food.  Acidophilus comes to mind and various yogurt manufacturers jack up the amount of acidophilus or other lactic acid bacterium in their products to give you a "probiotic" fix that they can charge more for. 

Kraft makes a probiotic cheese.  I am also waiting for a probiotic shampoo and conditioner that makes your hair shiny, manageable and is high in fiber.

I’m certain we’ll see a ‘probiotic’ vodka cooler that also has Omega-3 fatty acids and is high fibre.  It should run about 70% alcohol, so you can get falling-over drunk at the same time as you are improving your health.

Prebiotic refers most often to Inulin, a plant fiber from chicory or dandelion root that you can’t actually digest in your upper intestine.  It winds up in your lower intestine to feed the bacteria living there to "promote digestive health". 

In advertising-speak that means fart like a sailor and pass turds the size and weight of a small fire extinguisher.

The problem is the modern water-saving toilets.  With all this fiber going through us, we’ll have to flush nine or ten times to make our waste go away.


California Fires

It is interesting to see how the wildfires and evacuations are being handled in California this week.  There are several comparisons that can immediately made between the Hurricane Katrina mess and how California is handling things that speak to the ability of organizations to learn from their mistakes.

Katrina is still, by all assessments, a complete monkey-screw.  California, with a million evacuees and all kinds of losses, seems to be working as well as could be expected:  There has been no Superdome fiasco of dead people in wheelchairs covered with blankets.  The police haven’t been carting off possessions or dropping their guns and giving up. 

California is a different type of disaster.  Fire insists you leave.  Flooding means you could tough it out.

A second area where the Katrina comparison falls over is the type of people who are being evacuated.  Those living up in the hills of Malibu or San Diego are not dirt-poor.  Most interviews with ‘survivors’ start with "We got in the Benz and drove to a shelter with Pooksie and Muffy, our two dogs…" 

Compare that to Katrina where the people most affected were economically marginalized, without a Benz, or for that matter any other way to get out of New Orleans.  To the credit of the California authorities, they used as much technology as they could, to get people out of harm’s way.  Katrina? Tell you what, let’s just call it a learning situation:  The learning was that if you’re poor and inner-city, you’re on your own.

There are other areas where the two disasters don’t compare.  New Orleans is a fairly compact city and Katrina clobbered the densely populated downtown.  San Diego and Malibu are spread out.  The California fires nailed the urban, suburban and fringe rural areas where population density is less than the city proper.  There were no long lines of cars and trucks bumper to bumper clogging the one or two roads out of danger, like there was in New Orleans.

There are areas to investigate.  The various California fire services have almost been universal in their call for more help.  They don’t have enough gear or people to do their job which means they can only try to control things until the weather changes enough to allow them to fight the fire. 

There is a balance that has to be struck with emergency services, in that you have to scale things for known and sensibly predictable disasters.  The 2007 California wildfire season so far, looks like it might be beyond the test of ‘sensibly predictable’ so a shortfall in gear and people would be understandable, not good, but understandable. 

With Hurricane Katrina, the worst the Army Corps of Engineers had built for was a Category 3 storm, historically what had been experienced by New Orleans.  That was a sensible decision, as we have to think back to pre-Katrina time and Cat 3 was as bad as it had ever been.  One must be cautious about using after-the-fact eyes.

However, where the similarities exist, there is that constant theme:  "We don’t have enough resources to do this properly."  You’ve heard it from fire commanders in California and from cops in New Orleans. 

The reason the California fire services don’t have the resources is easy enough:  The gear and personnel are expensive.  Welcome to the fallout of the Regan and Bush-era, read-my-lips-no-new-taxes mentality. 

Emergency services Professionals (not "Brownie" but pros like David Paulison from FEMA) can scale their services to any disaster you can imagine, as long as they have the budget.  Budget means Taxes.

Here’s the conundrum.  You buy house insurance for the usual perils and pay the premium without question.  You don’t like it, but you pay because you know it is a sensible, prudent thing to do, in the event bad things happen.  But heaven’s forbid the politicians ask you pay a few more dollars to protect you and your neighbors with expanded emergency services that might sit unused for weeks on end. 

You know that newspapers and TV stations would be doing "Investigative Reports" on expensive people and gear that are waiting for the one time every five years when they’re really needed and complaining about ‘waste and inefficiency’ and ‘demanding answers’.  Of course, we’ll have all forgotten about the one time society needed the resources and they magically appeared.

You can’t have it both ways.


Flying Nuke Followup

Remember back to the end of August, when a B-52 flew from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, with six nuclear-tipped missiles under the wings?  There was much gnashing of teeth from the US Air Force and a promise of a thorough investigation, which came out yesterday.

Seventy Air Force members are involved, receiving everything from a boot up the arse, to being relieved of command, which is appropriate enough.  Buried in the story from AP is this quote, regarding the protocol (called a schedule) of handling the actual nuclear warheads:  "The airmen replaced the schedule with their own "informal" system, he said, though he didn’t say why they did that nor how long they had been doing it their own way."  That is the truly scary part. 

Humans are lazy at the best of times and that is a well-understood behavior.  Repetitive tasks do not get our full, thorough attention, even if the potential for injury and death with the task is well known and recognized. 

As an example, driving your car:  Do you check behind the vehicle, along side the vehicle or in front of your car before you get in?  Do you check tire pressures, oil level, brake fluid, power steering fluid level, coolant level and concentration, fuel quantity and percentage of water in the fuel before you get in and drive off? 

Do you test and document the condition of all door latches, airbags, seatbelts, internal warning lights, window defogging heaters and fans, mirrors and instrument lights?  You should also test the operation and condition of all surfaces, external lights, signals and braking system too, by the way.  And the fire suppression system.  You have one in your car don’t you? 

We are talking about a ton or more of steel that can travel at more than 88 feet per second and can easily kill a passerby.  Plus it contains many liters of highly-flammable, known-carcinogenic fluid, flammable interior components, glycols, and hydraulic oil that are bad for the environment, toxic if burned and, in the case of the Hula Girl ornament on your dashboard, in damned poor taste.  

Imagine if you had to, by law, do a checklist of all those items above, plus more, sign it off, present it to someone, get it signed off by a third party, then be allowed to drive to the supermarket to buy a bag of pretzels. 

If you want to come back home from the supermarket, you have to do the same checklist and signoffs again to be cleared to come home with the pretzels, which must be weighed and stored securely in a documented place in your car.

If you’re driving, you get in, do up the seatbelt, crank it over, find Drive, punch your radio station of choice and go get some pretzels.   

Technically, to get pretzels with an aircraft, the long checklist would apply.  I’m being very light on the number of steps, leaving out weather, navigation, clearances and maintenance. 

That level of repetitive tasking is common in aviation, which explains why the aviation industry has studied how humans pay attention.  This also explains why aviation has checklists that you work through to do things: Humans will cut corners. 

To come back to the Air Force and the ‘informal’ schedule of handling the nuclear warheads at Minot AFB, it is perfectly understandable, from a behavioral standpoint.  However, the US Air Force has existed since 1947 and as the US Army Air Force since, oh, 1917, give or take.  It is an organization with a long history in researching, observing and understanding how humans work with checklists and repetitive tasking.

Here’s the real problem.  If you document everything with a lengthy checklist and precise steps to perform the tasks, the humans involved will do it faster, cut corners, or not pay attention.  Invariably, at some point, a human will skip one step too many, or assume someone else did their part and not check. 

When it comes to handling nuclear warheads, there is no step that can be skipped, glossed over or, to use the slang, "pencil-whipped" by an inspector.

Now, how to fix it?  There is a simple way: Change the checklist.  Change the layout, or the colour of the paper it is printed on, or the way the checklist is signed off.  That difference from what was done before, clues our lazy brains into paying attention again.  We look at the words, or steps, or kill your parents satan is king, check boxes on the list and actually read or recognize what we are reading.

How many of you caught that little misstep in the paragraph above?  Go read the "Now, how to fix it?" paragraph again.  Anything seem odd about it?  Anything seem like a non-sequitur?  This posting, by the way, is something you have never seen before.  It is new to your brain and eyes and you might have missed something odd about the previous paragraph. 

The US Air Force should have known that humans don’t pay attention at the best of times and done things that would work around the human nature problem. 

There is no excuse for six nuclear warheads to wind up on pylons without everyone involved knowing they were there.

(My personal bet, is that half the people who read it, will miss the reference to satan.  I am kidding about the sentiment, but let me know if you did miss it the first time please.)



Laval Bridge Inquiry Report

Following up on the collapse of the overpass in Laval, Quebec last year, the Provincial Inquiry, chaired by Pierre Marc Johnson dropped their report off at the government.  The backstory:  A four-lane overpass collapsed September 30, 2006, killing five and seriously injuring several more.  There was no indication anything was amiss until the road disappeared under the cars and trucks.

Johnson’s report lists "a total lack of quality control"; shoddy construction and low quality concrete used to build the overpass 35 years ago.  Johnson also pressed the button on poor inspections, a bad repair in 1992 and people and organizations that "failed to assume their responsibilities during construction (and) during the bridge’s service life"  No real surprises there.

Infrastructure is not glamorous, like a conference centre or a professional sports team, which means politicians are always willing to cut the day to day maintenance of infrastructure when it comes time to decide between votes or money.  As for the initial construction and engineering sign off, someone didn’t do their job.  Structural engineers know how much, or how big things have to be.  They have books of reference materials that tell them. 

This wasn’t a one-off modern engineering marvel of the reinforced concrete arts:  It was a run of the mill, done-that-before, four lane overpass.  One of hundreds of structures along our highways.  There are so many of them in our cities and towns that we don’t see them. 

Until they fall down and kill five people.

Which leads us back to who is responsible.  Technically the concrete suppliers, the engineers and the inspectors are the ones who will catch the manure mist on this one.  However, those of us who vote for candidates who promise all kinds of tax cuts also have to take a small slice of the sandwich.

We need to tell our elected representatives that we will pay taxes, even increased taxes, if the money is used for sensible things.  Yes, we will grumble about taxes going up, but if taxes go up for things that matter, then it’s OK in the grand scheme of things. 

There sits the problem:  Politicians as a species have the backbone of half-set gelatin and the long term memory of a a ferret with ADHD.  The distant future timeline for the few good politicians is What’s for Lunch.  The usual politicians’ distant future timeline is what will get me applause in the next 45 seconds. 

Remember that when you vote for someone with a ‘vision for the future of our fair city’  They’re thinking about a sandwich, not your best interests, or doing what is right.



Flu Shot

There is much discussion on the flu shot, that needs some de-cluttering based on common sense and a bit of Science.  Yes, Science.

1: Freshly born humans have a very basic immune system.  The first two or three days of naturally occurring breast milk contains several zillion bacteria, viruses and miscellaneous gunk to expose the infant to as many bad things as evolution allows.  You can look up the list here, on Wikipedia.

2: The human body, most often, develops immunity to many infections by being exposed to the thing that causes the infection in the first place.  The body develops of library of responses:  Sort of a "Been there, Seen that, Know how to kick its’ Ass" for the immune system.  However, the infection agent is sometimes very particular in how you can kick its’ microscopic ass.  Having Mumps does not mean you are protected against the Flu:  Both are viruses but are different viruses. 

The "Flu" virus is a sneaky little piece of work and can only be killed by very specific definitions in your immune system.  The virus constantly mutates and changes its’ definitions, which means the immune system can’t unlock and kill the little bugger.  Get one genetic marker wrong and the immunity might not work.  

(Science Content: The flu is a group of viruses; the actual name is Influenza, a family of RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae, made up of the influenzaviruses Isavirus and Thogotovirus, under three species of Influenzavirus A, Influenzavirus B and Influenzavirus C.  There are thousands of definitions.  End of Science Content)

3: You can get exposure to a new library of virus definitions by getting a "Flu Shot".  The viruses are not alive.  They are dead, but your immune system is smart enough to figure out that it now has a new library of definitions to add to the previous ones, built up since the day you were born.   

4:  The "Flu" as well as many other nasties are transmitted by sneezing, coughing and physical contact.  That’s how it moves around from person to person, contact and aerosol modalities.

5:  The most effective way to avoid the flu is to lock yourself in the basement, swathed entirely in sterile plastic, only breathing filtered air, eating sterilized food, swabbing down with disinfectant every few hours and completely avoiding contact with anyone or anything else on the planet until, roughly, May 2008.  That gets you through one flu season. 

6:  For the vast majority of people, in reasonable health, the flu symptoms are: Fever, soreness, shakes, sneezing, cough, general malaise, tiredness and feeling like crap.  Just like a common cold, except more severe.  Treatment is usually fluids, acetaminophen and rest.  Antibiotics don’t do squat, unless you get bacterial pneumonia on top of the flu. 

7:  If you gobble $300 worth of vitamins and holistic naturopathic treatments, you’ll get over the flu in a week, to a week and half.  If you do nothing but rest, take fluids and acetaminophen for the soreness, you’ll recover in seven to ten days.  You choose which one is better.

8:  Children, the elderly and those with a compromised immune system from other things are the most susceptible to the flu.  Diabetics should get a flu shot, as we fit the definition of compromised immune systems.  Children and the elderly, broadly, cannot fight the symptoms as readily as those who have a good state of health.  People don’t necessarily die from the flu, but get other illnesses while having the flu.  Pneumonia is the most common illness that people get while having the flu.  The problem is, the symptoms of pneumonia are almost exactly the same as the flu and pneumonia can take hold while your body is trying to fight the flu.

9:  The library of new flu definitions that you are exposed to (immunized to use the fancy term) are dead viruses that are incubated in a hen egg.  Why a hen egg?  Poultry carry the flu naturally and can be immunized against it the same way humans are, through exposure.  This is much better than exposing varieties of the flu to a group of people, letting them get sick and then extracting the immunity from them.  Hens don’t lay on the sofa all day long, moaning, sniffling, coughing, sleeping and watching very bad daytime TV.  Eggs are a cheap medium for growing dead flu viruses. 

The yearly library of new flu virus definitions are based on the ones from last flu season.  The World Health Organization figures that stuff out.  Although the flu virus changes from year to year, the hope is that the previous years’ library are close enough to work.  Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

10:  The shot hurts a little bit for about one second.  I hate needles of every description, even taking my blood sugar with a finger prick makes me feel faint. All I can suggest is to think saucy thoughts and breathe out at the same time.  It works for me and I get the added bonus of a socially acceptable and medically necessary reason to think of some truly inventive pairings, combinations and acts that might get me arrested, slapped, invited up for a drink or given a book deal, if I ever considered writing them down, or acting on them.  All harmless fun while getting a needle.

11:  The best, realistic, protection against the flu is to wash your hands with soap and water, frequently, during the flu season.  Purell, or alcohol prep pads help if you can’t wash your hands.  Momma was right, don’t pick your nose in public, so keep your hands out of your nose, eyes and mouth until you wash your hands.  Dr. Ignatz Semmelweis discovered that basic hand washing with soap and water cut down disease transmission. in 1847.  I didn’t make the name up.  Look here if you don’t believe me. 

12:  If you’ve got the flu, stay home and stop spewing your crud all over the rest of us.  Don’t wipe your nose on strangers who pass by on the street.  If you must sneeze or cough, use a handkerchief and don’t gak all over everyone else.  Have at least a modicum of class and good sense, as well as a bit of basic hygiene.

13:  Are we creating Frankenstein viruses by immunizing everyone against the flu?  The answer is an unqualified "we don’t know".  We know that smallpox was all but eradicated from the planet when immunization was first used broadly.  Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio and other fun illnesses have been controlled, if not eradicated through immunization.  A generation ago, a diagnosis of polio was almost a death sentence.  Polio didn’t mutate into something that would work around immunization.  

The last influenza pandemic was in 1969, the Hong Kong Flu.  But, Influenzavirus A is based on avian (birds, poultry) strains.  Birds naturally have the flu virus and humans who spends time with birds can pick up the "bird flu".  Sound, hygienic, bird and poultry-keeping practices can dramatically reduce the transmission of avian strains to humans.  In the countries where bird flu has presented itself, sound and hygienic bird and poultry-keeping practices are distant concepts on par with the mathematical implications of n-dimensional calculus. 

Dirt-poor folks who rely on the few chickens they raise to keep from starving to death, don’t have the money or time to disinfect their farms or hen houses.  This also explains why the authorities in those areas don’t bother with trying to fix the hygiene and money problem:  Quarantine, slaughtering, disinfecting, then burying the entire flock is faster and is known to work every time.  It is tough on the subsistence farmer and the family.

H5N1, the "bird flu" does not look like it can pass from human to human, but we’ve been wrong before.  Medical science used to believe that illnesses were caused by ‘ill-humors’ that could only be cured by drilling holes in the skull to let out the bad vapors.  

Tamiflu, the brand name by Roche of Oseltamivir is prescribed as a preventative treatment that can last up to six weeks or as a ”cure" that you have to take within two days of exposure to Influenza A or Influenza B.  Common side effects of Tamiflu are: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and headache.  Since the usual dosage for treatment is twice a day for five days, the side effects last almost as long as the flu, plus a day or two to get over it. 

There is a potential, with the influenza virus being such a clever bug, that it could develop an Oseltamivir-resistant strain in the future.  Much like we have antibiotic resistant bacteria now, from the over-prescription of antibiotics for every little bo-bo and sniffle.  We don’t know what can happen if we give everyone on the planet a course of Oseltamivir.  Perhaps we should go back to drilling holes in the head to let out the ‘ ill-humors’?

14:  Should you get the flu shot?  

First, if you deal with the public, like I do, presenting at events and being at other workplaces to do my job, the choice is a qualified yes. 

Secondly, being a diabetic, the recommendation is also yes.

Third, I hate being sick with the flu, also a yes. 

Fourth, a preventative round of an antiviral drug like Tamiflu can have side effects just as ugly as the flu itself.  It might contribute to the influenza virus developing an Oseltamivir-resistant strain in the future.  Not so good. 

A combination of washing hands frequently, avoiding contact with people with the flu and a flu shot makes the most sense, with the least risk and the most practicality, based on the best science we’ve got as of today.  



Gen. Sanchez Puts it Out

In an Associated Press article, retired Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez who drove the bus in Iraq, said that the US mission in Iraq is a "nightmare with no end in sight".  Sanchez knows of what he speaks, as he commanded the coalition troops for a year, beginning in June 2003.

The condensed version of his comments are that the US State Department, the National Security Council, the Idiot Boy Administration and most of the other players had no clue what to do with a fractured, invaded country.  The extra 30,000 troops are a "desperate attempt" to make up for years of misguided policies in Iraq.

One could claim a degree of bitterness in Sanchez’s comments, as the Abu Ghraib School of Photography was opened on his watch and he had to work with Paulie Bremner, of the Coalition Provision Authority.  Bremner was the hand-picked fixer of the President Jo Jo The Idiot Boy and Bremner needed nearly 800,000 pounds of cash, by the pallet load, shipped to Iraq to pay for photocopies and pencils.

Nonetheless, Lt. Gen. Sanchez has nailed it.  When asked by a reporter when he knew the mission was going pear-shaped, he replied "about the 15th of June, 2003"  This would be the day he got off the plane in Baghdad to take the keys to the bus.

At a strategic and conceptual level, the Iraq deal should have been over by 2005 at the latest.  Go in, kick Saddam off the chair, set up the new government, get out.  That didn’t happen because the private industries associated with the invasion saw exactly how much money they could make. 

Supposedly the whole Iraq reconstruction was going to be funded by oil revenues.  Oil revenue is a fickle thing.  An Iraq government ministry could cut the US private interests out of the money stream.  It would be much better to have a US government source of cash, as the US government isn’t known for cutting their buddies out of the profits. 

Therefore the US government must continue their reconstruction efforts.  Rather than relying on pallet-loads of cash Bremner-style, the private interests change where they send the invoices:  That would be the GSA in Washington DC.  Much closer than some office in Baghdad.

In the end, Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez is right, the US mission in Iraq is a "nightmare with no end in sight"  As long as the United States is funding it, the nightmare won’t end.  The Military-Industrial Complex, in the United States (not Iraq, not Iran, not Saudi Arabia) won’t let it. 

Shut off the money and it ends.  Is there someone with the stones to do that?



Flight Rules Change?

Here’s the setup:  You live in the US and you want to fly to Frankfurt, Germany.

In order to fly to Frankfurt, the airline takes your information, including your passport data, SSN, date of birth, address, phone numbers, contact numbers, credit card information and itinerary.  Then it compares your data to a list of known Bad Guys, the No-Fly List. 

Other data is obtained, including your flight history over the past years, seat selection, meal selection, previous duty-free purchases and all the frequent flyer data the airline has on you, which usually includes domestic flights, hotel stays, car rentals and so on.  This wad of data is sent to Germany, who looks the data over and decides if you are OK to come to their country. 

This, of course, happens after you buy the ticket and before you show up at the airport.  The day of the flight to Frankfurt, you show up, with your bags, four hours before your flight.  

The airline counter person says that you have been chosen as a selectee.  They don’t tell you why.  Why is because your name, Jerimiah Dingobaby, is close to Jim M. Dingleby, who is a known Bad Guy.  Germany isn’t too keen on letting a known Bad Guy into their country and the airline isn’t keen on flying a known Bad Guy. 

You get poked, prodded and squeezed like a melon by the TSA.  The TSA and airline says you are now OK to fly.  Germany grudgingly goes along, but is now scouring your data with a jaundiced eye.  Expect to get the melon treatment at Frankfurt from the German Customs. 

After all, you visited Columbus Ohio last February and Columbus is a known hotbed of anti-German sentiment, as well as Chicago, Charlotte and Cincinnati, all places you went to in the last five years, according to your Frequent Flyer account.  Any city that starts with the letter C is not looked upon favorably by the German Customs, even if it is domestic business travel, in the US, by a US citizen and has nothing to do with Germany whatsoever.    

If some of the data about you is wrong, misguided, opinionated, or not about you at all, your recourse is to sit down and shut up.  If you don’t like it and complain, then there’s always more room on the No-Fly lists in Germany and the US.

That’s more or less how the system works today.  There’s no problem with Germany not wanting Known Bad Guys in their country: They’re a sovereign country and they can decide who they choose to admit. 

If the rules are nobody left-handed can come in, then so be it.  The airline is acting sensibly by checking for left-handed passengers before the Frankfurt flight leaves, after all, the rules at the destination apply.  The US airline has to go along, in order to land at Frankfurt.

The change that is currently under discussion is this:  The US owned aircraft, with US citizens as passengers, going to Frankfurt, Germany, has to fly over Canada to get there.  Canada has a 200-mile border limit, like most countries, so taking a flight that starts in Boston, Cleveland, Buffalo, Detroit or Seattle, is technically within Canadian airspace.  Chicago and Minneapolis are close.  

Canada is now demanding that the full wad of data from the US sources must be given to the Canadian government and security folks before the aircraft leaves.  The Canadians are going to scour the data and apply their rules.  They don’t want anyone with the potential of being a Bad Guy, in their airspace and conceptually at least, ‘in’ their country. 

Never mind that they’re talking about US citizens, on a US flight, that has nothing to do with Canada, has no intention of landing in Canada and has nothing whatsoever to do with Canadian immigration, Customs, security or laws.  The Canadians demand the data and the implied threat is that the airline will not be allowed to overfly Canada to get to Frankfurt. 

This will add several hours to the flight, as the aircraft will have to fly due East to get over the Atlantic ocean, then go North to get to the International airways.  

Now, as a US Citizen, on a US flight, how do you feel about Canada having the full panoply of data on you?  Do you trust Canada to treat the data securely and not accumulate more and more data on you?  Will Canada use the data for its declared purpose, keeping Bad Guys out, or are they just fishing for data on US Citizens on US flights because they can? 

I’d be grumpy about it, after all, who the hell died and made them Grace Kelly?  When did Canada become the arbiter of who is allowed to fly or not fly, if the flight doesn’t land there?

Now, reverse the situation, exactly 180 degrees.  The US Department of Homeland Paranoia and the TSA are proposing a change to overfly rules. 

Any flight that enters US airspace must submit all passenger information to the TSA in advance.  The TSA and Homeland Paranoia will determine the suitability of any passengers to overfly US airspace, regardless of the destination of the flight.  That’s the real change.  I made up the Canadian stuff. 

Therefore any flight in Canada, going to Mexico, or the Caribbean is subject to US rules, as the aircraft has to fly over the US.  Any Canadian flight going to Tokyo will most likely fly over Alaska, which is US airspace and the US rules will apply.  Same with flights from the Pacific, most take the polar route, over Alaska, therefore the US rules would apply. 

Even if the flight is only landing in Canada, Mexico, or the Dominican Republic, from India, Korea or Japan, the US rules would apply.  Doesn’t matter if Korea Air or JAL has vetted all the passengers with Canadian, Mexican or Dominican Republic entry rules, as they should, the US rules also apply.  If the US don’t like the passengers on that flight, the airline is potentially denied overflight rights.

Who died and made the TSA and Homeland Paranoia, Grace Kelly?  When did the US become the sole arbiter of who is allowed to fly, or not fly, if the flight doesn’t land there? 

Technically, many of Canada’s major airports are within the 200 mile international boundary with the US.  Does that mean all our domestic flights are going to be subject to US security rules?  Our standards have been higher and more thorough for more than twenty years, since the Air India bombing, so we have to lower our standards? 

What happens with all that data about Canadian citizens on a Canadian aircraft, flying from one Canadian destination to another on a purely domestic flight?  Why does the TSA need the credit card, frequent flyer, name and address data of a Canadian not going to the US? 

Who says the TSA is responsible enough to even look at, let alone literate enough to read that level of data collection?

The US would never put up with that kind of crap from anyone else, so why are the trying it on the rest of the world?  Because they think they can get away with it is why.  The TSA and Homeland Paranoia want as much data as they can get on anyone, anywhere, regardless of where they live, work or go.  All of this under the guise of "Security".  Naturally, if you’re not for it, then you’re an Enemy and an Evildoer of the Axis of Evildoers Evil Axis.

My proposed rule in return?  If the TSA and Homeland Paranoia change the rule, which they can, arbitrarily at their whim, then the Canadian and Mexican governments immediately impose the same rules in return, using the internationally agreed upon 200 mile limit boundaries. 

In the interests of our sovereign "security", we’ll want US flights to be subject to our rules, in the event they might have to land in Canada or Mexico. 

Check your personal GPS.  I did, and found the proposed TSA rule at the coordinates of "WTF?" and "Bite Me!" at an elevation of "Kiss my pink, puckered, rear orifice!"


Provincial Election Results

I was wrong with my predictions for a Liberal Minority, now that the votes have been counted.  Dalton McGuinty and the Liberals won back-to-back majority victories, the first since 1937, with 71 of 107 seats.  The Conservative leader, John Tory, lost his own seat and saw his party stay flat at 26 seats.  The NDP and Howard Hampton are at 10 seats, just like before the election.  

It would seem that voters, when confronted with the folded pieces of paper, decided that the status-quo was the safest route to take and marked their ballots appropriately.  It was a bland, boring campaign that was utterly unmotivating. 

The process of voting also took a shot:  Only 52% of voters showed up.  The previous low-water mark was 54%. A combination of the political handlers and the media succeeeded in demotivating the voters.

Interestingly, we had a referendum on the table for what is called MMP, or Mixed Member Proportional representation.  It was blown out of the sky because nobody bothered to explain it to voters.  Again, voters kept the status-quo.

The media is examining the runes and entrails to appear wise, while commentators and party wanks are spinning the results to find something, anything to be positive about.  Truthfully, the Conservative Leader, John Tory, shot himself in the head backing away from full-funding for religious schools and handed the Liberals the cake. 

Which means what?  Nothing will change in Ontario.  We’ll keep stumbling along.  No great leaps forward and no falling over sideways either.



Provincial Election Today

Today is the day the voters of this fine province vote for a new government.  For those not from Ontario, here’s the Player Program so you can follow along.  There will be American translations as needed.  (The first translation:  Province = State)

Previous Government.  Liberal under Dalton McGuinty.  (Liberal = Democrats, or close enough to make no never mind)

Running this time:  Liberals under Dalton McGuinty, Conservatives, under John Tory (Conservatives = Republicans, more or less) and the New Democratic Party under Howard Hampton (Not Quite Socialists, more like Germany’s Social Democrat Party.  More left than Liberals)  Plus the usual smattering of Green, Marijuana Reform, Loon, and Highly Medicated parties.  Earnest, but without a hope in hell of being elected.

Issues:  Funding for Religious Schools, Jobs, Energy Policy, Health Care Reform, Fiscal Reform, Electoral Reform.

New and innovative ideas promulgated:  None, except one from the New Democratic Party:  Conservation of Electrical Energy is less expensive and pays back faster than trying to build new nuclear reactors or keeping coal-fired generation plants going around the clock.  Too easy to understand and too easy to implement, which is why it has never been talked about in the mainstream media.   

Usual Bovine Manure Promises:  Liberals and Conservatives, with a fine mist of New Democrat populist working-class sentiment.  The press releases and talking points from the provincial election in 2003 could have been used again without change. 

Divisive Chatter designed to distract voters:  Dalton McGuinty’s Broken Promises.  John Tory running away from the full funding for religious school issue.  Howard Hampton actually telling the truth and scaring the crap out of voters.

Worst Photo Op:  Leader’s Debate on TV a few weeks ago.  All three looked barely lifelike.

Best Photo Op: Leader’s Debate on TV a few weeks ago.  All three at least looked barely lifelike.

Most Quoted Quote:  None.  The speechwriters have been drinking NyQuil for 54 days straight.  The leaders are not allowed off the bus, without first being struck in the head with a mallet. 

One party leader actually has wires and an armature up his back.  Dalton’s handlers have cans of 3-In-1 oil and WD-40 at the ready in case the mechanism starts to squeak:  Buying a knockoff from Jim Henson’s Muppet Shop will do that.  Howard Hampton embodies all the cosmopolitan excitement of Lincoln Nebraska with all the verve and flair of viewing an extensive collection of masking tape; in Lincoln, Nebraska. 

Likely winner:  Liberal minority, with NDP holding balance of power.  (Joys of Parliamentary Democracy, you get Coalition politics.  Necessity may be the Mother of Invention, but Politics is the Mother of Strange Bedfellows)

The Conservatives are doomed because their leader looks like he sold his soul to Big Business years ago.  The Conservatives would do, or say, anything to get elected again.  That includes being in favour of sending all the visibly ethnic back to where they came from and mandatory shotgunning of anyone ‘different’.  As long as the polls say it would be popular enough to get them elected, the Conservatives would be for it.  John Tory is an empty suit.  A nice, well-groomed, expensively tailored suit, but still an empty suit.

The other two choices are a known incompetent, mostly empty suit and a well-meaning but misguided half-full suit who could bore a wharf bollard to death.

We’re having one of those hold-your-nose-and-vote elections.  Vote anyway.  If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.  The next four years promise many things to complain about. 



Racing Changes

For those who know me, I avoid stick and ball sports as a spectator or participant.  Given a choice between going to the Rogers Center and watching the Toronto Blue Jays for four hours, or ripping out the individual hairs on my scrotum with a rusty set of staple pullers, for four hours, I’m not quite sure how I’d answer.  However, the hair removal won’t cost me $150 for the seats, $9 for a $3 beer and $7 for a $2 hotdog, plus $34 for parking.

Motorsports are another matter.  Any day is "A Great Day for Motorcar racing" to quote Sir Jackie Stewart. 

NASCAR is my usual drug of choice, but I have and will continue to watch F1, F3, IRL, IndyCar/CART, DTM, V8Supercars, Porsche Cup, IMSA, Karts, World of Outlaws, DIRT Modifieds, 360’s, 410’s, Silver Crown, Speed Challenge, American LeMans, Grand American Sports Car, Trans-Am, SCCA, IHRA, NHRA or just two guys with riding mowers zooting across a park to see who is faster.

In the last few weeks, NASCAR has been in the news.  Dario Franchitti, winner of this years’ Indy 500 has signed to run in NASCAR.  Jacques Villenuve, F1 World Champion and Indy500 Winner has run a Craftsman Truck race and ran at Talladega on Sunday.  Sam Hornish Jr. from IndyCar is going NASCAR.  Juan Pablo Montoya, from Formula 1 is already there and has won a race.

The big name drivers from other series are looking at NASCAR, the Good Ole’ Boys from down South, and wanting a piece of that pie.  There are a few reasons. 

One, is Money.  NASCAR teams pay very well. 

Two is Longevity.  30 years old is ancient by Formula 1 standards.  You’re a spent, empty husk of a driver by 35 in the rest of the series.  Competitive NASCAR drivers in their 40’s and early 50’s are normal.

Three is Frequency.  NASCAR runs just about every weekend from February to November.  If you’re a racer and you like to race, 8 or 12 races a year just doesn’t cut it. 

Four is Popularity.  NASCAR has three very good, close, well-managed, national series’ with national coverage and huge numbers of spectators in the stands, on TV and Radio.  Bristol, TN becomes the third-largest city in Tennessee when NASCAR comes to town:  165,000 people cram into a half-mile concrete speedway not much bigger than an NFL stadium and Bristol is almost sold out for 2008 already.

IndyCar might as well be in the Witness Protection Program.  Indy Racing League had to take out an injunction to keep their fan more than 30 feet from the venues.  He’s not so much a fan, as a stalker to use the common term.  Most of the drivers in other series are possessed of great skills, but couldn’t get a story written about them unless they took hostages while winning a race. 

Formula 1 is a circus with four cars that actually compete and sixteen others that take up space, like that Toby jug souvenir from Des Moines your Aunt Hazel gave you in 1968.  You never look at, but you can’t bring yourself to throw it away either. 

The beauty of NASCAR racing, aside from the money, is that the racing is good.  Of 43 cars that start a race, 35 to 40 entries have a legitimate shot at winning.  Unlike other series, where if it don’t say Audi, Porsche, McLaren, Ferrari, Penske or Andretti-Green, you might as well TiVo it and watch a 1954 Italian black and white film, with subtitles.  No sense in driving in the race. 

Technically, F1 and a number of other series are more advanced than NASCAR.  Brake systems that can stop a 1400 pound vehicle from 185 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour in less than 100 yards, while turning left or right, and doing it for hours on end, are made from cubic dollars and Unobtanium:  Truly remarkable engineering. 

The old saw has been that the exotic racing series run Million dollar cars for a $100,000 purse.  NASCAR runs $100,000 cars for a Million dollar purse.  Who’s the dumb one in that equation?  (Yes, I know the numbers have changed a bit.  An all-up roller with engine will set you back $350,000 at the Cup level.  You get to run for a $4,000,000 purse instead)

Will the drivers from other series make their way in NASCAR?  Of course they will, a skilled racer, is a skilled racer.  It will make the victory lane interviews a little different, as the newcomers speak a recognized language.  Dario Franchitti, he’s got a Mid-Atlantic-Scottish burr, Jacques Villenuve sounds like he’s from Montreal, by way of Lausanne.  Hornish Jr is from Indy, while Juan Pablo Montoya sounds like he grew up in Miami.  They’ll fit in fine, even in Victory Lane.   Ward Burton, Hermie Sadler, Elliott Sadler and Sterling Marlin speak a subset of English called "South Boston, Virginia’ or "Frankllin, Tennessee".  They’re superlative drivers, bless them, but even folks down South need simultaneous translation or closed captioning when they’re interviewed.

We know the newcomers can win.  Over the weekend the various newcomers raced.  Villenuve did fine, didn’t run anyone over and had the common sense to go to the back of the pack, voluntarily, on the pace lap in the Cup race.  Franchitti in the ARCA/RE-Max race didn’t bang into anyone either.  Hornish did fine but didn’t qualify for the Cup race.  Juan Pablo Montoya already has his first win in Cup and usually runs in the top 15 or so. 

There are other ‘newcomers’ looking to jump, or who have been brought over as ringers from time to time.  Mississauga’s Ron Fellows, a sportscar racer has run on road courses in Busch Series and Cup Series.  Scott Pruett, former Trans-Am champion has run road courses too.  Boris Said, a former Trans-Am and sportscar champion has a limited Cup schedule.  None of them have won, but have come awfully close. 

Scott Speed, the F1 driver, is eyeing Bush and Cup.  Rumors persist that Danica Patrick will come over to the Dark Side, while Marcus Ambrose, Australian V8 Supercar champion is doing just fine in Busch.  More rumors abound that Patric Carpentier from Indy Car will come to NASCAR as well.

Will it spoil the "Southern" nature of NASCAR?  That left a long time ago.  The past four champions have been from Southern California, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Wisconsin.  NASCAR hasn’t been a "Southern" sport for a decade or more, so we can get over that one. 

The skills needed to race at the top level in NASCAR are the same skills to race in any series.  Good equipment, good preparation and good luck.  The first two are easy enough:  Apply money.  The last one?  That’s the toughest of all.