Monthly Archives: May 2008

Gun Control in Toronto


Toronto is a typical big city, in that we’ve got our share of violence, gang bangers, dealers and the various nefarious who operate on the other side of the law as their career arc.  There were three shootings last night in the Greater Toronto Area last night, as an example.

Handguns have been a popular way to even things up among the criminal element, just like anywhere else.  That has the Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, on his back legs calling for the closure of handgun ranges in the Greater Toronto Area.  Miller has overlooked some information and managed to look like a dolt.  Again.

Firearms laws are Federal, not Municipal laws.  Sentencing of miscreants is most often Provincial, not Municipal laws. 

Licensing of businesses is Municipal, which is why Miller wants to suspend the business licenses of someone who dares to have, or open, or considering opening a firearms range. 

The association is clear enough to Miller:  Legal handgun owners in the GTA ‘must’ be the source of all the handguns used in the various crimes in the city, as the legal handgun owners, actually have handguns.  Therefore you can stop the criminals from having handguns by making the place where handgun owners congregate, disappear via the City Licensing Branch.

This is like banning the sale of wood in the GTA because some guns have wood on the handle or stock. 

Note to Mayor Miller:  Criminals don’t care about the niceties of a Firearms Acquisition Certificate from the Federal Government.  There have been no recorded instances of a criminal taking lessons at a gun range in how to use an illegally obtained handgun.  Most criminals couldn’t find the safety on their handguns even if it was flashing red and singing the ‘Ave Maria’.  Most criminals don’t care if they have the right ammunition for the weapon.  They just want something to wave around and feel important with.

As for handguns stolen from legal users in the GTA, there have been no reports as far as I can see, of any locally stolen handguns being used in the commission of local crimes.  What handguns are confiscated invariably are from the US and have the serial numbers defaced enough to render tracking the weapon close to impossible. 

This tells us two things that Miller can’t figure out:  Our Customs and Border folks are not stopping the flow of handguns into Canada from the United States. That would be a Federal failure, not a municipal failure.  Court sentencing, mostly Provincial, takes rare notice of the use of a gun in the commission of a crime.  That would be a Provincial and Federal failure, not a municipal failure.

So far the reality score is Municipal Failures = 0.  Which means that Mayor Miller, to be useful, should point the finger a the Feds and the Province for not doing enough to make illegal handgun possession difficult and very unappealing for the criminal element.

In November of 2006, I called for a double double law.  Essentially, if you wave a gun around while committing a crime, your sentence doubles.  Discharge the gun, and it doubles again, possession or discharge also having the effect of removing all mandatory release and parole options for the criminal.  Seven years for theft becomes 28 years very rapidly.  The guilty go away for a long time and even the most addled of criminals can understand the concept of 28 years in jail as a ‘bad thing’.

The nice part is a revised sentencing plan, like double-double, has nothing whatsoever to do with municipal governance and various mayors scoring political points off a situation they can’t do anything about.  It is all Federal and Provincial, which is where it should be.

If Mayor David Miller actually cares about the handgun violence issue in the GTA, then something like double-double sentencing is what he should be flapping his gums about, not banning gun ranges in the GTA. 

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Google up your Health Records?


The Google data hole has opened up another orifice to probe your life.  Google Health is designed to "Organize your health information all in one place.  Gather your medical records from doctors, hospitals and pharmacies…"

Sounds good so far, at least at the high level:  A big drive in the sky that keeps all your medical stuff in one place that you can point those who need to know at, so they can practice their art with as much knowledge as possible.

The buzzkill is the last couple of lines:  "Keep your doctors up to date about your health.  Be more informed about important health issues."  How is Google going to help me be more informed?  The same way they always do, by giving me targeted ads down one side of my browser page based the keywords that Google has identified.

You see this on a lot of web sites, they take what you entered and offer you links that are sort of like what you typed in.  Amazon recommendations, eBay sellers, or just simple wild-card link generators.  Type in "January Sub-Orbital Denominator" and get a list of books on all the words served up in a convenient link, as well as images of January Sub-Orbital Denominator in a bathing suit, plus a handful of links to eBay sellers who have not just January Sub-Orbital Denominator, but the Classic one for sale, cheap. 

Here’s two other little features from Google Health, taken right from their Terms of Service:

  • Google will use aggregate data to publish trend statistics and associations. For example, Google might publish trend data similar to what is published in Google Trends. None of this data can be used to personally identify an individual.
  • Certain features of Google Health can be used in conjunction with other Google products, and those features may share information to provide a better user experience and to improve the quality of our services. For example, Google Health can help you save your doctors’ contact information into your Google Contact List.

    Not only is Google (Larry Page and Sergey Brin) very kindly offering me targeted ads to keep me informed, they’re also accumulating all my data to sell to other companies to help me have a better user experience.  Of course, there is no personal data transmitted:  Larry and Sergey said so and if you can’t believe them, who can you believe?

    To be fair, Bill and Steve offer the same thing called Microsoft Health Vault which is just as dodgy.  Even the home page features ads from a bunch of advertisers of medical equipment (home blood pressure monitors for instance) and links from some sites that offer to help you with more information.  Of course, there is no personal information transmitted:  Bill and Steve said so and if you can’t believe them, who can you believe?

    Both companies make a lot of money selling the attention of people who are interested in certain things.  This is no different from the days of broadcast television, but with the web, you can be very very specific. 

    If, as an advertiser, you only want to reach left-handed bi-polars with high blood pressure, then analyzing the raw data from either Google or Microsoft will tell you how many left-handed bi-polars with high blood pressure exist in their audiences.  If there are enough subscribers, then you buy a click link.  Odds are that the very specific subset of subscribers will see your ad and a profitable number will click on it and buy what you’re selling.

    As an advertiser, you pay Google and Microsoft for the privilege of seeing the data, using the data and having them place your ad.  Then you pay for anyone who clicks on your ad.

    Aside from a ‘better user experience’, we’re letting two large corporations know everything about our health so they can sell the data to other companies for money.  As a user, you won’t get paid a percentage for advertisers being interested in whatever maladies you might have and taken the time to enter into your health record.

    You might notice that I have left out the whole ethical issue of insurance companies buying the data and adjusting health insurance rates based on what you’ve posted.  After all, they wouldn’t do that:  They’ve said so and if you can’t believe a private health insurance carrier, who can you believe?

     

  • Isotopes, Disasters and the Toilet


    Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) the folks who ran the medical isotope reactor up here without the proper safety equipment for more than a year, have finally thrown in the multi-million dollar towel.  AECL was building two new contemporary medical isotope generating reactors at Chalk River, called MAPLE. 

    Eight years late, several hundred million dollars over budget and still to produce one single isotope, AECL has said "Screw it.  We’re done".  Gary Lunn, Minister for Natural Resources said that "has been plagued with problems since its inception."  No kidding.  The MAPLE reactors are built, but the safety equipment doesn’t work/isn’t installed/will never work, so they can’t fire’em up.

    Which is odd, because the Tories decided to bypass the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission ‘No-Start’ order on the old NRU reactor back in the winter, firing the head of the CNSC for being in the way.  Why doesn’t Lunn just ask PM Stevie Harper for another bypass order and get those babies crankin’? 

    Or did someone finally notice that Chalk River is only a two and a half hour drive from Ottawa? 

    China and Burma have both been savaged with disasters in the past two weeks, Burma with a cyclone and China with a serious earthquake:  Thousands are dead and millions are displaced.  It is heartbreaking.  China rapidly opened their borders for assistance from the rest of the world.  Burma has not. 

    There are stories that what aid has trickled into Burma has been re-labelled as "gifts" from General Than Shwe or one of his cronies in the junta.  If you want to give money, the most sensible route, if only to ensure that your donations get to the actual people who need it, is via the Red Cross, which is located here.

    A commercial has been plaguing television that is on par with "Head-On, Apply directly to the forehead!".  This would be the "Just A Drop" commercial, which promises a "new way to use the toilet". 

    An intriguing concept, don’t you think?  As an abacus?  A porcelain trampoline?  A replacement for your Blackberry?  A medical isotope generator?  Poppy planters for the Afghani heroin crop?  Exactly what is this ‘new way to use the toilet’?

    One must, before dropping undergarments, add ‘just a drop’ of the product to the toilet to mask any airborne offence-giving molecules. It would seem that, based on their website and the commercial, that women are paranoid beyond even medical intervention about the resultant odour of having a bowel movement.

    Perhaps the better answer is to not gorge on the triple jalapeno nachos, cranberry martinis and vindaloo chicken wings the night before.  And chew your food better.

    Note to population:  Shit Stinks.  Get over it. 

    Recessions, Food and Foolishness


    Catching up on the news…

    The financial nabobs are talking about the recession, more as the ‘r-word’ rather than saying ‘recession’ out loud, as if that will keep the boogeyman at bay.  There isn’t quite a recession as best I can see, but more a beat-down on the gullible and the greedy.  Yes, foreclosures are through the roof compared to a couple of years ago and the real estate market is tanking. 

    The reason is simple:  Loan companies sprang up to sell insanely inflated mortgages to No Income No Job Applicants, the NINJA loan, which was renamed the much more politic Asset-Backed Commercial Paper loan..  Everyone involved did a wink and a nod knowing the bank would end up owning the house, when the owner tossed the keys into the bank’s mail slot and walked away. 

    The lenders were betting that the ever-increasing real estate boom would allow them to flip the house to cover the default and still make a ton of money re-mortgaging the property for the new value, about five times the original price.  Which might have worked if the number of defaulted and foreclosed properties was small and the market kept going up.

    Funny how everyone involved collected all their fees and commission up front.  From a documentation fee, to a loan fee, to the commissions from selling the loans as a package to lenders, to the stock market betting on the viability of the loans, everyone made their money up front.  We have overlooked a small fact; that for a loan to be real, someone has to pay down the loan every 30 days. 

    Rice is being hoarded and corn for tortillas is under price control in Mexico.  Two of the most common and plentiful foodstuffs on our planet are being priced out of reach.  Why?  Corn is the easy one to answer:  Greed.  Oil companies love to make ethanol from corn, as corn has lots of sugar in it.  Lots of sugar means lots of alcohol, as corn ethanol is nothing more than backwoods moonshine making, but on an industrial scale. 

    The oil companies pay top dollar for corn and I can’t blame a farmer for looking at that equation and deciding to sell to Chevron or Shell, instead of the local mill or distributor.  However, there are signs that people are figuring this out.  The EU is looking at passing legislation forcing the producers of ethanol for fuel to use things that are not food, to produce ethanol. 

    In a posting last year I wrote about it.  This is one where the government should step in and legislate a change.  Force the oil companies to make ethanol from cellulose sources, like wheat stalks, switchgrass, or other non-food sources.  The price difference is negligible at best and the technology for cellulostic ethanol works fine. 

    If there are oil company or government slushheads out there who don’t understand what I’m saying, email me and I’ll send you the link to iogen.ca which will tell you all about it. (Disclosure:  I don’t own any stock in Iogen, or any related companies either.)

    Making fuel for someone’s SUV from food is wrong on so many levels it makes your eyes hurt just thinking about it. 

    As for the rice ‘shortage’, there is no shortage.  There is a lot of speculation on prices driven, as best I can see, by people who stand to make a lot of money off rapidly rising prices.  India is a net exporter of rice.  So are China and the US.  The farmers aren’t making a bucket of money and the final buyer is being priced out of the market, so someone between the farm gate at the dinner plate is getting rich.  Come on down commodities brokers world wide!

    It would seem that drought in Australia’s rice-growing region (which has been going on for six years, so it’s not like it was a big surprise) has affected production levels.  With a few carefully whispered hints, stories appear that the world is going to end as rice prices are going up and the streets will be four-deep in cadavers by next Tuesday.  Yes, bad news is better news than good news, so food riots in Haiti becomes the rising price scare that has taken over the media.

    Here’s the reality:  Rice takes more water to grow than wheat or millet.  Australia is in the midst of a long drought and farmers there are abandoning rice production at $240 an acre pretax profit, for wine grapes that need less water and produce a pretax profit of $2,000 an acre.  Which would you prefer to grow, as a farmer? 

    The real issue is the drought in Australia.  Is it a climatic blip or a permanent condition?  Odds are it is a permanent condition due to global climate change.  This means other countries can increase their production of rice, profitably and things will settle down again.  This doesn’t make for exciting headlines ("Rice production pooched this year, Looks good for next year")  Give it a week or two for the media to forget about it and things will be fine.

    Foolishness is so endemic that hardly a day goes by without some celeb, pol, or sports figure getting caught doing the dishonourable, faithless, trashy, disgusting, stupid or merely unsanitary.  AC Milan striker Ronaldo involved in an altercation with transvestite prostitutes in Rio de Janeiro hotel.  The Olympic Torch – Tibetan Monk Beating World Tour. Vladimir Putin shanking some 20 year old. Barak Obama’s preacher going off his meds.  Microsoft offering to buy Yahoo, then getting pissy when Yahoo wants more than $47.5 billion for the joint.  The US Military lowering standards further to get anyone into the Iraq war who has a trigger finger. 

    Now the US Border Patrol is advertising for recruits.  Their motto?  "If you’re so fcuked up the Army won’t take you, we will.  We’re the Border Patrol!"

    To quote Bella the housecat:  Wheeeeeeeee!!