Category Archives: News and politics

The Duffy Show By The Numbers

Into Day 32 or so of the Mike Duffy trial, we have reached the impasse.  After dozens of revelations that other Senators, Liberal, Conservative and Other have issues with the way Senate expenses are adjudicated, Duffy is now seen as someone who committed the worst crime:  Getting Caught.

The Auditor General, Michael Ferguson, performed a two-year probe of Senate expenses and basically said the inmates were running the asylum.  Nine files on specific Senators have been referred to the RCMP for possible criminal investigation, including two sitting senators.  Another seventeen senators have said they will fight the AG’s findings.  The big hits are for residency. 

Technically, Senators are supposed to represent the region they were appointed from and maintain a primary residency in that region.  Meaning, Mike Duffy, at least on the face of it, representing Prince Edward Island, should have a permanent, primary residency in PEI.  At that point then the Senate will pay expenses for his Ottawa joint.  The Senate does not pay for the PEI crib and naturally the Senate would pay for travel from PEI to Ottawa, or other travel the Senator may undertake on behalf of the Senate of Canada and the duties therein.

Fair enough rules, correct?  You can prove your residency a couple of ways:  Having a drivers license and health card from that particular province would be a simple one, or documents that say you pay a mortgage or property taxes on a joint in the province would be lesser ones.  Again, fairly simple, on the face of it, you can say that, yep, I live primarily in PEI and represent PEI in the Senate.  Except that if all your plane tickets are from Ottawa to wherever and practically none of them are from Charlottetown to Ottawa and back, that tells us someone is full of shit.  QED, your expenses for the Ottawa joint are not allowed as it is your primary residence, which is not in the region you’re supposed to be representing. 

There is always going to be some grey space in that calculation.  If said Senator spent 183 nights in PEI residing in their primary residence, then hey, that’s more than half the time, barely, but we’ll let it go, if only because it passes some kind of rudimentary sniff test.  There should be plenty of airline tickets on AC467 YOW-YYZ, then AC8818 YYZ-YYG showing up in the expenses.  (You can’t actually fly direct from the Nation’s Capital to Charlottetown.  You get to sit on your ass in the Maple Leaf Lounge in YUL or YYZ no matter what.  Have the cheese and crackers and the self-serve Dorkachino that tastes almost exactly not like coffee)

The AG busting the nine Senators was not exactly the toughest task they had this year, but it did cost us $23.6 million for the audit to find $997,917 in questionable expenses.  That works out to $207,017.54 per page for the 114-page AG report.  Not exactly value for the money, but audits rarely are.  We’d do the audit over coffee with each Senator in a half-hour, essentially two weeks worth of work, for, oh, half that tab. 

Despite the lack of value for money, where the real fun lies is in watching us regular citizens finally seeing the Senate for what it is:  A playpen for party hacks and bagmen with no rules, no controls and no actual responsibility to do anything except roll around in piles of our money. 

The fat sense of entitlement from our Senate is the most galling, distasteful, amoral display of raw power we have short of the Prime Ministers Office.

Which is where the story can become truly fun.  Duffy wasn’t doing anything more wrong than many of the 105 Senators in the Red Chamber.  What did Duffy do that was so wrong that the PMO threw him under the bus, then tried to back the bus over him?  What exactly does Duffy know about the inner workings of the PMO that would make him a target that big?

Answer those questions and you’ll find out the real story.  We do have a Federal Election coming up in October and Duffy’s trial should wind up in a few more weeks, perhaps just in time for revelations from the trial to punch gaping holes in the Conservative’s campaign to anoint Stephen (Call me The Right Honourable Stephen Harper) Harper as the next PM.

We await the fun.

FHRITP Script Flip Public Service Announcement

We like to flip the script from time to time and Shauna Hunt from CITY-TV did exactly that, beautifully.  She is a reporter with CITY-TV in Toronto and was doing a live stand-up outside a Toronto FC event when an idiot leaned into the microphone and entered the Pantheon of Idiocy.  Here’s the clip from CBC as part of their coverage.

There are two constants in our universe:  Hydrogen and Stupidity.  This means a reporter expects there to be idiots in the background, or sometimes in the foreground when the camera is live.  The normal idiot remark when on camera at a live stand-up is something along the lines of “Hi Mom” or “Toronto FC Rocks!” along with pseudo gang signs or a half-drunk rock-on-devil-horns.  Yelling ‘Fuck Her Right In The Pussy!” at Shauna Hunt, cost Shawn Simoes his job at Hydro One as a well-paid IT engineer and has probably cost him his whole career for a few moments of exceptional stupidity.  Good.  He deserves it and there is not a lot of sympathy from this quarter.

However, we are inclusive in our world-view and the stupid will always be among us, usually showing up in the background on live hits from any event possible. 

As a Public Service, here are some things idiots can and perhaps should say when on camera:

“Good Reportage”, preferably in a semi-posh accent, a dead-straight face and a single curt nod at the end

“Do you have any Grey Poupon?”  You should be holding a sausage smog-dog to truly carry this one off

“Jello for Everyone!”  Penn Gillette may still do this, although Penn and Teller don’t tour much anymore.  The gag is they would buy a Jello dessert for everyone in a restaurant.  It might cost $30, but getting a free Jello dessert at a diner, late at night, is too cool for words.  Gillette would often add “Work for World Peace” to the end of it.  Your choice.

“Can I take a selfie with you?”, perhaps better done by a hysterical 14 year old girl in the lineup for a concert by some interchangeable boy band

“Ars Gratia Pecunia!”  This will take some memorization, but it is low-rent Latin for Art for Money, loosely based on the MGM Ars Gratia Artis – Art for Art’s Sake.  (No it isn’t perfect Latin conjugation as it should be Committendi artis pecuniam, but if it was good enough for Louis B. Mayer, we can live with it)

“Spay and Neuter your Pets!”  Bob Barker would like this one

“I’m continent!”  Saucy, but bladder-positive if nothing else

“Nice Shoes!”  This is quite dirty as the backstory explains the setup and you are only delivering the setup, not the whole line.  An acquaintance was once hit on by a guy who showed exactly how much game he had by reducing his seduction time to “Nice shoes, wanna fuck?”  It didn’t work, but one could always use statistical rules to try it 100 times and see how many times it succeeds.  Odds are 2/100 but that’s better than 0/100

“Free Falun Gong, Win Valuable Prizes!”  So it isn’t fully positive and politically correct, but there has to be some leeway in public stupidity on camera

“Thanks for being here!”  This will mess with the reporter’s head, especially if you’re sincere and only modestly enthusiastic, instead of over-the-top crazy

And the always appropriate..

“Hi Mom!” Even if you’re looting a big screen TV from a store in the US during a riot, this always works.

You’re welcome.












The Duffy Show–Budget Motivations

The Senator Mike Duffy trial continues, exposing more of the compost heap.  For those not fully apprised of the contents of the testimony so far, here’s a reasonable recap

If you’re too lazy this Saturday morning to click a link, this is the short form:  Duffy as a Senator gets a budget to about $150,000 a year for the office and research.  Like all Parliamentary budgets, it’s on the basis of use it or lose it, meaning come March 31 any money left gets pulled and you start April 1 with a new pile of money for the office and research.  So if you’ve had a lazy year and spent most of it making puppies, there is this budget number that seems to demand you spend it. 

In the simplest of fiddles, you order a bunch of stuff and make sure the invoices all say March 31.  The budget used up, everyone goes on their merry way and some buddies get cash for oh, communications consulting? 

Having been on the vendor side more than a few times, we used to call it March Madness.  There were stories about companies that would ship boxes of phone books or bare chassis computers to the client that would arrive, be received and the appropriate weight duly entered into the books.  Since it was on the government shipping dock by March 31, it was deemed delivered, the invoice duly paid and as long as nobody looked to hard, life went on.  Speechwriting and research contracts?  As long as someone in the office said they got the document, the invoice was paid.  Long after March 31 would some kind of actual item truly arrive, but as long as there was something in their hands by March 31, the appropriate dollars were allocated from the appropriate year’s budget.

This speaks to exactly how people are motivated by budgets.  If you don’t use what was allocated to you by intelligent, sensible mandarins who know better than you ever will, then you obviously don’t know your job, so they reduce your budget the next year, usually by the amount you didn’t spend the year previously.  (/sarcasm on) After all, the wise and brilliant above you would never over-estimate what was needed, as they are intelligent, skilled, diligent guardians of the public purse, who have their fingers on the pulse of all public spending, with extensive systems, checks, balances and audit reports from consultants that back up every dollar allocated. (/sarcasm off)

Or, if you’re in the Senate, you take the unused portion of your budget and write up a contract to your buddy for a report called “The Age Wave” and have it paid for through another company, say Maple Ridge Media or Ottawa ICF, who got the lion’s share of the budget and also probably charges a fee to the Senator for ‘editorial services’ or ‘contract management’, takes their percentage over and above, then strokes you a cheque, not from the Senate, but from a private company. 

On the Hill, this is perfectly normal.  In private industry, this is called a ‘fuzz job’ as the source of the money and the reason for the money being spent is made as fuzzy as possible, preferably through several layers of companies.  Or, you could call it money laundering, but that has such a distasteful connotation doesn’t it? 

Which is why Duffy’s fitness trainer, Mike Croskery was on the stand in Ottawa last week.

Now, we do know some of the players in this game.  Gerry Donohue used to be the NABET (National Association of Broadcast Employees and Technicians) regional union rep at a joint called CJOH-TV.  He was the lead negotiator on the NABET contract and in the late 80’s/early 90’s just a negotiations were starting up, was amazingly and remarkably hired by the company to be their Human Resources guy.  So you had the situation of the previous union rep sitting across the table, as the company rep, during a contract negotiation. 

If this strikes you as a conflict of interest, then you don’t know Gerry Donohue. 

Needless to say CJOH-TV no longer exists, having been absorbed into Bell Media, gutted, populated with interns and turned into a low-rent cable access channel with tower space on the array at Camp Fortune.  Duffy used to work out of CJOH-TV back in the day and that’s most likely how he met Donohue.

Which is also why this trial for Expense Fraud and General Assholery is so much fun to watch. 

Duffy is being hung out to dry because there is no real expense oversight in the Senate.  As long as you don’t try to put your Miniature Weimaraner on the payroll, everything else, is fine. 

The rot starts at the budget office, with the negative implications of actually saving the taxpayers some money off the various budgets.  To turn it upside down and make saving budget a positive incentive, herewith our solution.

If you as a budget manager use smart thinking, creative use of suppliers, shrewd negotiations in keeping with the general Federal guidelines, act fairly and ethically, and manage to come in under budget, you personally get a cash bonus of 2% of the savings to divy up with your team.  The job still gets done, the things get procured under the usual standards and if you can save money, there is no implied penalty of having your budget slashed the next year. 

Budgets change every year, so if one year you didn’t need $100,000 worth of infrastructure improvements that were budgeted for and managed to safely stretch, maintain or otherwise do with what you had, instead of burning money because you could, you’d get a taste.  If the next year, you really needed to spend $150,000 to keep up, then no problem.  Over time, the government would come out ahead, spending when it needed to spend, based on the judgment of those who actually do the job, not on the uninformed esoteric guesstimates of bureaucrats and their consultants in their isolated silos of self-importance and business card title dick measuring. 

Duffy, having been duly briefed by the Senate Budget Office, as to what he can and cannot claim, does what any punk would do, looks for the loopholes.  He goes looking for the very specifics that say You cannot do X.  As soon as you see that they specify X, but not Y, bill for Y.  Which explains why Gerry Donohue became the defacto Royal Canadian Bank of Duffy to hide expenses under the general catchall of ‘communications and research’.

A good auditor, knowing that the Senate is populated by fart-catchers and bagmen for the party should be on high alert for exactly those kinds of fiddles, that in their former lives, the good Senators did as a matter of course, with no more moral baggage of ‘doing wrong’ than loading up on bacon at the breakfast buffet.

The wise betting line is that the Right Honourable Stephen (Call me Stephen) Harper will let this show trial play out, as a sterling example of how totally screwed the Senate is, and fortuitously add a plank to his fall campaign to remove the Senate, using Duffy as the poster child for what is wrong with the Senate and why it should be s-canned.

With any luck, it will distract the public from the real mess, Bill C-51 or the Ministry of Finance’s three-card montie trick of a balanced budget by deferring all spending to 2017.

Charleston and Duffy

We’ve got a bit of a two-fer today, as both events are causing us great vexation. 

First off Walter Scott being gunned down in North Charleston, SC.  If you haven’t seen the video of Walter Scott being shot by a police officer, here it is.  Aside from the obvious attempt of the officer to plant something and the fact they officer was charged not with manslaughter, or self-defense, but straight up murder, and the racial stink that permeates the whole thing, there is one more vexatious point:  How can a trained police officer fire eight rounds at a target moving away from him at no more than 30 feet and only hit the target once?  Where did the other seven rounds go?  The Projectile Fairy didn’t capture them and put them under the officer’s pillow that night, of that we’re fairly certain. 

Which tells me the North Charleston Police couldn’t train a goose to shit, let alone teach their officers how to use the spectrum of force and when to increase the amount of force used with a subject.  That’s Policing 101, usually about Day 2 of rookie orientation.  For those who don’t know about the spectrum of force, here’s a good discussion

From our perspective as a citizen it’s simple enough to follow.  Simple presence of the uniformed officer, a commanding voice and attitude, hand control, active restraint, or baton, then chemical (OC spray, or Mace) electrical discharge weapons like a Taser or a Beanbag Shotgun, then the firearm.  Notice the escalation, from simple, loud, commands (“Stay in your car and drop the keys out the window”) to pulling the sidearm and everything in between.

There are exceptions of course, based on the situation.  If you pull over a guy and he gets out of the car with a shotgun and brings it up, you tell them drop the weapon and get your firearm ready to go, as the suspect has escalated things (Suspects don’t necessarily care about escalation of force protocols) and you have to react appropriately, immediately.  We’ve got no problem with that, at all. 

The Walter Scott shooting is another thing.  That went from an out of shape 50 year old with no obvious weapon or threat to the officer, running away, to an officer planting evidence after firing a clip at the suspect.  Had it played out sensibly, the officer would have got back in his car and followed Walter Scott for another 200 yards until he ran out of run and collapsed on his own.  Cuffs, backup, done with minimal paperwork and less fuss. 

Was Walter Scott in fear for his life?  We don’t know, but the dashcam footage showed a reasonable traffic stop and a compliant citizen who panicked in front of a cop with less experience with spectrum of force than my dog.  At least the dog has the smarts to back off when the cats give that low, rumbling hiss that translates across species into “Eff Off!”  We would also strongly recommend that every officer in North Charleston go back to the range and prove they can actually hit targets, center of mass at 10, 20, and 50 feet.  We don’t need idiots sending rounds all over the neighbourhood because they can’t shoot straight and that includes the police.

Senator Mike Duffy’s trial for Expense Fraud and charges of General Assholery is in its first week.  Up here our Federal Senate is populated by appointment of the Prime Minister.  It’s a reward for being a fart-catcher with rules that are looser than Amish sphincters after a binge-eat at the All You Can Eat Burrito Bar at Applebee’s.  Hiring a convicted serial rapist as your personal assistant is considered bad form, but that’s about it.  The caveat with this kind of demented-emperor oversight is that you say good things about the government and every program they bring forward is simply wonderful for all Canadians. 

Did Duffy go jowls-deep in the feed trough?  Sure he did; all the Conservative appointees do, just like all the Liberal appointees did when the Liberals were in power.  Up to the elbow in free trips, expense fiddles, hiring cousins with no work experience, or the easy fiddles of simply not showing up for work for two years at a stretch, but someone managing to cash the paycheque from your cushy digs in Mexico.  No committee work, no endless bladder-crippling meetings, no Question Period, nothing more exhausting than flying to Vancouver to do a 20 minute speech about how a government program is simply wonderful, words pre-written by the PMO and delivered with the standard half-hearted enthusiasm of a long-time party hack who has been phoning it in since 1988.  Then there is the crippling stress of having your assistant file the expense claims, which can only be relieved by flying to a foreign climate to rest and recuperate, on the taxpayer’s dime.

To be frank, our Senate is a joke beyond redemption that costs us millions of dollars every year for the members of the chamber of Sober Second Thought to roll around in the trough.  We get more value for money from the Dominion Carillonneur when she plays K’naan’s Wavin’ Flag on the Parliament Hill bells.  At least you can walk by the Hill and go, “What the heck is that song, holy crap, it’s that World Cup thing!  Kewl!”

With luck the Duffy Show will play out as expected just before our upcoming Federal Election in October.  The Harper Government will be painted accurately as mean-spirited micromanaging bullies.  Then the voting citizens will be confronted with a choice of None Of The Above on our ballots.




Paint A Target On The Board Of Directors

For those of us above the 49th, watching Target stores go down the porcelain facility was an exercise in schadenfreude, taking pleasure in the misfortunes of others.  Target bought up a lot of the old Zellers real estate, changed the livery to the ubiquitous red and white splat then sat back to wait for the drooling parka-clad throngs to bust down the doors screaming “Shut Up, and Take My Money!”.

It didn’t quite work out that way.

Target Canada came off as a “special” cousin to Zeller’s or maybe K-Mart’s addle-minded Uncle Gordie.  Target drooled a little, smelled funny and didn’t have actual stock in the stores that people wanted to buy and prices that were competitive.  Canadian consumers tried Target once, perhaps twice, then vowed never to go back.  By January 15th, Target Canada announced the closure of all 133 stores, tossing about 17,000 employees into the ditch with a hearty “Thanks for working at Target!”

Now coming to light are a couple of outrages that are being perpetrated on the cadaver.  Former CEO Gregg Steinhafer got a golden parachute that was bigger than the severance issued to the now-former employees of Target Canada.  Steinhafer was fired by the way, not ‘resigning to pursue other opportunities’ or ‘spending time with family’:  He was s-canned, but like most CEO’s had negotiated a deal with the Target Board that unless he was found on the Washington Mall at noon hour, drunk, disheveled and engaging in an unnatural act with a live penguin, he’d get his piece of pie.

The second outrage is one of insolvency jiggery-pokery.  A Toronto-based market research firm was told to switch its invoice for $232,328 from Target USA, who hired them, to Target Canada, a few days before Target Canada pulled the yellow handle.  When Target Canada did the deed, that invoice, now residing with an insolvent company might be worth $50,000, maybe, maybe not.  Essentially, Target knew they were going under and tried to bury as much as they could in Canada, to maximize their going-out-of-business profits through the liquidation process. 

We’ve got two beefs here.  By definition a Board of Directors is charged with ensuring the company is being run in a way that is prudent and profitable for shareholders and to provide a group of savvy multi-disciplinary advisors to the corporation to ensure prudence and profitability to the shareholders:  Not the employees, not the suppliers, not the kid who collects the shopping carts after school every afternoon.  Fine, that’s the capitalist system we work under.  It sucks sometimes, but that’s what we’ve got as rules of engagement. 

Where most Board of Directors fall over is in their sheep-like mentality of not questioning anything.  A well-suited, pricey-per-diem Compensation Consultant tells the Board that the CEO must be paid a grotesque amount of money “to attract the right candidates” for the position.  Yes, CEO is a good-paying gig and most CEO’s don’t last long, so the candidates negotiate big money and big perks up front.  The candidate is not incentivized to play the long game, as all the goodies come home on Day 1, not Day 995 of their gig.  The Board nods sagely dazzled by the haircut and the cufflinks and the CEO gets his or her payday, so even if caught up to the bristles in a penguin, the CEO still gets a mammoth payout.

The second beef is boning the suppliers.  Businesses of any kind run on third-party companies that provide things to the business to conduct their operations.  The amount of credit from a supplier is a conscious wager by the supplier that the company is going to be paid for what they’re providing.  It does not matter if it’s 40 footer full of green garden hoses, or the contract for the guy to push the floor cleaning machine around the store, the supplier is trusting the company to pay their bills on time, in full, for services or goods provided.  Those suppliers need that money to pay the minimum wage to the guy behind the floor cleaner, or the Xiolang Tractor Painting and Garden Hose Manufacturing Cooperative #22 in Baoding, China, who shipped over the container full of garden hoses.  And the shipping company and the trucking company and the warehouse people and the printers and packagers and so on down the line.  Everyone gets boned.

What the Board isn’t doing is making sure that the company is doing what is the Right Thing to Do.

Henry Ford, the noted rapacious capitalist and owner of the Ford Motor Company back in the day, did it very simply.  He paid his people very well for the time, and priced his goods at such a point that his employees could actually afford the products they were making on the earliest assembly lines.  This is called Enlightened Self-Interest.  Ford knew that his folks on the line would bust their guts to do the best possible work, for a really good wage, so they could buy a car.  That created an instant market of 12,000 employees who were potential customers. 

Ford also played the capitalist card well.  When the Steel Combine in the US decided to up the prices on the raw material for the cars that Ford was making, Ford essentially said “Screw you, I’ll make my own damn steel”  Then he did it.  The River Rouge Complex in Detroit was the result.  Ford brought in the ore on his own ships, to his own steel mill, to make his own steel that they smelted, forged and stamped on site to make the cars coming off the other end of the assembly line.  Our long-lamented 1987 5.0 Mustang was made at the Dearborn Assembly Plant with copious amounts of River Rouge steel and glass.

So what about the Board of Target?  They’re getting theirs, collecting their per-diems and ‘creating value for shareholders’ at least as measured by this month.  Are the doing the Right Thing?  Not by a long shot.  The Board, like most Boards, are sheep.  Nobody is rocking the boat, asking pointed questions like “What the hell are we paying this clown for?”, “How will this be good for us in two/three/five years?” or “Is this the Right Thing To Do?”

For that, they should be ashamed.

Vaccines, Research, Benefits and Ladders

We’re going there, sorry, but the stories are getting out of hand.  We’ll start with the anti-vaxxers who point to a “prestigious study” in The Lancet that says vaccines cause autism in children.  Here’s the link to the article, Feb 2 2010 where The Lancet retracted the article by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, because his research was, to be generous, bullshit. 

There are no scientific links between being vaccinated and becoming autistic, or any of the other shades of autism spectrum disorders.

Yes, there has been thiomersal in many vaccine fluids.  Thiomersal is an organic mercury compound in use since the 1930’s as a preservative and anti-fungal.  It was developed because an early (1928) diphtheria vaccine under testing created a more than 50% fatality rate when injected as the vaccine did not contain a preservative.  The children died of staphylococcus from the injection media, not the vaccine.

Oddly enough there was no incredible uptick in the cases of autism when thiomersal was incorporated into vaccine preparations in 1930.  One would think that there would be several generations of autism victims to research, but that doesn’t seem to be true.

However, since us humans shouldn’t be exposed to any more mercury than is really necessary, the CDC asked vaccine makers to remove it, just in case, and since 1999, they have.  Thiomersal is still used as a preservative in contact lens solution, nasal sprays and tattoo ink. 

Using the anit-vaxxer logic circuits then, any woman either pregnant or hoping to become pregnant should be prohibited by law from wearing contact lenses, using nasal spray or getting some ink.  Needless to say, young kids should never get tats until they’re older and can make bad decisions on their own. (Daddy I can’t get a job for the summer, nobody will hire me! It’s because you have have Donnies’ Fuck Bitch poorly and illiterately tattooed on your face, dear daughter.  Now what did I tell you about the possessive apostrophe?) 

By way of comparison of the concentration of thiomersal in a vaccine, you would have to take a piss in an Olympic sized swimming pool, then drink all the pool water to equal the concentration.  You probably get more mercury exposure from being near a burned out compact fluorescent light bulb.  Funny how nobody has drawn a link between CFL’s and autism.  Could it be there is no link?  Just sayin’. 

What the anti-vaxx movement really shows us is how dumb we have become.  We have near-instantaneous access to a gazillion pages of learned research, from people who have forgotten more about disease prevention than we will ever know, but yet we grab at that one miniscule outlying data point in a million that ‘proves’ our opinion.

Here’s a suggestion:  Do your due diligence before opening your mouth.  If you think that there is a causal link between A and Z, odds are you can find research by someone that will give you more leads to more research, from more people.  This sounds like Journalism 101 and in many ways it is very rudimentary research. 

The other concept to keep in mind while doing your research is this one:  Cui Bono?  It’s Latin for Who Benefits?  To contemporize it, follow the money, meaning who is paying for the research.  Sorry dear scientists, but money rides and ethics walks when it comes to primary research these days. 

Now, if you can find three unrelated, probably accurate, unbiased sources, odds are the idea is nearing the department of truthiness.  There are hard facts out there.  We use Wikipedia for some of them, but tend to keep our use to things like How many square miles is France (247,368) or what is number 44 in the Periodic Table of Elements (Ruthenium).  When it comes to opinion or analysis, there are too many sources to list, but we do tend to investigate both sides of an argument to find where the middle ground is, as that is where the real truth is most likely to reside.

The third concept to keep in mind is the overall benefit of something.  Back in the 1960’s seat belts in cars were considered weird Birkenstock-wearing tree-hugger, stream-tasting, safety-freak articles.  Drivers and car makers complained that they would be trapped in their cars with seatbelts and millions of innocents would drown or burn to death in crashes, strangled and mummified by seat belts.  Fifty years later, we belt up automatically.  (I’m primary research in the efficacy of seat belts, having survived a couple of serious and fatal crashes:  Seat belts are the only reason I’m alive.)

Overall benefit is sometimes tough to measure and there are always mitigating opinions on both sides.  Take the simple tool of a ladder.  Ladders are wonderful things and have been around for thousands of years, but they can be tricky for idiots to use.  Go to Home Depot and look at a ladder.  If you can find the rungs behind all the warning labels, you’ll find a useful tool.  Those labels are there because someone sued someone else, which has nothing to do with the overall benefits of a ladder – It has plenty to do with Cui Bono

This doesn’t mean that ladders are inherently dangerous, but it does mean that idiots should use them with caution.  There is no international conspiracy of ladder manufacturers to make them more dangerous, so you will be forced to hire a licensed ladder operator to change that light bulb in the foyer.  The overall benefit of a ladder exceeds the number of morons who have climbed up two storeys and their last words have been recorded as “Honey, watch this!”

To tie this all up, use your brain.  If you see an internet posting that says stuffing two sticks of unsalted butter and a dill pickle up your ass will cure cancer and you believe it to be true, then you need to step away from the keyboard, slowly.  Do some research, follow the money and look at the overall benefit of something before pontificating.

An Effective Reply to ISIS

We were discussing the appropriate reply to ISIS the other day.  ISIS or ISIL has become a source of outrage and offense of global proportions.  Today’s latest was burning a Jordanian prisoner to death; locked in a cell, doused with fuel and torched.  There have been beheadings, throwing people off buildings, executions of every possible kind.  Our consensus is this must stop. 

We worked through a number of scenarios after the video of Kenji Goto’s beheading was released and after today’s outrage, are more convinced of our favoured reply to ISIS, which we are of mixed feelings for sharing. 

Our initial responses were considered and lengthy, starting with simple ones like sending over 250,000 troops from an international coalition to hunt every member down like rabid dogs, incarcerating them and letting the Hague figure it out in trials that might last for decades.

One featured B-52’s with a full combat load of dumb iron bombs, starting at map coordinate X and working up the alphabet to A, making nice boxes on Google Maps 2016 that look like the surface of the moon.  Iron bombs are cheap, the BUFF is reasonable in its maintenance hours to combat hours ratios and it gives the US Air Force some important and needed practice in terrain modification without expending the expensive precision ordinance.  Mark-84’s run about $3,100 a piece and a H model BUFF can rack 51 a trip, so just under $160,000, not counting gas, maintenance and crew.  Compared to others fancy-pants Things That Go Bang that start at $100,000 a go, we don’t need that expense, what with the economy these days.      

Others were a tad excessive, involving turning significant parts of Syria and Iran into large lakes of glass with tactical weapons of a nuclear nature.  We eventually considered that the collateral damage (making a few thousands square miles of the Middle East uninhabitable for 10,000 years) and the unintended immolation of a few million innocents was, well, excessive.

Then we struck upon the proper, reasoned and effective response that combined the right notes of economy (Coalition military response is pricey and cumbersome with weird political overtones) and the clarity of a well-stated message that cannot be misinterpreted, even by illiterates, uneducated, or those in the narcissist throes of some jihadist fantasy of being immune to discipline as their own blessed caliphate.

Jordan, happily, does not have the greatest international reputation for being kind, considerate or caring, (see Norway, or Canada as a compare and contrast exercise) so they are a natural fit in our scheme. Jordan has several dozen convicted ISIS members in custody.  The reason ISIS was holding Kenji Goto hostage was to use him as a bargaining chip to get their people released from Jordanian prisons.  The same is true with the Jordanian Air Force pilot, although Proof of Life has not been provided by ISIS yet, so negotiations are at an impasse.   

Since ISIS wants their people back, we should give ISIS what they want.

Every two or three days a lone or escorted Jordanian Air Force helicopter ($500/hour gas, maintenance and crew) can bring one of the ISIS members in custody over some of the lands held by ISIS. Come in fast, if only to keep the RPG interference to a minimum.  Slip into a quick hover over a village square, or some gathering place, preferably on market day when there are a lot of ISIS-supporting people milling around.

Attach a simple note in the appropriate languages to the ISIS prisoner.  The text should be along the lines of:  You want your people back?  Here you go.  We’ll be back in a while with another one until you smarten up.  Lay down your arms and give it up.  Sincerely, The Rest of the World.

Then deliver the prisoner to ISIS.  From 1,000 feet.  Alive.  Without a parachute. 

Post video of the whole thing, from inside the helicopter, watching the prisoner all the way down to his or her somewhat unpleasant (and probably pixelated) impact. 

Retweet it, cross-post it on every social media site that ISIS uses to recruit new members.  Hack the ISIS web pages and post it there too.

We figure it will take about three trips for the message to be received and understood.

If your opponent is a savage, the only thing they can comprehend is greater savagery.  We’re better than that, but if that’s all ISIS can comprehend, then game on.

Enough. We’re pissed.  Send in the savages.

Black Friday, Oil, Cocktails

Since it was Black Friday in the US yesterday, we were treated to the standard video of hordes of people lined up for hours outside stores, then rushing in to grab one of four deep-discounted items the store had on offer. 

There were the usual stories of people waving guns around, fighting over a big-screen TV and wrestling goods out of other less-deserving hands, accompanied by a cacophony of swearing, screaming, imprecations and comments about the other person involving antecedents, genetic status and general state of mental hygiene.  The store comments?  Let’s just say they appreciate the coverage on the six o’clock news as free advertising in primo eyeball hours as long as there are no machete-wielding crazies, butchering a dozen people to get the sole remaining counterfeit action figure from some kid’s movie. 

We suspect that someone, somewhere is planning a reality show that has Black Friday every week, with the contestants fighting over a KitchenAid stand mixer, a case of Ragu sauce and a big-screen TV in exchange for answering general knowledge questions about other reality show contestants. 

We would add a feature of the Big Savings Tunnel of Doom, a 70-foot long Lexan tunnel that the 30 contestants have to run through, barefoot, facing a barrage of pepper spray, fire hoses and beanbag projectiles, as well as an amphetamine-crazed ostrich, four toddlers with Lego on the floor, a hill of fire ants and Gordon Ramsay judging how well they can fry an egg while running a gauntlet of Ferguson, Missouri protestors hell-bent on burning the studio down because of Michael Brown.

We surmise that the End of Civilization is nigh, as this is no different from the Roman Coliseum with their historical bear-baiting bouts, or feeding Christians to the lions, except Black Friday The Series, will have much better numbers:  The Colosseum could only hold about 50.000 and didn’t have WiFi so we could keep up with social media and see who is trending.

Oil has been in the news of late.  Prices for Brent Oil and West Texas Intermediate have tanked, now down around $66 – $70 a barrel.  Which means the price at the pump is lower.  If you listen to economists this is either the end of Life As We Know It or the Beginning of a New Era of Prosperity. 

Economists are those people who can use terabytes of statistics to prove any air-headed postulation, but can’t actually tell if it is raining outside.  Remember when reading financial projections, everyone has a hidden agenda and it is usually sinister.  OPEC has responded as only they can as an illegal price-fixing scheme that we tolerate:  They’re both reducing and increasing production at new higher, but lower prices. It’s complicated.   

For the time being, we’ll adapt to cheap gas.  We don’t care that  Exxon or Sinopec is taking a beating on their quarterly earnings per share:  The shareholders can kiss my sweaty pink puckered portcullis.  We’re thankful we don’t have to sell a kidney to gas up the car tomorrow.

Meanwhile, we finished up a tough week and plan on relaxing with a cocktail tonight.  There may be more than one involving a coffee liquor and vodka.  And how was your week?


Jian Gone III: Judgment Calls and Cosby

Things on the Jian Ghomeshi side have now come to their logical conclusion.  For those with Attention-Deficit disorders, the story is here and here.  Jian has been charged with four counts of sexual assault and in a post-charge perp walk, the lawyers have said they won’t fight the case in the media. 

After tapping the silence bar on our bullshit detector to keep it from wailing too loudly, we went back to the basics.  Now that the person involved has been charged, we have to apply a certain mindframe, that being the hard one, of Innocent Until Proven Guilty.

It’s hard to do because like every other human around, we make judgments every day: Can I turn left between these two cars?  Can I mix regular and premium?  Does this smell bad?  Is Person X guilty as hell? Do these pants make my ass look fat?  Is that shoelace about to break or can I get through another day? 

These are all judgment calls we make, sometimes in milliseconds (no, don’t turn now) and sometimes over days of agonizing about the minutiae and endless if-then (pants) internalized discussions that go on and on and on.   

Simultaneous to Jian Ghomeshi’s fecal matter storm, it comes out that Bill Cosby has been the subject of sexual assault allegations, going back several years, usually involving younger-ish women who have claimed Cos drugged them, then sexually assaulted them.  Cosby? WTF? 

Here’s the conundrum about judgments.  If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and poops like a duck, it’s probably a duck. 

A fast-talking puke at your front door offering to check your hot water heater for dangerous fumes and violent explosive potentials is probably a lying sack of skin that should be tossed off the front step with one of your shoes lodged in his backside.  A beloved comedian, Jell-o pitchman, social activist, philanthropist and character actor with a secret life as a walking Pez dispenser of roofies and dick doesn’t quite fit with duck analogy. 

Which is where we get discomforted.  There is some kind of line where we have to consciously stop trying to come to a judgment and let the legal process go to work.  If Cosby has been a scumbag (judgment call there) then the Law should be doing something along the lines of charging him with several counts of sexual assault and proving their case in open court.

Crap, there is that horrible term when it comes to sexual assault charges: Open Court.

We have reasonable rape shield laws in Canada and most US States have at least some vestige of the same thing:  The trial isn’t about what the victim was wearing, or has done in previous interactions with the defendant, or others.  Therefore many lines of questioning are inadmissible in court to keep the questions relevant to the issue of consent and the suspension of consent as that is the key moment when an encounter becomes non-consenting.  A judgment point.

Even with rape shield laws, the judge has to make several hundred calls about the case and the facts at hand.  Not all facts can be corroborated by dash-cam video of tab A in slot B, then a puff of smoke and Skittles everywhere.  Reality doesn’t work that way.  There was no cellphone selfie video of Lee Harvey Oswald speaking to camera then firing four rounds at a limo and running for the door to connect him with a President who was suddenly cured of migraines.  Life is not CSI.

What we come down to is a judgment of who is telling the complete truth and who is not telling the complete truth.

Jian goes to court.  We’ll see.  Cosby, if he’s charged, will probably go to court too.  And again, we’ll see.  We have to make a judgment call here and trust the system to do what it needs to do. 

Be prepared for a very icky ride. 


Remembrance Day Connections

(We’re reprinting this post from last year for two reasons.  One, people enjoyed it.  Two, it is as meaningful now as it was last year)

We understand the concept of Remembrance today, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  We are taught from a young age that we should take two minutes, once a year, to reflect on their sacrifice and their gift to the rest of us.  This is good of course, we should do this, it is important and our obligation as citizens.

Except it isn’t quite that simple.  As the veterans of various conflicts age and pass away, we lose the connections to the actual people involved.  True, the veterans of Korea, Viet Nam, peacekeeping missions everywhere and Afghanistan are still mostly with us and are as deserving of our thanks and respect as any veteran of WW2, but there aren’t as many of them, the lens of history often distorting how we perceive their battles and conflicts.

One veteran we’re familiar with wasn’t a front-line warrior, didn’t bomb the Ruhr from a Lancaster, or survive years of detention in a Stalag, fighting heroic battles.  He signed up in September 1941 with the Royal Canadian Air Force, learned how to fly, then learned how to instruct flying.  Serving only in Canada he was one of the thousands who taught others to do their duty, watching them graduate, then embark for Europe, to continue the fight from above.

He rarely talked of his service, only occasionally reflecting that he never got to serve overseas, but understood his role of flight instructor, developing others to bring the fight forward.  His service was one of support, a cog in the great machine, more valuable at home, teaching others.  His contribution was as valuable as any and we still recall his quietude on November 11th every year.  What he was thinking of, we will never know for certain, as he never talked about it, keeping his feelings inside.  That was the way it was done in his generation.

On one occasion we saw that reserve slip ever so slightly.  We were at the Canadian Air and Space Museum, at the display of the Lockheed Hudson.  You could see the memories flash behind his eyes, the long hours of training, the faces of the students, the drone of the engines and the continual static mush of the radios.  He looked the aircraft over, appreciatively, with a knowing familiarity, pointing out a few of the features of the aircraft had that he liked, or used every day, as one would appreciate the picture of an old friend, stories linking from small details, brought up from memory of how the Hudson was a bugger to trim and how the structure around the pilot’s seat would always catch the students around the kneecap the first time they climbed into the seat.

Known to the RCAF as J-50540 he left the RCAF as a Pilot Officer in 1945, transferring to the Reserve Special Section, then back to civvy street and the rest of his life.

Reading his Record of Service is but a tiny sketch of his involvement in the War.  A small part, a valuable part and a very personal part of one person who served.  He is who we think of at the hour, our personal connection.

If you don’t have a personal connection, you can always borrow ours, with respect and thanks for his quiet contribution.

His name was Russell W. Scott.  He was my father-in law.