Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pandas Arrive In Canada

All our problems will soon be solved, now that the pandas have arrived.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Space Station Fun

Prime Minister Harper's Twitter monkeys made a foray into social media to mark Cdr. Hadfield assuming command of the International Space Station. Harper planned to speak via link-up with Cdr. Hadfield, and invited people on Twitter to pass along questions for the PM to ask using the hashtag #PMHadfield.

Of course, being one of the many smart asses on Twitter, I jumped on the bandwagon suggesting questions for Harper to ask the good Commander.

Here are a few of mine:

#PMHadfield Is Dean Del Mastro up there with you? I ask because he's missed the last 26 Ethics Committee meetings #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield You're in heaven, right? So what god do you see, because I've bet it all on Jesus with this Office of Religious Freedom #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield Do you need a rodent for zero-G tests? Laureen's goddamn chinchilla keeps dropping "jellybeans" in the limo. #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield Sorry the scientists at mission control sound muffled - they're still learning how to speak through their gags. #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield Peter MacKay wants to know how the fishing is up there? #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield Does the space station need a gazebo? #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield Is the Peace Tower with the giant eye of Mordor visible from space? #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield Do you have any picture books on evolution you can lend our Minister of Science? #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield On your next pass over Venezuela, the Prime Minister would like you to give it the finger. Thanks. #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield Seeing the majesty of the universe & that we are all one people, doesn't it make you want cut programs for the poor? #cdnpoli

#PMHadfield Did you know that Mike Duffy is using the space station as his residence address? #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield Like the Great Wall of China, is the Prime Minister's ego one of the things you can see from space? #cdnpoli 

#PMHadfield Since you left we stopped believing in science. You're on your own to get back. Sorry. #cdnpoli  

(By the way - have have nothing but respect and admiration for Cdr. Hadfield... )

Bored Meeting

Calgary Sun
March 9, 2013

Imagine my surprise when my eleven year old son announced that he couldn’t play video games with me on Sunday. Instead he had a board meeting to attend.

“A board meeting?” I asked. Maybe I was nurturing an entrepreneurial prodigy. If so, that would make him unlike most of the members of my family – myself included – who are best known for investing in magic beans and timing market crashes perfectly.

“My friends Quinn and John are setting up a business,” he explained. “We’re going to sell custom mini-block figures over the Internet.”

I’ve certainly heard worse business plans, some of which attracted millions in investment before crashing and burning.

As the practical and non-eleven year old person I felt obliged to ask a few hard banker type questions, like who pays for the materials, who puts the finished product on the Internet, and the all important how do you get paid?

Like most great entrepreneurs, my son waved away my concerns about the details. Besides, John and Quinn are twelve, so they have the combined wisdom of a 24 year old, which makes them a tad on the old side for an Internet millionaire.

The Internet is the digital age’s lemonade stand for kids. No more sitting at a table on your lawn trying to sell passing strangers watery beverages for a quarter. Every nine year old is building an app or game to sell on iTunes so they can retire by age ten.

So I dutifully dropped my son off at Quinn’s house last Sunday, chosen because “he has the best boardroom table.” I think it also may have something to do with the fact that his mother keeps a couple jars of candy open on the kitchen counter.

A couple hours later I picked him back up, wondering how soon it would be before his photo is on the cover of Forbes magazine with a feature article about his humble origins (that would be me) and his meteoric financial rise.

Instead, I learned that the board meeting didn’t go as planned.

Things were fine during the refreshments, because every board meeting needs a reception beforehand to loosen everyone up and get the creative juices flowing as part of the corporate team-building exercise.

It was when they got down to business after the cookies and juice that I think there arose the initial dispute about the “vision”.

I didn’t even get the gist of the dispute – these high level corporate issues are never easy for us laymen to understand. All I know is that someone hit someone else with a pillow over a difference of opinion on corporate strategy.

As these things do, a smack in the eye with a pillow intended as constructive criticism soon expanded into a larger discussion of fundamental issues of governance backed up with foam projectiles from a rapid fire dart gun that just happened to be handy.

Just before the meeting broke up there was a general melee that involved a fair amount of good-natured rolling around on the floor, much as I envision happens on a regular basis at companies like Blackberry and Apple.

So as far as I can tell, the business plan has been shelved for now and untold riches will have to wait until he’s at least thirteen and has the world figured out.

“So no more board meetings?” I asked on the way home.

“Oh no – we’ll keep having meetings,” he said. “They’re fun. We’ve just decided to drop the business part and go right to the wrestling.”

He’ll go far in the business world.

 © 2013 - Stephen Lautens 

Friday, March 8, 2013

It's a Trap! Not Really.

There's already been far too much ink spilled about Prof. Tom Flanagan's "musing" about child pornography. Flanagan was of course Stephen Harper's "Yoda" - one of his influential intellectual mentors in conservative thought. Flanagan managed Harper's leadership campaigns for the Canadian Alliance (2002) and the Conservative Party of Canada (2004). He also managed the Conservative Party’s national election campaign in 2004.

Flanagan's recent quotes almost universally jumped on (and in my view rightly) include: "I certainly have no sympathy for child molesters, but I do have some grave doubts about putting people in jail because of their taste in pictures", and,  "It’s a real issue of personal liberty and to what extent we put people in jail for doing something in which they do not harm another person."

The defence to the hue and cry following the remarks (more like a vigorous public tar and feathering) came notably from a few academic friends and National Post columnists, dressing it up as an assault on academic freedom and assuring us that this was professorial rhetoric designed simply to make us think seriously about free speech and personal liberty unrelated to the actual hideous crime of making child pornography for others to possess in the peace and quiet of their own homes.

His handful of defenders conveniently overlooked several inconvenient things. Interestingly, none make reference to another curious spontaneous statement by Flanagan, that "...I got put on a mailing list of the National Man Boy Love Association and I started to get their mailings for a couple of years..." It hangs out there, pleading to be addressed. Who went to the NAMBLA website, paid money (including extra postage to Canada) and put him on the mailing list? Why did he receive it for a "couple of years" without doing something about it? Wouldn't any possible "academic interest" be sated after an issue or two? Would a call to their subscription department end the incoming newsletters when you explained your were on their list in error? He said he didn't think it would work, but apparently never tried. How about the monthly scene at the office or at home when you ask your wife or secretary:

"Any mail today?"
"Just your Man Boy Love Newsletter and the gas bill..."

In a Macleans damage-control interview conducted after test-marketing the first pass defence script he does address (sort of) the NAMBLA newsletter. He said:

"As part of my work, I subscribed to the Heritage Front newsletter to know what these people were doing. It went out of business and they must have sold their mailing list; I suddenly started to get neo-Nazi mailings and the periodical from [NAMBLA]."

So the Nazis - well known for their liberal attitudes towards sexual unorthodoxy - sold their mailing list to NAMBLA, and NAMBLA was willing to pay money for a Nazi mailing list, and then paid more money to send free copies of their newsletter to everyone on it for a couple of years? Excellent cross-marketing. I'm not sure that theory would withstand too much academic peer review since there isn't a shred of evidence or common sense to support it.

There is the previous statement from 2009 reported in The Manitoban: “But that’s actually another interesting debate or seminar: what’s wrong with child pornography — in the sense that it’s just pictures?" Like his 2013 statement, this came out of left field, volunteered by Flanagan and apropos of nothing. It was the comment he was invited to expand upon in the 2013 video, and instead of brushing it off, he jumped into the morass with both feet.

It's these spontaneous statements bursting forth that make it so difficult to suggest Prof. Flanagan was - in his words - "trapped" into making such public utterances. Perhaps he didn't know he was being videoed at the recent seminar, but everyone in the world carries a camera with them now. I can't be sure I'm not being videoed right now. 

Did Prof. Flanagan have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his lecture? Doubtful. Was he trapped as he claimed into saying things? There's a big difference in being trapped and being invited to state your opinion, and Prof. Flanagan is no stranger to stating his opinion as a senior political strategist and media commentator. 

He and his defenders have tried to portray his statements as mere off the cuff musings and rhetorical intellectual challenges. Scott Ross deals with that revisionist interpretation of the comments, but a read of them shows they are personal opinions ("...I do have some grave doubts...") and he was only "trapped" by his own comments.  

All of which is just a long introduction to my own poster that I think sums it up (with apologies to Admiral Ackbar).

Fundraising Senators

While this is not news to people familiar with how Ottawa and politics work, I thought I'd connect some dots about surprisingly large travel expenses racked up by some Senators and party fundraising.

A lot of people think Senators' travel expenses are to cover their trips back and forth from their "principal residence" to attend the Senate. Senate travel expense rules are set out in a document called "Senators Travel Policy".

While it has a lot of incredibly bureaucratic language about the "64 point system" of travel credits, it has this interesting definition of what is an allowable "Parliamentary function"

1.5.6 “Parliamentary functions” means duties and activities related to the position of a senator, wherever performed, and includes public and official business and partisan matters, but does not include activities related to:
a. the election of a member of the House of Commons during an election under the Canada Elections Act, or
b. the private business interests of a senator or a member of a senator’s family or household

Thsi section seems to indicate that Senators have a budget not just to get back and forth to their house (wherever that is), but also to attend partisan events

However, there is a list of examples of funded vs. unfunded travel expenses in Schedule A". Item 3 (page 28) says "Participation in party activities that are purely partisan matters such as election activities" is not funded. But Item 2 says "Participation in party activities that are related to the work of the Senator" is funded. Item 14 (page 29) says that "Speaking engagements or attendance at fundraising events other than those organized by the Senate." is not funded. Confused yet?
Confusion or not, there is a simple solution politicians and Senators have used for years.

To get around the "no funded travel for partisan purposes" rule, a political party sets the date for a fundraiser, and then an assistant starts to call around the community to see if they would like to have an appearance / event / ribbon cutting / information session with a senator that same day or the next. Who wouldn't be honoured to have a senator read a book to kids at the local library or judge your pie eating contest? Piggybacking a party fundraising event using a non-partisan event as cover for the travel lets you claim the cost back and stick the taxpayer with what should be a party expense.

Of course if asked it is portrayed as "I was going to be in town to judge the pie eating contest anyway and the local riding association had me over to speak at a dinner..." 

Free from the time demands of House of Commons duties, senators can be available to be keynote speakers at political fundraisers around Canada. This is especially true of "celebrity" (or what passes as a celebrity in Canada) appointments to the Senate, who are big draws at big buck events. Next time you're scratching your head at a Senate appointment, remember why it's good to have a stable of famous journalists and sports figures appointed by your party to the Senate with a budget and travel allowance to headline at fundraising dinners. 

They're worth their weight in gold.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Fill In This Blank

The CBC has reported a Saskatchewan charity that receives government funding has published this peach of a conjugation exercise for new Canadians:

Grab from CBC site

Users are invited to correctly fill in the blanks in this sentence: "The majority of voters _______ conservative." I think the word they are looking for is "voted", which is not correct for several reasons, including some that are not Orwellian. At 39% nationally, a majority of Canadian voters did not vote conservative [sic].

The follow up question is: "The majority of voters _______ conservative and as a result they _______ a Harper government."

It seems to me there are several possible answers to these Stalin-esque exercises in mind massage. How many marks would an ESL student get for the following?

"The majority of voters rejected the mean spirited and xenophobic policies of the local conservative."

"The majority of voters didn't vote conservative and as a result they were directed to fake polling stations, exposed to a massive and misleading ad campaign and were swayed by illegal spending, resulting in a Harper government."

Remember, penmanship counts.