The Shotgun Blog
Monday, August 31, 2009
Portugal's success story
The policy was called "ultraliberal legalisation" when it was first enacted, and conservatives around the world warned of increases in drug use, drug tourism, addiction and the spread of disease.
None of these grim predictions have come true. Instead, drug use has fallen, the number of addicts seeking treatment has increased and the numbers of drug overdoses and sexually transmitted diseases have dropped. The fact that 95% of those caught using drugs since 2001 are Portuguese suggests that drug tourism is low.
From Full Comment:
The key to Portugal’s approach is in offering a balanced hand of treatment and punishment. Narcotics remain illegal, and drug treatment for repeat offenders is mandatory, but the state saves time, money, and anguish by avoiding mere punitive measures. It also encourages people who are genuinely addicted to seek treatment of their own volition, since the government has removed the fear of imprisonment.
The statistics also bear out the success of the programme. Addicts in rehab rose 400% over the past decade, while actual drug use has fallen. Perhaps the most relevant comment is here:
“We no longer have to work under the paradox that exists in many countries of providing support and medical care to people the law considers criminals.”
Portugal hasn't legalized drugs - those found using will still have any illicit substances confiscated and be forced to appear before a tribunal to determine the best way to deal with their drug use - but they have decided to focus on the problems caused by drug use - and by the drug war - rather than on penalizing people who make poor personal decisions with prison sentences and criminal records.
It's no wonder, as the world observes the sky's failure to fall over Portugal, that Argentina has followed suit.
Citizens for jobs NOW! and the folly in Windsor
Driving around the Windsor area yesterday I noticed a few odd lawn signs that said, "Citizens for jobs NOW!" As a citizen who also thinks that jobs are a good thing I decided to check out the organization.
It is a pressure group and here is their mission statement:
Our mission is: to create jobs and secure the economic growth
of the Windsor Essex Region by holding all levels of government to
account for immediate action on infrastructure projects, corridor and
Really this makes me sort of sad. Windsor is a perpetually dieing community. It is a city that even the waiters are unionized and the municipality holds a tight grip on the economy. Yet the solution that these people reach out for is not entrepreneurship, but more government.
Government cannot create jobs. Certainly the government can pay someone for a service, such as building a bridge. But this does not create a net gain in the economy; it is merely taking capital away that would have created another job. In effect what this group wants is for the federal and provincial governments to subsidies their life in Windsor.
This group apparently cannot imagine stimulating the economy without government help, but this is not the way to do it. To truly save Windsor these people should roll up theirsleeves and ask, "what sort of business can I start?" not ask "what sort of help can I get from the government?"
In Stephen We Trust
Stephen asks us to get lost again, in the fluffy blue sweater.
Asked about the perception he is cold and aloof, Mr. Harper replied that he didn't enter public life for the limelight – and jokes that he in turn finds journalists hard to approach.
“Honestly, I'm not into politics to play to the microphones and the cameras,” he said. “I'm there to ensure that the government acts responsibly, protects the population and meets its needs. I can take the criticism – it comes with the job – but my main preoccupation is not my personal image, but rather the country's higher interests.”
The Prestige article features photographs supplied by the Prime Minister's Office of Mr. Harper skating with his son, playing cards with his daughter and the whole family including wife Laureen waving from an airplane door.
“When I play the piano, I become very involved emotionally, I'm no longer the same person. It's not just a hobby,” Mr. Harper said.
Intense, dude. No pictures of the Prime Minister making patronage appointments. The roll probably got lost in the lab or something. This interview has garnered a lot of attention for the Prime Minister saying he's more interested in what God thinks about his public career than historians. This is a throw away line in American politics. Like saying you're working for ordinary people. It doesn't mean anything. A political courtesy comparable to asking how a complete stranger is doing. You say it to be polite. Being Canada, where much of the media class has a terror of religion, it's being played up.
That hidden agenda we're always told about. Remember? Stephen Harper, free marketing social conservative? Yeah, it's been a while since that's had much resonance. The Prime Minister has spent much of the last three years channeling Lester Pearson. The utterly inoffensive Pearson was famous for wearing bow-ties and saying gosh (in place of the more colourful language common on Parliament Hill). Haprer has countered the fear mongering of the Liberals and NDP by being so utterly boring, and inconsequential, that the electorate will find the whole idea of a hidden anything absurd. They are to assured that what you see is, sadly, what you get. Stephen may trust in a higher power, the electorate is being asked to trust him. Why? Because he's safe and sensible. He's your banker. He's your high school principal.
Harper's crime isn't that he has betrayed his base, sold his principles for power. It's his sheer mediocrity. In three years he has accomplished nothing of any historical note. The bland Pearson led one of the most influential governments in Canadian history. Harper has been marking time. If a majority government ever comes what mandate will the Prime Minister have for anything? Except the status quo?
Saturday, August 29, 2009
"In Praise of Traffic Tickets"
Slate gives a cheery endorsement to petty authoritarianism.
What do Timothy McVeigh, Ted Bundy, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, and 9/11 ring-leader Mohammed Atta have in common? They're all murderers, yes, but another curious detail uniting them is that they were all also brought to police attention by "routine" traffic violations.
Which brings us to the first social benefit of the traffic ticket: It is a net for catching bigger fish. One reason simply has to do with the frequency of the traffic stop, particularly in a country like the United States, where the car is the dominant mode of transportation: Most crimes involve driving. But another factor is that people with off-road criminal records have been shown, in a number of studies, to commit more on-road violations. A U.K. study (whose findings have been echoed elsewhere) that looked at a pool of driving records as compared with criminal records found that "2.5% of male drivers committed at least one primary non-motoring offense between 1999 and 2003 but this group accounted for 30.6% of the men who committed at least one 'serious' motoring offense." (Interestingly, the proportion was even more marked for women.)
My main criticism here is a lack of ambition. Why stop at traffic violations? Why not randomly detain people as they walk about making sure they have all their papers? They do this in many countries. Imagine how many wanted criminals could be captured simply by random check points! Or cameras in people's homes! After all, if you're innocent you have nothing to hide, right? The reference of Mohammed Atta is especially galling. How traffic laws could have prevented 9/11? I doubt even the most aggressive Homeland Security operatives would go quite that far.
In France citizens are required to register with the police whenever they move. In Canada this is done indirectly through drivers licenses. The various provincial highway acts are more than simple revenue generators, they grant the police sweeping powers over ordinary citizens going about their daily life. While there is such a thing as reckless and dangerous driving, that's not where the police focus their efforts. Simply driving above an arbitrarily posted speed limit scarcely makes one a reckless driver. 20 over the limit on the 401 is something very different than 20 over the limit on a residential street. It's much easier, however, to catch speeders on a superhighway - lots of volume compared to residential streets. If the point of catching speeders is deterrence, why are speed traps hidden? The time of day and volume of traffic are also major factors. Drive along any of the 400 series highways early in the morning on a statutory holiday. Every few kilometers you'll see someone pulled over. The traffic is light, the weather and lighting are good, this is about the best and safest time to travel above the limit. It's also the easiest time for the cops to meet their quota. By lunch time many are done for the day.
There is one particular stretch of the QEW near Huronontario in Mississauga where the limit drops from 100 km/h to 80 km/h quite suddenly. The nominal excuse is construction, but those improvements have mostly been completed. By a strange coincidence the Port Credit detachment of the OPP is visible from that stretch of the highway. That study after study has shown that variation in speed, not speed itself, is a leading cause of accidents has no effect on the "speed kills" mantra. It is virtually impossible not to violate the Highway Traffic Act. Its myriad of petty restrictions mean that it's up to the cop's discretion whether he wants to ruin your day, and meet his quota. While many complain of the revenue generating features of the traffic laws, fewer express concern over the arbitrary power such laws allow over the lives of ordinary non-violent citizens. As so many things in modern life, these petty abuses are done in the name of safety.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Manitoba Premier Resigns
Gary Doer, who has been the Premier of Manitoba since 1999, has decided to resign. A new NDP leader, and therefor a new Manitoba Premier, will be selected this fall.
Jim Cotton at ManitobaPost.Com had a good summary of some of the activities under Gary Doers tenure.
- was elected on a promise to fix hallway medicine in 6 months, it never happened
- scandals, such as Hydra House, and the crocus fund ponzi scheme where Manitobans lost millions and Doer sweep it under the rug
- street gangs took a strong foothold in Winnipeg
- Winnipeg became the car theft and murder capital of Canada
- tuition freeze that choked post-secondary institutions of money
- dozens of children who murdered while under the watch of Child Family Services
- raised taxes by increasing fees on many services,
- the debt has risen every year since Doer was in power
- the Photo Radar scam, where Doer refused to refund thousands of illegally issued tickets
- Rebategate, where Doer and his party defrauded taxpayers and gave the head of Elections Manitoba a massive raise to cover it up.
- closure of 18 Emergency rooms in rural Manitoba.
And today the news has come out that Gary Doer is going to be the next Canadian ambassador to the United States.
Only in government do you get rewarded for failures.
I welcome feedback and I ask for civility in the exchange of comments. Vulgarity is discouraged. Please express yourself creatively with other language. We discuss ideas here, attacks on a person are discouraged.
The selling of seized property and the presumption of innocence
According to the Globe & Mail, a Toronto man's bike shop has been seized and will likely be sold off by the government because he is accused of a crime. Note that it is accused and not convicted of a crime. According to the article this man has not even gone through the preliminary hearings and he has to fight in a forfeiture hearing to protect his property.
There is a good reason for the tradition of a presumption of innocence in the courts. It is because the results of treating an innocent man as if he is guilty is far worse than if they treat a guilty man as if he was innocent. The selling of this man's property is a clear illustration of this.
What if the man is innocent and they have sold his business? He certainly looks guilty but there is a possibility that he will be found not guilty. In this case his life's work will be ruined because he was falsely accused. On the other hand if he was to be found guilty but the assets were not seized and sold, merely frozen, then they will still be there to be seized and sold after conviction. It is far better to wait to sell a guilty man's stolen assets than it is to steal the property of an innocent man.
The most disheartening part of this story is that the Supreme Court did not strike down this law. I will give Mr. Trudeau credit, for he did try and include property rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yet that missing article is costing Canadians dearly.
One Man's Cheater...
...is another man's freedom lover:
The deal struck between the United States and Switzerland last week to provide the names attached to 4,450 secret accounts held by Americans at the Swiss banking giant UBS is a blow for fairness. If Switzerland lives up to its commitment, it may well be a watershed: the beginning of the end of international tax cheating.
There is a growing international backlash against tax evasion. The Tax Justice Network, a research and advocacy organization, estimates there are $11.5 trillion in global assets hidden in offshore havens. In recent months, dozens of formerly uncooperative sanctuaries from Singapore to Lichtenstein have rushed to sign on to new multinational norms on information sharing.
I love the pompous phrase "growing international backlash." Who exactly is leading this backlash? Angry peasants storming the country clubs of the free world? Or revenue hungry governments looking to expand their power? Cracking down on alleged tax cheating is really just code for making sure private individuals, of whatever wealth level, have nowhere left to run. While the Times jumps to criticize overly aggressive border patrol officials and the detention center at Guantanamo, they cheer on the government's war on Americans' economic rights. A potential terrorist is given reasonable doubt. A potential tax cheat is an enemy of the people.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
When Liberalism Was Cool
As Lord Black has pointed out, Ted Kennedy did not have an especially distinguished legislative track record. There are few landmark laws with Kennedy's name prominently attached. No doubt he hoped one of the many health care bills now working their way through the two houses of Congress would change that. An able orator with a Boston Brahmin accent, his influence and power derived mostly from the memory of his murdered brothers. There are few things that improve one's image more than dying young, or relatively young. James Dean and Marilyn Monroe being prime examples. The legacies of JFK and RFK benefit from their image as secular martyrs. Had John Hinckley's bullet been a few inches closer to the mark, it's unlikely Ronald Reagan would have received the same canonization by the MSM or Hollywood. The Kennedy family's remarkable clout stems in part from their storied history, but far more so from their politics. The Kennedys were liberalism great modern avatars. The Roosevelts and LBJ did far more to promote the cause of modern liberalism that the Kennedys. Unfortunately for them they did so without the Kennedy family style and elegance, as well as Shakespearen familial plot twists.
The Kennedys made liberalism cool. Compare JFK with Adlai Stevenson, the bookish looking and sounding Illinois Governor, who was nominated for the Democrats in 1952 and 1956. Kennedy's narrow (and probably stolen) victory in 1960 was the precise moment when political and intellectual liberalism reached its apex. Confident after the triumphs of the New Deal and World War II (which it took credit for), its seizing of the economic and political heights was only confirmed by the Eisenhower years. JFK took that ascendancy and gave it the patina of cool it would never have again.
Liberalism would remain culturally influential for decades to come, but that youthful certainly that its basic presumptions would never be challenged never returned. Ted Kennedy was a reminder, if in a rather Dorian Gray manner, of that youthful optimism. Before Vietnam made a mockery of Robert McNamara's mathematical approach to warfare, the Great Society utopianism's dismal end and the Civil Rights drift from MLK to the violence of the Black Panthers. In 1960 Kennedy was, literally, Rat Pack Cool. By 1969 Sinatra and Co were from another generation, the Sixties had reached the muddied chaos of Woodstock. The crime and inflation ridden Seventies, and the political victories of conservatism under Reagan, made boomer liberals nostalgic for their moment of uncontested glory. Barack Obama has attempted to recapture that optimism, earning support from Caroline and Ted Kennedy during his 2008 run, but he is unlikely to succeed. The state certainly continues to grow. It grows, however, by inertia. The crusading spirit of statism, so evident and unchecked in the Sixties, is gone. Having become the Establishment the Left now finds itself defending its prerogatives, rather than challenging from without.
The Lard Laden Slippery Slope
First they came for the smokers:
The solutions to these problems are beyond the control of any individual. They involve a different sort of responsibility: civic — even political — responsibility. They depend on the kind of collective action that helped cut smoking rates nearly in half. Anyone who smoked in an elementary-school hallway today would be thrown out of the building. But if you served an obesity-inducing, federally financed meal to a kindergartner, you would fit right in. Taxes on tobacco, meanwhile, have skyrocketed. A modest tax on sodas — one of the few proposals in the various health-reform bills aimed at health, rather than health care — has struggled to get through Congress.
Cosgrove’s would-be approach may have its problems. The obvious one is its severity. The more important one is probably its narrowness: not even one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals can do much to reduce obesity. The government, however, can. And that is the great virtue of Cosgrove’s idea. He is acknowledging that any effort to attack obesity will inevitably involve making value judgments and even limiting people’s choices. Most of the time, the government has no business doing such things. But there is really no other way to cure an epidemic.
Most of the time soon becomes all the time. Obama Care, whichever Tolstoy length version thereof you care to read, proposes to remove from the individual the responsibility to provide for their own health care. The alledged 47 million Americans without health care include several millions who could purchase health care if they choose. Being young or rich enough, they don't feel the need. It's a calculated risk rather than a lack of options. Smokers face the same choice. It's not that they're ignorant or even uninterested in being healthy. I know several who are careful with their diet and exercise regularly. Their body fat is well within reasonable bounds. Smoking is their indulgence. They're also taking a calculated risk.
The default assumption of the state is that those who smoke are addicted and need to be cured. Smokers aren't adults with different lifestyle choices, they're juveniles who need to be scolded and taxed into compliance with the state's definition of health. The fat, whatever the politically correct term, are the next target. Being fat hasn't been in fashion for sometime. The portly Edwardian gentleman, Edward VII himself being the finest example, was seen as an ideal. The never too rich or too thin ideal of beauty and success came a few decades later, when mere physical subsistence ceased to be a concern of the typical citizen of a liberal democracy. By the 1940s Sydney Greenstreet, the corrupt blackmarketter in Casablanca, was the New Fat. From a measure of success, fatness has become the hallmark of weak will and urban decadence. We no longer speak of someone lacking character and will. Instead fat becomes the catch all for moral condemnation.
The question isn't whether being fat is healthy. Being healthy is like being safe or happy. There is no platonic ideal. It would be far safer to impose highway speed limits of 60 km/h, the approximate speed most cars are crash tested to withstand while keeping the occupants alive. People prefer to go far faster. It's a calculated risk made by adults. The formula for losing weight is simple and well known. People choose to ignore it. Living longer and healthier is not as important as whatever pleasure they derive from making unwise food choices. In the past these calculated risks were borne mostly by the individual and his or her family. The more government intervenes to relieve people of the responsibility for day to day life, the more it socializes risk. You being fat is now everyone's problem. Charging the overweight higher health care premiums would be a matter of course, if a genuine free market for health insurance existed. Today such as course is legally fraught. If private individuals and organizations can't decide and negotiate on what the reasonable price for a service is, then a third party will set the terms. In the modern world that third party is usually the government.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
In support of HST
Dalton McGuinty is being accused of attempting to raise taxes by the Harmonized Sales Tax. Because people will be losing their exemptions, buying certain products will cost 6% more than they did before. I respond, "goodriddance to these demand side subsidies."
Why is the government in the business of exempting taxes for people who buy government approved products? Why should someone by exempt from paying taxes because they make different choices than another person. This is a form of social engineering. It is an attempt by the government to manipulate our behaviour in ways that the politicians think are good.
I admit that this is a rather benign form of social engineering. More like the soft hearted mother who gently reminds her children to eat their veggies than the stern controlling mother of George Orwell's nightmare. Soft-hearted and benign or not the state is not in the business of motherhood. It is up to individuals to decide what is best for themselves.
I write all this but those who are fans of such subsidies have nothing to fear from the HST. Mr. McGuinty has offered plenty of spending and tax credits to tax the place of the PST exemptions. Those foaming at the mouth about a tax increase should take a breath and look at the whole proposal. I wish it was true that these subsidies were being eliminated, but it isn't.
So with all this said, why would I support the HST?
The HST has two advantages:
1. It makes it simpler and cheaper for businesses to pay taxes.
2. It cuts down on the need for provincial bureaucracy.
I do not see why any conservative would complain about either of these outcomes. The Liberals have done a lot of stupid and horrible things in Ontario. The HST will not be one of them.
Cultural acts of liberty: public breastfeeding
I'll cut to the chase: the mother of my child breastfeeds in public. I support her in this, and we do it in spite of all the "discomfort" it creates.
People have tried to politely suggest to us that the sight of a baby breastfeeding from an exposed breast is an act of gross public indecency. To which, I have always replied in the rudest possible terms that language will allow.
Of the people who've shown visible objections, I have to say--quite honestly--they have disproportionately been Muslims (there's quite a few in the area we live). In fact, I once observed a Muslim family with three children, a fully-cloaked mother, and the long-bearded father go into an absolute panic when they realized she was breastfeeding in the Starbucks at Brookfield Place on the lower concourse level in Toronto. It was quite amusing. The parents placed their hands over their children's eyes the best they could. Six children's eyes to cover, and only four hands to do it with. But they evacuated the scene with great haste, to say the least.
It's obviously not just Muslims. But they stick out in my mind, because they seem to be the ones who are most visibly panicked when they encounter it.
Other people have more privately told me, that the reason they have a problem with it, is the fact that men will sexualize her in their mind, in response to seeing her partially exposed breast. Which seems to me, to be the exact same argument fundamentalist Muslims make for requiring their women to fully cloak themselves in public.
Having a baby in this busy, modern, world is not the easiest of things to manage. Particularly for a modern woman.
I must say that the general expectation that women should plan their day around finding adequate hiding places to protect the sensibilities of a bunch of luddites should--in my opinion--be quite low on the priority list for said women. For Sarah and myself, it's completely off the priority list.
Talk amongst yourselves.
Pieces of Paper
There are few things more deceptive that a Master's degree. It conveys an often illusory sense of expertise. Better than a Bachelor's but not quite as knowledge laden as a Doctorate. It's holders still able to hold relatively normal conversations with other human beings. The problem with the Masters, and most liberal arts degrees, is not that they are inherently worthless, but just as their subject matter is qualitative in nature so is there value. There is no specific skill the liberal arts major can point to and say, yes I can do this. He cannot build, design or even just reject the null hypothesis. Yet a civilization cannot long exist without the liberal arts. The day to day getting and spending would continue apace but man, as the Bible tells us, cannot live by bread alone. The liberal arts is the study, ultimately, of being human.
Education as a subject fits itself in the liberal arts tradition. Certainly no one in the ancient or early modern world regarded education as a fully independent subject, so much as a skill one acquired from practice. Some teachers had an ability, finely honed, to communicate information, concepts and ultimately a methodology of thought to their students. Others read aloud from textbooks and kept their free eye on the water clock, sundial or Timex to run out. A good teacher was one who knew his stuff and had a knack for explaining it to others. Not dwelling too much on arcane details only a specialist would care about, capable of punching up dry material with a memorable, yet relevant, anecdote. The big picture meshing and eventually integrating in the mind of the pupil with the small details. That teaching cannot really be taught, that like the liberal and educated mindset it is something that has to be practiced to be understood. Years ago a teacher of mine, a reactionary old Tory, quipped that an MA in Education was about as useful as a university major in driving a car. It seems some in the educational establishment are beginning to understand:
But current teacher training has a large chorus of critics, including prominent professors in education schools themselves. For example, the director of teacher education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Katherine Merseth, told a conference in March that of the nation’s 1,300 graduate teacher training programs, only about 100 were doing a competent job and “the others could be shut down tomorrow.” And Obama administration officials support a shift away from using master’s degrees for pay raises, and a shift toward compensating teachers based on children’s performance.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Roadkill Radio focus tonight to be on families
Join me and guest co-host Ron Gray tonight for an inside view of the politics of the family tonight on Roadkill Radio. Larry Jacobs, Managing Director for the World Congress Families, will give us a wrap-up of this year’s conference held in Amsterdam.
Next, our old friend Kevin Libin, founding editor of the Western Standard, will talk about the on-going problems that happen when government wants to “protect children” and fails miserably. Check out this link to Kevin’s recent article, "Ministry of Crises," in the National Post.
Then former premier Bill Vander Zalm will update us on the rising and determined opposition to the HST in B.C. Check out this site for all the info.
It all happens tonight, 7:30-9:30 p.m. PDT at www.roadkillradio.com.
Civilizations, noted Arnold Toynbee, are not murdered but commit suicide. The same goes for governments. The question is why Dalton McGuinty decided two majority governments in a row was enough. He was the first Ontario Grit leader to win back to back majorities since the days of Mitch Hepburn. Maybe 2007 was just too darn close. Not that the election was close, but that the Ontario PCs had a very good chance of winning at the onset. Mediocrity and drift will get you only so far in Canadian politics, at some point even the quiet souls who make up Ontario's electorate will want actual leadership. Banning pit bulls - easily the highlight of the current government accomplishments - doesn't quite cut it.
John Tory's strategic error in backing government funding for religiously based private schools - as opposed to a tax credit for all private schools, which the Eves government had supported - was a gift from the Gods for the Liberal Party. With only the slightest suggestive effort needed, images of public funds paying for madrasahs in Mississauga, and creationist science classes in Redneck, Ontario, quickly fixed themselves in the public mind. Catholic schools have always been controversial in the province, a hold over from a pre-Confederation compromise when Ontario and Quebec were part of the united Province of Canada. When Bill Davis announced full funding of Catholic Schools in 1984, it sunk his successor Frank Miller's chances of prolonging the four decade old PC dynasty. John Tory repeated his mentor's mistake. Education is the third-rail of Ontario politics. It is the last field of public life where the topic of religion can swing elections.
The Tory misstep in 2007 was a one-off. With Tory himself shuffled off in a surprise by-election defeat in the March of this year, the road was clear for a more politically astute leader. While unfortunately having the too bright sheen of a career politician, Tim Hudak is unlikely to repeat the mistakes of his predecessor. Young, bright and amiable, he is a plausible alternative to a McGuinty government long in the tooth. When the provincial budget was announced in late March (a few weeks after Tory's defeat), Minister of Finance Dwight Duncan surprised the legislature by announcing the harmonization of provincial and federal sales taxes.
Effective July 1st, 2010, the measure was sold as an administrative reform, allowing businesses to remit one set of tax paperwork rather than two. The only catch, which the government has been spinning hard against anyone noticing, is that the harmonization will require the PST to cover as many goods and services as the GST. Since the latter is far more encompassing, this is among the biggest tax hikes in the province's history. The desperate hope of the Grits is that the added revenue will help plug the government's massive deficit. By October 2011, the date of the next election, the additional revenues will no doubt help the government. They will also begin to pinch the electorate. Here's to reminding them of eight years of broken promises, mediocre government and a steadily increasing tax burden.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Curfews in Killarney
The town of Killarney Manitoba has seen a recent rise in vandalism in the town of 3300 people and a curfew for people 17 years old and younger has been proposed in order to deal with it.
"They're out jumping around on rooftops on Main Street; they've been dancing around on a few vehicles," (Mayor Rick Pauls) said. "We've had some of our picnic tables and park benches thrown into our lake."
Sounds like some laws are being broken there. If there are already laws being broken, then why the curfew? Shouldn't these folks be handled for the crimes they already committed?
This is a lazy way to police people. It punishes the many for the acts of the few, which is not fair nor just. It also marks everyone in that town of a certain age range as a criminal, which is collectivist and disturbing. Individuals are causing the harm, not entire age groups.
Plus, the government has no right to tell entire age groups that they can't be in public. This is public property, they own a piece of it. Why the cut-off at 17? It's because 18 is an "adult" and for some reason they feel that they can pick on people under 18, but oh no, once you're 18 you are magically transformed into an adult and have personal responsibility.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms says;
2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (c) freedom of peaceful assembly
Unless of course, you are aged 0-17 and live in Killarney Manitoba.
A tale of three healthcare plans
Once the rhetoric about "death panels" is swept away, the healthcare debate in the U.S. gets complicated quickly. First, you have two (or is it three? Four?) multi-thousand page bills before Congress, which nobody seems to have read. To paraphrase Jon Stewart of The Daily Show, the debate over healthcare between Republicans and Democrats has turned into a battle between the angry and the incomprehensible.
No doubt, any of these bills would alter the American landscape in ways libertarians would deplore. At the same time, I see "healthcare reform" as inevitable. The question is only what form it will take. And that question can be reduced to a more specific one: will there be a "public option" or not?
As far as I know, every health care plan the Democrats have proposed drastically increases regulation of the private provision of health insurance. For example, the ability of insurance providers to turn down potential customers with pre-existing conditions would be curtailed. Insurance companies would also be prohibited from dropping customers from their rolls at time of renewal. Essentially, it would be more difficult for private insurance providers to refuse to add people to their rolls, and almost impossible to remove someone from the rolls once he or she was added.
Enter H.R. 3200 (a decent summary of the salient features of the bill can be found here. Ezra Klein's sympathetic summary is here.) In its current form, H.R. 3200 includes all the insurance mandates I just mentioned, and many others (more information here.) It also includes "individual mandates" -- a legal obligation, backed up by IRS sanctions, requiring every person in the United States to acquire health insurance.
The logic of including this requirement is straightforward: the greater the numbers of the insured, the more that risk is spread around, and the lower the cost of insurance for any particular individual. According to this New York Times editorial, a good chunk of the uninsured people in the U.S. could afford insurance, but opt not to purchase it. A larger chunk are too poor to purchase insurance at its current cost. Obliging people to acquire insurance -- and subsidizing the latter group, if necessary -- should drive down the cost of insurance for everyone. Or so goes the theory. Money for the subsidies would come from imposing a surtax on the wealthiest 1.5 percent.
(Of course, the insurance mandates will probably drive up the cost of health insurance, while ensuring that only the most gigantic insurance providers will have any chance of making a profit. And the individual mandate will bring those companies lots of new customers. No wonder the insurance industry has warmed to these aspects of H.R. 3200.)
From what I gather -- and, obviously, the situation could change at any time -- there is no serious possibility that health reform will proceed without the new insurance mandates, and little possibility it will proceed without the individual mandates in one form or another. Whatever the form of the bill President Obama will eventually sign, it will include these features.
This is healthcare plan #1: a heavily regulated network of private insurance providers and a legal requirement that all individuals purchase some form of health insurance from them, along with a tax hike on people making at least $350,000/year.
Healthcare plan #2 includes the public option (which is part of H.R. 3200 as it stands; that may change, as even President Obama has backed away from this portion of the bill.) The public option is a government-run, government-funded insurance plan. The insurance mandates are important here, because they ensure that private insurance providers will have to provide the same comprehensive (i.e. expensive) coverage that the public plan will.
Some have expressed the worry that, under these conditions, there is no way private insurers will be able to compete with the public option. The private providers will be pushed into bankruptcy, leaving the public plan -- the government -- as the sole provider of insurance. Earlier, President Obama dismissed this worry by, perhaps unwisely, comparing the relationship between the hypothetical public plan and private insurers to that of the U.S. postal service to FedEx and UPS, the latter firms having little difficulty competing with a government provider of the same service.
The public plan is supposed to be financially self-sustaining, though there is little explanation of how this objective is to be achieved. Tellingly, the private insurance industry does not back this part of the bill, which -- unlike the mandates -- could seriously cut into their profits.
Finally, let's consider healthcare plan #3, the single-payer, Canadian-style alternative. As a sign of how extreme this proposal is, compared to the other systems just discussed, only Dennis Kucinich and a handful of other Democrats seem to have any interest in supporting it (the bill is H.R. 676.) Single-payer isn't happening, unless the public plan really does put all the other private insurers out of business.
Nevertheless, the single-payer proposal is an illustrative comparison case. As is the case in Canada, H.R. 676 would "prohibits a private health insurer from selling health insurance coverage that duplicates the benefits provided under this Act."
Obviously, H.R. 676 would kill many private providers of insurance. As in Canada, health care would be paid for through taxation; there is no attempt to claim that Kucinich's plan would be financially self-sustaining. The other details of the plan should not detain us. We all know that H.R. 676 would result in the government rationing health care. We know that costs would balloon, and that health care would eat up larger and larger portions of government revenue.
On final analysis, a question remains: suppose one of these health care plans is bound to pass. Which one would be better, from a libertarian point of view?
Plan #1 is ripe for predatory rent-seeking: indeed, it could have been written by the insurance industry itself. It will result in some people paying more for insurance than they otherwise would -- a tax hike, in everything but name, except the money will flow directly to large insurance companies instead of the coffers of government. Unlike auto insurance requirements, which you can opt out of (albeit with difficulty), no one can abandon his or her body. Obviously, this plan, like the others, is redistributive; but the direction of redistribution (not unlike eminent domain after the Heller case) is from one private party (individuals) to another (private insurers.)
Plan #2 will deprive these insurance companies of sought-after revenue. The public option, if it could really be financially self-sustaining, would at least provide people with an alternative. On the other hand, the worries about the public plan putting private insurers out of business could come to pass. But if all went according to plan, competition between the government plan and private insurers might indeed drive down costs (if the mandates didn't bring them right back up again.)
Plan #3 will demolish private insurers and vastly limit consumer choice. People will have no choice but to get their health care through the government. At the same time, there are no mandates, in the sense that no one would be required to literally purchase insurance (at least, no more than anyone is required to purchase police and fire protection.) The only institution people will be legally obliged to deal with will be the government itself -- something people are already obliged to do, anyway.
Obviously, each plan is bad, but which is worst? And why?
Iggy Plays Guitar
Above all a weak opposition. This is the great secret of successful and long-lived governments. No matter how good you are, the other guy has got to be worse. Politics is a game of perceived relative advantage. Lester Pearson was scarcely a knight on a white horse, but by 1963 the majority of Canadians - particularly in Ontario and Quebec - were convinced that Dief was slightly unhinged. Pierre Trudeau did not defeat Joe Clark in 1980. Clark, an otherwise decent and intelligent man, befuddled himself out of office, and then out of Stornaway. Having risen to power by shear energy and drive, he panicked himself into defeat. Like a gift from the mint for the Grits. Jean Chretien would have been a one term wonder if the Right had not been divided. If the Bloc did not exist Stephen Harper would probably have gotten his majority long ago. Looking across the House of Commons aisle these last few years must have been a heartening sight for the Prime Minister. 2008 was the year of Dion. The Liberals' answer to Joe Clark, with the exception that Clark was fluently bilingual.
Dion was leader because the Liberal Party couldn't decide who was more of a liability: The most unpopular Premier in Ontario history, or a man who has spent most of his adult life out of the country. Belatedly they decided upon The Visitor, as the Tories are trying to portray him. Yet during this two year interregnum, climaxed by the Grand Coalition, Stephane was such a gift. The 2008 campaign consisted of the Conservatives saying to the electorate: "No, but seriously. That guy? Prime Minister of Canada?" It worked beautifully. Iggy would change all that. He could speak both languages in an intelligible manner, he looked dignified - or as close as this is possible for modern politicians - he looks like a man who knows what he is talking about. He oozed charm and competence. The logical thing, it seemed, for the Grits was to put Mr Smart Guy in charge and let the Harper Tories defeat themselves. Heck, there was a massive economic crisis just about to break. Crises are very inconvenient for incumbents. The public blames them, despite the fact that the party in opposition would have done pretty much the same thing.
The Grits were counting on Harper's free market instincts to kick in - the Grits think he has them, sadly we know better - and squash any strong Keynesian medicine in the budget this past January. Fat chance. Having maneuvered the Conservative Party to within an order paper's width of the opposition's own views, one is left to wonder why bother throwing the bums out? The other bums would have done pretty much the same, as they were forced to admit during the budget debates. The usual Kabuki theater of minority parliaments aside, the Liberals have yet to explain to the electorate why they should govern. Canada is having a very good recession so far. The Tories have observed all the various orthodoxies of the conventional mixed economy. The Grits are left to haggle over details, like EI. Employment Insurance formulas are for bureaucrats and insomniacs. Whatever the general public has been able to shift through gives the impression of the Grits wanting to turn EI into an almost full fledged welfare program, as opposed to the pseudo-insurance scheme it is today. Only if the unemployment rate heads north of ten percent will EI become a genuine political issue. Now it's just background static. As is Iggy himself.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
MGTV - Manitoba Government TV
The Doer Government is funding a study to see whether there is place for a government run, government owned "educational" TV station.
(On Screen Manitoba executive director Tara) Walker said a provincial education public broadcaster would be a training ground for local filmmakers to tell stories, on TV and on the web, about Manitobans, for Manitobans.
It would also broadcast children's programs, assist in long-distance teaching and learning and let far-flung communities communicate through a public network across the province.
I do believe that all of these things are already available through various broadcasters in the market like, and this other thing that a lot of people use, the interwebs.
What this would do is create a government run broadcaster that would be in competition with private broadcasters that already have similar programming, such as APTN and Treehouse. I am in support of competition, but when the government gets into competition it has numerous advantages over their competitors;
- they don't need to make a profit since they are funded through taxes
- aren't subject to market forces
- they can legislate away their competition (though this is unlikely in this case)
- they don't need to be run in a financially sound manner since it will be run by unaccountable bureaucrats
If a private company wanted to do this, great, enter the market and make a run for it. When the public are forced to pay for non-essentials such as this, while there are real problems with crime and infrastructure, it is a waste.
As it's currently proposed, it's for educational programming. The government is already "educating" children in public schools, and now they want to expand that to "educating" them in your home.
Will you feel comfortable with government programmed TV influencing your kids under the guise of education?
I welcome feedback and I ask for civility in the exchange of comments. Vulgarity is discouraged. Please express yourself creatively with other language. We discuss ideas here, attacks on a person are discouraged.
"The Market Failed in Africa."
The God that didn't fail:
No lesser masters of the market than Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have declared that the market has failed poor countries. In an era of global trade, most Africans have benefited not at all. Despite a flourishing market in most of the rest of the world, Africa remains a continent of poor villages and sprawling slums. So rather than investing in the continent's businesses and ventures, these billionaires fund NGOs and government projects for health, education, and technology. And they call for U.S. foreign assistance to do the same.
But take a look at the World Bank's annual report, "Doing Business," and you'll realize that many African economies have never had a business market to fail -- thanks to their governments' dense, unnavigable regulations. "Doing Business" ranks countries according to how easy it is for citizens to start and run businesses -- things such as registering a company, hiring and firing workers, getting credit, and so on. Poor countries in general and African ones in particular rank at the bottom of the list. The major reason is that their governments have never had an interest in fostering business because favor and aid for government and NGO projects comes so much easier. In essence, the market never failed because it never really existed.
If she listens to the current, broken aid system, Secretary Clinton will feed that same, backward system that has helped make Africa what it is today. Instead, she should listen to her long-ago predecessor, George Marshall, who gave the aid world its biggest success story. He did it by working with local businesses and respecting the power of markets. Africa needs nothing less.
The author then goes onto to say something I've regarded as patently obvious for decades, though simply cannot be said in polite society: European colonialism was, from at least the late 19th century, a good thing for Africa. The author's solution to revitalizing the continent is questionable; a new Marshall Plan. He does however have a point. The great benefit of the Marshall Plan was not so much the vast sums which flowed between the American and various European governments, but the strings that came attached. Even the Truman Administration understood that a revived Europe would need to liberalize its internal economies and move toward continental free trade. The post-war prosperity, what the French call the Thirty Glorious Years, was the end product of this approach. Having saved western Europe, American attention drifted elsewhere and the continentals went back to their old statist ways. A measure of free marketism had saved them from Communism and poverty, but with money in the bank - so to speak - they returned to form. A new Marshall Plan for Africa would be subject the same restraints.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Federal Government Sponsors Drug "Research"
I love science, I am a fan of it; good science that is.
The Federal Government is funding research into the relation between smoking marijuana and mental illness.
"Science has shown that cannabis may actually trigger the onset of psychosis and may also intensify the symptoms for those who already have a psychotic illness," (Winnipeg Conservative MP Joy) Smith (Kildonan-St. Paul) said in announcing a grant of more than $550,000 to the Schizophrenia Society of Canada.
The grant of $559,370 is the largest Health Canada has ever provided to the society, he said.
The money is part of Ottawa's $30-million national anti-drug strategy, announced in 2007.
So the Federal Government, which is court ordered to produce medical marijuana in Canada, which has announced a stronger anti-drug strategy in recent years, is funding research into marijuana and it's negative effects, with funds from the national anti-drug strategy...
Do you think the study will be bias at all?
I welcome feedback and I ask for civility in the exchange of comments. Vulgarity is discouraged. Please express yourself creatively with other language. We discuss ideas here, attacks on a person are discouraged.
Flick a cigarette in a heavily patrolled community of color and you’re littering; wear the wrong color T-shirt and you’re displaying gang allegiance. Just strolling around in a dodgy neighborhood can mark you as a potential suspect, according to “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice,” an eye-opening new book by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor in Washington. If you seem at all evasive, which I suppose is like looking “overly anxious” in an airport, Mr. Butler writes, the police “can force you to stop just to investigate why you don’t want to talk to them.” And don’t get grumpy about it or you could be “resisting arrest.”
There’s no minimum age for being sucked into what the Children’s Defense Fund calls “the cradle-to-prison pipeline.” In New York City, a teenager caught in public housing without an ID — say, while visiting a friend or relative — can be charged with criminal trespassing and wind up in juvenile detention, Mishi Faruqee, the director of youth justice programs for the Children’s Defense Fund of New York, told me. In just the past few months, a growing number of cities have taken to ticketing and sometimes handcuffing teenagers found on the streets during school hours.
“Peasant Blacksmithing in Indonesia: Surviving Against All Odds,”
That was Barack Obama's mother's dissertation title. The MSM's love-in with the President continues:
Indeed, Dr. Soetoro found that the villagers she studied in Central Java had many of the same economic needs, beliefs and aspirations as the most capitalist of Westerners. Village craftsmen were “keenly interested in profits,” she wrote, and entrepreneurship was “in plentiful supply in rural Indonesia,” having been “part of the traditional culture” there for a millennium.
Based on these observations, Dr. Soetoro concluded that underdevelopment in these communities resulted from a scarcity of capital, the allocation of which was a matter of politics, not culture. Antipoverty programs that ignored this reality had the potential, perversely, of exacerbating inequality because they would only reinforce the power of elites. As she wrote in her dissertation, “many government programs inadvertently foster stratification by channeling resources through village officials,” who then used the money to further strengthen their own status.
Hmmm. Kind of like an inner city ghetto? In oh, say, Chicago.
These same observations also led her to start working with institutions like the Ford Foundation and the United States Agency for International Development to devise alternate pathways for reaching and working with the poor. She helped to pioneer microcredit programs that made small amounts of capital available to weavers, blacksmiths and other low-income groups — people who would otherwise have had no access to credit.
Nothing about the Indonesian government nationalizing the blacksmithing industry.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Anti-HST movement is featured on Roadkill Radio tonight
Be sure to tune into RoadKill Radio at www.roadkillradio.com from
May we see your papers? -- Merchandise edition.
After watching Terry Brassi of CheckpointUSA.org stand up for his fourth and fifth amendment rights, I just knew I wanted a t-shirt with the words "Am I being detained, officer?" -- "Am I free to go?" on it. So I designed one for myself.
If you like it, you can buy it too, right here. (disclosure: there is a 10% commission Zazzle pays me, for which I will be donating 100% of all proceeds to liberty-based causes.)
Twenty Questions on Obama Care
From Robert Tracinski:
6. One of the main demands of the health-care bill is that insurers are required to cover people with "pre-existing conditions." That's like getting insurance on your car after you crash it. It's just a way of getting someone to bail you out for something that has already happened. This isn't insurance, it's a handout. So doesn't that mean that the rest of us will have to pay more for our insurance to absorb the cost of those handouts?
14. Do you know the meaning and significance of the term "quality adjusted life year"? (For this question, you will need the answer, which you can supply if your congressman is forced to admit that he doesn't know it—preferable after some stammering and a long, awkward pause. "Quality adjusted life year" is a term used under socialized medicine to determine whether elderly patients are allowed to get expensive drugs or treatments, depending on some bureaucrat's calculation of how many good years they have left. You should ask your congressman: Can you assure us that the same thing won't happen here?
The Expanding Definition of Hate
Paging Jennifer Lynch and Barbara Hall.
With economic troubles pushing more people onto the streets in the last few years, law enforcement officials and researchers are seeing a surge in unprovoked attacks against the homeless, and a number of states are considering legislation to treat such assaults as hate crimes.
This October, Maryland will become the first state to expand its hate-crime law to add stiffer penalties for attacks on the homeless.
At least five other states are pondering similar steps, the District of Columbia approved such a measure this week, and a like bill was introduced last week in Congress.
A report due out this weekend from the National Coalition for the Homeless documents a rise in violence over the last decade, with at least 880 unprovoked attacks against the homeless at the hands of nonhomeless people, including 244 fatalities. An advance copy was provided to The New York Times.
Among the oldest of debating cliches is the slippery slope. If we allow this to happen, inevitably this too will come to pass. Like most cliches there is a strong element of the truth.
“I hate the government for making my life absurd.”
In her journalism Jacobs became an ardent critic of urban renewal, the tearing down of old neighborhoods to make way for blocklike towers and other “improvements.” Her big breakthrough came in 1958, when she got an assignment from William H. Whyte, an editor at Fortune (and the author of “The Organization Man”), to put her ideas into an article called “Downtown Is for People.” It put her on the map, and led to the publication of “The Death and Life of American Cities” three years later.
Around the time she was writing “Downtown Is for People,” Jacobs became involved in the fight against the proposed highway through Washington Square Park — a park where her own children had often played.
She helped rally prominent citizens like Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Mead and the New Yorker architectural critic Lewis Mumford to the cause. Jacobs was a kind of “war-room impresario,” Mr. Flint writes, who urged a three-pronged attack: “grassroots organizing, designed to draw in more allies, more pressure on local politicians, and a stepped-up campaign to gain attention in the media.”
Monday, August 17, 2009
May we see your papers? (Part 2)
As a follow up to my previous post by the same name, here is some news indicating that the "isolated incidents" continue.
The man in this following video, lives on the border with Mexico (in Laredo, Texas), and in the past few weeks has had the border patrol follow him all the way into the driveway of his own home, and proceed to harass him.
They also sprayed him in the face with mace on his own property when he confronted them, to try and get them to leave [he didn't obey and submit]. But to make up for it, the benevolent border patrol agents--such that they are--apologized for spraying him in the face with mace, and offered him medical help. How thoughtful.
Nope. No police state here. Move along...
(Just remember citizens: obey! Warrants, probable cause, reasonable suspicion, and funny, foreign-sounding words like "habeas corpus" are for bleeding heart liberals who want to surrender to the terrorists! What is the point of all your rights if you're dead from a terrorist bombing, or unemployed because a Mexican stole your job because they'll work for less than you? If you're truly patriotic, you'll sit down and shut your yap!)
Hog Farm Bail-Outs
The hog industry in Canada has seen some hard times lately, and after begging for $800 million government dollars now they are being offering a nice little financial incentive to get out of the hog business, $75 million tax payer dollars.
Speaking at a research farm in rural Manitoba Saturday, (federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz) said some hog operations are not viable and those farmers need help.
"We have to face the reality that some producers will leave the industry and we need to reduce our current over-supply," he said.
It's just another bail-out. If an industry is failing, then let it fail! If people want to get out of a business, then let them get out of it. Artificially sustaining failing business is not economically sound. The industry can correct itself without forcing Canadian taxpayers to fork over the cash.
"Is it what we wanted? Of course, straight cash is always nicer without any strings attached, but the reality is that wasn't going to happen," said Jurgen Preugschas, president of the Canadian Pork Council.
Yes Jurgen, straight cash would be very nice, so go out and earn it instead of expecting the Canadian public to pay for your failing businesses!
If there is not enough demand to meet the supply, then reduce prices and perhaps you sell more. Reducing the supply is the responsibility of the business owners, not the customers and not the general public.
The Children's Crusade
Iggy goes to war.
Senior Liberal strategists are now referring to the Ignatieff OLO (Opposition Leader's Office) as “Parliament High” because of the legions of inexperienced young people who populate it.
They even have a uniform. Says one veteran Liberal: “Why is it everybody in the Leader's office, guys or girls, wears blue jeans, pointy shoes and tight button-up shirts with loud colours? … It's pack mentality.” And this would be amusing, except that the kids at Parliament High let down Michael Ignatieff during part of his tour in Nova Scotia this week.
“It's no one's fault. It's not the 24-year-olds' fault who have never been told how do their job. Someone who is managing them has to make sure they understand what they're doing,” says the veteran Liberal.
What bothered him was that Ignatieff handlers mixed up their times, taking him from a big community garden party so he could attend a much smaller meeting.
In other words the Big Red Machine, that once featured the likes of Keith Davey and Jerry Grafstein, seems to be resorting to inexperienced events coordinators. Games of Chicken - threatening a vote of non-confidence - are the static of political life in a minority parliament. The trick is to bluff the other fellow into supporting this or that bill or motion. It only works if the bluff is credible. Right now the Grits have about zero credibility when it comes to fighting a campaign. Iggy has done a yeoman's job of repairing party finances, but not quite up to weathering a national campaign no one wants. The decision about when the next election will be held is in the hands of two men, Stephen Harper and Giles Duceppe. Neither seems keen on returning to the hustings. The latter is mulling retirement. The former is waiting for the economy to recover to call another snap election. Harper the economist, if not quite the free market lion he was once portrayed as, knows that Barack Obama is working very hard to secure a Conservative majority government.
What the FTA and NAFTA did was to help fundamentally restructure the Canadian economy over the last two decades. While economic nationalists warned of increased dependency on the American juggernaut, the exact opposite has happened. NAFTA in particular allowed Canada to follow the laws of comparative advantage, shifting our economy away from manufacturing toward services. Nations have historically traded with countries nearest to them due to obvious transaction costs. When the wealth of nations is increasingly intellectual (which includes figuring out how to extract natural resources), those transactional costs become nearly irrelevant. A service economy is one less dependent on trading with nearby partners, instead it can reach out to the world. Buoyed by Canada's traditional strength in natural resources - fur, fish, timber, wheat and now oil - we have become to a surprising extent decoupled from the American economy. Even in bulk products like oil and minerals, our clients are increasingly global. There is a massive glut of cheap shipping - refer to the Baltic Dry Index - to take our natural bounty where ever customers beckon.
We weathered the 2001 American recession easily, and we are weathering this one rather well. Harper knows this. He knows Barack Obama is shackling and regulating the American economy into near term stagnation. In the past this would have proven disastrous for Canada, today it will be an advantage. For decades Britain and the City of London have proven a relative free market haven to international businesses seeking to invest in Europe. There is no reason Canada cannot, and will not, play that same role in North America. In a year or so Canada may very well be leading other OECD countries in economic growth, all while the American giant is stuck in a slow motion recovery. The Prime Minister's moderately statist approach will seem to many voters as a work of pragmatic genius. Not too much intervention, not too little. Just right. Harper the Helmsman. More image than reality. Such is the game of politics.
more honoured in the breach
New York cabbies on their cell phones:
New York City cabbies have been banned from using cellphones for a decade — even the hands-free type, putting the city a step ahead of state law. But the stringent rules remain almost entirely unenforced, even amid research that shows drivers who talk on cellphones are four times as likely to cause a crash.
The authorities issued just 232 summonses for cellphone use in yellow cabs during the first six months of this year, or one ticket for every 517,241 cab rides during that period, based on the city’s estimated ridership.
While the state seems powerless...
The State Department of Motor Vehicles logs all accidents in the city, but while cellphone use is cited as a factor for some accidents, the numbers are unreliable because the reports are not handled uniformly.
This being New York, the most effective means of cutting off a conversation may be found not in the offices of city regulators, but in the customer’s wallet.
“When I talk all the time, the passengers get angry,” said Mohammad Forazi, 42, of the Bronx. “They don’t give tips.”
An ideal society is one where there are many customs and few laws.
"From now on, I’m just going forward.”
Sailing to freedom:
In 1991, Carlos Domínguez, a family doctor in one of Havana’s poorest neighborhoods, bought a boat for 12,000 pesos — the equivalent of saving his entire paycheck for three years — to escape the government that had trained him to be an international doctor.
The boat was old and needed to be outfitted with the transmission from a 1952 Ford, one of the many American cars that still cruise the streets of Havana. The mechanic warned him there was no reverse gear. The boat could only go forward.
“Perfect,” Dr. Domínguez, now 46, said he replied. “I don’t plan on coming back. From now on, I’m just going forward.”
And so, armed with his grandfather’s World War II compass, he left Cuba and made his way to Miami, rowing the last seven hours after the gasoline ran out. He was 28 years old and ready to resume his life as a doctor.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
May we see your papers?
The spectre of being stopped at random government checkpoints to be intercept people on wanted lists, and undocumented persons, is an image we associate with the likes of Nazi Germany.
But today, in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security is in the process of setting up inland immigration checkpoints.
That's right, checkpoints to stop and check persons who are already inside the border. The Supreme Court rules that these checkpoints are legal up to 100 miles from the borders--that's about 80% of the US population with all the coastal cities.
These checkpoints have been the cause of large protests by American citizens in Washington State, by citizens who are sick and tired of having their community turned into a police state, where couples walking on the beach are stopped and asked their citizenship--yes this is and has been happening.
To be clear. Some Americans, by virtue of living near the border are being forced to present themselves to immigration officials simply by driving to work everyday. These Americans have never left their own country, and most Americans are still not even aware this is going on. Here is one of them who's fighting back:
Update: And this Christian Pastor, Steven Anderson, was tasered and arrested for refusing to answer questions at a random immigration stop near the California-Arizona state line. The police had claimed their drug sniffing dog had detected drugs in his car. Although, they quickly took the dog back inside after indicating the dog had detected it, and refused to bring it back out to show him.
Steven Anderson refused to allow a search of his vehicle, and was told he was under arrest. He refused. And was tasered from two sides, and glass from his car windows severely cut his face and head when the police smashed them in. No drugs or illicit material was found in the Pastors car.
Peggy Nash elected President of NDP
Peggy Nash was elected President of the New Democratic Party of Canada today, vowing to "dedicate herself to helping build a real political alternative for recession-weary Canadians."
“We couldn’t be happier that Peggy Nash has been elected President,” said New Democrat leader Jack Layton. “I know Peggy well, she was in our caucus and continues to be a valued part of the team. I have absolute confidence that she will bring energy, innovation and leadership to the role.”
Nash has a long history with the New Democrats. She was the Member for Parkdale-High Park (2006-2008) and, as industry critic, pressed the government to reject – for the first time in more than 20 years - the foreign takeover of a major Canadian company.
“As Canadians long for a vision of a better tomorrow, we need to focus on what unites us,” Nash told party delegates. “How do we create a green recovery with new kinds of jobs for young people? How do we build a sustainable economy? What sectors do we want to see developed? These are our challenges. I believe we can meet them.”
“I know that Canada needs the New Democratic Party to be strong, credible and progressive. You have my commitment to organize and build like never before.”
Nash is a Canadian Auto Workers negotiator and the first woman union representative in major auto negotiations in North America. She is the recipient of two awards from the Sierra Club of Canada and speaks English, French and Spanish. She replaces Anne McGrath outgoing president and current Chief of Staff to Jack Layton.
“I’m confident that Peggy is the right person to take our party to the next level,” said Layton. “Her breadth of experience, strength of character and bold vision will contribute greatly to our future success.”
While still an NDP MP, Nash lead the campaign against Gwyn Morgan after this respected Calgary-based oil executive was picked by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006 to head a new public appointments committee. Former Western Standard editor Kevin Libin wrote at the time:
[Morgan’s] crime? He gave a speech, as a private citizen, that among other things, criticized sloppy immigration policies that allow in criminals and let them stay here. He cited the rise of Jamaican gang violence in Toronto and Asian gangs in Calgary. He's right, of course. In Calgary, one of the Asian gangs actually calls itself the Fresh Off the Boat Killers. And some cops estimate that as much as 80 per cent of Toronto's gun crime traces its roots to Jamaica. In April, CTV's W-Five established that in Toronto alone there were 1,600 criminal immigrants, many of them serious offenders who had been ordered deported but were still walking the streets.
But who needs inconvenient facts interfering with what we believe? As NDP Peggy Nash argued (she's the one who championed Morgan's ouster), these are views that are "out of step with Canadian values." You see, in our culture of truthiness, some opinions never change, no matter what the facts are.
Posted by Matthew Johnston
Bring Khadr home now: New Democrats
Omar Khadr is a Canadian citizen whose rights have been violated by the federal government and he should be brought home to face justice here, according to New Democrats who passed an emergency resolution today at their Convention in Halifax to repatriate Khadr.
“We have now had the federal court decide twice that the Harper Conservatives are in the wrong here, and all we get is this government trying to find another way of having to recognize the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” said New Democrat Human Rights Critic Wayne Marston. “They need to stop this nonsense and bring Omar Khadr home.”
“This government has repeatedly chosen to ignore the rights of Canadian citizens who find themselves in dire straits outside the country,” said the party’s Foreign Affairs Critic Paul Dewar. “This government needs to be reminded that citizenship does not end at the border.”
Omar Khadr was a child soldier when he was captured in Afghanistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay in Cuba where he has been awaiting trial for six years.
Posted by Matthew Johnston
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Canadian Border Agents Recorded
The folks at the Motorhome Diaries are driving across America meeting with people to search for freedom. Unfortunately that trip won't include Canada, since they were turned away at the Canadian border about a month ago and banned from entering this country.
Last week they took a wrong turn at the border near Detroit, Michigan and had to turn around through Windsor, Ont., and once again had to deal with searches and delays. This time though they left an audio recorder rolling while Canadian Border Service Agents searched their Motorhome. You can listen to the CBS agents comments in this video, including joking about sexually assaulting people.
I welcome feedback and I ask for civility in the exchange of comments. Vulgarity and racism is discouraged. Please express yourself creatively with other language. We discuss ideas here, attacks on a person are discouraged.
More Details about Northern Blockade
When I first read the CBC story about the protest going on with the highway blockade in Northern Manitoba I wasn't clear about a few details. Reading today's article in the Winnipeg Free Press provides more details, which I find quite disturbing.
The blockade, consisting of protesters, their vehicles and logs, went up Thursday on a private road leading to the Wuskwatim dam construction site, keeping about 880 Manitoba Hydro workers inside the work camp.
Occupying someone else's property; a private road, and keeping people from being able to pass by on their own property, is criminal, and the people involved in this show of force are criminals and should be arrested. They are preventing people from being able to go to home and be with their families, or just leave the camp in if they want to.
By Friday negotiations with these criminals have resulted in some Hydro workers being able to walk through the blockade.
(Manitoba Hydro spokesman Glenn) Schneider said that of the 880 workers on the site now, 44 are from NCN and 32 per cent of the total workforce -- 283 workers -- are aboriginal.
Since the project began in August 2006, Hydro maintains that of the 2,554 hires, half have been aboriginal and 424 workers, 17 per cent, have been from NCN.
Schneider said the hiring of qualified aboriginals who have registered with the provincial Job Referral Service remains the objective of hiring practices on the site, adding qualified non-aboriginals have been hired only when qualified aboriginals could not be found.
It sounds like these folks protesting have sour grapes and an entitlement mentality.
Protest on public property, don't prevent people from passing by, and you have my support. These actions are nothing less than forcible confinement, and every one of them are criminals that should be taken away with force and charged.
Get The Hell Out of My Way
Being The New York Times, please expect the usual key to the paint job approach in dealing with Objectivism. The facts, however, speak for themselves.
MR. ALLISON of BB&T has the tall, lean frame, copper-colored hair and confident demeanor of many of Ms. Rand’s fictional heroes, including John Galt — a look “which would not seek forgiveness or grant it.”
He also has a résumé befitting a Rand prophet. He started at BB&T, once known as the Branch Banking and Trust Company, in 1971 and became chief executive in 1989, when the bank had $4.7 billion in assets.
By the time he retired as C.E.O. in December, he had overseen 60 bank and savings-institution acquisitions and turned BB&T into the 11th-largest bank in the nation, with $152 billion in assets, according to the bank.
Mr. Allison says the government forced BB&T and some other healthy banks to accept TARP money to obscure that they were simply trying to save several large banks like Citigroup.
“Everyone thinks we got some kind of subsidy,” he says, noting that his company paid the money back in June, with interest. “It’s going to cost us about $250 million for money we didn’t want.”
Despite the current bleak state of capitalism, he’s also optimistic about the future.
“In some ways, Ayn Rand filled in the ideas of Aristotle. It’s a whopping competitive advantage,” he says. “I personally believe objectivism will be the dominant philosophy in this country in 25 years.”
Which is probably the most wildly optimistic statement I've ever heard. But here's hoping.
Did the earth just move?
No one seems to have noticed, but when the National Post published its story yesterday, about the new, image-free book on the "Danish cartoons," it illustrated the story with a reproduction of one of the cartoons. See for yourself: bottom right corner, page a12, August 14 issue. The Post failed to publish any of the cartoons four years ago, of course, when doing so would have invited widespread criticism from proper thinkers, politically correct leaders and, of course, most Muslims.
Friday, August 14, 2009
"Atlas Shrugged" in Michigan
If Democrat Mark Brewer's proposals make it onto the 2010 ballot, Michigan may win the race it is in with California to be the first state to turn itself into a third world country.
While I know some get annoyed with a foray into American politics, Brewer's proposals are such a good example of economic madness, right out of Atlas Shrugged, that I can't resist. Besides, the governor of Michigan, Jennifer Granholm, was born in Canada.
Brewer is state chairman -- that is, a high-ranking Democrat, and not a crank. If he wants to turn the following measures into ballot propositions, he'll probably succeed. And Michigan voters will probably vote for them.
Link here. The ballot proposals include:
● Mandating all employers to provide affordable health care for all their employees and dependents or pay a penalty.
● Raising the minimum wage from $7.40 per hour to $10 per hour and covering all workers with no exceptions.
● Increasing unemployment benefits by $100 a week, making all workers eligible and adding six months to the time one can receive benefits.
●Cutting utility rates by 20%.
● Imposing a one-year moratorium on home foreclosures.
Michigan already has the highest unemployment rate in the U.S. Raising the minimum wage to $10/hour won't help with that. Nor will pushing out small businesses by requiring them to provide lavish health insurance to all their employees. I'm sure Wal-Mart will be able to cope, of course.
Michael Barone, the author of the article I cited, has some better suggestions for Michigan. Why not a ballot proposal to raise the minimum wage to $100/hour?
Actually, this could be an interesting social experiment: what is the highest minimum wage increase that would receive majority support if it were placed on the ballot? I'm thinking a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $20/hour could easily get the support of 50%+1. And, as Barone points out, a one-year moratorium on foreclosures isn't nearly enough. Who likes foreclosures anyway? Why not just forbid them entirely?
About the only thing that can be said about Brewer is that he's smart enough to turn these proposals into ballot propositions. Even politicians wouldn't be stupid enough to vote for them if they were raised in the legislature (at least, I don't think so, but maybe I'm having an optimistic moment.)
H/T: Timothy Sandefur, for the article and the Directive 10-289 reference.
Aboriginals Blocking a Northern Road
Another aboriginal community has been screwed over by the government, which really is no surprise, they've been doing that since before Canada was founded.
Members of an Indian band are blocking access to a $1.3-billion hydroelectric development project in northern Manitoba.
A spokesperson for Manitoba Hydro says the group is allowing people to walk through the barricade, but stopping vehicles from passing.
The issue at hand is that Manitoba Hydro made an agreement with the local community of Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, which is near Nelson House, MB., to have one third of the total people working on the development site come from their community. Hydro has not met that agreement and have brought in workers from out of province.
Companies should be free to hire whomever they want, out of province, out of country, whatever they think they need. If a company has an agreement with another party, and they don't live up to that agreement, then that is a breach of contract, and may have legal implications. Perhaps the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation didn't have enough people trained in the work that needs to be done; then further negotiations with the community should take place.
Part of the problem is that the company in question is Manitoba Hydro, a crown corporation, aka the government monopoly. The governments in Canada have a long history of not honouring agreements with Aboriginal Communities, with little repercussions of course, they are the government after all.
What do not agree with is the tactic these protesters are using.
Blocking highways is not a good tactic. For one, it pisses people off that might normally be with you. Two, it victimizes the average worker that has little to do with the conflict, preventing them from working and earning a living. Three, if it's someone else’s private property then they have no business occupying it. If it’s public property, then they have no right preventing passage to the public.
I am for protest, I am for civil disobedience, but if other peoples rights are violated in the course of those actions, I cannot support it.
I welcome feedback and I ask for civility in the exchange of comments. Vulgarity and racism is discouraged. Please express yourself creatively with other language. We discuss ideas here, attacks on a person are discouraged.
Knox's CanCon Gems - The Greatest Canadian Albums of All-Time (That You've Probably Never Heard) - Volume 1
A quick glance at the title of this series may have you suddenly thinking of Neil Young, BTO, The Tragically Hip, Nickleback or other Canuck bands that have hit the big time. Some of those bands have enjoyed critical acclaim as part of their rise to the Top (Young), while others have not (arguably Nickleback). What this series pre-supposes is that there are many a Canadian band out there who despite perhaps enjoying some degree of commercial success or critical acclaim, have never really received their due.
The subject of the first post in this series will focus on a little band from Kingston, Ontario, who despite enjoying some surging popularity in the mid-90's as part of the Canadian Celtic craze that saw previously unnkown (largely) bands like Great Big Sea rocket to the top, never really did take their proper place high above the ordinary Canadian musical landscape - The Mahones.
The Mahones first real album, Draggin The Days and its flurry of great original songs including "Drunkin' Lazy Bastard" and the title-track, "Draggin' The Days", along with stellar covers like "Raggle Taggle Gypsy" and "Star of the County Down" (the best version of this song ever recorded) was almost the subject matter of this post, and other great Mahones albums like The Hellfire Club Sessions and Here Comes Lucky are worthy of mention, it is their Rise Again album which takes the honour of Knox's inaugural installment in this series focused on CanCon gold.
Rise Again, represented somewhat of a departure or change in direction for the Mahones (if you can have one after only one or two albums) in that it wasn't simply an album of "jump up and down with a beer in your hand" pub anthems but instead, saw the band gain focus and a degree of songwriting and musicianship that was largely unexpected by most listeners and even hardcore fans that had jumped on board after listening to the first album. Sure, the "jump up and down" songs are still there ("Down The Boozer (The Bricklayers' Song"), "100 Bucks" and "Paint The Town Red") and they are outstanding, but this album also has depth and breadth in that it also includes up-tempo, but thoughtful, numbers like "Streets of New York" (which never lets me down in conjuring up memories of my youth and collegiate years) and "Holloway Jack" ( the tale of doomed men aboard a prison ship bound for Australia) and self-reflective and somewhat sullen songs like "One Star Hotel" in which Mahones frontman/singer-songwriter Finny McConnell looks inward and evaluates whether or not being on a drunken "road to nowhere" is a bad thing. As seems to be typical of Mahones albums, the title-track "Rise Again" is also a highlight and formed the centerpiece of the first set when Knox's old band took the stage (or garage or.......um.....living room).
Probably not coincidentally, this album also features one of the strongest line-ups that the band would ever have with McConnell and the now departed (sadly) Andrew J. Brown forming its core, along with Owen Warnica on bass, among others. In my view, while the band is still a great live act, the music has suffered to some degree as their sound has changed from well-written celtic-influenced songs (second only to the Pogues) to a constant barrage of celtic-punk in the vein of the Dropkick Murphys for example. I suspect that the change has been embraced by many of their fans but to Knox, the Mahones best sounds flow from the past, although there is still hope for a future shift back.
Anyway, if you can find this album, grab it. I've been listening to it for 13 years now and it is never far from my rotation, quitely begging for a spot in the CD player when it isn't in there.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Marc Emery, the Prince of Pot, will be turning himself in to U.S. authorities in September to serve a 5 year sentence for various charges related to his marijuana activism. That activism consisted of selling marijuana seeds to people through his mail order business from his downtown Vancouver store front.
He was interviewed about his upcoming incarceration, civil disobedience, marijuana laws, and other legalization subjects on this past Saturday's edition of liberty talk show Free Talk Live.
The Big Dog
Selling street meat in the Big Apple:
A hot dog vendor was kicked from the curb outside New York City's Metropolitan Museum of Art last week for failure to pay his monthly rent—of $53,558. Pasang Sherpa was under contract to pay the Parks Department $362,201 a year for a stand on the south side of the Met's entrance and $280,500 for another on the north side.
Vendors on city streets (as opposed to outside park areas) don't have to pay rent for specific spots; their only real estate expense is the cart permit the city requires them to buy. Theoretically, that'll put you back just $200 a year. But since the city caps the number of food vendor permits at 3,100, far below demand, there's an extensive black market. Some companies buy up the permits for dozens of carts and then lease them to individual vendors at highly inflated prices.
Then, of course, there is the usual harassment by the police and competitors. The joys of "public property."
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Cuba Runs Out of Toilet Paper
Now how to blame this on the embargo....
The financial crisis, which has already hit Cuba's economy hard, is about to give the country another big kick, this time in the tuchas. Literally. Cuba is on the verge of a toilet-paper crisis.
Devastating hurricanes have left the state-run company that produces the country's supply, without the raw materials necessary to keep up with demand. In addition to which, President Raul Castro recently announced a 20 percent cut in imports, meaning a lot less goods on state-run store shelves. Cuban officials are saying they may not have sufficient TP supplies until the end of the year.
B’nai Brith Canada criticizes anti-Israel student group over frivolous human rights complaint
B’nai Brith Canada is condemning the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) at Carleton University for following the lead of other anti-Israel organizations in abusing Canada’s human rights laws with what they are calling a “frivolous complaint.” The SAIA filled a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario after the University removed posters B’nai Brith is calling “anti-Semitic.” The posters, which the SAIA put up earlier this year on campus advertising Israel Apartheid Week, accused Jews of murdering innocent children.
“The poster that this SAIA chapter put up was an affront and an offense to every person of goodwill,” said Frank Dimant, Executive Vice President of B’nai Brith Canada. “The university was truly justified in using its good judgment to ensure the poster’s removal.”
“It is obvious that this maneuver to involve the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario is part of a new strategy being employed by those who wish to create a ‘legal chill,” continued Dimant. “This new strategy is being propagated by those groups that cross the line from legitimate criticism of a democratic Israel to promoting propaganda against the Jewish state and, by extension, the Jewish people.”
Dimant is calling the maneuver a “new strategy of intimidation” and points to human rights complaints levelled against Maclean’s magazine and the Western Standard as evidence:
“There was an attempt to muzzle Maclean’s magazine, the Western Standard and Ezra Levant were dragged through tribunal hearings, and B’nai Brith Canada, for a period of five years, had to defend itself against a frivolous charge lodged with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission,” said Dimant. “In all of these cases, the charges were either withdrawn or the defendants won, but only after an enormous cost in terms of dollars and human resources.”
B’nai Brith Canada is calling for “serious reform” of Canada’s human rights tribunals and commissions so that these bodies can be allowed to focus on “genuine human rights violations.”
Posted by Matthew Johnston
Traffic Enforcement Quotas
There have long been rumours about police forces having "quotas" with regards to the number of tickets handed out for various traffic infractions. The Winnipeg Police Service recently told their officers that they need to keep up with writing traffic tickets in order to sustain past revenue levels.
Police Chief Keith McCaskill confirmed Friday that a memorandum was issued to all members of the force, including tactical squad members, reminding them that traffic enforcement is part of their duties.
Revenue from traffic tickets has dropped 70 per cent this year compared to 2008, said the chief.
While this isn't so much a confirmation of quotas, it does demonstrate that the police aren't as interested in public safety as they are about revenue collection. An example is given in the same CBC article of motorist Chris Albi, who was dinged with an $800 bill for doing nothing but peacefully driving to work.
Winnipegger Chris Albi isn't impressed with the fundraising initiative. She got three tickets Friday morning.
Albi was on her way to work a local food bank when she saw the flashing lights from a police cruiser in her mirror. The officer approached the car and Albi confessed she probably had rolled through a stop sign, and she told the officer that probably her insurance had expired at midnight the previous night.
The officer issued three citations in all and the whole affair took more than 40 minutes.
"If police are trying to build rapport with the community, well … there was no flexibility, not really any discussion," said Albi.
The tickets totalled about $800.
So who did Albi hurt by rolling through a stop sign, and by having expired insurance? In reality no one was harmed. By giving her $800 in tickets no one was prevented from being harmed either; but she has been victimized by the state demanding nearly $1000 from her for not obeying their arbitrarily enforced rules. Having expired paperwork is not a crime against any living person, it is only a crime against the concept of the state, which demands that you have the paperwork "or else".
No victim, no crime.I love comments. I ask for civility in the exchange of comments. Vulgarity is discouraged. Please express yourself creatively with other language. We discuss ideas here, attacks on a person are discouraged.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
Mexican migrant workers leave union
According to the CBC:
Migrant Mexican farm workers in Manitoba – the first in Canada to join a union – have now voted to decertify.
The farm employees have decided they would rather not be part of the United Food and Commercial Workers union because they can make more money working longer hours, without mandatory overtime pay, which they say caused employers to cut back on their hours.
Heladio Martinez-Perez is a foreman at a farm west of Winnipeg. He said under the collective agreement the workers negotiated two years ago, they could not work more than 70 hours weekly.
"Today, we're gonna start at 6 o'clock and maybe finish at 8. That is a big difference, the union and not the union. We don't need overtime or $1 extra per hour when we can make more hours. That is a good thing for everybody."
Now that they've broken from the union, Martinez-Perez said many of his co-workers ask to work up to 15 or 16 hours a day.
This is a perfect example of the primary problem with the labour movement. This story does not say that unions are bad, it says that the almost religious conviction that unions are always good is bad. There are times that unions are good and there are times that they only interfere. The article goes on to quote promoters of unionism:
One expert said the decision to decertify is a setback for migrant workers. David Camfield, who teaches labour studies at the University of Manitoba, said migrant workers in Canada don't have the same rights as other workers who are not in agriculture.
Of course these workers have the same rights as other workers. They
have the same protection of laws that every other worker does in Canada
(or that every other foreign migrant worker has). What the professor
means to say is that they don't have the same contract as other
workers, and it is clear that they don't want this contract.
There is an assumption here that without a union these people are going to be abused by greedy capitalists, yet they do not seem dissatisfied with their pre-union working condition. In fact I have heard before that this type of employment is in high demand. It is easy to understand why:
"It's for my daughter's school," said Martinez-Perez. "That's the idea why we are here."
Maxime Bernier on the flat tax
A friend of mine just sent me an e-mail with a link. The link was a paper written by Maxime Bernier in 2003 on the benifits of a flat tax. Mr. Bernier remains my favourite MP from Quebec and my top two favourite MP in parliament (I would find it hard to judge between him and Scott Reid). Sadly my French is not good enough to read anything more complicated than a child's book, but I thought others may be interested.
Evan Dando To The Rescue - A Solid Album For 2009
Further to my recent rants about the dearth of quality music thus far in 2009 (with the exception of the new Rancid album, which I recently named the summer's best), I have come to the conclusion that the 2009 music crop may not be as sparse and dry as a Consort, Alberta cereal crop afterall. What has brought about this change in perspective? Fresh sounds from one of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People" from the early 90's, that's who. The man, the enigma, the riddle - Evan Dando.
After a meteoric rise to fame in the early 90's with some damn fine music via his band, or constantly changing cadre of musicians, the Lemonheads, and the accolades and sex symbol notoriety that followed, Dando, took it upon himself to crash head long into a pile of crack, heroin, LSD and maybe other mind-numbing/altering substances. While to many, his fall and related stint of mental illness was tragic, to me it served to make Dando more interesting. I mean let's be clear - the man was already a bit of an odd duck and an eccentric character and the so-called "crash" never seemed to bother him much. Take for instance this excerpt from an interview in the UK's Guardian:
"I've had a lot of fun and now I'm not worried about much," he smiles. "I had a good time with drugs and I've been to rehab once. I have no regrets. I've learned not to drink and do everything else in moderation. Don't get addicted to anything, that's the key. Now I just want to get better at my craft. I've think I've got a couple of years left in me yet."
Dando's unrepentant, Pete Doherty-esque approach to alcohol/drug use is a refreshing change from the Disney crowd and the "I'm so ashamed of myself" response from seemingly every other rehabilitated celebrity alcoholic or drug addict these days. Sorry, back to the music.
After a couple of decent solo albums that are worth a listen (Live At The Brattle Theatre/Griffin Sunset EP and Baby I'm Bored), Dando, armed with a new Lemonheads crew, unleashed a beauty of an album with 2006's self-titled rocket that is one of my favorite albums of the past five years. After such a coherent and outstanding run, I was expecting very little from the Lemonheads' 2009 effort, Varshons, especially after hearing that it was an album of cover tunes. However, upon further investigation, I learned that these were not your regular cover tunes and that after a listen, the album was somewhat of a gem.
The album features songs by long-time Dando idol Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt (incidentally, Dando's version of "Waiting Around To Die" is better, sadly, than any of the Van Zandt covers on Steve Earle's Townes album that I covered recently), which may not be a stretch for Dando and his "cosmic cowboy/alt-country" leanings, but who expected his covering tracks from wildman/psychotic G.G. Alin, July, Sam Gopal, Leonard Cohen and pop tart Christina Aguillera, whose "Beautiful" is one of the standout tracks on this album? Also, some special guests assist with pushing this album into the stratosphere - supermodel Kate Moss' guest vocals on Arling & Cameron's "Dirty Robot" (strange coincidence that Moss was the longtime girlfriend of the aforementioned Pete Doherty? Knox thinks not), while panned by critics elsewhere, are surprisingly good and rather arousing - and actress Liv Tyler's vocals on Cohen's "Hey, That's No Way To Say Goodbye" are in the same vein. My personal favorite is Gram Parsons "I Just Can't Take It Anymore", which is worth a download even if you choose not to follow Knox's advice (which is always dangerous and not recommended) in purchasing the whole album.
I have always been a fan of Dando's and will continue to be, despite being present to witness a bizarre and surrealistic show in Calgary a few years back when Dando muttered, berated the crowd after breaking a guitar string ("a new string isn't like a new car......it sucks......but you all suck......&@**# you") and brought an arm load of actions figures, comics and album covers to the stage. That night though, the music was flawless, as is this album. Over and out.