My avatar across the web: a photo of my feet in grey-white socks and brown sandals.

Ben Babcock

I read, write, code, and knit.

43 Articles Tagged with “politics”

  1. We are not the enemy

    Tomorrow my local district of OSSTF, the Ontario Secondary School Teacher’s Federation, is holding its strike vote. This vote determines whether we union members give our leadership a mandate to engage in job action, once we are in a legal position to do so, if they feel it is warranted. This could take many forms, from work-to-rule to rotating strikes to an all-out strike. It’s not something we do lightly. Although the Ford government is sadly not unusual in its unproductive approach to bargaining with the unions of teachers, support staff, nurses, and other public sector employees, it is certainly more vicious and more perfidious. No other government has so quickly sought to shift the rhetoric and vilify hard-working people, like myself, for seeking to preserve the education system we have and obtain minimal cost-of-living adjustments to our wages.

    At 30 years old, I’m young enough that the last time teachers went on strike in Ontario, I was affected as a student instead of a teacher. This is my 7th year of teaching. During the previous contract negotiations 4 years ago, there was some discussion of striking, and I wrote a defence of striking as a response to a letter…

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  2. Maybe we should start that fire

    Canadian politics is desperately lacking in anyone with as much fire as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and that's a problem.

    Confession: I follow a lot of Americans, many of whom have an interest in politics, on Twitter. So I've been hearing a lot about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the rookie new Democratic member of the U.S. House of Congress. She has been getting a lot of pushback from the elements of American society who can't handle the fact that a young, opinionated, competent, dedicated, socialist woman of colour has actually been elected to Congress, let alone is now following through on her lofty promises not to immediately succumb to the system of corrupted checks-without-balances that is emblematic of that institution. As a Canadian, it has been interesting to watch this happen against the backdrop of the U.S. federal government shutdown (in a horrified, "what the hell are you doing to your own federal employees" kind of way).

    But I'm not American, and so this got me thinking more about politics back here in Canada, especially because we are actually in a federal election year now. And watching the furor over AOC south of the border, I just can't help but … yearn for something like that here.

    I'm 29 years old, and this will be my fourth time voting in a federal…

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  3. An Open Letter to My MP Concerning the Pipeline Approval, and Other Matters

    I can’t take it any more. I have to say something, say something more than just tweeting how disappointed I am and retweeting other people. This Kinder Morgan pipeline approval is the final straw.

    So what follows is a letter I am sending to my Member of Parliament, the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Status of Women.

    Dear Minister Hajdu,

    I am writing to express my unequivocal disappointment in the Government of Canada’s decisions to approve the Kinder Morgan pipeline, the Petronas LNG plant, and more generally, its numerous failures to live up to its promises to renew the government’s relationship with Indigenous peoples and take action on climate change. I am writing to you as a constituent of Thunder Bay–Superior North, but more importantly, as a teacher of adult Indigenous students in this city and a young adult myself.

    At 27 years old, I have not had the opportunity to vote in many federal elections. I was not a fan of the previous government, and when the Liberal Party formed the current government, I was cautiously optimistic that for the first time in a decade voices of young people, and for the first time in … well, too long,…

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  4. I wish it were #NotMyCanada, but it is, so let's talk

    So it’s Canada Day. Whoo! PARTY TIME! Crack open those drinks, lay out the snacks, enjoy the sun—sigh.

    I can’t do it, guys.

    Look, if all you want to do with your day off is party, this blog post is not for you.

    I can’t just join in this year, for two reasons. Firstly, this year is important, because later this year we are having a federal election. Secondly, I can’t, in good conscience, blindly talk about how great Canada is when there’s a lot of problems we need to get sorted.

    What, Exactly, Are We Celebrating?

    When it comes to Canada Day, what do we celebrate, exactly? I’m confused. Prime Minister Stephen Harper makes a big deal out of nationalism. He wants us to take pride in our nation, Canada, and talk about how great we are. He insists that it is important we celebrate our heritage. But which parts of our heritage?

    The wonderful and diverse cultures of the First Peoples, who lived here long before Europeans stumbled across this continent? I think not, given the Harper government’s ongoing disdain for aboriginal affairs and colonial attitude towards indigenous peoples.

    Surely, then, Harper wants us to celebrate Canada’s status…

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  5. NSA doesn’t need to tap the wires to see your passwords

    I feel like I haven’t been doing much in the way of online consuming lately. I’ve been creating a lot, mostly writing; and most of my consumption has been in the form of good, old-fashioned literature. Still, here’s a few things that caught my eye!

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  6. Science is awesome in this week’s link roll

    Eight days of school left, and then I get to return to Canada for a month! I had a nice dinner in Norwich on Friday with the math department. My train ride home should have been uneventful, but I stupidly forgot my suit carrier on the train from Norwich. So it’s somewhere in London Liverpool St Station, with any luck, and I get it back.

    I didn’t have that many links to share, and I was busy last weekend, so I held them over until this week. But that means I have much more to highlight!

    • I’m always happy to read about how the atomic bomb has changed our world. Wait, that sounded wrong. Let me start that again.
    • I’m always interested to find out new side-effects of using atomic bombs in our atmosphere. For instance, it’s possible to determine if a supposedly pre–World War II painting is a forgery by checking the quantity of certain isotopes, like strontium, in the paint. Atomic testing has markedly increased such isotopes in the atmosphere, so paint manufactured after World War II is different from paint manufactured before! Now, scientists have used a similar process to confirm that our brains grow new neurons

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  7. Protest by reading seems about my speed

    It’s been a good week. On Friday night I went to the school’s Year 11 prom. I wore a suit and trainers, with a new bow tie and even some bracers. And somehow I ended up winning Best Dancer (no one could step to that).

    Meanwhile, on the Web this week, here’s what I found interesting:

    • I fondly remember watching Captain Planet as a kid. Looking back, it might seem cheesy (indeed, it probably seemed cheesy to me even then). But both the story and its pro-environmental message spoke to me. So I’m very excited and intrigued to learn that Sony has decided a Captain Planet move is in order. While we’re on the subject, does ayone else remember that one time Captain Planet turned people into trees?
    • Speaking of science and the environment, Bill Nye is one of my heroes. He’s one of the reasons I like to wear bow ties. Bill Nye the Science Guy was another favourite as a child. The New York Times has an excellent spotlight on him. Go read it!
    • Someone has put together an explanation of the various archetypes met during the Hero’s Journey (à la Campbell) using puppets

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  8. Books and tea make for a good week

    I sat in the backyard this morning, and much of this afternoon, and read. The weather was very nice last weekend, and it was nice again on Friday and today as well. Spring has finally crept up on us, and summer is around the corner. I’ve enjoyed a week off of school, taken the time to rest and recharge and read.

    It feels so weird that as I sat in the garden, basking in the calm Sunday morning, protesters continued to occupy streets in Turkey. What began as a simple, peaceful demonstration in opposition to government plans for developing a park (into a mall) has erupted into a full-scale riot. Apparently, the Turkish government and police are rather surprised that spraying tear gas on peaceful protesters and running them over with cars isn’t quelling the riot.

    I can’t quite wrap my head around that kind of massive moment. I’m thankful for the Web, particularly Twitter, for being able to provide me with moment-to-moment commentary and especially photos of what’s happening. It doesn’t make me feel connected—I don’t think I have the right to make such a claim when I have no stake in what’s happening—but it makes me…

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  9. An open letter to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade

    Recently I talked about the threat to Canada’s public domain. The following is a letter I have sent in response to the government consultation on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). As with all my blog posts, it is published under a Creative Commons Attribution license. I encourage you to speak up by February 14 and write your own letter declaiming the desecration of the public domain! Email [email protected]


    Hello,

    I am writing as a concerned Canadian citizen, as well as a student and future educator, with regards to the effects of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on Canadian copyright law and the public domain. I am aware of the potential benefits of the TPP for Canada’s trade and economy. However, analysis of the proposed agreement reveals that accepting the TPP would commit Canada to extending its copyright term from life of the author plus 50 years to life of the author plus 70 years. This would effectively leave the public domain in Canada stagnant for 20 years. Beyond that, the increase in copyright terms will mean an additional delay—in some cases, more than a century—between the publication of a work and its entry into the public domain. Many Canadians,…

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  10. Please, protect the public domain!

    My New Year’s Eve was pretty good. As I am not much of a party-goer I did not plan on doing anything special. My two friends Cassie and Carly had extended a casual invitation to perhaps do something. Eventually they decided to watch the hockey game, and having no interest in hockey, I did not go over to their house. But I asked them to “alert me in the event of an impromptu snowball fight”. Sure enough, around quarter after eleven, I received a pushy text message explaining that they were coming over to my house! This was followed by one that advised me to have my coat on—at that point, I knew the game was afoot, and I prepared to ambush their ambush. A snowball fight ensued, followed by the more constructive act of creating a snowman. Later we went inside and played a card game, Dominion, that their other friend had brought. It was intense and interesting, and it was a good evening.

    New Year’s Day is always better than New Year’s Eve. Always. Because New Year’s Day is Public Domain Day. Every year, children and adults alike gather round to give thanks and feast, to…

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  11. Now we process our feelings

    This Monday, May 2, Canada had its 41st federal election, resulting in a Conservative majority government led by Stephen Harper. The results are somewhat surprising: though a Conservative government was likely, a majority was by no means a certainty. Perhaps the most interesting result of this election, however, is the effect it had on our other political parties. The NDP are now, for the first time ever, the Official Opposition Party in the House of Commons. They pretty much dominated Quebec, and they won 102 seats in the House. The Liberals were decimated, dropping from 77 seats to 34 (close to the same number the NDP had in the previous Parliament). Similarly, the Bloc Québécois went from 47 seats to 4. And for the first time ever, a Green Party candidate was elected--none other than the leader, Elizabeth May herself.

    So our election is filled with many historical firsts for Canadian politics, and our political landscape has changed dramatically. For a graphical idea of how much changed in this election, just take a look at these two maps of Canada depicting the results by riding: 2008 election and 2011 election. (These are from the respective Wikipedia articles on the…

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  12. Submission to the legislative committee on Bill C-32

    Today is the last day that the House of Commons legislative committee on Bill C-32 is accepting submissions regarding possible amends to Bill C-32, our latest attempt to amend the Copyright Act. What follows is my submission to them. It is definitely not very formal and contains no real proposed amendments--many more knowledgeable people have already made such submissions, and I defer to them in that area of expertise. Nevertheless, I felt that it was important to have my voice heard.

    Dear Legislative Committee on Bill C-32,

    I am not a pirate.

    Hard to believe, I know. The current draft of Bill C-32 seems to imply that piracy is rampant in Canada, and in particular among the demographic to which I belong, that of the 18–34-year-old university student. Curiously enough, this perspective corresponds to the one advanced by the industries who distribute music, movies, and media, the very industries who are now complaining that Internet piracy is destroying their business model. While I expect such heated, anti-consumer rhetoric from those industries, who after all are obligated by their shareholders to demonize and portray consumers as immoral beings who will only partake in legally-provided media if they have no other option,…

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  13. The federal government hates blind people and web designers

    Originally I was just going to tweet a link to this CBC news article and leave it at that. The more I thought about it, however, the more outraged I became. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's out of some need to feel vicariously oppressed, on account of the fact that I am a tall white male and thus systemically unoppressed. Maybe it's because, although I am not a professional web designer, I am familiar enough with the field to weep over the attitude displayed here by the government. It is 2011. Last December, the Web turned twenty years old. And we still can't support blind users? Seriously?

    That is what the federal government says. Apparently, rather than spend taxpayer money to pay web designers to update its websites, it would rather spend that money paying lawyers to appeal this court decision. Rather than offer equal services to blind users, it would rather go to court and spend our tax dollars to ensure it can continue discriminating. The government is making us accomplices to discrimination. And here I thought I lived in Canada, not the United States.

    I am taking a Philosophy of the Internet course this term, online of…

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  14. The census controversy: a travesty of Galilean proportion

    In 1633, Galileo was found "vehemently suspect" of heresy. His heretical opinion: holding and defending the belief that the Copernican, heliocentric model of the solar system was true in contravention to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. Galileo was placed under house arrest for the remainder of his life and forced to recant, verbally and in writing, any belief in the Copernican model. His book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, was banned. All because the Copernican model contradicts Biblical scripture. Well, mostly that. The conflict between Galileo and the Church was as much political as scientific or religious. Galileo had made some powerful enemies, people who also opposed Pope Urban VIII, accusing him of being too soft on heretics. So Galileo was in the wrong place, at the wrong time. Nearly five centuries later, the entire affair is one of the most stark examples of the conflict between science and religion.

    It was an unfortunate conflict, an unnecessary conflict. Whether science and religion are irreconciliable or incompatible is a much larger debate than I can discuss here, but in this case the conflict seems minor. Galileo was not a villain attempting to derail the Church; he…

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  15. Game Over: Would you like to play again? How Conservatives and copyright broke my spirit

    Last summer, the government of Canada held an open consultation on the issue of copyright reform. The result: over 8,300 submissions, over 6,000 of which expressed opposition to another copyright reform bill similar to Bill C-61. You can read my submission here.

    It turns out that I and anyone else who submitted to the consultation, wrote a letter to his or her MP, showed up for a meeting or rally, or participated in the Facebook groups or online discourse, have done this all for nothing. We've been wasting our time. Because we're about to do this all over again.

    What's sad is that it didn't have to be this way. Tony Clement is the Industry Minister now, and his attitude toward copyright reform is more sensible than Jim Prentice's. Apparently he was open to a different approach than the one Bill C-61 took--and considering how unacceptable Bill C-61 was, I'll take that. Alas, it looks like Mr. Clement and his fellow cabinet minister, James Moore have differing opinions. So Grandfather Harper intervened.

    The result will apparently be a "Canadian DMCA" that is, as Cory Doctorow puts it, a "goddamned disaster." While…

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  16. We Screwed Up

    The war drums are sounding once again, and another election looms. The Liberals, led by the accomplished but detached Michael Ignatieff, are channelling Twisted Sister and are calling Prime Minister Harper out. But Harper says that Canadians don't want an election.

    So what?

    I don't want to take yucky-tasting medicine, but I do it anyway so I get better. I don't want to pay more than $1 per litre of gas, but I do it anyway so my car will run. I don't want an election, but we should have one anyway so Parliament will actually do something. The whining electorate complaining about our frequent elections miss one important fact: we're part of the problem. We may not want another election, but at this point, we need one.

    Do Not Pass Go; Do Not Collect $200

    Much of the resistance to another election is purely about timing: there's a sentiment that we just had an election, and it's "too soon" for another. At first glance, this reasoning seems sound: the parties have not changed much in a year, and aside from one new leader--who, let's face it, really isn't that different from the old leader so far--it's the same…

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  17. State of the nation

    Now that everyone in Ottawa has some breathing room, what exactly is the state of Canada as a democracy and as a nation?

    With the decision to prorogue government, constitutional expert Errol Mendes believes that Governor General Michaëlle Jean has set a dangerous precedent. In the future, prime ministers who face confidence motions in the House of Commons may also request prorogation of Parliament. Mendes does suggest that Parliament itself could "pass legislation to prevent abuse of the prorogation in the future," so that's good news--except that our Parliament doesn't seem too eager to pass any legislation so far.

    Democracy Isn't Dead, Just Violated

    The good news is that democracy isn't dead: long live democracy. In fact, contrary to the spin being spun by both sides, the past few days have had nothing to do with democracy. Yes, it was a political crisis and an economic crisis; it was not a crisis of democracy. It's not business as usual, but everything that has happened has happened within the bounds of a parliamentary democracy.

    But that doesn't mean everything is fine.

    As mentioned above, the Governor General's decision does set precedent that will affect the operation of our democracy in…

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  18. Parliament takes a Kit-Kat break

    I will be the first to say that the Governor General's decision to prorogue Parliament is the worst of the possible outcomes we could have seen today. It is not a solution to the crisis. Rather, it is a stall tactic that delays a confidence vote--a vote Harper's Conservatives will likely lose. Moreover, how is this helping our economic situation, which is supposedly so dire that it needs immediate action? If Harper really thought the economy mattered more than his ego and desire for power, he'd seek a better solution--not necessarily yielding to a coalition, sure, but definitely not suspending our legislative assembly!

    That said, I'm glad that we now have a concrete decision, even if it's an ambiguous concrete decision!

    I respect that in our parliamentary democracy, the Governor General's role is to make a decision like this, and I do not envy her this responsibility. No matter what she decided today, she would have upset some Canadians and set a precedent for future governments. I disagree with her decision, but respect it as a democratic one.

    This is why I prefer parliamentary democracy to any other system, such as the American one. We have this check on…

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  19. A Copenhagen interpretation of Canadian politics

    At this point in the game, I feel sorry for small C conservatives. Part of the problem for liberal voters in the last election was that we had a choice for whom we could vote. Aside from abstaining, voting for a conservative independent, or voting for someone who is probably more left of centre than one's ideology would like, conservative Canadians are stuck with Harper. And that sucks.

    Stephen Harper has wrought considerable damage to the Conservative Party of Canada. He has tarnished its reputation and diminished its influence. The Conservatives had a real opportunity in the past years after the fall of the Liberals and the adscam; Stephen Harper squandered that opportunity. The result? There may be another election in a couple of months!

    In Question Period today, rather than try to address tangible disadvantages to a Liberal-NDP coalition--and there are such disadvantages, for sure--Harper led the Conservatives on a spurious, ad hominem attack round against the opposition parties. He accused the leaders of being un-Canadian because they refused to sign their coalition agreement in front of a Canadian flag--this accusation is also false, incidently. Of course, accusing one's opponent of being unpatriotic is the last defence of a…

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  20. A Coalition Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All

    I love this country, and I love our politics.

    Canadian politics are often not as exciting as American politics. And that's true--due to the two-party system in America, the political landscape is a vast minefield of polarized partisanship. In Canada, while we do have two major parties, we have two other parties who exert a strong influence in Parliament.

    But this is why I love Canadian politics: it may not be as exciting as American politics in general, but it can get exciting at any time. Due to our parliamentary system, the government can be defeated on any motion considered a "confidence motion". So in America while the President is elected independently of the legislature every four years, and is generally stuck in office for four years, our leader changes as the government does, and our leader can potentially change at any time.

    Last Friday, Canadian politics got exciting again. The three opposition parties announced that they were in talks to form a coalition government. That means that rather than any one party forming the government, two or more parties would work together to form the government and pass legislation. In order for this to happen, the opposition parties…

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  21. Hate the hate

    For the second time this year, anti-gay group Westboro Baptist Church is planning to come to Canada to stage a protest, and people want to put a stop to it.

    Every time this sort of controversy comes up in the news, I have to stop and consider it carefully. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2) guarantees us the following basic rights:

    • freedom of conscience and religion;
    • freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
    • freedom of peaceful assembly; and
    • freedom of association

    At the same time, however, we also have legislation in place to protect people from hate-crimes and hate-speech. So the question is, do anti-gay groups like the Westboro Baptist Church violate this anti-hate legislation? And regardless of this first question, are we violating their rights to freedom of opinion, freedom of expression, and freedom of association? Freedom of peaceful assembly is a separate issue--whether or not this group is "peaceful" is subject to debate altogether, and I would probably say that they are not.

    I like to pride myself in being open-minded enough to truly believe in free speech for everyone, even if I…

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  22. How I'll get through this government

    I have discovered how I will get through the next six months. Or year. Or two years. However long it is until Stephen Harper tries to get a majority again. I will watch CBC comedy news shows.

    What would I ever do without The Rick Mercer Report or This Hour Has 22 Minutes?!

    For my American friends, The Rick Mercer Report is similar to The Colbert Report. Mercer does a lot less in-studio, however, and has more clips where he goes out and meets people, politicians((Yes, I am implying what you think I'm implying)), goes to schools, and gets naked.((Really. But I won't tell you any more than this, because now you'll waste half an hour searching the Internet to find out. Muwahahahaha!)) He has a regular photo challenge on his site where anyone can edit a photo he posts, and he'll put them up in his gallery.

    I don't know what the American equivalent of This Hour Has 22 Minutes is. You've got a cast of news anchors who know no boundaries in "reporting" current events. When I was younger, I grew up on Royal Canadian Air Farce; I didn't watch This Hour Has 22 Minutes much. However,…

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  23. The afterglow of my first election

    The polls are closed, and the votes are mostly tallied. Last month, Stephen Harper called an election; this month, he was re-elected with yet anohter minority government--a stronger minority, but still a minority. In the ensuing chaotic coverage, some interesting trends have emerged. The new hot issues are Liberal leadership, government functionality, voting reform, and voter turnout.

    The Liberals lost eighteen seats (at the time of this writing), which is a blow for them. Still the official opposition, yet weakened. Additionally, Dion declared in his concession speech that he would be willing to work with the Conservatives on the economic "crisis" that we're facing. While I commend Dion for extending the olive branch, two questions come to mind: does this mean the Conservatives will have a de facto majority? And will this matter at all in a week or two when the Liberals get a new leader? For indeed, if there was anything the majority of pundits agreed that Dion is done. My opinion of Dion improved during this campaign; however, that still doesn't mean he's a strong leader.

    The next question is: will this government be functional? Harper's cited reason for calling the last election was that government no…

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  24. Our pointy-haired economy

    Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, recently released the results of a survey of economists that he commissioned. You can read the results yourself; those of you who are economically-inclined may want to view the available slideshow (lots of tasty graphs and percentages). Adams has also posted his opinion on the results of the survey.

    I've been reading Scott Adams' blog since its inception on TypePad. I enjoy his wit and his unique perspective on both mainstream and esoteric issues. Much of what he says is designed to get a rise out of people and provoke them into calling him a stupid lemon-eater. Some of his favourite subjects include intelligent design, the workplace, environmentalism, and of course, politics and the economy. I was not surprised to hear that he had commissioned a survey; it's just the sort of thing he would do.

    So how about those results? Lots of Democrat econimists--it must be biased? Well, I love math, but statistics are not my favourite type of math. I'm in the camp of people who thinks the survey is an inconclusive indicator of which candidate would be best. I doubt that either of the candidates truly has a…

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  25. Election-bound

    It's official. Prime Minister Harper met with Governor General Michaëlle Jean today, and she dissolved Parliament, triggering an election. Canadians will vote on October 14.

    The American election machine has been rumbling away for the better part of a year now, and we have called and will be finished our federal election before the Americans even get to vote. :D I love Canada's electoral system.

    What I don't love is the lack of any charismatic leaders and the lack of any compelling candidates in my riding. The Conservatives have already begun airing these obnoxious ads that consist of Harper sitting in a chair, wearing a vest--very "casual" indeed--and talking about how he enjoys being a father, how he is proud of Canada as a country, and how he wants Canada to have a greater role on the world stage. The tagline of the commercials is: "We're better off with Harper." I, for one, find this tagline hilarious.

    The CBC has spent most of the day focusing on voters' response to the election call: are we ready for the election? The response has been mixed. Many people have expressed disapproval, since Harper was a proponent of the fixed election date law…

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  26. I'll be voting for the first time, and I will not be voting for Stephen Harper

    An election looms in my own fine country even as the Americans battle it out for who gets to inherit the Bush legacy. Two and a half years ago, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives inherited the scandal-ridden legacy of over a decade of Liberal government. As usual, getting elected is easier than actually running the country and making effective decisions that improve the lives of its citizens--Harper hasn't been doing either of these things very well. He blames his inability to perform on his partners in Parliament, our three opposition leaders. They maintain that he refuses to compromise, doesn't put the toilet seat down, and until he decides to cooperate, they're moving out and going to live with their mothers.

    Er ... anyway, now that we have fixed four-year election dates, the next election would theoretically be in October 2009. However, the Prime Minister still has the right to go to the Governor General and ask her to dissolve Parliament if he believes the government can no longer function effectively. Harper has been rattling just that particular sabre lately, and an election looks increasingly likely. He has met with all three opposition leaders now, but I doubt that any of…

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  27. On attacking from Kamchatka

    Roll your dice, ladies and gentlemen. After sixty years of continuous gameplay, I'm sure you're eager for it to be over, but there's still a few cards left to be won.

    I'm sure that it came as a big surprise to everyone when Russia announced its intentions to absorb South Ossetia after unilaterally declaring it independent. Now Russia has effectively seized control of the territory. Russia's actions are irrational and somewhat disturbing, but what else is new? Unfortunately, I'm having trouble forming an opinion.

    For those of us too young to have lived through the Cold War or the aftermath of the subsequent decades, it can be hard to understand the significance of Russia's actions. It doesn't help that--at least here in Ontario--our one compulsory high school history course ends after World War II. Let's break the facts down and see if we can make some sense of what's happening.

    First, some background. South Ossetia is a region in Georgia that is loyal to Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Georgia became an independent country, but South Ossetia wanted to join Russia--and they were willing to fight for it. Naturally, Georgia does not want to lose a…

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  28. What a crazy world

    Humans are an insane and suicidal species. This is not a new revelation to most of us, I'm sure. Nor is it news that the world is crazy. But let's stop and reflect for a moment on some recent events that underline such insanity, shall we?

    First on the block is the situation in Georgia. When this originally happened, I could understand (but did not approve of) Russia's actions. The area is ethnically diverse and highly conflicted. While South Ossetia may be a part of Georgia, it seems to be more sympathetic to Russia. Unfortunately for them, they're still part of Georgia, and that doesn't give Russia much business sending troops in there. Russia claims that their troops are peacekeeping forces, a response to Georgian troops sent into South Ossetia to quell militants. Then, however, Russia sent troops past the border of South Ossetia into other regions of Georgia!

    After France finally brokered a ceasefire, Russia agreed to withdraw its troops. So far such withdrawals have been minimal. The Russians are playing the old game of "the truth is what we say it is, not what you see." The Russian officials insist that they are withdrawing; soldiers continue to…

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  29. Canadian Copyright: A Call to Arms

    Fair Copyright for Canada

    You often hear someone invoke the phrase, "As a __," in which he or she then goes on to name some sort of position or title that gives him or her the ability to voice an opinion on the subject at hand. "As a world leader...," "As a scientist...," "As a schoolteacher...," "As an evil overlord...." Here's something on which we should all have an opinion.

    As a person, I value access to information. Many people, especially those my age, do not realize how saturated we are with information (or if you do, you may not understand what that means in a historical context). Go back in time about 550 years. There was a new invention on the scene in Europe: the printing press. The printing press allowed people to do something that, until then, was a very laborious task: it enabled the mass transmission of information in a written form. Prior to then, books were copied out by hand--usually by monks--and few people knew how to read. Most knowledge was passed on orally. And most people had access to very little information compared to what an individual knows today.

    Fast forward 550 years back to present day. We…

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  30. The rules of war

    For the past week we've been watching The Patriot in history class. The movie is moving in some parts. There are incredibly tender moments, like when Susan finally speaks to her father and breaks down just as he's leaving again. That part almost made me cry. Unfortunately, the latter part of the movie lacked that same emotional fervour, simply because I was too busy laughing.

    And this is through no fault of the director. The movie was very accurate. I just can't get over how silly warfare was back in that time.

    Everyone arranges his- or herself in nice, neat lines. Then the two sides march forward. One side fires, reloads, while the other side fires. If you get shot, you get shot. It is, as Mr. Nowak puts it, "gentlemanly warfare". And watching it on a television makes it look so absurd! The melée part with bayonets and swords isn't so bad. But just the initial firing of musket volleys looks so ridiculously polite that I completely understand why guerrilla warfare surged in popularity afterward. Sure, you had to clean your uniform more often--but at least you were alive.

    So that got me thinking. Some current rules of…

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  31. I know what Stephen Harper is reading. Do you?

    Now you know.

    For you see, Stephen Harper failed to learn a critical lesson of statecraft: never tick off an artist. The problem with annoying an artist, especially someone as influential as Yann Martel, is that artists are, by definition, creative people. And they find very creative, sometimes unexpected ways to get back at those who slight them.

    Of course, since the purpose of an artist is to create, and not destroy, Yann Martel came up with a form of ingenious constructive revenge against Mr. Harper. I won't go into all the details, for they are explained on the site. Suffice it to say that the Canadian government did not pay enough attention to the Canada Council of the Arts' 50th anniversary, and that made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move.

    So now Yann Martel has pledged to send Harper a book every two weeks, along with a letter. The books he chooses, he hopes, will offer Harper in his moments of "stillness" suggestions, opportunities, if you will.

    I for one think that this is an interesting idea. Certainly superior to publishing a roasting rant about Harper's policies on someone's…

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  32. Global Warming: The buzzword of the 2000s

    Graph showing the inverse relationship of pirates and global temperature Perfectly valid scientific theories have the unfortunate tendency to become conflated and overladen with inaccurate information after becoming generally accepted public fact.

    Let me start off, however, with a few disclaimers. I do believe that the "global warming phenomenon" exists to a quantifiable degree, that the Earth's temperature is slowly rising, that humans are contributing to it (although not necessarily as much as some claim, but probably more than most would like to admit) with our dependency on fossil fuels, and that it does pose a threat to the future of our species.

    Up here in Canada we're experiencing an unusually mild winter. As a result, the term "global warming" has become one of the decade's top buzzwords: words that people use even though they don't actually apply. It's liked "Web 2.0". It's a term that at one time had a valid definition, but the public has seized upon it, gutted it mercilessly, and taken it so far out of context that it no longer means anything at all. The same is happening to global warming. Once a fine scientific theory, people are blowing it out of proportion.

    "Oh my God, he's gone conservative!" you start screaming at me. "How…

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  33. The debate over 'nations'

    Ah, Canada. The wonderful thing about Canadian politics is that it's been the same thing for the past 139 years. Quebec is still whining about becoming a nation.

    The problem comes down, as it usually does, to semantics. That's probably one of the ugliest words in the English language. Semantics. People debating over the definition of words. I don't think it's coincidence that it rhymes with pedantic. ;)

    For those asleep, let me wake you up. Our Great and Mighty Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that Quebec be recognised as a nation within Canada. As you might expect, this did not go over well with the Bloc. It definitely threw the Liberals through a loop, however--they apparently did not see this one coming.

    Now I will admit that my first reaction was this: That's stupid! Quebec isn't a nation! Look, either you're nation or you're not, and Quebec isn't a nation.

    But some part of me knew I was wrong, or at least suspected it. So I trundled over to Wikipedia and looked up what a nation actually was, because believe it or not, but I didn't know--and I doubt many people do know the difference between…

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  34. Get over it

    Pluto is not a planet anymore.

    Get over it.

    It's still orbitting the sun; it is a "dwarf planet", and it is not going to go away any time soon. So unless you happen to be an astronomer whose doctorate depends upon a study of Pluto's planetary characteristics--does it really matter? Honestly, we spend way too much time talking about semantics--it's maddening! Did everyone turn into lawyers overnight?

    So if you're upset over all this nonsense about demoting Pluto, don't be; it hasn't really been demoted. It's a "dwarf planet", and thus is still important. It's just been recategorised.

    We now have 8 major planets and a heretofore yet undetermined number of dwarf planets. Don't like it? Tough. The Earth is still going to orbit the Sun (shocking, yes, I know) and your bills are still going to arrive, you'll still have to pay them too.

    Deal with it.

  35. Is Pluto a planet?

    The short answer: yes and no. (You can tell when science and politics mix.)

    The long answer. Heck, I don't want to bother explaining it. If I did, would I really be writing it in a blog? Wikipedia sums it up nicely, as does this Washington Post article. Pluto is in trouble, but not of losing its planetary status--not quite.

    You see, the problem with Pluto is that it's puny. It's the runt of the litter; it's the planet that other, bigger, manlier planets bully in the solar schoolyard during celestial recess. And this size has recently become an issue as more and more planet-like objects are being discovered orbiting that star out there we call the Sun, which hundreds of years ago some guy named Copernicus tried to convince everyone all the planets orbit.

    You know, if we had stuck with geocentrism, this probably wouldn't be much of a problem, now would it? Alas, heliocentrism is a cold and unforgiving solar model.

    So basically, the International Astronomical Union has to finally decide if Pluto is a planet or not? Unfortunately, no. It isn't that simple. Because we've never really had a good idea of the definition

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  36. And the results are in. . . .

    Conservative minority government. :'(

    Not like it's news or anything. I'm kind of disappointed. I was hoping that the Liberals might rally enough last minute support to sneak a minority into there, but no, the Conservatives were too strong out west and the NDP were too strong around. . . .

    The Liberals won in Thunder Bay though. ^_^

    I guess I need to get used to saying "Prime Minister Stephen Harper" :|

    But not now. Not tonight. I've just turned off the television. It is snowing outside and quite peaceful. I will turn on some music and write. I can ignore reality as long as possible. :)

  37. French language debates - Round 2

    One word: bad. Bad, bad, bad. Ugh.

    To begin I must set the stage. This is basically Duceppe's Debate. The English-language debates were focussed at the rest of Canada. It's Quebec (mainly) that focusses on the French-language debate. The Bloc, running only in Quebec, obviously must do well.

    Lately Duceppe hasn't been doing well. He's been losing ground to Harper. The pollsters claim this is because federalists who would normally vote Bloc because they hate the Liberals now see Harper as a good alternative to the separatist Bloc.

    When people start seeing Harper as a good alternative, I take it as a sign of the Apocalypse.

    So that's the stage of the debate, Duceppe's Debate. Duceppe versus Harper. How did it go? Poorly for Duceppe. Which is bad for the Liberals, because it means it went well for Harper, which means he rises further in the polls, which means a stronger likelihood of a Conservative government.

    Layton floundered. He tried to promote his party without sounding like a commercial, like last night, but ultimately didn't make much of an impression. His French was good though.

    Martin was . . . well, Martin. Again he argued all over the place…

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  38. English language debates - Round 2

    Tonight was the first of the second set of leadership debates, the English language one.

    It was better than the last English language debate. They didn't keep on cutting each other off, and I don't think the moderator had to turn off their microphones this time around. But the same rhetoric was still there. Let's unmask it:

    Harper: The Liberals are corrupt. (Maybe if I repeat this over and over, people will become hypnotised and not notice my lack of charisma.) Layton: Please please please elect me. Ignore those other guys; I don't know them. Change is good! Martin: I make Chrétien look good. Duceppe: The Liberals shouldn't get a third chance! But this referendum should!

    Honestly I still find Duceppe the most attractive candidate, yet he's a separatist. Harper makes my skin crawl, and Martin and Layton are more steeped in rhetoric than a cup of Tim Hortons tea.

    I found Martin's comment about getting rid of the notwithstanding clause intriguing. He's obviously doing it to reignite the campaign in a new direction away from all of this Liberal-bashing. I find myself of two minds. On the surface I like getting rid of it. But it would be a…

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  39. Christmas > Election?

    It looks like Christmas wins out over election this time around, which is good. I haven't seen an party advertisement for a little while now. And hey . . . I think I could get used to it. Hard to believe, I know, but I think I just might be able to survive without party advertisements!

    Saw Ken Boshcoff going to his constituency office yesterday while we were driving to Quality Market.

    But soon the New Year shall pass and so it shall come to pass that the leaders will realise 23 days hence remain for electioneering. And thus, the leaders will go forth to the land and spread the Word. And the People will look to the Word, and they shall treat it with disgust, for it shall be the Word of a False Prophet, the Prophet Politics. And so it shall come to pass that on the 23rd day of the 1st month of the 2006th year since the birth of a Special Dead Guy, the People shall elect the Prophet whose Words were least distasteful to their senses.

  40. Our leaders speak . . . in French!

    I watched the French-language Federal election debates tonight and abruptly lost two hours of my life that I'll never, ever, ever get back. It was unbearable. The translators did a good job making it look like they weren't reading from a script, however.

    t: Jack Layton d: I must say that he didn't do as well as he could have. He didn't speak very much, and I don't really remember much of what he said. Thus, he did not make an impression, and I don't think that anybody watching (aka the old lady and her cat) were swayed by his speeches. t: Stephen Harper d: This guy can't speak French or English. If there's anything funnier than watching Harper make a fool of himself in English, it's watching Harper make a fool of himself in French! He repeated "c'est necessaire" far too many times and evaded nearly every question. In other words, same ol', same ol' Harper. t: Paul Martin d: Martin too remained true to his character. I call his way of talking "Martinical rhetoric," because he says nearly nothing useful. The only difference between Martin and Chrétien is that we (unfortunately) can understand what Martin is saying. He…

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  41. I think our provincial government is run by pigeons

    No, really. Gerard Kennedy wants to stop any high school dropout below the age of 18 from getting driver's licenses. See this shiny CBC News article on the subject.

    As much as I value school, the government is once again showing their lack of problem-solving skills. (Maybe they should go back to school. :D ) Getting kids to stay in school until they are 18 is not to be accomplished via negative incentive. Instead, perhaps the government should offer more positive incentives, such as . . . oh, I don't know, expanding school to include different methods of teaching. Not everyone learns the same way, and this can be difficult, especially if one's aspirations are not to go to post-secondary education.

    But of course, that would cost "money." Darn government. . . . -_-

  42. And another one bites dust

    So the Liberal minority government has fallen (and not even mightily), thus the polls shall open soon and the election bells will toll alongside the yuletide ones.

    It's not very unexpected, eh. I mean, we've known for the past few weeks that a non-confidence motion was going to happen. We've known that the Bloc, NDP, and Conservatives would team up to defeat the Liberals. There was very little doubt.

    Then it actually happens.

    It was kind of cool to watch it; I've never actually "watched" a non-confidence motion before. :D All the MPs stood up and their names were called out, it is all very ritualistic and fascinating. Just not surprising. :no:

    Being too young to vote, I can only gripe and rant, but I like to think I do that well. Let's just say that I'm disappointed with Paul Martin. I liked the Liberals! Or, at least, I liked their ideology! And they have to go off and ruin the government with their poor leadership and management! Leaving responsible, liberal people like myself with an unpalatable choice to make. Do we continue to support the old, corrupt leadership? Or do we support a new, corrupt leadership.

    I do…

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