Wednesday, May 27, 2009

CBC’s Humour Tasteless Again

Canada’s publicly funded broadcaster – The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) – is in the hot seat over yet another offensive skit, intended to be funny.

The CBC broadcasts two main television networks across Canada in both official languages – one network is English, the other in French. A couple of months ago, the English network was raked over the coals – as it should have been – for attempting to get the Premier of Ontario to play along with one of their sketches, during a press conference where the Premier was talking about the failing auto industry and was directly talking to many who have lost their jobs.

Recently, the French language network came under fire, for a broadcast which aired earlier in the year, depicting American President Barack Obama under threat of assignation, because he is black.

"We're not racists,” says one of the French CBC’s hosts during the show. “It will be good to have a Negro in the White House. It will be practical. Black on white, it will be easier to shoot him.”

America’s first black president is more of a target than previous American leaders, but not necessarily just because of the color of his skin.

President Obama has many different ideas than previous presidents, and has been likened to President John F. Kennedy – who was assassinated. Many to this day think President Kennedy was gunned down because of some of his policies.

Granted, there is more racial tension in the United States of America than here in Canada, and President Obama may in fact be more of a target by radical racially motivated groups.

However, it is wrong for anyone – especially a nation’s public broadcaster – to make light of the situation, and say it will be easier to find him to shoot, because he is black, which essentially the host on the French language network did.

To add to this publicly funded television show’s poor choice of humour, the show also had an actor pretending to be President Obama, and the host turned to the Obama-look-a-like and said: “The blacks, you all look alike,” and then warned viewers to hide their purses.

Humour is often based on stereotypes, but negative racial stereotypes in this age of acceptance and respect for other cultures is unacceptable.

What is worse, Canadian tax dollars continue to fund these tasteless and disrespectful television shows which air nation-wide and internationally on digital cable and satellite systems.

Now, thanks to the network of satellites orbiting the globe, others around the world can see how racist we Canadians are, if they believe – as many do – what they see on television.

When Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC, airs trash, the world remembers. So much for our internationally reputation of a peace loving nation which welcomes all. Thanks CBC, for making Canada shine once again.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Canada’s Royal a Bloody Mess

This week, Canada’s Governor General, Michelle Jean gutted a seal, ripped out its heart, and took a bite of the bleeding organ, covering herself in blood and goo. As she took a tissue to wipe off the blood and guts, she told her daughter it tastes good.

The Governor General – Canada’s official representative to the Queen of England – made the gruesome gesture to show her support for the Inuit seal hunters in Canada’s northernmost regions, during her week-long tour of the Arctic.

Over the years, controversy over the traditional seal hunts in the Arctic have circled over the inhumane way the seals are clubbed, gutted and consumed by environmental groups, politicians, even celebrities such as Sir. Paul McCartney.

To counter the negative press, the Inuit seal hunters say they conduct these hunts in the same ways their ancestors have for generations, to honour the seal, the hunt and their way of life.

The whole thing stinks worse than rotting seal corpses bobbing and weaving in a sea of blood and guts.

Many cultures and religions continue to honour and respect their traditions, without such blood, gore and death.

Catholics honour lent, by giving up something special to them during that time period – usually meat on Fridays, hence the tradition of fish and chip Fridays. Jews will give up bread for matzoh during Passover to honour those who had to go without bread during a trek through the desert. One of the more brutal and violent traditions occurs every Christmas -- in the Philippians volunteers participate in a remake of Christ’s last days, by marching to giant crosses, and then nailing themselves to these giant crosses.

But even in the most violent acts above, all the participants are able and willing to make the decisions themselves as to what to do. The low seal, a water mammal with the brain about the size of a birds, lacks that basic luxury. It isn’t as if seals come up to the Inuit, and willingly volunteer themselves for the sacrifice.

Though I suppose cows and pigs rarely volunteer themselves for our dinner tables. But cows, pigs and other living animals bred specifically for human consumption are not clubbed over the head, and gutted in a violent and brutal manner, often with children present as is the case in the Inuit seal hunt.

This is our way, has been for many generations – claim the seal hunters.

Times change, and as human beings progress by learning and growing socially and culturally, the ways of the past can always be honoured and remembered, without all the pain and suffering of the past.

There is no need to club a seal, and rip its insides out to honour traditions. There are many more humane ways to harvest seals, just the Inuit, stuck in their traditional muck of the past refuse to accept these more civilized methods.

And by showing her support, Canada’s royal representative is saying – indirectly, but quite graphically – that The Queen of England supports the inhumane methods of the seal hunt.

If the Queen of England still honoured some of her traditions much as the Inuit continue to honour theirs, I’d probably be hearing “off with his head” as her big goons shackled me and led me to the gallows to be beheaded, for writing this blog.

Lucky for us all, that most cultures in civilized society have outgrown the need for violence and destruction. Too bad the Inuit up in Canada’s north have not.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Last of the Great Landings

Today, the Space Shuttle Atlantis landed at Edwards Air Force Base with the beauty and grace of a swan skimming over the surface of the water.

Back in the 1980’s when NASA’s Space Shuttle program was just beginning Edwards Air Force Base in California was the primary landing site, but over the years the primary landing site became the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA chose to land the shuttle at Edwards Air Force Base due to poor weather in Florida.

This may be one of the final landings at Edwards Air Force Base, as NASA plans to retire the space shuttle program in the coming years.

Landings at Edwards Air Force Base are always more visually appealing than those at the Kennedy Space Center. The sand-brownish-gray backdrop of the hills and terrain make the famous white and black bird shuttles stand out and easier to spot.

And when you are cruising faster than the speed of sound, and appear as a giant red glowing ball of light from the outer edges of our atmosphere, anything that makes it easier to spot is a good thing.

Although these landings have become somewhat routine for NASA, they are still amazing to watch. And amazingly accurate. We often joke about rocket scientists, but they are always on the ball – they have to be when bringing home seven astronauts from the depths of space.

NASA’s timetable for the Shuttle Atlantis’ landing was 11:39am EST – and exactly at 11:39am EST the primary rear landing gear of the spacecraft rolled onto the runway. Pretty amazing when you think the shuttle is a 226,040-pound vehicle, traveling over 300-miles per hour at touchdown.

I am going to miss watching these, once the shuttles have been retired. Watching the small silhouette of a white speck as it gets larger and the shape becomes more defined to resemble the shuttle. Seeing the shuttle float back to our home, planet Earth, then eventually raise its nose, drop its landing gear, as the familiar voice of mission control says: “We have primary landing gear touchdown, touchdown of the space shuttle Atlantis.”

The shuttle space craft have done wonderful things over the years, progressing the knowledge of our universe. They have brought people back and forth from the International Space Station, conducted numerous experiments in space, and as with the conclusion of today’s mission, repaired telescopes to give us a watchful eye above.

NASA is replacing the aging shuttle fleet with new rockets, which will blast off much like the original rockets which carried Neil Armstrong to the moon – but naturally far more advanced.

This was the 53 space shuttle landing at Edwards Air Force Base.

Friday, May 22, 2009

More Me Less Me

Is Canada still a safe place to work, live and play? Last night in its largest city, a five-year-old child was shot. The little girl – who is going to be okay after being treated at The Hospital for Sick Children – was an innocent bystander, hit by a stray bullet which whizzed through her home from some punk outside.

This isn’t the first time an innocent person has been caught in the crossfire of a gun. Just a handful of weeks ago another person in Toronto was killed, by a bullet not meant for him, and few will forget the accidental shooting of a teenage girl on Boxing Day a few years ago.

The problem isn’t necessarily that there are more guns and gangs on our streets, the problem stems deeper as these things often do.

Welcome to the “Me Generation.”

Back in the big hair, bold color combos, and pure attitude of the 1980’s we saw the rise of the “I” generation – it’s all about me, myself, and I.

Luckily throughout the 1990’s we began to once again drop our self indulgences and work together in society once again as a team. We realized that we were all in this thing called life together, or so we thought.

It appears we’ve not only come back to doing our own individualistic thing, but gone even further to the point of simply not giving a damn about anyone else.

Back in the 1980’s, people would dress however they wanted, spend money on outrageous hair styles, and even have their own attitude -- but never at the expense of another person’s comfort.

These days, people – not just teens, but many adults too – will walk down the street blasting music from their MP3 players, they will walk right through a crowded sidewalk, not caring if they bump into someone. And when they do accidentally walk into someone, it is never their own fault, as they scream “hey why don’t you watch where you are going?”

Road rage is all too common, often with people getting into fistfights over a simple lane change, or a parking spot. Neighbours in what used to be quite, family-safe residential areas are now coming home to yellow police tape, their quiet side street buzzing with police wearing hazardous materials suits as they tear apart a drug lab.

All of these things – and many more – are all about the new Me Generation.
As more and more people struggle to find themselves, in our constantly changing world, they have lost the need for you. It’s all about me.

Blame the economy, lax immigration laws, even that crazy uncle that everyone acknowledges but never talks about – it doesn’t matter, it’s all about me.

The problem is, in a “Me Generation,” much like the “I Generation” of the 1980’s, worlds collapse and societies crumble.

Just ask the parents of that five-year-old girl, as they watch their daughter recover in a hospital for a gun battle that had nothing to do with her.

But hey, why bother, it’s all about me?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Soon Big Brother Will See You Naked – Sort Of

The American Department of Homeland Security is planning to use whole body imaging at all major airports to protect people from threats from above.

Whole body imaging is a new technology, which essentially gives airport security the ability to see right through you – literally. These new types of scanners act like X-Ray scanners, only they detect metallic and non-metallic objects hidden within the human body.

Privacy advocates claim these devices are an invasion of privacy, as they can reveal more about a person than airport security needs – like your heart rate, if you have a pacemaker, or have had surgery on any internal organs. Although the images are not stored, there is a fear that in the future they will be.

In their defense, Homeland Security has begun testing the devices in six American airports to ensure they work and that they can protect the privacy of those who go through the devices. Two security guards work the scanners, one directs passengers through the machine, never seeing what it finds, and the other guard is in a locked, closed room nearby, watching the results of the scanner. If the guard watching the images sees anything that shouldn’t be there, he contacts the other guard, and the passenger is detained.

To further protect passenger privacy, the faces of those going through the machine are blurred, but critics claim that this new scanner still goes too far.

The real concern is whether or not this new scanner will prevent terrorism. If an individual or a group has been planning an act of terrorism, all the latest technological gadgets in the world may still never fully prevent it. As new devices like these whole body scanners, are developed, those plotting and scheming to do no good find ways to do no good.

Privacy experts warn that whole body imaging is just the tip of the virtual iceberg when it comes to revealing more than we need too, under the guise of privacy.

Airlines could detect if a person is more susceptible to illness in the air, and actually reject passengers for fear of them delaying flights, sighted one privacy expert. Imagine being denied travel, for something that you have absolutely no control over, and may not even know about?

Others claim security guards may try to make more money, by leaking whole body imaging scans of celebrities for sale on eBay, and other online marketplaces.
The real worry is what is next, as if Big Brother knows what we look like beneath our clothes, it won’t be long before they know what we look like without our clothes.

The whole body imaging scanner system is being tested in San Francisco, Miami, Alburquerque, Las Vegas, Tulsa, and Salt Lake City.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Texting – The New Way to Measure Your Technological IQ

When I was a kid, I played with Lego building blocks. Nothing complicated about them, all you do is snap them into place. But the thrill of being creative, building whole worlds out of blocks was a great escape, and probably has been part of the development of my creativity over the years.

These days, kids don’t build imaginative worlds out of building blocks anymore. They are too busy texting on their cell phones and Blackberries.

Yes, you read right – kids with Blackberries. It wasn’t all that long ago that the world of the Blackberry was limited to high profile business executives. Times have definitely changed, as the cost of data plans and mobile data devices has plummeted.

I see young kids, pre-teens even, typing away text messages on their mobile devices so fast, you’d swear the mobile device was part of their body.

I’m a pretty quick typist on the computer keyboard, but ask me to hammer out a text message, and I’m all thumbs.

Must be a generational thing, because my way of thinking, if I am going to use my cell phone to contact someone, I might as well just call that person. Why spend time writing out an text message, when I can actually talk to someone?

Though text messages are great ways to communicate short little tidbits of information. If I am running late, stuck in traffic, or just leaving the office, I have a handful of pre-written text messages I can send with just a click of a button.

But kids today seem to favour texting over talking. It appears easier for them to communicate using emoticons, smilies, and short-form texting phrases, than simply saying what’s on their minds.

That raises my concerns for the future – as kids today will be the future leaders of tomorrow. How well will our society fair, when the new generation takes control?

Will the next generation have the creativity and the communication skills necessary to make it?

Time will tell, but for now, I am still fascinated by the whole texting phenomenon.

My mobile device – not a Blackberry, but it is a smart phone – can accept email and texted attachments in all the standard Windows formats. I can receive MS-Word documents, Adobe PDF documents, even Windows Media Player files, and I can open these up, and view or play them.

So far, I haven’t really seen the advantages of using my cell phone for these things. If someone really has to get me a document that quickly, I just tell them to email it, and I’ll look at it when I get to my computer. I don’t want to have to forever scrolling through the tiny screen on my cell to read an entire report.

I actually enjoy the down time I have when I’m away from my computer. I sit in front of a computer for much of the working day, so it is nice to get away from it all and enjoy the fresh air every so often.

The kids of today probably have a different take on all of that. They are probably already used to reading and responding to documents sent over their cell phones. Which is great for productivity, but probably won’t give them much peace of mind once they enter the working world.

But by the time that happens, I’m hoping to be retired, living on a tropical island, isolated away from the wonders of text messages.

Monday, May 18, 2009

More Money for Transit – Must Be an Election Around the Corner

Last week politicians grinned their way off a street car in Canada’s biggest city, as they announced mega bucks for a new light rail transit system in that city.

The staged photo opportunity involved politicians from the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government, smiling for the cameras, with banners blazing all around, about more money for more public transit projects.

At this particular event, the politicians announced a new light rail transit line, which would run in the northeast end of the city of Toronto. Although many were also anticipating funding for new street cars, buses, and subways – but nothing was mentioned of these plans, which were previously discussed at similar press functions.

Discussions about public money and what to do with that money happen all too often in our country, usually with much pomp and fanfare, but little substance. I still remember covering a press conference back in 1996, when then Ontario Minister of Transportation, Al Paladini, announced a plan to run Toronto’s subway system to the main York University campus in the city’s northwest end.

Paladini was a great salesman. Many Toronto residents hear his name and still remember “any pal of Paladini’s is a pal a mine.” That was his radio jingle which promoted his car dealership back in the 1980’s, he entered politics in the late 80’s and unfortunately passed away not long after in the 90’s.

Great sales people don’t always make great politicians though.

It’s been a long time since 1996, and York University still has no subway – though the “discussions” which politicians do so well continue.

One thing I’ve learned over the years, until they actually have big heavy machines breaking ground, many detoured roads, and local residents complaining about the dust and noise, it’s all hogwash.

Funny thing about Canadian politics, most hogwash occurs just before an election. That’s when politicians run out of big cheques, as they continuously write those massive cheques for projects which they are discussing, in the hopes of winning your vote.

Politicians get a bad rap – and they deserve much of it. Buying our votes by promising projects which never actually take shape, and then when being taken to task, blaming the other political parties for stone-walling the whole thing.


They never intended to really go ahead with their lofty plans; they just wanted to win their jobs back.

I challenge any politician to actually deliver on their promises made back in 1996 to build a subway to York University BEFORE the next election, and then, maybe, I’ll start believing in their banter.

If they make a promise to do this before the election – pending their election to office – and then actually begin the project, it does NOT count – that is just their continued use of the need for public transit to win votes. Seeing as the original promise was made in 1996, the politicians owe us this one.

Yes, I can hear the screams from the politicians reading this blog – but what about the environmental assessments, the bidding process for contractors to build the subway, the massive amounts of paperwork and planning.

Tough! It’s been over 13-years since that initial promise was made, an d although Paladini is no longer running the show, there have been many others since him who have continuously made the same promise of building a subway to York University’s Keele and Steeles Avenue campuses.

If our federal, provincial and municipal leaders can’t complete something which they promised over a decade ago, then they don’t deserve anything but my ill words, and they certainly don’t deserve my vote – or yours either.

Don’t be sucked into the “discussions” politicians promise, as they handout big paper cheques for photo opportunities. When we go to the polls for any election – federal, provincial or municipal – always vote based on what actually was said and done – not just said.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Made In China Recall of Galactic Proportions

We’re all unfortunately all too familiar with toys, dog food and other goods that weren’t so good made in China, being recalled. The latest recall won’t affect you – unless you are an astronaut orbiting the Earth.

This past week NASA reported that during a spacewalk between the Shuttle Atlantis and the Hubble Space Telescope, astronauts had to clean up the infamous Asian country’s space debris, which almost hit the shuttle.

The debris was left over space junk, from a Chinese anti-satellite test, where the Chinese intentionally blew up one of their own satellites, in 2007.

Orbiting our home, planet Earth from about 350 miles (that’s 653KM) high, Atlantis and the Hubble are both at greater risks to impact from space debris, because this orbit is slightly higher than the one used normally for the International Space Station. That lower orbit is about 220 miles (354 KM) above the Earth.

If the shuttle were to be hit by space debris, it could prove to be fatal for the astronauts, as that tiny spacecraft is their home while in space, and their only way back to Earth.

NASA usually moves plots courses for the shuttle away from any space junk, but in this case that wasn’t possible, because of the location of the Hubble space telescope.

Regardless of the risks to the shuttle, the Hubble, the space station, and anything else that we humans have put in space, junk is junk.

Isn’t it interesting how, despite global efforts to protect our environment down here on our home, planet Earth, the second we leave the confines of that home, we forget our manners and simply toss whatever we don’t need or want wherever we are?

If you toss a piece of trash out the window while zooming across town, you’re bound to get the irate look of anger and protest from more than a few people these days. But astronauts – that have a breath-taking view of our Earth from an envious position – simply discard their trash wherever they can.

Granted, the size of some of this space junk is about the same size as a small car, and much of the space debris is left to burn up in our atmosphere once its orbit decays.

However, because there isn’t any atmosphere in space, unwanted materials – space junk – in high orbits can remain in that orbit, or move off and coast through uncharted space, forever. There aren’t any environmental or microbial bacteria in space to decompose this space junk.

This isn’t just NASA’s fault, but all countries are to blame for creating a disposable society in the stars. Space debris litters the darkness around our globe from many just about every country that has ever sent anything past our atmosphere.

Scientists – and astronauts are in many ways the ultimate scientist, as they perform all types of experiments in labs which most can never see – are all acutely aware of the need to reduce, recycle and re-use. So how come the scientists which put people and machines high above in space, don’t practice the three-R’s?

It isn’t rocket science to pick up after one’s self. If scientists can figure ways to put stuff in space, they should also plan on how to remove that stuff once it is no longer needed. Failing that, fails us all, and leaves a legacy of waste beyond our home, planet Earth.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Downturn Downtown

Recently I was wandering around downtown in Canada’s largest city – Toronto – but was greatly disappointed.

It was around the noon hour, and I had some time to kill before my next meeting, so I figured I’d go grab something to eat.

Usually there is something for everyone, but not today. I had my choice of every greasy fast food joint known to the modern urbanite – from McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s, to Subway and Dairy Queen, and many other fine fast food places.

Not that there is anything wrong with fast food, in moderation. But sometimes it’s nice to hunker down in a nice restaurant, where you aren’t asked “do you want fries with that?”

Oh, there were other restaurants – other than fast food. I could have gone to Hooters if I wanted some eye candy to feast on, while chomping down on my over-priced greasy burger.

So, in Canada’s largest city, I had my choice between the grease, more grease, and greasy ladies serving more grease.

Not very impressive, not at all.

I even spent some time walking around – I must have meandered several city blocks, scouring the streets, looking for good eats.

Fast food isn’t bad eats, but it isn’t all that healthy eats. And it is nice to be waited on, rather than eating off a plastic food tray, al-a-cafeteria-style.

The city recently passed a law, allowing multicultural food to be served at licensed street vendors. This means that the hot dog stand of late, may soon be serving delicious Greek, Indian, Chinese and other foods, not associated with our North American diet of grease.

When I first got wind of this proposal, I wasn’t so sure. Part of the traditional makeup of Toronto’s downtown is the various hot dog vendors, often one right next to the other, each trying to woo you to their cart, with their personality.

I’ve seen hot dog cart vendors singing, dancing, even exchanging friendly insults between each other, which makes the city all the more lively and exciting.

With the lack of sit-down restaurants in the downtown core during the lunch-hour, maybe these new vendors are just what the city needs. There are lots of sit-down eateries in the downtown core, but most appear to only open for dinner.

The hot dog cart on the other hand, is open all year ‘round, at all hours of the day. I’ve seen them drape giant tent-like structures around themselves, with small propane heaters to keep warm in the winter.

Granted, it doesn’t solve my dilemma of where to go to enjoy a nice sit-down meal at lunch. But at least it gives me – and you – more options than the old “do you want fries with that” shop.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Tamil Protesters Hold Up Toronto

Tamil protesters have taken Canada’s largest city hostage, in an attempt to gain political action from the Canadian government.

Last night, over 2,000 protesters caused the complete shutdown of Toronto’s two major highways – the Gardener Expressway (which runs east-west) and the southbound lanes of the connecting Don Valley Parkway (the northbound lanes remained open).

The protesters were claiming that they would continue to block these major routes into and through the city’s downtown core until a representative from the federal government met with them to discuss their concerns over the war in their homeland. The war back home for the Tamil protesters has lasted over two-decades and shows no end in sight.

The protesters left after midnight Monday night, after hearing that the federal Liberal party would bring up their concerns in caucus.

Previous protests – the city has seen several over the past few months – have been peaceful, and the protesters have respected the rights of others by allowing them to pass.

Not last night – the protesters cut off two major arteries running through the city, in an attempt to strengthen delivery of their message.

The only thing that did get stronger was the need to quash any further protests before they get out. Last night’s protest shows us that these people – regardless of whatever it is they want – don’t respect the rights and freedoms of others, and they are willing to do harm to others for their own cause.

Numerous protesters interviewed on various local television and radio stations said that they wouldn’t move unless forced to move by the police, or unless their demands were met.

Lucky for us, those protesters got what they wanted – else there probably would be chaos. Police were in extremely high numbers at the protest – re-enforcements were called in from the regions surrounding the city, including York, Durham and Peel, and off-duty cops were also asked to participate. Many were in full riot gear, including gas masks – meaning the police were expecting a possible confrontation.

Previous demonstrations have seen their share of police activity, but not in as great numbers, and certainly not in full riot getup.

The cost to Canadian taxpayers to police these on-going protests must be staggering, and if violence is to be expected, our politicians shouldn’t cave in to these terrorist-like demands.

Make no mistake about it – these protesters are no different than terrorists now that they have deemed the public’s right to free and unfettered mobility as a bargaining chip to get their way. They have decided upon themselves that it’s okay to close down the economic center of the country, until they get whatever it is they want.

We are lucky that this time, their demands were easy to meet. Next time, we might not fair so well.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Security! Or Close Talkers?

We all have our own sense of personal space – that area immediately surrounding us in crowded public spaces. For some, you can get nose-to-nose, others need a little more wiggle room.

And if you’re the leader of Canada’s largest province, you get five-feet – most of the time.

Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters a couple of months ago that they were getting too close, and laid down what has been dubbed “the five-foot rule,” as it requires they gather no closer than that magical number from him.

Might appear a wee bit much, but anyone who’s been in the centre of a herd of journalists jostling for that one soundbite, quotable quip, or flash-bulb smile for the cameras knows it can get pretty claustrophobic in there.

And unlike most situations involving close talkers, during a media event called a “scrum” – a fancy word for an informal, impromptu question and answer period – it is almost always impossible to just back away. Scrums are usually held in front of a wired microphone, and because of the needs of the electronic press, the wires often dictate just how close or how far you can travel.

Granted, most reporters are caring, feeling people too, and they granted the premier his requested five-feet of personal space.

Though journalists – like all other professions – sometimes have the odd bad apple in the bunch. This week, during a question period with the premier and Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper, many reporters tasked with covering the premier felt they were snubbed, when their questions were not taken. So – and I don’t know who started this – someone got the idea to get back at the premier, by not giving him his personal space at the next press conference.

Good thing it wasn’t U.S. President Barack Obama or those reporters would have probably been tackled by armed Secret Service soldiers, handcuffed, and taken away to a musty detention cell.

Not to mention, for some personal space isn’t simply a matter of manners, but also a medical condition. People with severe claustrophobia may have a panic attack so physically and mentally stressful that it could lead to them fainting or worse – suffering a heart attack and dying.

Premier McGuinty doesn’t appear to have such a condition, when the reporters circled him like vultures – some actually almost hit him with their microphones, tape recorders, notepads and other tools of the trade – he simply laughed it off.

We’re lucky there weren’t any rock-hard Inuit figurines within arms-reach, because then things could have got ugly. Remember many years ago, when then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien clocked someone over the head with one of those handmade mini-statues, after the person had broken into his home?

Though journalists aren’t typically the break and enter type. But hey, if one or more of them can stoop to the level that they did when they invaded the premier’s personal space, who knows what else they are capable of?

That sort of childish behaviour really is unacceptable in today’s politically-correct world. Especially in a field where one of the skills needed to do the job is to be an exceptional communicator. Surely there must be another way to communicate their angst over the so-called “snub.”

But in the end, I suppose the childish antics of the Queen’s Park press corp. got the message to the premier. Though this puts a black stain journalists everywhere.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Mansbridge Wins Again

Many eons ago, when I was a broadcast journalist, the inside joke among many was the top anchors of the major networks would outlive us all – just to keep those of us gunning for their jobs at bay.

That joke – albeit in poor taste – appears to ring true.

Recently, Don Newman, one of the veteran journalists at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) – he’s got over 40-years on the job – announced his retirement. Newman has never held down the anchor desk at the flagship “The National,” but has had a number of impressive accolades over his career. Some of those include, opening CTV’s Washington bureau in 1972, winning a Gemini award for his coverage of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, helping launch CBCNewsworld in 1989, and many other awards from his peers. Newman says he’ll be stepping down from hosting his show on Canadian politics at the end of the summer, but did not announce any additional plans.

The top dog at the CBC’s national news desk remains Peter Mansbridge – he’s been in that much coveted seat for over 15-years, and I suppose isn’t moving. Back in the late 1980’s a similar battle brewed between Mansbridge and Pamelea Wallen, another veteran CBC journalist. Wallen eventually left CBC for CTV, but because that network’s main anchor was also safely tucked in his chair, she eventually just left the news business altogether.

That’s why many in the news business sadly joke about it being one of the few businesses which eat its young.

Over at Canada’s other national network – CTV – Lloyd Robertson has anchored their flagship “The CTV National News” for just as long, if not longer.

Journalism is one of the toughest rat races to move up the corporate ladder in. It isn’t like other businesses, where if you don’t move up at one company, you can just go to another company. There are only a handful of credible news networks across the country – and each one has their very most senior person at the top.

Granted, Mansbridge and Robertson are exceptionally talented journalists. They have covered some of the world’s most memorable events with great skill.

But sometimes, it’s time to move on and let someone else hold the reins.

I remember watching the CBC’s coverage of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Canada. After the initial landing of Airforce One, and then the much anticipated convoy of vehicles from the airport to the Parliament buildings, the two went to a private lunch.

The media wasn’t allowed into the lunch, and Mansbridge had some time to fill on air, live, before they were allowing cameras inside for a quick photo opportunity.

To fill time, Mansbridge started reading the menu of what the President and Prime Minister would be eating. In the middle of his reading, he broke off saying: “I can’t believe I’m reading this thing.”

Being a former television reporter – hell just being a reporter – I was shocked and dismayed that he said that on live television.

Yes, its fluff, and yes he was trying to fill some airtime until the real meat and potatoes. But, to simply dismiss the lunch menu right away as something beneath him to read out loud was in poor taste, and shows how the longer someone stays in the top, the more arrogant they become.

Mansbridge never seemed to balk at telling us what was on the menu during numerous visits from other dignitaries years ago, as I recall during those live broadcasts. So why is he now?

Even though it is fluff, for us common folk that never get to have lunch with international dignitaries, it is nice to add some color by telling us some of the trivial fun stuff – like the menu, even things about the portraits on the walls.

In the States, CNN talked about some of the portraits on the walls within the lunch room during President Obama’s swearing in lunch, to fill time. Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s equivalent to CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, didn’t seem to mind telling us all about these works of art – despite it also being a clever way to fill some live air time.

But then, Blitzer hasn’t been in the top anchor chair as long as Mansbridge or Robertson. Maybe it is time to shake things up over at Canada’s big networks, so that we continue to get the coverage we’ve come to expect from our national broadcasters?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Say Good-Bye to the Shuttle

On May 11, the space shuttle Atlantis will blast off towards the Hubble Space Telescope for the last time.

The shuttle’s crew of seven will be the last team to upgrade the 19-year-old Hubble, extending its life to 2014. The shuttle mission to the Hubble has been delayed for over six-months, but will be an unusual and demanding one.

This mission has five back-to-back space walks scheduled to add new instruments, replace broken gyroscopes and old batteries as well as attaching a docking mechanism for robot vehicles. The astronauts will also attempt to fix equipment not designed to be fixed in space.

This will be the first visit to the telescope since 2002. NASA launched the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990, and has sent astronauts to repair or upgrade the robotic observatory four times via the shuttle fleet of spacecraft.

However, the space shuttle is going to be retiring in 2010, replaced with a rocket which will blast astronauts into space, much like the original rockets used to put Buzz Aldrin on the moon in the 1960’s – though it is much more advanced than that rocket was.

I’ll miss watching the space shuttle explode off the launch pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral. I remember rushing home from school to watch liftoffs on the television back in the 1980’s. Back then, space shuttle launches were the thing to catch, because they were so new, and amazing.

It was like something out of Star Trek, where we actually had a spacecraft which we could launch into outer space, and then watch it come back home to planet Earth.

I loved watching the return landings of the space shuttle too. Watching them on television, as regular daytime programming would be interrupted for this breaking news story.

These days, they don’t consider shuttle liftoffs or landings breaking news unless something goes terribly wrong. That’s too bad, because it is still a miracle of modern science that we have anyone orbiting the Earth in space.

The space shuttle’s first “flight” wasn’t really a flight – it was bolted to a specially constructed Boeing 747 and was flown from the hanger where it was made to NASA’s launch facilities in Florida in 1977. The first actual shuttle mission STS-1 (Space Transportation System) was on April 12, 1981 by Columbia.

I remember the picture in the newspaper of the shuttle attached to the Boeing 747 – it looked like a mother bird giving a free ride to its child.

The space shuttle fleet wasn’t supposed to last this long – originally it was only supposed to stay in service for 10-years, and by then, NASA was supposed to have a better way to transport people back and forth from space and planet Earth.

Due to accidents, budget cutbacks from the various American administrations, and corporate management issues, NASA never did develop a true replacement for the shuttle.

Oh, I’m sure the new rocket will be just as awe inspiring to watch blast off. But it isn’t a true spacecraft, designed to carry people back and forth. The rocket will launch astronauts into space, and they will return in a pod, which is cushioned by a giant parachute.

It would have been nice if NASA could overcome all its obstacles, and have designed a spacecraft which was faster, safer and could go further than the space shuttle. There is so much more to outer space than the moon, and it would have been amazing if going to the moon was passé, as we’d have long since been going back and forth to Jupiter, Mars, or even further.

Missions to Mars are still in the works, but without a true spacecraft – like the shuttle – those missions are still very much the stuff of dreams and science fiction.

Monday, May 04, 2009

You Now Own a Failing Automaker

Thanks to our federal government, you now own a part of Chrysler. Or you will once all the paperwork is completed.

Our federal government is helping bail out the beleaguered auto manufacturing giant by purchasing stock in the company. This is all part of their restructuring deal, which also includes a partnership with European automaker Fiat.

Unlike many shareholders, you’ll probably never have a chance to sit in Lee Iacocca’s chair. Iacocca was the business phenomenon that turned Chrysler around from potential bankruptcy in the 1980’s, by introducing the mini-van, the “K” car, and later the innovative forward seating format of the j-class of automobile.

I always thought Capitalism meant – to take a page out of Darwin – was a battle of the strongest. Strong leaders won out over the weak, big fish eats little fish; big company eats little company, and so on.

Not so in the modern era of Communistic-like government buy-outs of big companies like Chrysler, and possibly General Motors, and maybe even Ford.
Am I the only one here that sees the potential conflicts of interest here? What happens if and when – as usually is the case – the big unions representing the employees of these big North American automakers goes on strike, and holds out until the government is forced into the negotiations, by way of a government appointed mediator?

It isn’t uncommon for provincial or federal government mediators to be called into these negotiations, to act as a neutral middleperson between the union and management.

But WAIT – now that the government owns part of the company, they have a stake on the management side of the coin. How then, will anything be resolved?
Under a Communistic economy, there were no unions, there were no freedoms whatsoever. You do what you are told, or you and your family would disappear.

There were rumours about what became of those that dared to speak out against the ruling Communistic governments of the former Soviet Union – and none of them involved basking in the sun on a sandy beach under a blue sky.

Is that going to happen here, now, in Capitalistic Canada?

Probably not, we’ve evolved too much as a society to go back to the fear-driven society of the USSR. However, our government is in quite the pickle, should they have to intervene during a union negotiation.

Or worse, what happens when the interests of big business don’t quite mesh with those of our government?

Publicly funded governments have no business in big business. In this blog I’ve always said it is tragic when anyone loses their job because their company goes belly up. But that is the nature of a free market Capitalistic society.

Anything else is just wrong for our country, wrong for our government, and wrong for our society as a whole.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Pigs and Pandemic – Two Words that Begin with “P”

We’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the potential for the Swine Flu to turn into the next pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) has its six-phase alert at level five – the next and final phase is six – for those mathematically challenged – and that is a full blown pandemic with a capital P.

What could push WHO and other health and medical experts into declaring the Swine Flu a pandemic?

Something that happened in Canada’s oil-rich province on Saturday may do just that.

Over 200 pigs in Alberta – home to the Alberta tar sands, rich in crude oil deposits – have been quarantined after being diagnosed with the Swine Flu. The pigs may have caught the virus from a farm worker, after he had returned from a trip to Mexico.

The migration of the virus from pigs to humans and then back to humans is just what the pandemic police are worried about. Although the chances of contracting the deadly flu from pork products is extremely rare, what comes next from our four-legged oinking friends may be very deadly.

As the virus originally came from pigs, it is highly contagious to them, however, while inside us humans, it picks up new genetic material, not present in pigs, essentially creating a new strain of the virus. If this new strain infects a pig – as it has in Alberta – it will mutate again, this time using the genetic material of both humans and pigs to create a superbug.

Superbugs don’t wear tights, and they can’t leap over tall buildings. But, because they have formed from the genetic material – DNA – of two or more species, they are extremely resilient, and resistant to anti-viral drugs. In other words, a superbug is a virus which is hard to kill, and very contagious to those who happen to have the same DNA makeup – in this case humans and pigs.

So, what could push us into a true pandemic?

If the virus in these pigs mutates and infects a person, its game over – pandemic here we come.

Luckily, these pigs were discovered early on, and so they have been isolated and researchers are watching them very closely to see if the virus mutates.

Problem is, if any one of these researchers catches the bug from these pigs, that’s all it takes to start a pandemic. It can take these medical researchers – with all of their high-tech scientific instruments, computers, and other gadgets – anywhere from six-months to a year on average to develop vaccines for a specific flu strain.

That’s why when you go to get your annual flu shot, the vaccine is based on three strains which scientists believe to be the most likely ones to be of any concern – it’s a best guess, not an exact science.

Let’s just hope that those working on a vaccine for the Swine Flu can make their best guess sooner than later.