Wednesday, January 28, 2009

FC Takes On The Budget

So this is it, folks. The moment you've all been waiting for. (Or not). But still; the Conservatives have unleashed their 2009 budget.

First things first, on a little digression, thank Goddess that Jim Flaherty is not a lecturer. Dear Moses, that man is monotonous! His voice alone practically put me to sleep.

And before I start ripping into politicians for all their lack of sensibility and pizazz, I would like to acknowledge that I was quite pleased with the lack of buffoonery. There was some cheering but very little of the booing and "SHAME!" fist pounding as usual. Which means, they have the capability! They can do it! So why don't they always do it? Seriously, people.

Canada's real 2009 mission should be to bring some civility back to Parliament Hill. But I've been flogging that dead horse for a while now, so I guess I'm just old school.

Anywhoo, as I'm sure you've heard by now, the economy is in the toilet and so the Conservatives have said that we need to go into a deficit. But fear not, wee children! They're apparently going to pull us out of this deficit in 5 years. Which if they can pull it off, well I might even vote Conservative sometime. Alright, who am I kidding? But seriously. If they can pull it off, I'll be mighty impressed.

Some of the highlights of the budget, for me, was the inclusion of broadband internet access under the infrastructure package. This is a new one and its quite interesting. Canada has long treated internet access as a type of infrastructure necessity but this is the first time they've really made it clear. And I think this is great.

If you're going to make internet access a necessity then make it accessible. Seems obvious to me.

The big part of the budget that was made to cater to lefties is the so-called 1-2 billion for social housing. One to two billion for social housing! Wow! This is a lefty's dream... except that it's not. Because "social housing" includes elderly people, single mothers, students and aboriginal reserves.

Quite frankly, in government terms, one billion isn't that much to begin with. And then when you include so many demographics under that one project, it starts to look pretty shabby. It was clearly a way of trying to appease the "Coalition of the Left" and yet the fine print points out that there isn't much there.

Like most things in politics, it sounds nice but is pretty shit in practice. Better than nothing, I know, but not enough to get excited about.

Same with the apparent shitload of money for infrastructure and employment. Municipalities desperately need money for infrastructure and have been saying so for years. The new budget does indeed give money in these areas, but it requires 1/3 Fed money, 1/3 Prov money and 1/3 municipal money. So once again, looks fancy but in practice, how better off are they really?

My take? This is an impressive Conservative budget. With a capital C. For a bunch of right-wing nuts, I'm impressed with their acknowledgment that "Hey, people need places to live in order to spend money!" and "Jobs matter!"

But I'm definitely not impressed with their lack of Green initiatives (which hey, create jobs, too!) and they're denial, once again, about the importance of pay equity. Job creation = Great! Doing the same job for lesser pay = Not so great!

Conservatives still haven't figured out that equation yet.

Morally, I would vote this budget down if I had a say. But practically, I'd vote for it. Canadians need something fast and right now, this shitpile is better than nothing. What I'm really hoping for is that Ignatieff's demand for an amendment to the budget passes. The amendment would require the Conservatives to report on the projects they've proposed and how the money is spent. Basically, an economic update a few times a year to show that the money is going (or not going) where it was intended to go. Once again, smooth move Ignatieff.

Only time will tell if the budget will pass and make a difference to Canada and its economy. Personally, I'm crossing my fingers but not holding my breath.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Canada's Newest Parliament - Part I

So today was Canada's newest Speech from the Throne. Which, if you're into overkill and drama, is the cat's meow.

On any other year, there's military gunshots and a mini-parade just for the Governor General's arrival to the Hill! This was canned this year because well.. it was -32 and so it was borderline torture to do so.

Then there's a bunch of hoopla and fancyness all culminating in 8 minutes of the GG reading some of the most vague statements of all time.

The economy is in trouble - Check
People are losing their jobs - Check
Being in debt is bad - Check
Something needs to be done - Check

And then they call it a day.

For me, the only real riveting part of the whole thing is the chaos in the Chambers afterward, where the opposition leaders (who are supposed to act as though this is all news to them) react to the Speech. Ignatieff, newest leader of the Liberals, made what I think is a pretty smart move and said that the Liberals wouldn't respond until at least Wednesday. Seeing as though the Speech doesn't mean much without tomorrow's budget, I've gotta agree with the man. Why knee jerk react to 8 minutes of vague hoopla when you can instead crunch the numbers, read the fine print and come out with an educated decision?

Ignatieff isn't my favourite person in the world but smooth move, operator.

Layton on the other hand. Oy Vey! Before the Speech had even happened, he'd already stated that the NDP were going to vote down the latest budget because "We don't trust Harper".

I've got news for you, my friend (And I do consider us friendly, FYI). I don't trust Harper either and neither do most people. But they also have very little trust in a leader like yourself who is willing to see Parliament drag on forever with in-fighting rather than solving the damn problems at hand.

People didn't vote for you and I know Layton, that hurts. But seriously dude, think outside of the Party for once, will ya? You tout yourself as the people's person who cares more about kitchen tables than boardroom tables and yet you're playing unfairly in the sandbox to the detriment of us all.

Could you at least pretend that you're going to read the damn thing first before you cast judgement?

Seriously dude.

Personally, I'm hoping that the Conservative Party spin doctors are going to get a raise over this because it was mere months ago that Harper ran his entire campaign on the idea that there was no economic crisis, that the Canadian economy was sound and that the opposition parties were playing to people's fears. Now, they've re-branded themselves as the economic shithole salvation party.

Very clever. Very, very clever.

We'll see if they can actually put propaganda into practice. Stay tuned for Part II when the o'le numbers come through tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An Obama-Mama Reflects

President Obama! Not only does it roll off the tongue a lot easier than President-Elect Obama, but it certainly gives a much warmer feeling than President Bush.

It goes without saying that the world has been captivated by Barack Obama and his family. The entire campaign was memorable and it got people around the world rooting for the US again.

As a human being, political junkie and lover of all things classy, I definitely have a crush on the man. And not just because he's incredibly handsome (although that, he certainly is). I've had a crush on him since the start, but I've found myself critically questioning why. Which is something that a lot of people now seem to be doing.

Obama penned the idea of his campaign as being one of "hope" and hope, they have. People have high hopes for the first African-American President, a democrat, a fairly lefty thinker, a powerful orator and a very charismatic man. And a young one to boot! Obama, the person, has won many fans. A recent poll here in Canada found that Canadians certainly do have a crush on Obama the man, but that they are "lukewarm" about his policies. (More on that last part in a second).

But in building up his campaign on the prospects of "hope", he is doomed to disappoint and outright fail many people. Bush left the place in shambles, with little money and little "hope" of there being more anytime soon. To quote the always clever "This inauguration feels like a first date with a really great guy after a dysfunctional eight year relationship with a loser who took all my money".

So Obama isn't exactly starting off in prosperous times.

But personally, I still have "hope". He has made decisions that I have not supported, including his inclusion of crazy homophobe Rick Warren at inauguration.

However, he has a pro-choice stance, gave a shout out to the GLBTQ in one of his most important speeches to date, is a fan of social security and wants to close down Guantanamo Bay. There are also rumours about his desire to reverse the Global Gag rule, which denies funding to aid organizations that include abortion in the list of options they give clients. I'm thinking this is all a step in the right direction and if his policies continue down this road, never mind lukewarm, I'm in love!

As feminists, I think we need to move past the constant discussions, arguments and dialogue about whether or not Obama is a feminist. Ms. Magazine claims that he told them he was and so far, his policies have demonstrated that he most certainly could be. (Oh and for the record, if you don't believe me, watch Naomi Wolf totally prove it to you). But let's wait and let his actions speak for themselves.

As Canadians, I think we need to embrace the new wave of change in the US of A and quite frankly, turn our attention to our own country. A majority of people I spoke to watched Tuesday's inauguration but had no idea that the Speech from the Throne is happening on Monday and that the budget is going to be released on Tuesday; which is major, major stuff for Canada. And quite frankly, will directly impact our daily lives more than the Obamas ever will.

And I know what you're thinking and yes, you're right. What dog the Obamas choose is far more exciting than listening to what 4 old white guys have to say next week. But you don't pay your taxes to the Obamas, so what's really more important?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Nothing Says Hope Like Puffed Pastry

In these poor economic times, with genocide in the Middle East and a general funk the world over, this is the kind of news that's really important.

BeaverTails will be available at Obama's inauguration on Tuesday!

(Someone please alert PETA that it is pastry and not someone's tail).

They're going to be made the original way with maple syrup and a large O in chocolate added.

Obama: Eat your heart out! Actually, don't... they're awful for you and we need you to be in tip top shape.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Botulism For a Wrinkle-Free Future

Botox always struck me as one of those things that society would look back on and say "WTF were people thinking?!"

Botox, for the 4 of you out there who don't know, is an injection that people (typically womyn) get injected into their body (typically their face) in order to hold the muscle and "reduce the appearance of wrinkles". It's temporary, expensive and well, ubiquitous now a days.

Now it seems that Health Canada has come out and repeated what the US has said, which is that Botox is dangerous as hell and should be labelled strictly. Which should come to no surprise to anyone who even spends 5 mins thinking about how "healthy" injecting chemicals into your face can actually be. Considering it's also temporary, which would indicate that it's moving around somewhere in your face.

"In its advisory, Health Canada said the symptoms of "distant toxin spread" include:

* Muscle weakness.
* Difficulties swallowing.
* Pneumonia.
* Speech disorders.
* Breathing problems."

So it seems that people have actually died from Botox injections, which is what prompted the major overhaul of its labelling in the United States. Now its important to note here that the reported cases of fatality from Botox involved children who were using Botox for experimental therapy for cerebral palsy, which is not an approved method.

But personally, I've gotta believe that if you KNOW the chemical spreads and little research exists on the long-term effects of the product, why bother using it for cosmetic purposes? Botox has proved effective for excessive sweating and migraine relief, but even then, the chemical spreads! And without long-term research, people should know they're taking a risk.

I truly hope Botox is looked back on and mocked like asbestos and blood letting cures.

Seriously people: When you know better, do better.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Canada Gets Dibs on Obama

Obama's first trip as president will be to Canada, eh!

The day that the exact details will be released, I'm organizing a pr-Obama caravan. Mostly because I'm hoping that his classy ways will rub off on Harper and the like.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Kids Do The Darndest Things

Nothing sets the hearts of millions aflutter than the words “teen” and “sex” in the same sentence. Throw in the words “MySpace” and you might as well call in the fire department.

The proof is in the pudding on this one. A recent study on the MySpace profiles of teenagers obviously got picked up by the Free Press and well… that shit spread like wildfire. The terms “study on teenage risky behaviour” drew at last count, 279 different news articles from Google news. I’m telling you; people love this stuff.

So these US researchers conducted 2 different studies where they looked at the online profiles of young people aged 18-20 and out of a given sample, they counted how many mentioned or had pictures of them indulging in sex (or sexual behaviour, which yes… probably included those pictures of you pretending to lick your friend’s boob), alcohol, drug or violence.

They found to their surprise that a large majority of them did in fact make reference to some or all of those things. To see what it would take for them to no longer do this, they created a bogus account from a Dr and e-mailed them a warning about the risks of STDs, alcohol poisoning and “future embarrassment” of said content.

They went back 3 months later to find that most had removed the content. This could be, as the researchers believed, be due to some sort of “awakening” where they thought “Holy smokes, this stuff is killing me slowly!” or, as I’m more apt to believe, they got freaked out that some stranger was creeping on their MySpace and took it down.

This study is a giant pile. The researchers even know it, saying that there was not enough “data to draw any major conclusion”. Duh. But people still picked up the story and spread it like wildfire, with parents and boring folks across the world (There’s a newspaper in India running this story) up in arms about the illicit behaviour their kids demonstrate online.

Which, if you are surprised by this, you’re clearly out of the loop. Generation Y kids have grown up under a microscope. Literally in the sense of Big Brother constant monitoring, but then there's cellphone cameras (*ahem*), “reality” television and every “social networking” site imaginable. These people, myself included, live their lives online and so it’s no surprise that if you go to a party where you pretend to hump a guy from behind, you wouldn’t hesitate to add it to your online profile.

I think that if they really want to deter people from posting stuff online, they should include a session during Career Day about online profiles and future employment opportunities. I know that personally, I’m not afraid of any predators or the like because let’s face it, those folks exist everywhere and some freak would get off on a picture of you in a graduation grown if they really wanted to. The real deterrence is the implication it will have on your future job.

So on Career Day, have the usual people talking about what they do, how they hire, what you need to work there, etc. and then emphasize that “We do Facebook and MySpace searches so keep your sexy Bob Marley bong pictures and road kill photos to yourself”. THAT would be a deterrent. Especially in a recession! (Although apparently Obama will still hire you if you've got some of those).

Is it bad that the most shocking thing about this whole debacle for me was that people still use MySpace?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Education And The Big Decision

One of the big questions that everyone faces in their lifetime is “What am I gonna be when I grow up?” which in North America today, typically translates into “Am I going to college or university”. It is not always that simple and there is a serious class issue at play here, but let’s assume for a minute that these are the only two choices available.

Which, if you’re living in Ontario, isn’t much of a stretch anyway. Early in a student’s high school career, they have to choose “Pre-University” or “Pre-College” courses. The new curriculum, thanks to Mike Harris, is set up this way. Which is no small decision when you’re 15 and know that this decision essentially seals your fate. Sure, you can do the “victory lap” and stay a 5th year in high school and re-take classes if need be. But the choice of either pre-university or pre-college is a big deal breaker for today’s high schoolers.

And even though it’s 2009, there are still major assumptions attached to each of these decisions. That “smart” kids go to university and “dumb” kids go to college. I can’t say I haven’t witnessed it myself. People downplaying, saying “Oh I only went to insert college name here”. Only. Like they skimmed the top and didn’t go all the way.

A new editorial in the CBC talks about this false dichotomy of smarts kids vs. dumb kids. It takes an interesting perspective because it’s written by an educator who readily admits that educators are part of the problem. The idea of “streaming” certain types of students into pre-college courses if they show signs of learning disabilities or behavioural problems, which assumes that every other kid wants to or is capable of university. It's also based on pretty serious stereotyping and downright discrimination against those with learning disabilities.

This is where I think his article is interesting. He says, and I readily agree, that it is not about smart kids vs. dumb kids but rather that some people are not cut out for university, not because of intellect but because of ways of learning. University is, after all, mostly theoretically based and if you’re in the social sciences in particular. Sure, there are tangible skills involved but it’s mostly for the intellectual type.

Lots of people talk about university being for a “certain type” of person but it’s veiled in assumptions that this type of person is “smart” and that “dumb” kids need hands-on stuff. But the author, and yours truly, digs the idea of it actually being about interest.

Take me for an example. I’m on year 6 of post-secondary and I fucking love it. But I also read theory for shits and giggles and yet I read an instruction manual and I’m both lost and bored after 5 minutes. I have the intelligence to put together something but I don’t want to. Much like how someone else has the capacity to read theory but would rather not. It’s not their bag. College does include theory, yes, but the whole set-up is not solely based on an intellectual exercise like university.

And this to me is the real college vs. university divide. Obviously there is more to it than that, in that college is typically fewer years and less tuition and there are certain things you can only take in college and certain things you can only take in university.

College, and particular in the trades, results in an amazing pay check nowadays, too. Ever gone to a mechanic? Had your toilet fixed? Remember how much it cost you? Ever used a product made of metal? If you answer no, you’re an idiot. Clearly you have and millwright is a college-learned trade. So are most police officers!

And your optometrist, public servant and lawyers are university grads. But you can’t live without one or the other. In order for shit to work, we need both university and college graduates.

So I think it’s high time for educators (and parents!) to re-examine the college vs. university divide and the streaming of students. It sets people up for failure, whichever direction they choose.