Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Noticing the New National News.

Thursday, November 23rd, 2017

Many of us count on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for reliable, well vetted news. Well, we used to. Despite Peter Mansbridge’s droning, all-knowing, stony style, we liked his panels, the depth and the humour they brought to the concerns of the day.

But news is not an art form. The National has been turned into a Picasso. And it is not the artist’s Blue Period. We have been restraining ourselves from commenting. The Toronto Star’s Heather Mallick jumped the gun the other day and she says she loves the new National. Frankly, we have been worried for a while that dear Ms. Mallick might be losing some of her professional observational skills.

We cannot understand why the CBC would waste a reporter of Adrienne Arsenault’s skills as an announcer. We do agree that Ian Hanomansing is a fine announcer and he is quite capable of doing that entire show by himself. Andrew Chang is new to us easterners and he also seems like a fine announcer. We assume that nobody wants to do seven nights a week, so the others could do backup. Mind you if they traded Rosemary Barton to the Montreal Comedy Festival, we might all be better off. She is just not our primary source of political news.

But the people who really need to pull up their socks are the guys and gals on the switches. From the first time I walked into Ted Rogers’ nascent TV studios on Adelaide Street in Toronto many years ago, as a new (volunteer) producer/director, I have been aware of the importance of these people. It was when I asked who will be on the switches that my admiration of them heightened. I was told that along with my lofty titles, I was to call the shots on the show by doing my own switching. As we rolled the credits at the end of that first show, I was desperately trying to figure a way to miss my name.

From that rudimentary switch in that pioneering studio to today’s electronic marvels, I have a great admiration for those who can make them sing. This new National is based on the ability of a master switch taking the inputs from satellite studios across the country and creating the picture on your screen. The quick mixing and cutting between four people and news scenes does not always come off. They should ease up on that fancy stuff until they get more practiced.

It is not that most watchers really understand what is causing the confusion between the four, and sound and picture, but today’s news can be confusing enough without adding to it.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The Indignity to Indigenous.

Wednesday, November 15th, 2017

People struggled for many years with the error attributed to Christopher Columbus in thinking native peoples he found in the Americas were from India. That name stuck for a few centuries. It was either sensitive aboriginals or well-meaning non-aboriginals who then started playing the name game.

For a while we were happy to be calling the various tribes, bands, Metis, Dene and Inuit Native Americans, Native Canadians, Native Mexicans and so on. And then someone, somewhere thought it would be better to use the word aboriginal.

Frankly, aboriginal was a relatively poor choice. It fit the need but had connotations of the Australian name for their native people. While aboriginal and indigenous are treated as synonyms, aboriginal does not have quite the same connotation as to origin. Indigenous means ‘something or someone who originated here.’ That means it did not come from somewhere else.

And DNA science tells us that is wrong. It is likely that the first wave of peoples from Asia crossed from one continent to the other over an ice bridge during the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago. It was revealed about five years ago that DNA shows that there were two later waves of tourism by water that added to the DNA mix in the Americas. What that means is that we might have plants that are indigenous to this western continent but the peoples came from away.

But nobody denies the claims of the North American natives to their lands. There is lots of room for everybody. Maybe my ancestors came two centuries ago. Others are even more recent. We all share the same rights and privileges of a democratic country. We all share the same concern for equal treatment and protection under the law. We all share a very serious concern for any segment of our society that is disproportionately missing or murdered. We want to know why and what the police and politicians and people are doing about it. We want to share fairness and empathy and understanding.

Maybe some of our ancestors were less understanding than we are today. There have been long learning curves for everybody. What is critical today and for tomorrow is our respect for each other. We have much to share as citizens of this land.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Ten reasons for first-past-the-post voting.

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

The following has been retrieved from the archives of Babel-on-the-Bay. It is part of the Democracy Papers and has been the most read item in our web site. Thousands of readers have searched for and presumably read the content. It was originally written for the Ontario referendum on mixed-member proportional voting in 2007. Co-ordinating the ‘No’ side in Central Ontario was one of the easiest tasks I have ever had in politics. Ontario voters voted ‘No’ by about two to one. The article has been edited for length.

First-past-the-post (FPTP) voting is an awkward name for simple, single-member constituency plurality voting. It is almost too simple: you just go to the polls, vote for one person, the votes are counted and the person with the most votes wins.

And that gives you reason number one in favour of FPTP: There is no confusion. What you vote for is what you get–if enough of your neighbours agree. If your candidate loses, you tried and you have nothing of which to be ashamed. Your vote was counted and you made a contribution to democracy.

It is the matter of democracy that gives us reason number two for FPTP: it is the most democratic method of electing members to government. Whether there are two candidates on the ballot or 20, FPTP means that in your constituency you elect the person preferred by the most voters. If it is fair when there are two candidates, why would it not be fair with 20?   If you would prefer that the person be the choice of more than 50 per cent of the voters, it is a simple matter today to have a run-off election.

But ideally, we want to keep the voting simple, which is reason number three for FPTP: it is very easy to keep honest. There are no complicated formulas, no mathematical manipulations, just a simple, easy to understand, count of ballots for candidate ‘A,’ candidate ‘B’ and so forth. The one with the most votes wins. No questions.   An occasional recount is needed when the vote is close but that can be fun to watch.

We cannot compare our politicians to horses but if we learn one thing at the racetrack, it is that training and past performance are critical factors to consider before we place a bet. And people need to find out something about the people on the ballot before placing their trust in them as politicians. There is far more than money at stake.

That is reason number four to support FPTP: You are putting your trust in people. You do not have to vote for a party. You can vote for a person, a person you trust, one who works on behalf of the people in your constituency. Parties do not have to keep their word. It is difficult to hold a party accountable. A person comes back for re-election and is accountable.

When you think about it, politics is about people. That is reason number five to support FPTP: It serves people. Elections are not about political parties, or party platforms or any of the parties’ broken promises. To put parties ahead of the people we choose in our constituencies is to give political parties control of our lives. Political parties deal with ideology, broad solutions and holding power. It is people who can deal with our concerns as individuals.

In that vein, you have reason number six to support FPTP: It gets things done. An election is a call to action. It is when we sum the activities on our behalf of the previous government and our member and consider our collective needs for the coming term. It is a time for change or a time to consolidate and it is the voters’ decision to make.

That leads us to reason number seven to support FPTP: It gives the voters control. It means, voters can quickly remove a government that becomes so convinced its ideology is right that it ignores the needs of voters. The ability to change governments is one of the most important capabilities of FPTP.

When our votes are counted, we have reason number eight to support FPTP: We know who to call. Your politicians are there to represent all the voters in their riding. They can ignore you, if they dare. They can even disagree with your ideas. They might tell you why they cannot support your ideas, but, if they are good at their job, they might have an explanation that satisfies you.

That is reason number nine for FPTP: Our politicians are accountable. They cannot get away with an answer such as ‘my party leader said I had to vote for it, so I did.’ There are no excuses.   The record of our politicians is there for us. They have to meet our expectations.

And, finally, reason number ten for FPTP: It is hard to get elected and hard to stay elected.   To be the first past the post in an election is no easy task. The voters are demanding and ruthless with those who think there are shortcuts to earning our trust. Should we ever ask for less?

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Copyright 2007 – 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

A potpourri of politics.

Tuesday, October 24th, 2017

This writer has sometimes been accused of wandering off topic. Let us make it clear from the beginning that this series of comments is a mixed bag. It just seems to be a topic de jour.

We can start with the interesting observation that Justin Trudeau has certainly done a service for feminism when we find that four of our country’s major allies are sending women to represent them in Canada. They include the new high commissioner from the United Kingdom and the ambassadors from France, Germany and the United States of America.

But maybe the new American ambassador does not count as Kelly Knight Craft is a stand-in for her husband, Joe Craft—a billionaire Kentucky coal magnate who joined his wife in contributing millions to the Republican cause. Trump has already signed the executive order re-opening Craft’s Appalachian coal operations and he is too busy making more millions—and destroying the environment—to enjoy the Ottawa hors d’oeuvres circuit himself.

In a related vein, I note the ongoing arguments about the Muslim dress code which in some Bedouin tribes includes face covering—a very handy item in sand storms. In the ‘Letters’ section of the Toronto Star there was a stock photo copyrighted by the Canadian Press over the more rabid letters. The photo showed a woman wearing a plaid(?) head covering and over part of her face. What was puzzling about the picture and made a farce of the entire discussion was that the woman had heavy eye make-up and plucked eyebrows. This was no Bedouin.

And any devout Muslim, who did not want to attract undue attention—as advised by the Prophet—would not wear such garb in Canada. And if the extremely devout who wish to wear the burka (with just the left eye visible) goes out on Canadian streets, they will need to be accompanied by someone to make sure the person with vision impaired does not get hit by an automobile.

On a completely unrelated vein, there was a television clip last week of the federal finance minister being hectored by reporters. (Not that such pestering is new!) You could see his exasperation when a reporter repeatedly tried to get him to explain the purpose of numbered companies. Rather than taking half a minute to answer the reporter, Morneau got huffy. Morneau does not have a political bone in his body. Trudeau needs to dump him.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Does blogging have purpose?

Wednesday, October 18th, 2017

After working on this blog for the past nine years, I am starting to wonder what the hell is the objective. As much as I call it a commentary, it is what it is: a vanity blog. It is just a hobby. It is an opportunity to vent and to titillate a few hundred readers. I like my readers. I respect them. They come and go but they come back in droves at election time. They have found out that there is someone who understands this crazy political scene.

But that guy Trump in the U.S. is the exception. He is not a politician. He is not even a nice person. I only write about him because he is unlike any politician I have ever known. No doubt America will survive but we are in for a few more tough years. Wish us all luck with that.

I got on to this topic today because my blog gets included with the progressivebloggers.ca collection and I check it occasionally to see that the blog is there and to see what everyone else is writing about. I find the collection is very eclectic. It reminds me sometimes of the problem with citizens’ band radio when it was adopted by North American truckers: it performed a service until it started having people on air who would never stop talking.

Last time I checked the various blogs, I noticed that Warren Kinsella was honouring his readers with his ten political rules. That intrigued me, so I took a look. I was surprised that I actually agreed with two of the rules.

What surprised me more was that he had changed his web site. He even changed the name: It is now the “war room.” That was funny as some time ago, I had commented on the “war room” term as lacking the feeling of openness I believe is needed in campaign management.

But that was not the only surprise. The site no longer has any advertising. Instead, the blog now accepts donations. That really surprised me. I had never thought of crowd funding “babelonthebay.com”. To be honest with you, it is a very inexpensive hobby. All in, this site, the servers it is on and its name cost me less than $200 per year.

But if crowd funding is what everyone else is doing, I will go along with it. I accept cash and cheques.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

 

The late, unlamented Equifax.

Monday, September 18th, 2017

It is just one of the many problems faced by Canadians because of our outmoded constitution. Responsibility for credit reporting companies resides with the provincial governments. It enables the large federally incorporated American firms to just add Canadians to their portfolio almost as an afterthought. And when hackers have free access to Equifax data and download over 140 million records for their own use, there is little differentiation between the American and Canadian information that they download. They have use for both.

It reminds me of an experience I had a few years ago when I made my first and last purchase at a new Target store in Canada. Target in Canada fed its sales information south of the border and I soon found that someone was using ATMs in Pittsburgh to try to empty my bank account. My bank was kindly translating my money to American funds to save time for the criminal.

I should mention that the bank replaced the money. The bank considered the retail breach to be part of the cost of doing business.

But that is not the case with Equifax. While you might have signed away your rights to your own data the last time you opened a savings or checking account, applied for a credit card or a mortgage, you probably never did read all that fine print. Nor did you necessarily agree that Equifax could retain all the data on you forever in their, obviously insecure, databases.

Since class-action lawsuits have already been launched in the United States and in Canada, we can only hope that the lawyers involved understand computer database operations. They obviously already know that the company failed to install safeguard software in their system that would have blocked the point of access for the hackers.

Hackers are the guerilla force in the computer wars. It is a continuing battle to find and fix the weak points in systems the hackers are seeking to find.

As much as many people laugh at what hackers can find in their searches, they should be aware that it costs us all. When the banks get ripped off, who do you think pays for it: we the customers.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

In defence of Conrad Black?

Sunday, September 17th, 2017

Lord ‘Cross-the-Pond’ Black has never needed us to defend him. He is a man of immense ego living out his life in the last of his estates. His love of the written word could have been the cause for him to destroy a business empire—all for the sake of trying to save his failing newspapers. Given his setbacks in life, give him credit, he still writes with clarity in the beauty of the English language.

But who is this Toronto Star writer who complains so bitterly about Conrad writing in the National Post that racism is ‘practically dead in North America.’ Is he challenging her livelihood? Is she working under some editorial direction to unearth racism wherever she can find it?

Of course, Black’s perception of racism would be totally different from hers. He is a septuagenarian, born at different times and who has lived in an entirely different environment and enjoyed a different life style.  The point of his story appears to be decrying racism. What is her problem?

Does the Star writer expect all ‘white men’ to pack up and return to the Europe or wherever of our forefathers? That would certainly do a lot of good!

It is unlikely that there are many who could vouch for Conrad’s sincerity but he does decry the racism that he could have witnessed over the years. That seems to be the appropriate stance in this day. And what more can we really do? We know that bigotry goes with ignorance. In life, it is possible to feel both sides of discrimination and we know we like neither side.

But one should never make more of it than one ought. It seems that the more firmly we disavow the racism of the past, the more we are accused of ignoring the racism of the past. You simply cannot win this argument.

But to accuse all whites of being bigots is bigotry in itself.

And why can we not look on the good side of this? As a parent, I am as appalled at the concept of all black schools as I would be at the idea of all white schools. I am just as appalled by separating children by the religion of their parents. In Canada’s increasingly secular society, we should have no place for religious schools to indoctrinate children.

We need to reach a time when we do not pass the mistakes of the past to our children. These mistakes can take many forms.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The Globe and Mail’s Ibbitson flunks math?

Saturday, September 9th, 2017

Reading a recent column by the Globe’s John Ibbitson, I was a little confused by his logic but I was even more concerned about his mathematics. He was forecasting a win by Quebec M.P. Guy Caron in the New Democratic Party leadership voting later this month. He very wisely gave all the credit for the logic attached to this to former NDP president Brian Topp. Maybe both gentlemen need to recheck their mathematics.

There is simply very little chance that Guy Caron will be anywhere but last on the first ballot. If there is a second ballot, we can only assume that it is Mr. Caron’s name that will be left off.

The facts are the party has announced more than 80,000 new memberships came in during the six months before the August cut-off for memberships. These memberships, we are told, came mainly from British Columbia and Ontario. And M.P.P. Jagmeet Singh’s campaign claims credit for 47,000 of those memberships. I think they are being modest.

This is the same situation as caused by Ontario Conservative leadership candidate Patrick Brown two years ago when he swamped the Tories’ provincial membership with temporary memberships, mainly from India.

Despite the problems Brown might have created for himself in winning any trust from long-time Ontario Conservatives, Jagmeet Singh has even more difficulties winning over long-time NDPers. With the joint federal provincial memberships in the party and the voting rights of labour, he cannot hope for a truly loyal party at his back across the country.

But the Sikh communities across Canada are very proud of Jagmeet Singh. My childhood in Toronto was something of an advanced course in studying ethnic characteristics among newcomers to Canada. And if there is one thing I learned about Sikhs, it is that their word is something you are inclined to trust. They are consistent and they are determined. If the Singh campaign says that their sign-ups are 47,000, I expect that more than 40,000 votes will be cast for Jagmeet Singh for NDP leader later this month. If his three competitors combined, get as many votes, this long-time political observer will be a bit surprised.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Onward religious warriors.

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

A picture said it all. It was of a Buddhist monk, in saffron robes, with his begging bowl, sitting between the cement walls of modern expressway ramps. It makes the point of the problems of the Church of Rome mentioned in yesterday’s commentary. It occurred to me that all religions are facing the same problems. Religion is failing all of us. The religious draw their scripts from previous centuries. And as they continue to resist secularism, they fail their adherents. They waste too much of their strength fighting for the status quo and are blind to the need to build bridges to the future.

Has the oligarchical Church of Rome become a blunt instrument of conservatism in a progressive world? Is Islam facing increasing pressure by trying to maintain its authority against the growing awareness of the pleasures of a secular world? Do Holly Rollers simply try to shout down the pressures of licentious living while the Hassidim just turn a blind eye?

Canadians have a more secular society than the Americans and being a “nation under God” lays an increasingly severe strain on American politics. The current American President is racist and Islamophobic, and he is sending Americans to the Middle East to ‘sow the dragon’s teeth’ for perpetual war.

The world’s largest religion is still Christianity with as many 2.5 billion on the rolls. The difference for the world’s just under two billion Muslims is that Islam demands a way of life that goes beyond the daily prayers. The peer pressure of the Islamic community creates barriers that prevent assimilation in the American style and can even stress the relaxed multiculturalism of Canadian society. There seems to be no simple formula to an environment where Christian and Islamist communities can easily co-exist.

And there are hardly any answers in the growing rejection of religion and religious symbols in an increasingly secular society. There is no benefit to the rejection. We can hardly deny the Sikh, the Hassidic, the Mennonite, the crosses of the Eastern Right or the Roman church, or the coverings of Islamic modesty or their use as a fashion statement by others.

We note that the successful congregations today are the evangelicals that build a feel-good fellowship in their community. The Hell and Damnation that they preach is just colourful background to their cheerful self-approval.

But that Buddhist monk sitting between the two expressway lanes will starve to death as civilization passes him by.

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

They are rewriting history, again.

Saturday, August 26th, 2017

Now the revisionists are going after Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first prime minister. And what is their problem? They think Sir John was racist and disrespected Canada’s aboriginals. You might also believe he was a drunk and a scoundrel and if you lived in those times, you probably would have been the same. And if people would stop trying to rewrite history, they might learn something from it.

What we are seeing in Canada in this regard is a reflection of what is being argued in the southern United States today. Confederate General Robert E. Lee is recognized as one of the great military strategists of his time. He was asked to take a Union command before Virginia voted to join the Confederacy. He was no secessionist but he was loyal to his state. That is something those tearing down his statues need to remember.

The betrayal of North America’s aboriginals has been going on since Europeans first set foot on these shores. It gives us lots of people we can dishonour—if we want to lay blame. It just makes more sense to admit the errors of the past and to correct them as we can.

There is a specious argument being waged about a monument to Canadians who fought in the American Civil War. The fact that 40,000 Canadians enlisted in that war needs to be recognized. The fact that one in ten of them fought for the South is not the point. We are not re-arguing the war.

Will we, a hundred years from now, dishonour the accomplishments of today’s industry leaders who saw themselves as being in the forefront because of their innovation and foresight? Will we simply revile them as being part of the oppressive one per cent? Will we tear down the walls of their gated communities and open their mansions to the homeless?

As humans, we need heroes. We need them to lead and for us to emulate, to honour and to respect. And yet we seem to be on a downhill slope these days as we recognize more of the anti-heroes. They elected Donald Trump in the United States “To Make America Great Again” and yet there was no question that he was the anti-hero.

Hollywood actors and television personalities have been allowed to replace home-town heroes. Sports stars have become the comic book heroes of an afternoon’s game. Win or lose, did you enjoy the game?

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Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me