Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Robocall and More Human Election Cheating

Just when you think Harper has driven this country into an impermeable depth of political sleaze, we get more proof that has done it again in at least providing the attitude that is making this current election telephone expose possible.

Now CBC Radio's The Current has an interview today with a call center interview who was forced to make these kind of calls (the audio file will available later on their website), and reports of specific Conservative party supplied scripts for live callers on top of the robocalls are coming to light. All the Conservatives are doing is trying to belittle the whole accusations, saying to take them and any proof to Elections Canada, have one Tory claim to have faced the same voter suppression scam in his election to confuse the matter and throw one junior employee out as a scapegoat.

And yet, Chantal H├ębert of the Toronto Star does have a good point that for a voter suppression scam, this one was wasn't efficiently systematic at all.  For instance, some the of the ridings affected were safe Tory ones like Wellington-Halton Hills and Simcoe-Grey whose Conservative candidates won by wide margins. It stands to reason that if there was a nationwide effort to make this scheme work, there would be a more focused effort to hit the vulnerable ridings. 

At the same time, such a pattern would be a big smoking gun that would be a killer scoop for any news bureau and a political howitzer for the Opposition that could conceivably cause the house to fall. So, the whole situation could be either a lot of cheaters acting on their own for this kind of scam, "encouraged" or otherwise, or a really subtle coordinated scheme more concerned with deniability than effectiveness. Either way, Elections Canada has a lot of check out and there should be a public inquiry about this before more people are turned off by elections more than they are now.

By contrast, Bob Rae apologizing for the Vikileaks employee he tossed out was a class act, even if that activist didn't do anything illegal; court records are public for anyone to see.  It's certain better behaviour than Toews ever has.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oscar Anticipations and Thoughts

When Family Day comes around, it's special for me for the opportunities to catch up on the Oscar nominated films before the awards show this Sunday.

I've hear all the arguments about the shortcomings of the Academy Awards with their predilections to easy sentimentality and the same subject matter like disabled people and the Holocaust. However, the whole thing is redeemed if only it gives some incentive for serious films to be made for the mainstream cinemas.  I know I'm not blameless in this considering I have failed to go to serious films without such distinctions like Oscar nominations such as State of Play and The Informant when I had the chance in the theatres.

At the same time, with the black and white silent feature, The Artist, being the favourite for the top awards, you almost wonder if it could be a step back as enjoyable as the film is in the first place and a sign of the Oscars' disconnect from the mainstream public.  On the other hand, the Oscars may have began purely as a Hollywood self-promotion in the 1920s, but awards should used to bring the worthy works to the popular attention, even if the awards haven't always lived up to that ideal.

I guess the major reason would be that the Oscar show is more fun when I know the films in contention and have a informed reaction to who wins or lose. It gives me a fuller experience while giving myself a reason to presumably worthwhile films, even if I am most interested in the the Animated Feature and Documentary Feature Oscars.

As for my interest, the Documentary Feature award feels the most relevant to the real world considering when the producers of that winning film gets up to accept, there will be a few words about a real life concern no one is going to complain about unlike Vanessa Redgrave's gratuitous "Zionist Hoodlums" comment in the 1970s. Of course, there was Michael Moore being booed in 2003 after accepting his Oscar for Bowling for Columbine, but that was a time of war whipped hysteria of too many Americans being suckered by the Bush Administrations lies about the Iraq Invasion.

As for the Animated Feature Oscar, animation has always been a favourite artform for me and its underappreciation in the Western world is always galling.  Furthermore, the animated features are much more accessible to me than the animated shorts, even if they can be far more artistic daring.  Of course, I haven't seriously searched for the shorts online, but reviewing the shorts showcase two years ago at Silver City was one of the enjoyable experiences, especially when I saw Logorama and knowing it would be the winner because it deserved it. On the other hand, I doubt I would have gotten a chance to see great independent animated features like Persepolis, The Secret of Kells or The Illusionist without the boost of the Animated Feature Oscar.

As for other award contenders, the Best Actress Oscar for Glen Close for Albert Nobbs finally pushed me to see that film despite the low Tomatometer rating (RT 53%).  As a result, I got to enjoy a deeply moving performance by her as a woman who has fearfully disguised himself in layers of both body and mind until her own identity has been lost in the deception. The pace may be off and some of the supporting characters are cliched, but Glenn Close's performance alongside Janet McTeer as Hubert Page, Albert's one trusted friend is an enthralling story of two women in a world that will not accept them as themselves.

Well, I am planning to see The Help online or otherwise and I'm not going to bother with the overlauded Incredibly Loud and Extremely Close. With that, I anticipate an enjoyable experience that is worth going to a pub for their flatscreen TVs for once.  I'll leave my expected winners to others and see if my sources and my judgement are on target.

Either way, it's something to look forward to.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Good Online Privacy News

Well, it appears that  Bill C-30, the so-called "Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act" has been dealt a big setback and a bigger headache for Vic Toews who was forced to publicly admit that he was not aware of the specific provisions of it. Between that and his simplistic statements which is rousing even Conservatives against, things are looking up for this privacy invasion to be forced into something more reasonable. At least the online protest has made its point and the poster of the Viki Leaks at least had the sense to take it down with that.

The problem is now the police chiefs are trying to support it now. When cops say that the public has no need to fear them, that's when I get concerned of what they truly want. I had no problem of them supporting the long gun registry considering that is little different from checking automotive license records, both are reasonable measures for those are possessing potentially dangerous objects of those who knowingly gain such objects.

Spying into other people's online activity is another entirely as there is no direct harm without proactive activity like hacking or viruses.  As Rick Mercer says, I don't mind police investigating when necessary, but they should justify it to get a warrant first.

At least, this political dust might help the Conservatives keep to their public statement to not copy SOPA, at least exactly, here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Canadian copyright and some suggestion of political sanity

While we have Don Drummond proposing his evisceration of Ontario's public service, we seem to have a glimmer of good news for once from Harper's cronies.

Apparently, they have come to realize that there is no political hay to be made copying the (hopefully) aborted Stop Online Piracy Act bill in Canada, at least as is.  So, for now, they taking the stance that they will be taking a softer tone on online copyright.

After all, they are publicly wavering a bit on the online snooping bill (now facetiously called Bill C-30 "Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act") they want and they could push that as a part of their myopic "law and order" agenda that could work relatively subtly in the background. While I have some misgivings about airing Public Safety Minister Vic Toew's personal dirt in protest of this bill, the fact that his yammering of such childish absolutes as "You either with us or the child pornographers," deserved some kind of answer.  After all, he is implying in that statement that every privacy commission in the country is in support of that kind of crime.

By contrast, there is no way that a copy of SOPA could be overlooked by the Canadian online public if they are suddenly and arbitrarily denied access to YouTube, Wikipedia and Facebook because of copyright violation accusations. Furthermore, the business community would be complaining of the telecommunications and technology industries being put at a severe disadvantage for innovation compared to the Americans, which means businesses like Research In Motion could find themselves in even greater difficulty with foreign competitors. Those kind of changes would cut across all the demographics nowadays and alienate everyone while making the Harperites look like whimps for bowing to foreign pressure so blatantly. That is a combination that even a majority government as arrogant as Harper's would fear.

So, while I am still going to be wary with the upcoming copyright reform, at least now there is some basis for some hope that they will not ape the American copyright hysteria and cripple the internet.

Until, check out Openmedia.ca's efforts to keep the pressure on for some online sanity in our country.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Budget Headaches and Hypocrisies To Come

It looks like we have a day before Don Drummond makes his report about the slash job he wants the Ontario government to do to deal with its deficit.

What makes this galling that a job that important has been delegated to one man who did this behind closed doors like a one man fiscal star chamber. For a task this significant, it should have been in a government committee where all the parties could have been able to weigh in on this matter.  Now that the Liberals are in a  minority position, that fact should have been a no-brainer, but instead McGuinty and company are imitating Harper's repellent methods instead.

Even worse, tax increases for the rich are apparently off the table in Drummond's report and the poor, disadvantaged and the voiceless will be bearing more of the burden.  That is simply neither fair nor just by any rational stretch of the moral imagination, even if a freeze on corporate tax cuts is also in the apparent offing as well.

Part of the moves proposed that is especially galling to remove the provincially supported employment areas from public libraries in favour of stand alone centers.  The logic of this is unfathomable as this would inhibit job seekers from using the logical municipal public resource that is intended for all the public and is placed appropriately to facilitate that. Now the provincial government are going to kill jobs from the libraries by removing this essential service and make it that much more difficult for the jobless to use it elsewhere.

Combine that with Harper's own slashing budget to come and London City Council's unconscionable obsession with a tax freeze they would loot the affordable housing fund and scapegoat the vital London-Middlesex Health Unit, this is going to be a bitter year for the livability of Canada on all levels.

Just seeing how much more Sandy White has betrayed her former ideals supporting this vandalism and then being so petty to try to get a blogger in trouble with his employer for speaking his mind is beyond the pale.  The fact that I was a sucker to work on her campaign in her first successful election is galling enough is terrible to contemplate.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Power of Work review

For something to do on a Thursday night, I went and saw the stage production being at Goodwill's London headquarters at 255 Horton St, Power of Work… y’know what I mean? 

Since this is an amateur charity production and I already wrote a review for the professional play at the Grand Theatre's McManus Studio, The Last 15 Seconds, for Theatre In London this week, I'll confine myself to a few thoughts here.

This play is essentially something of a self-promotion about the non-profit community assistance organization as the ghost of its founder, Reverend Edgar J. Helms, comes to visit the London branch to see how his creation is doing. In doing so, Helms tells his story of how he started his organization to give people a hand up in life and the current management tells him about Goodwill's current operations and policies as we see various people getting the help they need.

For an amateur production, this play is an engaging enough introduction to the organization and its history with good humour along the way. In addition, its case examples are entertaining themselves such as a ex-con and a single mother prostitute who find the help they need from Goodwill and turn their lives around. However, the story balances the good news with a loss as the staff come to grips with the fact that they can't save them all. For a play of this kind to have that kind of realism marks it as something better than a mindless promotion and it is better for it.

With enthusiastic acting and engaging and primarily live music making this play work, you'll learn a lot about a non-profit business that has become a cornerstone of communities around the world.

For such a engaging amateur production, it's at least worth the clothing donation admission option to enjoy it for yourself.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Corporate Injustice in London

Well, Caterpillar did it, as was likely its plan all along, and is shutting down the EMD plant in London.

The fact that they did this less than 24 hours after the state of Indiana passed its "Right to Work" legislation and crippled union action in the very state where that business is setting up a new plant in Munice is proof enough.  Furthermore, the 50+% wage cut they were demanding to the London workers with their idea of negotiating being "Take it or leave it," followed by the lockout on Jan 1 is further proof that they had no interest in keeping the factory open. As Martin Regg Cohn of the Toronto Star noted, Caterpillar just got the factory to strip it of its tech and intellectual property for themselves and throw away the husk.

What really galls me is those people who automatically blame the CAW union for this blow to the city despite the self evident observations. Some people just will hate the idea of workers fighting for their rights and a fair share in the fortunes no matter what the real facts are. Yes, labor demands have to be reasonable, but that doesn't mean much when the management has no interest in being the same.  After all, if Caterpillar's profits are up 83% this year and GM's own locomotive business just negotiated a far more equitable labor deal in the US, then it's obvious that CAT was spoiling to screw their workers and London.

Now, I fear for the fate of this city and its future.  I realize the idea of my city suffering Flint, Michigan's impoverished fate is a bit much, but it is not a welcome thought regardless.

David Olive at the Toronto Star suggests we can fight back  by getting the Federal Government to nationalize the plant or imposing tariffs on CAT products.  Of course, there is no chance of any of this beyond excuses from Harper and his cronies, but we can least write to them and try to put them on the defensive to whatever degree we can. 

For myself, I hope people will remember that during this lockout, of all the local MPs, it was Irene Mathyssen of the New Democratic Party alone who spoke up and stood with the workers against this injustice while the Tory ones gave excuses and remember that in the next election.  Sure, simply voting is not enough to affect change in this world, but participating in the regular political process in our society has to be part of it.

As for myself, I just hope this city can weather this storm and for this whole affair to wake people up for how ordinary people, the 99% are being so mistreated.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Electricity and Ed's Garage

Yesterday was the first time that I had to assume that London Hydro's time of use electricity rates were fully into effect and it will take some getting used to.  Much like I couldn't bring myself to spend a cent beyond necessity in my first university semester, I felt an exile from my house, afraid to come home before 7 pm and use any power beyond the things that need to be running constantly.  For instance, I have my ceiling fan running all the time on the assumption that it helps force down the heated air down to the thermostat's level and keep it from activating the furnace as often. The problem is, I don't know if that's true and I'm half afraid to find out.

On a lighter note, I saw Ed's Garage at the Grand last night and since Theatre In London already has a review for that play, it seems redundant to contribute there, so I'll confide myself to a few thoughts here.

This is my second play by Dan Needles I've seen with Rod Beattie as the lead and it was so easy to assume it would be exactly like the Wingfield series. However, this one is a more traditional play with a multiplayer cast with a story similar only in tone and humour, but that is more than enough.

In tone, this play feels a bit like a Canadian version of Green Acres with a much more welcoming tone to outsiders. They both have this fun rural community that runs by its own rules, but unlike Hooterville with its silly surrealistic suspicion of Oliver Douglas' reasoned efforts, Ed's community feels like a more understanding home that is willing to go halfway with the real world. The result is a charming story where psychology is satirized with the small town mentality, but with a gentle touch that allows for a gentle compromise of worldviews in that small town.

Rod Beattie is charming as Ed, the village insider who has plenty of room in his heart and plenty of intelligence in his head to anchor the show with a refreshing mix of empathy and intelligence. Douglas E. Hughes is his equal as Nick, the downhome sidekick who seems like the stereotypical hick, but has a kind heart and just alert enough to follow Ed's lead to carry the heavy comedy lifting without ever being annoying.

In that regard, Anrienne Gould's Cassandra character, a psychotherapist who seeking a new venue for her treatment, but with James Herriot's open mindedness, is a welcome presence.  I loved how she was willing to work with Ed's local quirks and see the larger truth while enjoying the experience. By comparison, Tim Campbell is somewhat flat as Peter, the beleaguered former farmboy.  As much as his problems are moving, he seems largely intended as the romantic lead for Cassandra with an odd laugh or two.  However, his intervention with the cow is a special moment that shows his true strength with charming clarity.

What I really loved is the stagecraft which is charmingly elaborate. The rustic charm is applied full blast with a completely convincing realism such as with the building structure and surrounding area. The overall effect is a enveloping world that sucks you in and allows your imagination to bridge the gap with the players' skill.

I'm still discovering the work of Needles and Beattie, but between this play and my first sampling of Wingfield, I had a great night out.