Aug 302013

I just watched a news item on CBC Ottawa about a Montreal woman who spent significant amounts of time and money to help raise a lion cub in what she thought was a lion sanctuary in South Africa, only to find out that her cub was being raised to be killed in a canned hunt.

Her lion may yet be saved thanks to her efforts and the donations she’s receiving, but countless other animals will not be as lucky, and not just in far-off third world lands like South Africa.

Apparently, many prominent supporters of the Second Amendment in the United States are also fans of this oh-so-macho practice. Never mind that the Second Amendment once codified a right of the people to deny the state a monopoly on forming an army, as a last resort guarantee of hard-earned freedoms in the American Revolution (against just the kind of decadent morons, I should add, who might be enjoying a canned hunt.) Apparently, the Second Amendment today is about the right to shoot a bird freshly released from a cage, perhaps learning for the first time in its life how to fly, just for the thrill of it, and then leaving the animal to die.

I find it hard to believe that even a I write this, there are people—not just any people, but all too often rich and wealthy people from enlightened first world societies, our “cream of the crop” if you wish—who get a hard-on from shooting a docile animal in an enclosed area. Now I don’t care if you happen to be a former president, vice president, head of the joint chiefs, or some other politician or celebrity. If you are a trophy hunter who shoots canned animals, you are a sick asshole.

Just to be clear, I am not a PETA freak. I may feel disturbed by how some farm animals are treated, but it has not yet made me stop eating meat. I still enjoy a fine filet mignon at a reputable steak house, or even the occasional cheeseburger. But let me repeat: if you are a trophy hunter who shoots canned animals, you are a sick asshole.

I know this is not a polite thing to say. I chose my words carefully and I thought about it long and hard before writing them down. I decided to do so when after I asked myself: would I say the same thing in person?

Yes, I would. People who shoot canned animals for fun are sick assholes and I do not want to have anything to do with them. I don’t want to socialize with them. I don’t want to do business with them and I don’t want their money, even if I happen to be badly in need of money. They may not be as bad as rapists or child molesters, but they come pretty darn close. Civilized society in 2013 should reject them regardless of their wealth or power. I know I do.

 Posted by at 6:35 pm
Aug 292013

I keep wondering. Is military action in Syria desirable?

A friend of mine who knows the region well is convinced that Bashar al-Assad is indeed behind the chemical attack that took place a few days ago. Further, he believes that al-Assad is a murderer, that those who support him are increasingly isolated, and that most people in the Arab world would welcome a Western intervention, even Israeli involvement if need be, al-Assad is so bitterly hated.

My friend is credible, so his views dispelled some of the doubts I had about the people behind the attack (although I am still not fond of how certain politicians and some of the news media chose to replace information with fiery rhetoric. No, I will not be more pro-war just because you always attach the adjective “heinous” to the noun “attack”; I recognize words with zero information content.)

If my friend is right, military action is certainly justified on humanitarian grounds. And while support for military action in the United States remains low, it should not prevent the US government from doing the right thing.

But simply being just is not enough. The decision to involve the military should not be taken lightly. In particular, the military should be tasked with a goal that is clearly defined and achievable by military force. And while the military action is under way, political support should be complete and unconditional. You can’t win a half-hearted war; indeed, if your enemy knows that you are half-hearted about it, they can easily use this to their advantage and deny you the chance to succeed.

Is there a clearly defined goal in Syria?

I doubt it. Reports say that suspected chemical sites are off limits, as an attack on chemical stockpiles could cause grave damage, dispersing the chemical agents. So what would a limited strike accomplish? Remove al-Assad? Unlikely. A no-fly zone might help the opposition, but a no-fly zone is not being considered. So what, then? Degrade al-Assad’s military? That is not a clearly defined goal. And if al-Assad survives it all, he will come out stronger, being able to claim that he prevailed and thus “won” the war against America.

Is there a firm political commitment?

The US already has two, maybe three unfinished wars to deal with from the past decade. Iraq has become for all practical intents and purposes a vassal state of Iran and scores of people still die there every day in sectarian attacks. In Afghanistan the fight is still on, and there is a good chance that the planned US withdrawal will hand the country to the Taliban on a platter. And then there is Libya; sure, Gaddafi is dead, but what came after is not pretty.

I understand the desire to “do something”. I appreciate the frustration of people of Syrian descent, some of whom I know personally, who’d like the West to be involved. But without a clear military goal and an unambiguous political commitment… I am concerned that any such attack would be pointless and perhaps even counterproductive.

On this note though… I think Stephen Harper should have been a little more unambiguous. This “we support our allies but we have no military plans” is a weasel’s way out, which is very unbecoming of Canada. You are either for it or against it. You cannot have it both ways.

 Posted by at 2:28 pm
Aug 272013

The other day, I caught a trio of short films on the CBC, in a program called Short Film Faceoff. I especially liked Frost, a science-fiction short depicting a dystopian future, but OMG was also excellent.

Now these films are all available online, along with another three that were shown the previous week. I haven’t watched those yet. There will be another batch coming this weekend.

 Posted by at 11:58 am
Aug 272013

Marissa_Mayer,_World_Economic_Forum_2013_IIIIn the last few days, I’ve been reading about some powerful businesswomen and the stories of their success.

First, I read a somewhat long but rather intriguing biography of Yahoo! boss Marissa Mayer.

Like many, I also wrote off Yahoo! in my mind as one of the has-beens, destined to the scrap heap of Internet history along with other former giants like Altavista of Lycos. But, it appears, Ms. Mayer may be able to turn Yahoo! around, defying the odds. I hope she is successful.

Then on Sunday, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria interviewed Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, a company with an innovative line of female undergarments.

Ms. Blakey is described as the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire. Hers is the story of a door-to-door fax machine salesman turned entrepreneur who just never took no for an answer. Yet she seemed genuinely down-to-Earth, humble even, when she was interviewed.

The glass ceiling may not be a thing of the past just yet, but these ladies are certainly hastening its demise.

 Posted by at 11:43 am
Aug 242013

InspireSpring2013_Page_01I advise my good friends in the United Kingdom and perhaps in Australia to pause and think before clicking on the following link:

The link is to a blog site that is dedicated to discussions about the public’s right to access information. Specifically, to a blog entry that discusses the latest issue of Al Qaeda’s “open source terrorism” magazine, INSPIRE. They also provide an archive of present and past issues of INSPIRE.

And herein lies the problem. Apparently in the UK, and perhaps also in Australia, mere possession of INSPIRE is a crime, regardless of the reason.

Having grown up on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain, I find this deeply troubling.

 Posted by at 12:08 pm
Aug 222013

In recent days, the Kremlin-funded 24-hour news network, Russia Today, spent a fair amount of their airtime discussing the case of Bradley Manning, the US soldier who leaked large chunks of information to Wikileaks a few years ago and was recently sentenced to 35 years in prison.

The breaking news this morning is that Bradley Manning expressed his desire to begin hormone therapy, eventually undergo a gender reassignment operation, and live his, or rather, her life as a woman named Chelsea Manning.

I wonder how Russia Today will deal with this in the wake of Russia’s recently enacted, Draconian anti-gay legislation.

[Correction: In the first version of this blog entry, I referred to the network as “Russia Times”. Its name is actually Russia Today, or more precisely, just RT.]

 Posted by at 8:36 am
Aug 092013

Today was the 68th anniversary of the last (for now) use of a nuclear weapon in anger, three days following the first such use. The city of Nagasaki was destroyed by the explosion of Fat Man, the world’s second plutonium bomb; the first one was used less than a month earlier at the Trinity test site in New Mexico.

Since then, more than two thousand nuclear explosions took place on or beneath the surface of the Earth as declared nuclear powers tested their designs.

 Posted by at 2:33 pm
Aug 072013

Visitors to my blog or Web sites may have noticed that in the past week, my Web pages loaded more slowly than usual, and may even have been unavailable at times.

The reason: shortly before noon, July 30, I lost my primary Internet connection.

This connection was via a legacy DSL service (bridged DSL) to a company that used to be UUNet Canada, was purchased by MCI, and eventually, by Verizon, and now does business under the Verizon Canada name.

Yes, the same Verizon that is about to enter the Canadian wireless market, much to the concern of Canada’s “big three”, Bell, Rogers and Telus.

I noticed the service interruption essentially immediately, and reported it to Verizon. First, they suggested that it was a telco problem; indeed, Bell Canada even wanted to send out a technician, but fortunately, I was able to talk them out of this. (The DSL modem was connecting just fine.)

The service was not restored the next day, nor on August 1. But on August 1, I had a long discussion with a Verizon technician. The first thing I learned is that the technician resides in the Philippines. Back in the old days, when I had a technical issue with UUNet Canada, I usually ended up talking to an engineer in their Toronto network operations center, and my issue was resolved in minutes. Don’t get me wrong, the Philippines technician spoke accent-free English and had a basic level of understanding of the technology; but no real competence and, obviously, no decision-making authority.

What the technician did explain, however, is that Verizon made a colossal screw-up: they decommissioned some of their point-of-presence equipment here in Ottawa without first moving all customers who were still using said equipment. The technician told me that they were scrambling to find a solution, and I’ll be back up and running within a few days.

Well… that was August 1. A long weekend then came and went, but still, no Internet service. So on Tuesday, August 5, I called Verizon Canada. Their main 800 number was answered by a pleasant sounding young lady (an intern, I later learned) but on my first two calls, she managed to connect me to two different voice mailboxes, whereas on the third try, I got disconnected. On the fourth try, she made a real effort to reach someone within the company. She was ready to give up (providing me with an e-mail address instead) but when I told her that I’d rather wait on hold a little longer, she finally managed to get me connected to a senior manager.

This gentleman was friendly and competent enough, and certainly understood and appreciated the severity of my situation. I explained to him that I was already taking steps to switch to Bell Canada as my primary Internet provider. He promised to look into my situation and find a solution. He asked for a day. I asked him to call me this morning, because I wanted to make a decision today, one way or another.

He called indeed at the promised time, but all he could tell me was that he was still waiting for some technical folks to come out of a meeting. Okay, we agreed that he’d call again before 2 PM. He sent an e-mail at 2:09 PM, saying that it would take just a tad longer.

At 3:45 PM, I e-mailed and then called him. No answer. So a few minutes later, it was the end of the line for me: I called and e-mailed again, this time instructing Verizon to terminate my service. I then contacted Bell and asked them to initiate setting up my new account.

Now let’s be clear for a moment: I am not talking about some cheap $20/month wireless contract. I was paying a premium, to the tune of several hundred dollars, to Verizon for this service. And I’ve been their customer (with a a short interruption) since way back in 1994. If my experience is indicative of the kind of service Verizon provides, all I can say to people cheering the prospects of Verizon’s entry into the Canadian wireless market is to be careful what they wish for.

It will be a few days before my new service with Bell is up and running. I am sure there will be headaches, but I am hopeful that it won’t be too much of a hassle. Meanwhile, I am relying on a backup service that I set up two years ago with Rogers, when my Verizon service was down for a few days (that time, it was actually Bell’s fault, or so I was told.) This service is a little slower, but at least it works (for now).

I said “I was paying a premium”, but in the last few months, I really wasn’t. Not my fault… I really tried giving them my money. Earlier this year, Verizon moved their Canadian business customers to their pre-existing Enterprise system that combines billing, online payments, service calls, etc. I dutifully set up my account as instructed and made many attempts to pay. The system accepted my credit card, informed me that my payment was processed, but charges never actually appeared on my credit card account. Last month, I contacted Verizon and after some lengthy phone calls with their billing department, also located in the Philippines, they finally told me that the problem has been found and fixed. Well… no charges appeared on my credit card account yet. Funny thing is, when I check with Verizon, my account there shows no arrears. What can I say? If they don’t want my money… I just hope that if they do come to their senses and collect the outstanding invoice amounts, they don’t actually try to charge me for the month of August… the service, after all, went away on July 30 and it was never restored.

 Posted by at 9:20 pm