The Canadian Election: Day Two

The Ottawa Citizen front page today covered the Ipsos-Reid poll showing the Liberals and Conservatives tied at 31% each. There was some media coverage of Harper's gay marriage statement of yesterday. The majority view was that it would be forgotten as the campaign progressed.

Harper struck today at the ethics issue by promising the establishment of an office of public prosecutions. A Conservative government would institute an independent office of public prosecutions responsible for investigating criminal activity on Parliament Hill.

Harper told a campaign rally in Quebec City that such an office would ensure nothing like the sponsorship scandal happens again without the politicians or public servants involved being punished. Details at CBC website

The other major story is the rocky start for the candidacy of Michael Ignatieff in Etobicoke. Rumoured to be a future contender for the Liberal leadership, Ignatieff was parachuted into Etobicoke after nearly 30 years living outside Canada and after the last minute resignation of Liberal MP Jean Augustine.Bourque has been having fun with this one giving all the gory details of who did what to whom.

Helping to keep the sponsorship issue at the forefront, former PM Jean Chretien launched his court case against Gomery today, alleging bias and that Gomery's conclusions do not correspond with the testimony before the Commission.


The Canadian Election: Day One

It's now official. The writ has been dropped. We will vote on January 23rd. And already the parties are staking out their positions. Martin calls Harper a neocon who made an alliance with the devil(The Bloc Quebecois).Harper emphasized the need for "change" repeatedly in his remarks. Jack Layton talked about electing more NDP MPs to "get results".

An Ipsos-Reid poll for CanWest shows the Liberals and Conservatives neck and neck at 31 % each as the campaign starts.That's a significant drop for the Liberals!

The CBC tonight reported the results of a survey on the top 10 issues as identified by Canadians. Healthcare remains the number one issue with trust identified as number two.You can expect Layton to position the NDP as the defender of Medicare. Harper will undoubtedly go for the jugular on the trust/integrity/corruption issue.

Stay tuned.

Canada's greenhouse-gas emissions increase 24%

Canada is hosting a major international meeting on climate change in Montreal, presided over by Enviroment Minister Stephane Dion. Canada has been a major supporter of the Kyoto Protocol unlike the USA and Australia which have refused to ratify it .

It was therefore embarrassing to see the statistics on greenhouse gas emissions issued by the UN this week.

Among the countries judged to be good are Germany and Britain. They're undisputed leaders in showing the way for countries to curb their releases of planet-warming gases. Canada, on the other hand, is among the worst performers.

Canada had committed to cut its emissions by 6 per cent from its 1990 level over the period from 2008 to 2012, but its emissions by the end of 2003 were up 24 per cent.

The UN figures indicate that the industrialized world has made considerable progress in fighting global warming. By the end of 2003, emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases fell an average of 5.9 per cent below their 1990 levels. That is more than Kyoto's requirement for an average cut of 5.2 per cent.

But this is due primarily to a huge, one-time greenhouse gas reduction which occurred after the economic collapse of the former Communist Bloc countries.
Excluding the former East Bloc, emissions among industrialized countries actually rose 9.2 per cent between 1990 and 2003.

One major embarrassment is that Canada's emission record is far worse than even the United States, where the Bush administration has refused to ratify Kyoto.

The following table tells the story.

Changes in greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries, 1990-2003.

Over all among these countries there was a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions of 5.9 per cent, from 18.4 billion tonnes CO² equivalent in 1990 to 17.3 billion tonnes CO² equivalent in 2003.

Country Per cent
Spain +41.7
Monaco +37.8
Portugal +36.7
Greece +25.8
Ireland +25.6
Canada +24.2
Australia +23.3
New Zealand +22.5
Finland +21.5
Austria +16.5
United States +13.3
Japan +12.8
Italy +11.5
Norway +9.3
Denmark +6.8
Liechtenstein +5.3
Netherlands +1.5
Belgium +1.3
Switzerland -0.4
European Union -1.4
Slovenia -1.9
France -1.9
Sweden -2.3
Croatia -6.0
Iceland -8.2
Britain -13.0
Luxembourg -16.1
Germany -18.2
Czech Republic -24.2
Slovakia -28.3
Hungary -31.9
Poland -34.4
Russian Federation -38.5
Belarus -44.4
Romania -46.1
Ukraine -46.2
Bulgaria -50.0
Estonia -50.8
Latvia -58.5
Lithuania -66.2



The Election:Early Predictions

So now it's official. The Martin government has fallen and off to the races we go.What happens next is in our hands.

Bloggers are already hard at work on election predictions. I nearly fell off my chair when I read Cherniak's blog and read that he saw a Liberal majority as a possibility.(Jason, you must be smoking something stronger than pot to see a Liberal majority as a possibility:-))

A Liberal or a Conservative minority seems much more likely.The NDP will probably gain 10 to 15 seats (assuming that Liberal scare-mongering will not work to the same extent as last election). The BQ will probably gain some seats. It makes sense that the Conservatives will gain some seats. Why would they end up with fewer seats than last time? This adds up to fewer seats for the Liberals. The key question is how many. Therein lies the answer of whether it's a Liberal or Conservative minority. I think the best the Liberals can expect is a reduced Liberal minority. The best the Conservatives can expect is a small Conservative minority. A small Conservative minority will spell the end for Martin as Liberal leader. A reduced Liberal minority will probably precipitate in due course the departure of both Martin and Harper. Since this outcome would be good for the country and for the rejuvenation of both the Liberals and Conservatives, I would find it palatable. A case can be made, however, that a small Conservative minority would better shake up the big red machine and tell the Liberals to clean up their act.


Chocolate goes upscale

I am a self-confessed chocolate addict. I've reformed and now will only consume dark chocolate with a high percentage of cocoa. According to an article in the washington Post I'm part of a growing trend.Chocolate has gone upscale.

Once, it was enough just to unwrap a bar of chocolate and eat it. Now, you must understand it.

Note the glossy shine that indicates the strong bond between the cocoa butter and the cocoa mass, instruct the makers of Vosges Haut Chocolat on the packaging of their Barcelona Bars. Release its complex aromas by rubbing your thumb across the top, and savor the smell. Only then should you finally taste it, feeling the chocolate melt around your tongue.

Like coffee before it, chocolate is going complex and upscale. This holiday season, look for Tasmanian honey wrapped in dark chocolate from Godiva and custom-made boxes tied with double-faced satin ribbon at exclusive Manhattan specialty store Bergdorf Goodman. Christmas is the peak time for premium chocolate sales, and big candy companies and small chocolatiers alike are rolling out some of their most high-end products to date.

"Chocolate is not always about eating," said Laure de Montebello, co-owner and chef of Sans Souci Gourmet Confections, an independent chocolate shop in New York that fills those custom-made boxes at Bergdorf's with peppermint truffles. "Chocolate is a 'feel' business."

That may be why readers of December's Vogue opened the magazine to find a gorgeous model giving a come-hither look -- to a piece of Godiva chocolate. Godiva wants customers to feel like divas, a play on the company's name and the focus of an advertising campaign that began last year targeting women ages 25 to 40. That demographic is the most likely to buy chocolate, consuming roughly eight servings each month, according to a report on premium chocolate by consumer-research firm Mintel.

And this doesn't even mention the studies which show the many medical benefits of eating dark chocolate. For more details go to the Washington Post article


Brown's New Job: Readiness Consultant

I'm still laughing. Michael D. Brown of FEMA fame is starting a disaster-preparedness consulting firm to help clients avoid the sort of errors that cost him his job.

"If I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses -- because that goes straight to the bottom line -- then I hope I can help the country in some way," Brown told the Rocky Mountain News.

Brown said officials need to "take inventory" of what is going on in a disaster to be able to answer questions and to avoid appearing unaware of how serious a situation is.

In the aftermath of Katrina, critics complained about Brown's lack of formal emergency management experience and cited e-mails that later surfaced showing him as out of touch with the extent of the devastation.

The lawyer conceded that, while he was head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, mistakes were made in the response to Katrina. He also repeated that he had been planning to resign before the hurricane hit.

"Hurricane Katrina showed how bad disasters can be, and there's an incredible need for individuals and businesses to understand how important preparedness is," he said.


Aspartame Causes Cancer in Rats at Levels Currently Approved for Humans

When you are thirsty do you knock back a Diet Coke or similar soft drink? If you do you want to think twice before opening that next can. A major medical study has now shown that aspartame causes cancer in rats at levels currently approved for humans.

A statistically significant increase in the incidence of malignant tumors, lymphomas and leukemias in rats exposed to varying doses of aspartame appears to link the artificial sweetener to a high carcinogenicity rate, according to a study accepted for publication today by the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP). The authors of the study, the first to demonstrate multipotential carcinogenic effects of aspartame administered to rats in feed, called for an "urgent reevaluation" of the current guidelines for the use and consumption of this compound.

"Our study has shown that aspartame is a multipotential carcinogenic compound whose carcinogenic effects are also evident at a daily dose of 20 milligrams per kilogram of body weight (mg/kg), notably less than the current acceptable daily intake for humans," the authors write. Currently, the acceptable daily intake for humans is set at 50 mg/kg in the United States and 40 mg/kg in Europe.

Aspartame is the second most widely used artificial sweetener in the world. It is found in more than 6,000 products including carbonated and powdered soft drinks, hot chocolate, chewing gum, candy, desserts, yogurt, and tabletop sweeteners, as well as some pharmaceutical products like vitamins and sugar-free cough drops. More than 200 million people worldwide consume it. The sweetener has been used for more than 30 years, having first been approved by the FDA in 1974. Studies of the carcinogenicity of aspartame performed by its producers have been negative.

Researchers administered aspartame to Sprague-Dawley rats by adding it to a standard diet. They began studying the rats at 8 weeks of age and continued until the spontaneous death of each rat. Treatment groups received feed that contained concentrations of aspartame at dosages simulating human daily intakes of 5,000, 2,500, 500, 100, 20, and 4 mg/kg body weight. Groups consisted of 100 males and 100 females at each of the three highest dosages and 150 males and 150 females at all lower dosages and controls.

The experiment ended after the death of the last animal at 159 weeks. At spontaneous death, each animal underwent examination for microscopic changes in all organs and tissues, a process different from the aspartame studies conducted 30 years ago and one that was designed to allow aspartame to fully express any carcinogenic potential.

The treated animals showed extensive evidence of malignant cancers including lymphomas, leukemias, and tumors at multiple organ sites in both males and females. The authors speculate the increase in lymphomas and leukemias may be related to one of the metabolites in aspartame, namely methanol, which is metabolized in both rats and humans to formaldehyde. Both methanol and formaldehyde have shown links to lymphomas and leukemias in other long-term experiments by the same authors.

The current study included more animals over a longer period than earlier studies. "In our opinion, previous studies did not comply with today's basic requirements for testing the carcinogenic potential of a physical or chemical agent, in particular concerning the number of rodents for each experimental group (40-86, compared to 100-150 in the current study) and the termination of previous studies at only 110 weeks of age of the animals," the study authors wrote.

The authors of the study were Morando Soffritti, Fiorella Belpoggi, Davide Degli Esposti, Luca Lambertini, Eva Tibaldi, and Anna Rigano of the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center, European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, Bologna, Italy. Funding for the research was provided by the European Ramazzini Foundation of Oncology and Environmental Sciences, Bologna, Italy. The article is available free of charge, click here.

EHP is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. EHP EHP is an Open Access journal. More information is available online at http://www.ehponline.org.


Zen Thoughts For Those Who Take Life Too Seriously

1. Save the whales. Collect the whole set.

2. A day without sunshine is like, night.

3. On the other hand, you have different fingers.

4. I just got lost in thought. It wasn't familiar territory.

5. 42.7 percent of all statistics are made up on the spot.

6. 99 percent of lawyers give the rest a bad name.

7. I feel like I'm diagonally parked in a parallel universe

8. Honk if you love peace and quiet.

9. Remember, half the people you know are below average.

10. He who laughs last, didn't get the joke.

11. Depression is merely anger without enthusiasm.

12. The early bird may get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese in
the trap.

13. I drive way too fast to worry about cholesterol.

14. Support bacteria. They're the only culture some people have.

15. Monday is an awful way to spend 1/7 of your week.

16. A clear conscience is usually the sign of a bad memory.

17. Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.

18. Get a new car for your spouse. It'll be a great trade!

19. Plan to be spontaneous tomorrow.

20. Always try to be modest, and be proud of it!

21 If you think nobody cares, try missing a couple of payments.

22. How many of you believe in psycho-kinesis? Raise my hand...

23. OK, so what's the speed of dark?

24. How do you tell when you're out of invisible ink?

25. If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked

26. When everything is coming your way, you're in the wrong lane.

27. Hard work pays off in the future. Laziness pays off now.

28. Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don't have film.

29. If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?

30. How much deeper would the ocean be without sponges?

31. Eagles may soar, but weasels don't get sucked into jet engines.

32. What happens if you get scared half to death twice?

33. I used to have an open mind but my brains kept falling out.

34. I couldn't repair your brakes, so I made your horn louder.

35. Why do psychics have to ask you for your name?

36. Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what the hell

37. Light travels faster than sound. That is why some people appear bright
until you hear them speak.


Ralph Klein, go home

With friends like Ralph Klein, Stephen Harper needs no enemies. Ralph Klein helped to torpedo the federal Conservative campaign in the last election. On a cross-country speaking tour today Klein was asked by reporters who he thought would win the impending election. Instead of dodging the question or saying a few favourable words about the Conservatives, Klein predicted that Paul Martin would win another minority. I happen to agree with that prediction although I would prefer to see a Conservative minority to teach the Liberals a lesson and precipitate a change of leadership. But I find Klein's response just plain dumb. If he can't say something to help the federal Conservatives, why can't he just keep his mouth shut? Maybe someone should send him on an all-expense-paid trip to Antarctica until the election is over.

Is Paul Martin the last of the big spenders?

The taps to the federal treasury have been opened and Paul Martin is spending like there will be no tomorrow. The election writ has not yet been issued and every day Martin announces more goodies costing billions. A few days ago it was tax cuts, today it was $9 billion for military planes and dealing with the residential school issue. Tomorrow, who knows? Strange behavior for a former Finance Minister famed for fiscal responsibility and cutting the deficit. It seems that the Liberals have embarked on a costly initiative to "buy" the impending election. I hope that the majority of voters think twice before "selling" their votes to re-elect a corrupt and tired administration.


You can major in video game design at university

How times have changed! You can now major in video games at some universities.

Three decades after bursting into pool halls and living rooms, video games are taking a place in academia. A handful of relatively obscure vocational schools have long taught basic game programming. But in the last few years a small but growing cadre of well-known universities, from the University of Southern California to the University of Central Florida, have started formal programs in game design and the academic study of video games as a slice of contemporary culture.

Traditionalists in both education and the video game industry pooh-pooh the trend, calling it a bald bid by colleges to cash in on a fad. But others believe that video games - which already rival movie tickets in sales - are poised to become one of the dominant media of the new century.

Certainly, the burgeoning game industry is famished for new talent. And now, universities are stocked with both students and young faculty members who grew up with joystick in hand. And some educators say that studying games will soon seem no less fanciful than going to film school or examining the cultural impact of television.

For details see the New York Times.


Was the JFK assassination a conspiracy?

Do you believe that the JFK assassination was a carefully orchestrated conspiracy ? If so, you are not alone.Three out of every four Americans think President John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, was the result of a conspiracy. Almost as many think there was a coverup.

The Washington Post reports on a conference titled "Cracking the JFK Case" where participants revisited and debated the various views that have emerged over the years and the supporting evidence. No startling new conclusions emerged. Nor will the conference dispel the widespread view that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy whose archtects have not been revealed.

For full story see the Washington Post

Has Bush lost his marbles?

In an attempt to tone down the debate on Iraq Bush has praised Rep. Murtha and Said 'People Should Feel Comfortable' Expressing Opinions on the War. How kind of him to ackowledge the right of free expression by the representatives of the voters!

More power to John Murtha for telling it like it is. After first condemning Murtha (and anyone else who dared criticize the war in Iraq) Bush has now backed down a little. In an about-face Bush summoned reporters to a Press Conference in China
and said "he welcomed the political battle over the war as a "worthy debate" and rejected attempts to question the patriotism of those who oppose it. He also said he did not want the bitter conflict to degenerate into a partisan showdown."

For more details see the Washington Post

"People should feel comfortable about expressing their opinions about Iraq," the president said. "I heard somebody say, well, maybe so-and-so is not patriotic because they disagree with my position. I totally reject that thought. This is not an issue of who's [a] patriot and who's not patriotic. It's an issue of an honest, open debate about the way forward in Iraq."

Without being asked, Bush praised Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), a decorated Vietnam War veteran and hawkish legislator who last week declared that the Iraq situation had become so bad that the United States needs to immediately withdraw troops.

"Congressman Murtha is a fine man, a good man, who served our country with honor and distinction as a Marine in Vietnam and as a United States congressman," Bush said. "He is a strong supporter of the United States military. And I know the decision to call for an immediate withdrawal of our troops by Congressman Murtha was done in a careful and thoughtful way. I disagree with his position."

Meanwhile, the debate continued on Sunday morning television, where Murtha described his views in detail, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld appeared on four talk shows to rebut them.

In an interview with Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press," the congressman was conciliatory in tone, but, if anything, even more emphatic about what he views as the futility of U.S. military operations in Iraq.

"I hoped we'd open the door for him [Bush] to start a dialogue about how we change the course. . . . I'm very hopeful that my proposal is something they'll take seriously, that he'll get a few of us to the White House and talk to us about this very difficult problem," Murtha said.

But he then went on to say: "I'm absolutely convinced that we're making no progress at all. . . . Until we turn it over to the Iraqis, we're going to continue to do the fighting. . . . They'll have to work this out themselves. . . . We have become the enemy; 80 percent of the people in Iraq want us out of there; 45 percent say it's justified to attack Americans. It's time to change direction."

The tenor of Bush's remarks contrasted sharply with the White House message since the president left for Asia a week ago. Bush, Vice President Cheney, national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and various other senior officials have waged what a top aide called a "sustained" campaign intended to counterattack Democrats who have been criticizing the president's conduct of the war.

The Bush team accused congressional Democrats of hypocrisy for accusing him of skewing prewar intelligence because the same Democrats also had thought Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction before the invasion in March 2003. In questioning the justification for the war, Bush and his lieutenants said, the Democrats were undermining troop morale and sending a message of weakness to the enemy.

Perhaps the most striking moment came after Murtha's proposal. The White House assailed Murtha, likening him to liberal maverick filmmaker Michael Moore, characterizing him as a newfound ally of the "extreme liberal wing" of his party and accusing him of wanting to "surrender to the terrorists."

Such a direct attack on a member of Congress is more typically delivered by the Republican National Committee, not on White House stationery, and the tone only grew angrier the next day on the House floor when a freshman Republican suggested Murtha was a coward.

Bush appeared to be trying to ratchet back the dialogue to a more civil plane Sunday. "This is a debate worthy of our country," he said. "It's an important debate. It does not have to be a partisan issue. Fine Democrats like Senator Joe Lieberman share the view that we must prevail in Iraq."

At the same time, he rejected Murtha's rhetoric. The congressman scoffed at attacks from those who received multiple deferments in the Vietnam War, a reference to Cheney. "I don't think the vice president's service is relevant in this debate," Bush said. "And I would hope all of us in this debate talk about the policy and have an honest, open debate about whether or not it makes sense to immediately withdraw our troops."

He added, "Those elected leaders in Washington who do not support our policies in Iraq have every right to voice their dissent. They also have a responsibility to provide a credible alternative. The stakes are too high and the national interest too important for anything otherwise."

In the lengthy NBC interview, Murtha criticized the administration for misjudging everything from the number of troops needed for postwar occupation to underestimating the importance of the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani.

"They have been overly optimistic, illusionary about their policy. This is not a war of words; this is a real war where people are getting killed. Fifteen thousand people have been wounded and half of them are desperately wounded, blinded, without their arms," he said. "So this is a real war which we have to find a solution to. And since there's no progress, we've got to find a way to let the Iraqis take over."

On CNN's "Late Edition," Rumsfeld called Murtha "a fine person," but added that "just as everyone can say what they want, we also have to think of what the words mean to the enemy."

Rumsfeld went on to say that "very little support went to Jack Murtha" after the congressman spoke out last week. "The Democrats didn't step up and support it, and Republicans didn't step up and support it. I think it's important for our troops to know that."


Reasons to throw the Liberals out?

The time has come to teach the Liberals a lesson by at a minimum reducing them to a razor-thin minority and at worst electing a Coservative minority because we wouldn't want Stephen to get too big for his britches. In case you can't figure out why we should, James Travers provides an excellent analysis in the Toronto Star.

As he observes:

this government and its immediate predecessor provide all the raw materials any DIY handyman or woman needs — pardon the awful pun — to construct a case for change. Here are just four of many fine reasons to send Liberals packing:

Ethics. In politics, stealing money and elections is a capital offence. Justice John Gomery found Liberals guilty of the first and any jury reconsidering the 1997 and 2000 Quebec federal campaigns would surely convict on the second.

It's all so damning that Paul Martin had to cut a $1.14 million cheque to repay taxpayers for what Liberals stole.

Now, the Prime Minister will argue that his party has learned its lesson and, in any case, was firmly punished in June 2004 when mad-as-hell voters denied it another majority.

Don't believe it. Suspect contracting, lobbying and cronyism are as rampant under this regime as the last and reform remains stronger in word than deed. Contrary to Martin's ringing declaration, what still matters most here is who you know in the PMO, the all-powerful Prime Minister's Office.

Anyway, democracy only works when votes are used as sticks to beat discipline into politicians who mistake the public purse for their own.

Health care. The perpetual top national priority is no longer a Liberal free pass to power. Paul Martin Sr. fathered federal public health insurance as well as this Prime Minister, but junior just isn't his dad.

After years of demonizing Conservatives as secret agents for Ralph Klein and two-tier health care, Liberals are suddenly silent as Jean Charest speeds the country toward different systems for rich and poor. Even a watershed Supreme Court decision undermining Ottawa's health insurance monopoly has left strangely speechless a government more concerned with repairing its ruined Quebec brand than defending public health care.

Last fall's $41 billion cure for a decade didn't last a year, and the cynical, focus-group-driven decision to make wait times medicare's litmus test risks killing the patient. On health care, Liberals are now indistinguishable from Conservatives, and only the NDP is screaming about the metamorphosis.

Jack Layton is factually right as well as politically left: When it comes to protecting public health care, Liberals have no bark or bite and are asleep on the mat. Go figure; then go vote.

Federalism. Once champions of strong central government, Liberals are weakening the federation by stealth and doing it with equalization, the fiscal formula that to all but experts is both mystery and enigma. One-off deals with the provinces are twisting Canada into new shapes and premiers big (Ontario's Dalton McGuinty) and small (Saskatchewan's Lorne Calvert) are furious.

What's happening is no surprise. Liberals desperate to compensate for seats lost to the Bloc Québécois are hoping to buy votes, particularly in Atlantic Canada

There's more. With the heartiest first squeeze of the taxpayer grape, Ottawa now has all the financial juice it needs to intrude into provincial jurisdiction on issues that swing voters. While effectively abandoning traditional responsibilities — think health care — Liberals are moving into cities and daycare.

Martin believes in asymmetrical federalism but, apparently, not enough to debate or defend it. Canada is under renovation without a blueprint and that justifies showing Liberals the door.

Democracy. Back when Martin thought good intentions would fix everything, Parliament was high on his list. Merit would replace patronage, MPs would share power with ministers and taxpayers would be able to follow their dollars from promise to result.

An uplifting concept has fallen on hard times. Yes, a few lame political warhorses have given way to professional managers, more mostly meaningless votes are free of party discipline and new layers of financial controls are all the post-Gomery rage. But not much that really matters is really changing.

Decisions are tightly held in Martin's innermost circle, the promise to make MPs strong enough to do their job is broken, and tracking how taxes are spent is as intentionally difficult as ever.

Canadians recognize the problem and are applying a solution. They treat the federal government with the disdain it's earned and, come election day, record numbers will vote with their feet by staying home.

The few who still care have no shortage of other planks to build their DIY-platforms. From protecting privacy to reaching the Canada-created international aid threshold, there is plenty of rough stuff to finish the job.

Now seems a good time to start.


The food you eat may change your genes for life

New Scientist has an interesting and potentially scary story about how the foods you eat may change your genes for life.

IT SOUNDS like science fiction: simply swallowing a pill, or eating a specific food supplement, could permanently change your behaviour for the better, or reverse diseases such as schizophrenia, Huntington's or cancer.

Yet such treatments are looking increasingly plausible. In the latest development, normal rats have been made to behave differently just by injecting them with a specific amino acid. The change to their behaviour was permanent. The amino acid altered the way the rat's genes were expressed, raising the idea that drugs or dietary supplements might permanently halt the genetic effects that predispose people to mental or physical illness.

It is not yet clear whether such interventions could work in humans. But there is good reason to believe they could, as evidence mounts that a range of simple nutrients might have such effects.

For further details go to New Scientist

Corporate cover-up of Environmental Chemicals Damage

The Associated Press reports that DuPont Co. hid studies showing the risks of a Teflon-related chemical used to line candy wrappers, pizza boxes, microwave popcorn bags and hundreds of other food containers, according to internal company documents and a former employee. This appears to be another example of corporate suppression of vital information about the adverse impact of chemicals used in commonly available commercial products.

The chemical Zonyl can rub off the liner and get into food. Once in a person's body, it can break down into perfluorooctanoic acid and its salts, known as PFOA, a related chemical used in the making of Teflon-coated cookware.

The Environmental Protection Agency has been trying to decide whether to classify PFOA as a "likely" human carcinogen. The Food and Drug Administration, in a letter released Wednesday evening by DuPont, said it was continuing to monitor the safety of PFOA chemicals in food.

The DuPont documents were made public Wednesday by the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization.

At the same time, a former DuPont chemical engineer, Glenn Evers, told reporters at a news conference at EWG's office that the company long suppressed its studies on the chemical.

"They are toxic," Evers said of the PFOA chemicals. "They get into human blood. And they are also in every one of you. Your loved ones, your fellow citizens."

From 1981 to 2002, Evers helped DuPont develop new products. He lost his job in 2002 in what DuPont described as a company restructuring.

Evers had a different view: "It is my belief DuPont pushed me out of the company" because he started raising concerns about the chemicals' safety.

Evers said he decided to talk publicly about the PFOA problem after filing a civil suit against DuPont this month in a Delaware court. Evers' aim is mainly to "set the record straight" about the chemical and his own career, said Herb Feuerhake, Evers' lawyer.

But Evers said he also hoped to influence the outcome of an EPA hearing later this month on whether DuPont had withheld from EPA the study on PFOA and possible birth defects. The company could be fined millions of dollars.

After EWG tracked down Evers -- who had provided expert, unpaid testimony in two lawsuits against DuPont -- the 47-year-old Delaware resident said he talked it over with his priest, who told him, "`You can't dance with the devil.'"

DuPont denied allegations that PFOA posed a health risk, saying the Food and Drug Administration had approved the products for consumers.

"These products are safe for consumer use," the company said in a statement. "FDA has approved these materials for consumer use since the late 1960s, and DuPont has always complied with all FDA regulations and standards regarding these products."

The company said Evers "had little if any direct involvement in PFOA issues while employed at DuPont. ... Evers expressed a wide range of personal opinions that are inaccurate, counter to FDA's findings, and which DuPont strongly disputes."

The environmental group on Wednesday gave the FDA and the EPA copies of DuPont-sponsored internal studies indicating higher dangers from Zonyl than the government knew, including its ability to migrate into the food.

One of the documents, a 1987 memo, cites laboratory tests showing the chemical came off paper coating and leached into foods at levels three times higher than the FDA limit set in 1967. Another document, a 1973 Dupont study in which rats and dogs were fed Zonyl for 90 days, said both types of animals had anemia and damage to their kidneys and livers; the dogs had higher cholesterol levels.

"What makes this worse is that DuPont knew at that time that Zonyl breakdown-products, such as PFOA, in food were very persistent in the environment and were contaminating human blood, including the fetal cord blood of babies born to DuPont female employees," EWG Senior Vice President Richard Wiles wrote to FDA and EPA officials.

Wiles asked the agencies to determine whether DuPont should be penalized for withholding the studies. Last year, based on another DuPont document that the environmental group obtained, EPA alleged the company had repeatedly failed over a 20-year period to submit required data about PFOA. The document referred to a study that suggested possible links between PFOA and birth defects in infants.

EPA spokeswoman Eryn Witcher said Wednesday the agency "has an extensive effort under way to determine the sources of PFOA, how the public is being exposed, and whether these exposures pose a potential health risk."

Evers' decision to go public with his concerns may have already had an impact.

In August, he told a Mississippi court that all three of DuPont's U.S. plants were releasing "massive amounts" of dioxin -- a class of organic chemicals that EPA studies have shown pose a possible cancer risk in humans. In that case, an oyster fisherman who claimed dioxin from a DuPont plant caused his rare blood cancer was awarded $14 million in actual damages and his wife received $1.5 million.

He also testified last year in a West Virginia case in which DuPont agreed to a $107.6 million settlement of a class-action suit. Residents around a plant near Parkersburg, W.Va., had said that PFOA contaminated their drinking water supplies. DuPont also remains the target of another class-action suit over PFOA seeking $5 billion.

Source: Associated Press


NDP gains from Gomery

The Sun papers today carry the results of a Sun Media-SES Research poll which show that Canadians blame the Liberals for the Adscam ripoff and a majority believe Martin shares responsibility for the scandal. The same poll shows the NDP making gains at the expense of the Liberals while the Conservatives are stalled. If these results are correct this should make for an interesting campaign.

Norman spectorsummarizes the poll results as follows:

A Sun Media-SES Research poll found that 43% of Canadians blame the entire Liberal Party for the kickback scheme that ripped off millions of taxpayer dollars -- a 13% jump since the spring.

Another 48% believe only a "few bad apples" are to blame for the corruption -- a 10% slide over the same period.

The poll also found that while fewer Canadians think Prime Minister Paul Martin is exclusively to blame for Adscam, a majority believe he shares responsibility for the scandal with his predecessor, Jean Chretien.

On May 4, 29% thought Martin was solely to blame for the scandal compared to only 8% on Nov. 13, two weeks after Gomery tabled his report. Another 24% fingered Chretien, while a whopping 54% of Canadians believe the pair is mutually responsible

For full details see Ottawa Sun

Katrina update:No More Free Rooms For Katrina Evacuees

The Federal Emergency Management Agency yesterday warned an estimated 150,000 Hurricane Katrina evacuees living in government-subsidized hotels that they have until Dec. 1 to find other housing before it stops paying for their rooms.

The announcement effectively starts the clock ticking toward a new exodus of Gulf Coast storm victims who have been living rent-free in 5,700 hotels in 51 states and U.S. territories under the $273 million program.

Under FEMA's decision, the evacuees will have 15 days to lease apartments, make other arrangements or begin paying their own bills. Many families will be eligible for as much as $2,358 for three months' rental assistance from FEMA, payments that may be extended for as long as 18 months.

For details go to Washington Post

Deal Reached on Managing the Internet

Deal Reached on Managing the Internet

The fight over who manages the internet has been resolved by an agreement that leaves the United States with ultimate oversight of the main computers that direct the Internet's flow of information, commerce and dissent.Negotiators from more than 100 countries agreed late Tuesday to leave the United States in charge, through a quasi-independent body called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN. Negotiators agreed to create an open-ended international forum for raising important Internet issues. The forum, however, would have no binding authority.

For full story go to Washington Post


Is your vote for sale?

Is your vote for sale?

The underlying premise of the Goodale economic update ("budget")yesterday is that your vote is for sale. The second premise is that you can be bought with your own taxpaper dollars. Are the Liberals correct in their cynical assumption that the majority of Canadian voters are prepared to forget and forgive the corruption and scandal of the past few years in return for a Christmas bribe of $400 or so? I hope not. Twelve years of Liberal administration is enough. As Mark Kennedy wrote in the Ottawa Citizen, "The goal of the mini-budget is clear. It's an attempt to buy votes to keep the scandal-plagued Liberals alive at the polls."

While the alternative(s) may be unpalatable, better to vote for one of the alternatives than to condone the practices of the current administration.Martin would like to pretend that his government is new and different but, as Finance Minister through the Chretien years, he has to share responsiblity for the actions and inactions of those years.

It's time for a change. Vote for an alternative. Teach them that we are not sheep, to be taken for granted.


Oil Company Executives Defend Profits

Associated Press reports that the chiefs of five major oil companies defended the industry's huge profits last week at a Senate hearing where they were
exhorted to explain prices and assure customers they're not being gouged. Their response is enough to make you choke on the gas you're putting in your tank.

There is a "growing suspicion that oil companies are taking unfair advantage," Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., said, opening the hearing in a packed committee room.

"The oil companies owe the American people an explanation," he declared.

Lee Raymond, chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp., said he recognizes that high gasoline prices "have put a strain on Americans' household budgets" but he defended his company's huge profits, saying petroleum earnings "go up and down" from year to year.

ExxonMobil, the worlds' largest publicly trade oil company, earned nearly $10 billion in the third quarter. Raymond was joined at the witness table by the chief executives of Chevron Corp., ConocoPhillips, BPAmerica Inc., and Shell Oil Company.

Together the companies earned more than $25 billion in profits in the July-September quarter as the price of crude oil hit $70 a barrel and gasoline surged to record levels after the disruptions of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Raymond said the profits are in line with other industries when earnings are compared to the industry's enormous revenues.

NEWSFLASH Ecstasy may damage the brain's physical defences

Here's a newflash article from New Scientist

Ecstasy may damage the brain’s physical defences
16:53 14 November 2005
NewScientist.com news service
Alison Motluk
The drug ecstasy reduces the brain’s defences, reveals a new study of rats, leaving it vulnerable to invasion by viruses and other pathogens.

The researchers behind the study warn of "clinical considerations which may apply to the treatment of people who abuse MDMA". For example, anaesthetics could find it easier to penetrate the brain, "greatly increasing the risk of unwanted sedation". And they say infections could cause permanent damage to brain cells or alter the ability of the brain to function normally.

The brain is protected by a fence of tightly packed cells, called the blood-brain barrier. This prevents all but the smallest molecules from passing through. But the new experiments show that MDMA – the chemical name for ecstasy, or “e” – somehow forces open that barrier, allowing larger molecules access to the brain.

Bryan Yamamoto at Boston University, US, and colleagues gave rats four doses of MDMA over 8 hours. “We were trying to approximate a human dosaging pattern,” says Yamamoto. The scientists also injected a blue dye, made of molecules too large to get into the rats' brains under normal circumstances.

One day later, the researchers found the dye had made its way into parts of the brain, such as the caudate and the hippocampus. Ten weeks later, despite no further doses of MDMA being given, new injections of dye were still passing through the blood brain barrier.

Ten weeks in rats could be considered the equivalent of five to seven years in humans. “It does seem to be a very protracted opening,” says Yamamoto. But, as yet, he is unable to say for sure whether the breach is permanent.

Prior protection
Other new research on MDMA has investigated "binges" of ecstasy-taking in rats. Scientists found that rats exposed to many single doses of ecstasy as adolescents are protected from much of the harm caused by e-binges as adults.

Jerrold Meyer at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, US, and colleagues gave pre-pubescent rats a dose of ecstasy, then repeated the dose every five days, until young adulthood – a total of six doses.

After a period to allow the rats to clear the drug from their bodies, they received up to four times the previous dose spread only over a few hours. The researchers monitored such things as body temperature, body weight and behaviour. A week later, their brains were studied for signs of neurotoxicity.

Typically after a big ecstasy binge, animals suffer hyperthermia, fatigue and lethargy and sustain damage to serotonin axons – the long fibres extending from serotonin-containing neurons. All these features were observed in control rats.

But the rats that had been pre-exposed to the drug were spared these symptoms, including damage to their serotonin system. “Exposure does have this powerful effect to protect animals,” says Meyer.

Therapeutic use
Whether any prior exposure, or only exposure during adolescence, can protect humans this way is not yet clear. “My hunch is that it might be specific to the adolescent period,” Mayer says.

But the mechanism remains a mystery. Among the possibilities is that the pre-exposed animals may be metabolising the drug more quickly, he says, or they may be ratcheting up antioxidant activity in their bodies, or they may be modifying their serotonin receptors.

Not all research on MDMA is into its negative effects. Stephanie Linley at Florida Atlantic University in Port St Lucie points out that the drug is now being investigated for clinical use in diseases as wide-ranging as schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and terminal cancer

Prediction for next Canadian election

Prediction for next election:

Liberals retain minority with fewer seats
NDP gains some seats
Tories stall

Result: Liberals and Tories dump Martin and Harper before follow-up election
Good news: Maybe we'll get someone with vision to lead the country instead of Mr. Dithers and Mr. Icicle

OTTAWA—With an election looming ever closer, public support for Paul Martin's Liberals remains mired in minority government territory, according to a new Toronto Star poll.

The struggle for a Liberal majority will be more difficult because of the surprising strength of the NDP, the poll, conducted for the Star by EKOS Research, shows. It's the New Democrats, in fact, who appear to be reaping the most gains since the last election, with 21 per cent support across the country.

That's a good five-plus percentage points above their 2004 election results, with the NDP neck-and-neck with the Liberals for support in B.C., and well above the Liberals in the Prairies. Moreover, 13 per cent of former Liberal voters and 5 per cent of former Tory voters say they've moved to the NDP.

Country-wide, the governing Liberals stand at just 33 per cent support, well below the 40-per-cent threshold they need to even hope for a majority government, yet just a few percentage points lower than the 36.7 per cent support they won in the last election. About 68 per cent who voted Liberal in the last election said they intend to vote that same way next time.

Nationally, the Conservatives are stuck at 28 per cent, roughly the same as the support level they had in the 2004 election.

A full 87 per cent of Tory voters from 2004 are sticking with their party, EKOS found


Is Google the real Big Brother?

David A. Vise,co-author with Mark Malseed of "The Google Story," published this week by Random House, has an intriguing article in today's Washington Post entitled
What lurks in its soul? He states:

The soul of the Google machine is a passion for disruptive innovation.

Powered by brilliant engineers, mathematicians and technological visionaries, Google ferociously pushes the limits of everything it undertakes. The company's DNA emanates from its youthful founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who operate with "a healthy disregard for the impossible," as Page likes to say. Their goal: to organize all of the world's information and make it universally accessible, whatever the consequences.

Ho hum, you say, what's new about that? Well,

Consider the wide-ranging implications of the activities now underway at the Googleplex, the company's campuslike headquarters in California's Silicon Valley. Google is compiling a genetic and biological database using the vast power of its search engines; scanning millions of books without traditional regard for copyright laws; tracing online searches to individual Internet users and storing them indefinitely; demanding cell phone numbers in exchange for free e-mail accounts (known as Gmail) as it begins to build the first global cell phone directory; saving Gmails forever on its own servers, making them a tempting target for law enforcement abuse; inserting ads for the first time in e-mails; making hundreds of thousands of cheap personal computers to serve as cogs in powerful global networks.

Google doesn't need all that computer power to help us search for the best Italian restaurant in Northern Virginia. It has grander plans. The company is quietly working with maverick biologist Craig Venter and others on groundbreaking genetic and biological research. Google's immense capacity and turbo-charged search technology, it turns out, appears to be an ideal match for the large amount of data contained in the human genome. Venter and others say that the search engine has the ability to deal with so many variables at once that its use could lead to the discovery of new medicines or cures for diseases. Sergey Brin says searching all of the world's information includes examining the genetic makeup of our own bodies, and he foresees a day when each of us will be able to learn more about our own predisposition for various illnesses, allergies and other important biological predictors by comparing our personal genetic code with the human genome, a process known as "Googling Your Genes."

"This is the ultimate intersection of technology and health that will empower millions of individuals," Venter said. "Helping people understand their own genetic code and statistical code is something that should be broadly available through a service like Google within a decade."

Brin's partner has nurtured a different ambition. For years, Larry Page dreamed of tearing down the walls of libraries, and eliminating the barriers of geography, by making millions of books searchable by anybody in the world with an Internet connection. After Google began scanning thousands of library books to make them searchable online, book publishers and authors cried foul, filing lawsuits claiming copyright infringement.

Many companies would have reached an amicable settlement. Not Google. Undaunted, Google fired back, saying copyright laws were meant to serve the public interest and didn't apply in the digital realm of search. Google's altruistic tone masked its savvy, hard-nosed business strategy -- more books online means more searches, more ads and more profits. Google recently began displaying some of these books online (print.google.com), and resumed scanning the contents of books from the collections of Harvard, Stanford, the University of Michigan, the New York Public Library and Oxford. But legal experts predict that the company's disruptive innovation will undoubtedly show up on the Supreme Court's docket one day.

From Madison Avenue to Microsoft, Google's rapid-fire innovation and growing power pose a threat of one kind or another. Its ad-driven financial success has propelled its stock market value to $110 billion, more than the combined value of Disney, Ford, General Motors, Amazon.com and the media companies that own the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post. Its simplified method of having advertisers sign up online, through a self-service option, threatens ad agencies and media buyers who traditionally have played that role. Its penchant for continuously releasing new products and services in beta, or test form, before they are perfected, has sent Microsoft reeling. Chairman Bill Gates recently warned employees in an internal memo of the challenges posed by such "disruptive" change.

Microsoft also worries that Google is raiding the ranks of its best employees. That was threatening enough when Google operated exclusively in Silicon Valley. But it grew worse when Google opened an outpost in the suburbs of Seattle, just down the road from Microsoft headquarters, and aggressively started poaching. Microsoft finally sued Google for its hiring of Kai-Fu Lee, a senior technologist who once headed Microsoft's Chinese operations. Lee is now recruiting in Asia for Google, despite a court order upholding aspects of a non-compete clause that Lee signed while at Microsoft.

Google's success is neither accidental nor ephemeral. Brin and Page -- the sons of college professors who introduced them to computing when they were toddlers -- met in 1995 at Stanford, where they were both Ph.D candidates in computer science and technology. They became inseparable and set out to do things their own way. Professors laughed at Page when he said one day that he was going to download the Internet so he could improve upon the primitive early search engines.

Seven years ago, Google didn't exist in any form beyond a glimmer in the eyes of Brin and Page. Then in the fall of 1998, they took leaves of absence from Stanford, and moved their hardware into the garage and several rooms of a house in nearby Menlo Park. Armed primarily with the belief that they could build a better search engine, they have created a company unlike any other.

With Brin and Page setting the tone, Google's distinctive DNA makes it an employer of choice for the world's smartest technologists because they feel empowered to change the world. And despite its growing head count of more than 4,000 employees worldwide, Google maintains the pace of innovation in ways contrary to other corporations by continuing to work in small teams of three to five, no matter how big the undertaking. Once Google went public and could no longer lure new engineers with the promise of lucrative stock options, Brin invented large multi-million-dollar stock awards for the small teams that come up with the most innovative ideas.

A good example is Google's latest deal -- a far-reaching, complex partnership with NASA, unlike any agreement between a private firm and the space agency, to share data and resources and employees and identify ways to create new products and conduct searches together in space. Although NASA is a public entity, many of the details of the partnership remain hidden from public view.

Despite all that has been achieved, Google remains in its infancy. Brin likes to compare the firm to a child who has completed first grade. He and Page gaze into a glittering globe in the Googleplex that shows billions of Google searches streaming in from around the world, and notice the areas that are dark. These are the places that have no Internet access.

Quietly, they have been buying up the dark fiber necessary to build GoogleNet, and provide wireless Web access for free to millions or billions of computer userspotentially disruptive to phone and cable companies that now dominate the high-speed Internet field. Their reasoning is straightforward: If more people globally have Internet access, then more people will use Google. The more books and other information that they can translate into any language through an automated, math-based process they are developing now, the more compelling the Google experience will be for everyone, and the more wealth the company will have to invest in their vision.

Supremely confident, the biggest risk that Brin, Page and Google face is that they will be unable to avoid the arrogance that typically accompanies extraordinary success. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos jokes that Brin and Page are so sure of themselves, they wouldn't hesitate to argue with a divine presence.


Layton may get the last laugh

Today's Globe and Mail has the opposition strategists explaining how they could precipitate a February election if Martin ignores the majority view of the House of Commons:

Strategists for the opposition parties said that if they choose, they can enforce their timetable for an election campaign in January, notably by using their numbers to change the parliamentary work calendar.

That would require that one party use one of their opposition days -- there are seven that must be held before Dec. 10 -- to put forward a motion that the Commons will be recalled in January, rather than in February, and that an opposition motion will be debated then. They could then vote no-confidence and defeat the government.


Canada: How to bell Martin the cat

Re Layton and Harper, they are being too cute. Layton's latest proposal for an election in February makes sense but is unlikely to succeed. They have to vote nonconfidence to force the election. Now they're trying to avoid irritating voters by having election campaign over Xmas. They should vote nonconfidence and force Martin to set election date.

The three opposition leaders are now working to find an acceptable compromise to bring down Martin. I hope they succeed. If voters give the Liberals a fifth term in the face of Adscam and Gomery, what will that say about the state of democracy in Canada? I foresee another minority(a slim one). This could be either Conservative or Liberal. In any case we could see the departure of either or both Martin and/or Harper before the follow-up election.

On Blogs Canada Calgary GritCalgaryGrit describes how Layton's scenario might work:

I still think Harper blew a golden chance by not going straight for the jugular, but Layton's timing works well for the opposition parties for several reasons:

1. It moves the vote up nearly two months, limiting the dissipating of Adscam anger.
2. They won't get blamed for triggering a Christmas election.
3. They won't get blamed for disrupting Paul's agenda.
4. The vote will likely be timed to be within a week or two of Gomery's second report. Although that report won't be damning, it will remind people of Adscam, giving the issue life down the homestretch of the campaign.
5. This will also prevent Martin from saying "why don't we wait for Gomery" - because the final report will be out by the time the vote occurs.
6. Most importantly, it won't allow Goodale to bring forward a budget before the vote.

Because Layton is framing it as a choice between an election over Christmas and a vote in February, I suspect most Canadians will see it as a reasonable compromise. And, because of that, it will be very difficult for Martin not to go along with it. Since the motion Layton will introduce on the 24th won't be an explicit non-confidence motion, I suspect the vote won't be binding. But will all the media attention that's sure to follow the vote, Martin really won't have an option but to accept it. And, if by some chance, he refuses to accept the vote, the stage would be set for the opposition parties to bring down the government on December 8th, or on their next opposition day, with all the blame resting squarely on Paul's shoulders.


Senate Passes $10 Billion in Health Cuts

What is the U.S. doing about healthcare? How do people cope there with medical problems?

WEBMD reports that the U.S. Senate passed a sweeping budget bill Thursday approving more than $10 billion in cuts to the Medicare and Medicaid health programs over the next five years.The bulk of savings in the bill comes from cuts to Medicare subsidies to insurance companies and an increase in Medicaid prescription-drug rebates that drug manufacturers must pay to states.

The bill also includes $1.9 billion worth of emergency Medicaid benefits for victims of Hurricane Katrina living in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Political groups have long worried about potential cuts to health benefits as Congress moves to shave tens of billions of dollars from federal spending.
Negotiating Drug Prices

Senators rejected an amendment giving the federal government authority to negotiate directly with drug manufacturers. The drugmakers are getting ready to sell billions of dollars worth of medications through the new Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit.

Following the vote, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) vowed to keep pushing the Medicare bargaining issue "again and again and again."

Current Medicare law bars the government from bargaining for lower prices with drugmakers, a fact that many lawmakers see as a financial giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry because it keeps drug prices higher.

"Let's give this power to the secretary [of health and human services] to save money for the program and save money for seniors," said Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

The amendment gained a 51-vote majority Thursday but failed to pass because procedural rules required 60 votes for approval.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson called for negotiating authority when he stepped down from his cabinet post in December of last year. Thompson led White House efforts to pass the Medicare drug benefit over the objections of many Democrats but surprised his colleagues when he told reporters that the bargaining ban was one of the biggest regrets of his tenure in President Bush's cabinet.

"I would like to have had the opportunity to negotiate," he said.


Beware Your Trail of Digital Fingerprints

The NYT has an interesting article on how metadata can trap the unwary. It discusses the example of an unsigned Microsoft Word document that was circulated by the Democratic National Committee. The memo referred to the "anti-civil rights and anti-immigrant rulings" of Samuel A. Alito Jr., a federal appeals court judge who has been recently nominated for the Supreme Court by President Bush, following the Miers debacle.

The article describes metadata as "sort of the DNA of documents created with modern word-processing software. By default, it is automatically saved into the deep structure of a file, hidden from view, with information that can hint at authorship, times and dates of revisions (along with names of editors) and other tidbits that, while perhaps useful to those creating the document, might be better left unseen by the wider world. "

Metadata and other document gaffes have tripped up other organizations, sometimes with more embarrassing results. The best recent example is the United Nations report on Syria's suspected involvement in the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister, Rafik Hariri. It was a damning report for Syria by any standard, but recipients of a version of the report that went out on Oct. 20 were able to track the editing changes, which included the deletion of names of officials allegedly involved in the plot, including the Syrian president's brother and brother-in-law.


Ask Jack Layton to get off his arse/pull the plug

Librarybitch has a screwed up analysis of the impact of Gomery at http://librarybitch.blogspot.com/

Well,G. So much for that analysis. Did you see today's poll results showing Liberals and conservatives tied? Canadians are upset. Now if Jack Layton would only get off his arse and pull the plug we could hold our noses and get rid of both Martin and Harper. Another minority will lead to the departure of both.

Liberals, Tories tied in post-Gomery poll
Angry Canadians would throw Liberals out if an election were held now, results suggest

Mark Kennedy
The Ottawa Citizen

Friday, November 04, 2005

Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberals have plummeted in popularity because of public anger over the Gomery report and would lose an election if a vote was held now, a major new poll has found.

The findings are contained in a nationwide survey, conducted this week by Ipsos-Reid for CanWest newspapers and Global National, which puts the Liberals and the Conservatives in a dead heat at 31 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.

It is the first survey to gauge the political fallout since Justice John Gomery's report on the sponsorship scandal was released on Tuesday.

The survey's findings reveal that the report has stoked public fury over the way the Liberals pocketed taxpayer funds in an elaborate kickback scheme that was connected to the sponsorship program.

Flickr: No Flash in the Pan

This week's Business Week has a good review of Flickr. They give it four and a half stars.

The Good Uploading and organizing photos are a snap, and the sharing capabilities are great
The Bad Tedious sign-up will deter friends who want to just quickly view a few snapshots
The Bottom Line Flickr is the most innovative photo site around

Now that users can order prints online, one of the most innovative photo sites on the Web just got even better

Things change fast in the online photo sharing and printing business. Since I started writing reviews of these services, such as Kodak's (EK ) EasyShare Gallery, Hewlett-Packard's (HPQ ) Snapfish, and independents like Shutterfly and dotPhoto, each has introduced at least one new feature or price change.

For instance, on Oct. 25 dotPhoto debuted an option for users to upload their own music to slideshows. That move came just a week after I panned the service's corny preset music options. It resulted in a "Stop the presses!" moment for an overview story I did for BusinessWeek magazine -- we changed the text just hours before sending it off to the printers (see BW, 11/7/05, "Which Photo Sites are Best?").

The most recent change, launched on Oct. 26, is Yahoo!'s (YHOO ) decision to let users order prints from Flickr, its photo-sharing site. Flickr has an intuitive and slick user interface and a cult following of users who love to share and blog their photos. Unfortunately, during my early tests, users had to look elsewhere to get glossies in the mail. While I enjoyed using the service, I still had reservations about giving it a top ranking. After all, it seemed to play to just one niche.

Now, Yahoo has announced that users can order prints from Flickr, and that change vaults the service out of the realm of a limited specialty site. Though Flickr has a few shortcomings (and I'm still waiting to see how its prints stack up), it's the most innovative and fun photo site on the Web -- and one I would recommend to just about anyone.

PLAYING TAG. For users looking to do basic print sharing, Flickr is extremely easy to use. The service lets you upload photos via the browser or by downloading a small piece of software that allows you to drag photos en masse into a small box on your desktop. After you hit the "upload" button, the program automatically takes you to a screen where you can add titles and short captions for each photo, as well as "tags" -- short keywords that help you organize the photos and search through them later.

For a group of shots from my cousin's wedding, I tagged each photo with the name of each person in the photo and labelled the whole batch as "Mimi's Wedding." After that, Flickr lets you drag the photos into different "sets" that can be viewed as separate slide shows. The entire process is very simple and doesn't take too much clicking.

Once you upload the photos, Flickr lets you and your friends view the pictures in several different sizes, the largest of which nearly fills the screen. That's a big advantage over other sites, which typically present all images as 4-in. by 6-in., which feels too small on most computer monitors. The high-resolution photos are big and bright on the screen and make you feel proud to have plunked down the cash for a camera with extra megapixels.

REGISTRATION ORDEAL. Unlike the other sites, Flickr doesn't really have any editing features beyond the ability to rotate photos. It would be nice to have a few basic tools here, but I have to say that editing offerings on other sites range from mediocre to just terrible, and so far I haven't been using any of them. You're far better off using dedicated photo-editing software locally on your PC, and it could be that the Flickr engineers agreed with me.

Sharing is a bit different than on other sites. Instead of sending specific albums to friends, Yahoo requires them to sign-up for the entire Flickr service. It's sort of like a social network -- as your friend, they can access all of your photos. This is great for active users who like to regularly check in to see what their pals are up to.

If you just want to show some friends and family members a few photos, it's cumbersome. If they aren't already Yahoo users, they have to go through the sign-up process for a full Yahoo ID. It asks the user dozens of questions, including birth date, job title, and alternate e-mail address.

Several members of my family just gave up on the sign-up process before actually making it to the snapshots. Once friends log in, the photos look great and are easy to view, but there really needs to be a quick-view option for non-Yahoo users that doesn't force them to go through the sign-up process.

GREAT PROCRASTINATION ACTIVITY. Flickr also offers some advanced features not found on other sites. The tags are one of the best and most innovative. By typing a tag -- say, a friend's name -- into a search field, I can quickly bring up every photo with her in it. Beyond your own little world, you can also do a broader tag search, since Flickr gives users the option of making photos public on the site.

So if you want to see other pictures of, say, Central Park in New York, a quick search will bring up thousands of photos taken both by everyday tourists and New Yorkers. The Web site has so many users that you often can make some surprising findings. Doing a global search for the tag "Mimi's Wedding," for instance, showed me wedding photos of a few other women named Mimi. Weird, huh?

The public nature of Flickr takes it beyond simple sharing with friends into a great procrastination activity, too. (Again, it's your choice whether to make your photos public. Flickr will restrict access to select friends, if you want). Many pictures on the site are taken by serious photographers, and Yahoo has a special area it calls "interestingness," where it showcases some of the most stunning shots of the day.

THE BIG PICTURE. From here, users can comment on strangers' photos and highlight and critique specific portions of the shot. Photographs become the starting point for some very interesting dialogues about the work, and often I ended up visiting and surfing around the site just to see what's new. Because most of the photos are viewable in high-resolution and fully downloadable, I ended up finding a few cool new images for my computer's wallpaper in the meantime.

Some improvements are still needed with the print-ordering feature. Currently, you can only buy prints by clicking "order" on each shot individually and adding it to your cart. This is pesky when you want 40 or 50 prints from an album. Also, there's no way to purchase prints of others' photos, be they friends or strangers. Hopefully this will change as the service ramps up.

Still, the robust social aspect of Flickr, along with its solid nuts-and-bolts sharing and uploading software, send the service leaps and bounds ahead of the more conventional photo sites. With the new print-ordering capabilities, it's a great one-stop photo option for all users. Hopefully, the quality of the prints will be up to snuff, too. I've ordered some, so in a few days, I'll let you know in the comment box below this story how they stack up.


Gmail: Just a Bit Too Quirky

Below is an interesting commentary on Gmail extracted from Business Week.

Google's mail service offers plenty of storage and swift, sure searches. Trouble is, some of its eccentricities are just plain annoying
This piece, the third in a series of reviews on Google tools takes a look at Gmail's novel approach (see BW Online, 10/12/05, "Google's Still Got It" and 9/22/05, "Google's Lackluster Blog Search").

ODDBALL APPROACH. Gmail does away with folders, and entrusts organization to what Google (GOOG) does best: search. The service now offers a generous 2.6 gigabytes of storage space, virtually eliminating the need to erase messages. And when you trade e-mails with someone, Gmail makes it simple to follow the thread of the conversation. Gmail celebrates innovation.

But you know something funny? I rarely use my Gmail account. It's clever, I find, but weird. And the soon-to-be released Yahoo! (YHOO) e-mail service that I'm testing blends the good features of Gmail -- lots of storage, great search -- with a more traditional approach that I find comfortable.

An example of Gmail's quirks: Early last summer, I sent a Gmail message to a friend, asking if she'd be going to a mutual friend's birthday party. Turned out she wasn't invited, which led to quite an embarrassment. For months, every message we sent back and forth carried not only the same original label -- "Going to the B-day party?" -- but gathered all the correspondence into one big ball.

IN THE BIN. I would have preferred to leave behind the individual pieces, each one anchored to its original date. I finally started a different string by composing a new message, rather than simply sending a response. And now, as long as we both keep hitting the reply button, another compilation is taking shape.

Looking at the Gmail in-box takes some getting used to. Your own e-mails are tagged simply "Me," and all of the e-mails received and sent are piled together. It's an eyesore. The best way to deal with it is to tag and archive the e-mails.

Although initially disappointed not to find familiar folders, I discovered that Gmail's tagging system works better, because you can cross-reference. If you get an e-mail from your sister about your father, for example, you can tag it with "father" and "sister," and find it in both bins.

UBIQUITOUS EYES. Of course, in the true Google approach, you can dispense with these organizational crutches and simply rely on the search box at the top of the page. As you might expect, it's lightning-fast and accurate.

When Gmail was released in mid-2004, its advertising strategy raised a hubbub. The service combs through the correspondence looking for themes, then drops small, contextually relevant ads into the right-hand margin of the page.

One point in Google's defense: If the idea of computers raking through your mail is worrisome, you might as well skip e-mail altogether. Spam filters are constantly monitoring all of our messages and analyzing the content. The only difference is that they're not all dropping in ads -- and I've barely noticed the ones on Gmail.

A LITTLE SLOW. Compared to Gmail, the new Yahoo service is a throwback to classic e-mail. But it feels more like a desktop setup, such as Microsoft (MSFT) Outlook, than a Web tool. It's a cinch to drag e-mails into folders (yes, folders), and the pages feel broader and more substantial than traditional Web-mail pages.

Like Gmail, Yahoo's upcoming mail includes an excellent search function. Both systems provide a glimpse into each document, allowing you to see the content.

The downside of the new Yahoo service could be its size. It takes a few seconds for the computer to load the application. And, if you have several hundred messages in your in-box, it takes additional time to list them all -- more reason to put things into folders. Any e-mailers out there who still use a narrowband connection may want to stick with an older, simpler service. For now, the leader in that trailing pack would be Microsoft's creaky Hotmail.

STORE OF VALUE. For most of Gmail's first year, Google limited access to its e-mail system. Now it's open to everyone -- at least everyone willing to provide a mobile-phone number. (Google, looking ahead to mobile search, clearly wants that database of wireless-phone numbers.)

For those with the time and inclination to tinker with something new, Gmail is worth checking out. And even if its idiosyncrasies leave you cold, it's still a handy place to store loads of digital data.