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Ignatieff is Russian for "scapegoat"

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Lawrence Cannon would have us believe that it is Michael Ignatieff's fault that, for the first time since the UN was created, Canada failed to win its bid for one of the non-permanent seats on the UN Security Council.

According to Cannon, Ignatieff's musings about whether or not Canada actually deserved a seat on the council were taken to heart by the voting members, which means that although actual Canadians don't appear to pay any attention to Ignatieff, international organizations take him very seriously.

The Harper government also plans to release documentation proving that Ignatieff is in fact responsible for many other disappointments and disasters affecting our once-united nation, including the decline in the polar bear population, traffic problems in and around Toronto, and diver Eric Sehn's 4th place finish in Delhi.

After all, Ignatieff, with his book learning and unkempt eyebrows, is clearly hell-bent on destroying our national image. Not like Stephen Harper, whose collection of cowboy hats, leather vests and flak jackets prove he is all man, and whose international policies have nothing to do with today's vote. Why wouldn't the UN voters decide, en masse, to vote for Portugal, unless Ignatieff's inflamatory remarks swayed them?

Obviously, the vote does not reflect anything else, such as Harper's all-too-blatant pro-American stance, or his rather lopsided approach to the Middle East, or his government's repeated fumbling of allegations of abuse and torture in Afghanistan, or his decision to stop for coffee instead of participating in an international world leaders' meeting at the UN last year. Nor does the vote reflect global distaste for recent Canadian policy decisions, such as our moralizing about maternal health in developing nations, our backpedalling on climate change, our turning a blind eye to the tar sands problem, or our lavish and hypocritical overspending on the G8 summit.

Maybe Ignatieff should embrace the thought that his remarks were to blame - after all, perhaps he can parlay his apparently global influence into some voter recognition where it really counts... and if all else fails, he can always roll up the rim.

Let's talk about sex, baby

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At the recent curriculum night at Colin's school, I discovered, much to my dismay, that Sex Ed is practically non-existent. It's not part of the Phys Ed curriculum; it might be covered in Ethics, by the school nurse, in a single one-hour class. It turns out that this is true across the province, even in other places like our local high school - despite the perpetually high number of teenage mothers in places like our neighbourhood.

There's a petition to make sex ed an official part of the curriculum; I gladly signed this petition, and I encourage my fellow Quebecers to do the same.

We think that people figure sex out on their own, or learn what they need to from their peers, or from their parents, but the fact is that many people learn what they need the hard way - through unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, sexual harrassment or assault - rather than knowing what to do before these things happen. Not all parents are comfortable talking about sex, or prefer to dictate behavior (i.e., "just don't have sex, junior," which I believe is the unrealistic head-in-the-sand approach that only creates more opportunities for mistakes). Not all peers are well-informed, either – one of my students recently said something that made it clear to me that she’d “learned” (or not asked and just assumed) incorrect information about using condoms. If she had not been corrected, chances are that when she eventually chose to have sex, she would not have insisted on a condom, and who knows what the consequences would have been?

The text of the petition is in French only, but the gist* of it is that sex ed is not really provided in our schools, and that the lack of an official mandate to teach about sex and sexuality means that most teachers don't teach such things, and/or are uncomfortable doing so. Sex ed classes offer more than biological facts; they teach teenagers to think critically about sex, orientation, and sexual or gender stereotypes, and to develop consciously a well-considered set of attitudes and behaviours when it comes to sex. Sex ed classes provide a safe and well-informed venue for questions and frank discussions.

The petition text ends with a request for the Province to mandate courses in sexuality in a democratic, non-sexist and non-hetero-sexist context.

I'm trying to decide if it's fair to say that sex ed is like drivers' ed... I suspect that some people believe that if we teach teens about sex, they will go off and have sex, just as teaching them to drive means they're always borrowing the car. I think that the analogy works if we remember that drivers' ed is about teaching our kids to drive well, and responsibly. Teaching our kids about sex doesn't mean that we're hiring hookers for them - it means that we're teaching them what they need to know to stay safe and healthy, no matter what.

*any one who wants to provide a more accurate/full-length/more poetic translation is welcome to include it in the comments on this post!

So this is 2009

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Ah, new year, what do you have in store for me?

Another election? Probably.

Oh, and here's my take on the Ignatieff leadership: Bob Rae and Gerard Kennedy and the rest of the contenders didn't so much step aside to allow the coronation of Iggy as they did suspend their campaigning for now. By letting Ignatieff take the interim leadership, they're also letting him be the guy who has to deal with Harper, the economy, the post-prorogue Parliament, and the snow. Then in May, when everything's warm and sunny, they'll be back, armed with new ammunition based on Iggy's mishandling of all of the above.

Of course, this strategy assumes he will, in fact, mishandle things. This is not an altogether preposterous assumption - after all, this is the guy who thinks we can finally deal with the whole constitution crisis thingie once and for all, and move on. Frankly, only a guy who hasn't lived in the country and hasn't been paying attention can make a broad statement like that with a straight face.

I'm willing to give Iggy a chance, really, because he scares me less than Harper, and these days Layton comes across as the creepy uncle who keeps asking you to sit on his knee at the family reunion. Having said that, there are several obstacles to overcome:

1. Harper is still, technically, in power
2. No one seems to really like Ignatieff
3. We're all sick to death of elections and campaigning
4. We're all more interested in Obama than our own government, and all these crises are a little distracting
5. The media don't seem to like Iggy, as evidenced by the fact that they keep posting the worst possible photos of him
6. His name - no one seems completely sure how to spell it, and I have yet to hear it pronounced the same way twice
7. His background - we are fine with Russian aristocracy in an abstract way, but do we really want to live through years of headlines about Count Canuck or Czar Iggy?
8. Eyebrows. They didn't help Dukakis, either.

What do you do with a problem like Sharia?

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So apparently the Archbishop of Canterbury is all for integrating Sharia law into the British courts, and his saying so publicly has drawn a barrage of criticism from just about every direction.

Frankly, I'm not prepared to take a stand one way or the other (well, yes I am, in the sense that it's pretty clear to me that a secular, democratic nation, be it the UK, the USA, Canada, or any other nation that claims to be one, should by definition remove any non-secular references from its legislation, beyond the inclusion of religious belief being a fundamental right of the citizenry - but I digress). Nor do I want to make any comment along the lines of "isn't it funny how a nation whose history over the last half-millennium has been primarily shaped by its rejection of the papacy sticks a different funny hat on a different aging priest, particularly one whose eyebrows are, frankly, outrageous, and considers it front-page news when this guy throws in his two pence."

My actual rant is about the Prime Minister (theirs, not ours), who in reference to the A of C's "support" of Sharia law in Britain said that "British laws should be based on British values."

Ahem.

It seems to me that if there are enough people in Britain for whom the Sharia issue is relevant, which is a fair assumption, then perhaps, just maybe, the PM might consider that the values of these people - traditional (read white Christian) values notwithstanding - are, at least in part, British values. No?

As I said, I am not trying to get into whether or not there is a place for religious law in national courts. In fact, there seems to be a fairly strong indication from vocal religious groups that they're not really interested in redefining British law. But to arrogantly say "we're not doing the Sharia thing cuz it's not British" is tantamount to saying "you can be Muslim, or you can be British, but you can't be both."

Harumph.

Ok, I'm done now - told you I'd find something to rant about.

The son also rises

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Mackay happy to let sleeping dogs lie

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Former flame Belinda Stronach? She's a dog (granted, he's still in denial about that one).

Fellow Nova Scotian MP and former NDP leader Alexa McDonough? She should "stick to her knitting."

So, you ask, what does our quick-witted, silver-tongued Foreign Affairs Minister have to say about the Saddam Hussein verdict?

"I think it would be pre-emptive to be passing any judgments or making any firm public declarations," is what.

Now, is it just me, or does that response reek of "we're waiting to see what kind of response we can come up with that the Americans will like but that won't make Canadians gag"? Or maybe it's a stall, and we'll give a response after the American elections.

Perhaps I'm just a dogged knitter with my knickers in a twist, but it seems to me that we need a Foreign Minister who (a) understands why you're not supposed to make remarks that many, many, MANY people will find offensive, (b) can recognize that references to female politicians as either knitters or Setters are among those remarks, (c) is grown-up and professional enough to admit that s/he's messed up, without blaming it on his/her grandmother (the knitting remark) or denying it altogether despite evidence on tape and sworn affidavits to the contrary (the dog reference), and (d) is confident in his/her postition as the person who's supposed to know all about all the foreign stuff to comment on something pretty frickin major, foreign-wise.

There - I've said my piece, and I can get back to my plot to take over the country knitting.

Information! Get yer information here!

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Interesting things are afoot down south.

Senator John Cornyn, a Republican from Texas and a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, have introduced new legislation concerning the Freedom of Information Act - including a special mention of bloggers:

The Cornyn-Leahy legislation is not just pro-openness, pro-accountability, and pro-accessibility - it's also pro-Internet. It includes a hotline enabling citizens to track their requests, including Internet tracking, and grants privileged FOIA fees for bloggers and writers for Internet outlets, providing the same status as traditional media.

Great! Now hand over them Nixon tapes, please.

Adding to his collection

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Yesterday was former PM Jean Chretien's turn on the witness stand in the Gomery Commission inquiry into the 2003 sponsorship 'scandal'.

"Chrétien ended the day by taking a theatrical shot at inquiry commissioner Gomery, who said in a controversial year-end media interview that he found the fact the Prime Minister's Office had golf balls made up with Chrétien's signature to be "small town cheap."

chretiengolfball_cp_7096807.jpg
Former prime minister Jean Chrétien holds a golf ball during his testimony at the Gomery inquiry. (CP photo)

A smiling Chrétien proceeded to pull from his briefcase golf balls that he said he'd received from people from small towns, including U.S. President George W. Bush and former president Bill Clinton."

One might say he now has a pair from Mr. Gomery, too. Gomery did try to stop Chretien, who refused to stop because "it's too much fun."

As part of his testimony, Chretien also said it was misleading to refer to the ad agencies who allegedly benefitted from the affair as "Liberal-friendly" - he claims the agencies are in fact "federalism-friendly" and that the alternative would have been "separatist-friendly" companies.

Ah, well, that's alright then.

Granted, math was never my forte

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Ok, math is hard. Goodness knows, I'm not stellar when it comes to personal finances, as Dr. T will attest (most likely while clutching his heart and becoming even paler). But even I can't lose $9 billion US. This is no doubt why I haven't been recruited by the "U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, which governed Iraq after the invasion up until mid-2004."

The $9 billion whoopsie was discovered in a recent audit of the CPA. One particularly interesting finding in the audit shows that "funds went to pay the salaries of 8,206 Iraqi guards, yet the audit could verify the existence of only 602 guards."

The other side of this potentially missing coin is the issue of so-called combat pay. Alternet reports that not only are front-line soldiers earning a mere $225 a month - which is about$7.50 a day - for their part in G.I. Joe, the Reality Series, but that other military personnel, hundreds of miles from the action, are making the same wage. So the soldiers who are getting shot at, blown up, and stoned in the streets are making the same as the ones who are polishing the general's shoes, somewhere that isn't in the streets.

I suppose one could argue that front-line soldiers are there because that's where they were sent, and the same is true for those holding down the fort miles from the danger zone. This is true - so perhaps the front-liners shouldn't be making more, since the fort-holders didn't choose not to fight. But $7.50 a day? How is this justifiable?

That's exactly what I asked myself, and these are the answers I found:

According to Military.com, those qualified for "Immanent Danger Pay" are also exempt from taxes on that pay. Also, the IDP is paid on top of the minimum $1,142.70 per month earned by an enlisted soldier with less than 4 months experience. Militarypay.com also reports that "Most soldiers... get more than just basic pay. Those on active duty are given an allowance for housing and subsistence, incentive pay, medical and other benefits." Incentive pay is given for things like speaking foreign languages, flying, diving, and so on.

So it's essentially misleading for Alternet's reporter to suggest that the US soldiers are earning $7.50 per day - the truth is, the $7.50 is a bonus for being involved in the conflict. There are also allowances for clothing, housing, education, and, for the soldiers in Iraq, a special allowance for the families they've left behind.

It's still not much - you certainly couldn't get me to slip into fatigues and dash off to the streets of Bagdhad, not even for an additional $7.50 a day.

Now, for $9 billion, I'd consider it.

And the band played on

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George W. is in the midst of his second inauguration. Yesterday's "celebrity-studded, flag-waving extravaganza, “Saluting Those Who Serve," was a roller-coaster of emotional ups and downs. For instance, "family members of soldiers killed in combat had brief speaking roles, and satellite links enabled U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq to participate as well."

This morning, I was woken by the CBC news coverage of this event, including a clip of a young boy, who gave his name, and that of his father, who was killed in Iraq. Call me a cynic, but doesn't this kind of presentation just feel like blatant propaganda? Bush is just lucky that none of these family members, in their brief speaking roles, chose to say "my dad is dead, and it's your fault." Regardless of whether or not one supports the general idea of the War on Terror, using the family members of the dead is nothing short of exploitation. :P

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