Friday, November 26, 2010

 

"ZOMBIFICATION" - THAT'S THE NAME OF THE GAME!

It may sound reasonably close to the title of the Bobby Darin's 1962 hit "Multiplication - That's the Name Of The Game"; but not quite. To his many fans, Darin who died tragically at age 37 in 1973, personified the American Dream. Though born at the height of the Great Depression from a working class Brooklyn, N.Y. family, he rose to substantial success and fame by crossing over through many musical genres from rock to ballads to standards.

Whether they're fans of Bobby Darin or others and however you may wish to define it; many would now suggest that there is not much of the American Dream that is left anymore. New York Times columnist, Bob Herbert summed-up things recently: "Wherever you choose to look - at the economy and jobs, the public schools, the budget deficits, the nonstop warfare overseas - you'll see a country in sad shape."

There is a sense amongst middle Americans that their standards of living are in decline and parents of my generation increasingly believe their offspring will inherit a bad deal. And, "Zombies" (it seems) are poised to bear witness to America's rapid 21st Century decline.

Regulars and followers of cartoonist/political satirist Garry Trudeau; "Doonesbury", will have already noted his recent fixation on the Zombie Game Internet application. Trudeau is just the most recent manifestation of young America's obsession with Zombies - Zombies are "In": As someone recently suggested - "This cannot possibly be a good sign!"

It's hard to track down just where, how, and when the phenomenon started. Some have claimed however that it was the launch of the 2003 black and white comic book series "The Walking Dead" which kicked things off. But if manifestations of horror are a reflection of the world around us; it's fairly easy to see where things are going...



Depending on one's prism of political persuasions and perceptions either American society of "normal" people is being threatened by a cadre of bloodsuckers. Or the United States is teetering on the edge of an era of Zombie politics - To wit: Uninfected humans have to band together and do..."whatever it takes to protect themselves against the irrational undead." As Gail Collins of the New York Times wrote recently.

Portent of our fate and future or not; America's fascination with the "undead" has been growing at grotesque speed - The "Walking Dead" comic book phenom has spawned a television series of the same name which launched on AMC Network on Halloween and is now touted as the hottest new show on television. The first airing on October 31 was viewed by 5-million people in the United-States; the highest ever audience for AMC which has been broadcasting for 26 years. It scored 85/100 (Universal Acclaim) on Meta-Critic an aggregator of TV critics' comments. Based on the success, AMC tripled the initial order of 5 first year episodes, and has ordered-up 13 episodes for 2011.
There's talk now of importing the BBC series "Dead Set" to North America, and the best-seller "Pride, Prejudice and Zombies" is about to made into a movie.

It seems that so far Canadians (may) have somehow avoided contagion from the mutants, the undead and mass zombifications emanating from south of our border. It is probably time to take the appropriate cautionary measures. Perhaps the government should re-cycle those left-over H1N1 (swine-flu) Vaccines into an antidote against this looming infectious epidemic.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

 

DERAILING THE "TOMMOROWLAND EXPRESS."

From Woody Guthrie's hobo lullaby "The City of New Orleans", through Billy Strayhorn's "Take The A Train", and Glenn Miller's "Chattanooga Choo Choo"; musicians, troubadours and poets reflect the nature of their times with their compositions. Though troubling, it wasn't all surprising that songs performed during last weekend's "American Music Awards" in Los Angeles included "Times Like These" performed by Kid Rock; and "Pray" by teen-pop idol, Justin Beiber.

It was just about one year ago that U.S. President Barack Obama in a much publicized speaking engagement in Tampa, Florida rolled-out his Administration's plan to develop a nationwide multi-billion dollar high-speed rail system as a significant element of his nation's efforts to reduce energy costs; get cars off choked highways; and fight the release of CO2 gasses into the atmosphere. Florida was among the first state expected to benefit from the program with a 168 MPH train link between Tampa and Orlando, and future plans to extend the system south to Miami and then north along the Atlantic coast to Jacksonville.

Now Florida is on the verge of becoming the biggest train wreck yet along Mr. Obama's much touted plan. So far the state has received $2-Billion (70% of total cost) from the Federal Government for the rail link set to launch in 2015. But; brimming with confidence from this month's mid-term Congressional elections, and vowing to rein-in government spending; Republican conservatives have zeroed-in on "high-speed rail" as wasteful and too expensive at a time when all levels of governments are dealing with horrific budget pressures.

Critics claim the projects will only worsen the U.S. debt and will not attract sufficient riders in an American culture built around highways, automobiles and cheap gasoline. The backlash against rail projects as relief for congested roads and highways is rippling across the country. The "New York Times" has identified several projects already chopped: An $8.7 tunnel and rail line to connect New Jersey and New York has been cancelled by the Governor of New Jersey. - The Governor-elect of Wisconsin ran on a promise to kill a high-speed rail link between Milwaukee and Madison. - And; the Governor-elect of Ohio has promised to stop plans for a similar project in his state. As for Florida the Republican Governor-elect, Rick Scott, claims it isn't too late to knock the train off the tracks here as well.

In Canada, the government of Prime-Minister Stephen Harper has already signalled it plans to reign-in federal spending to slay our ballooning deficit closing-in on $60 Billion in the current fiscal year. It's already withdrawn funding for Edmonton's plan to host the 2017 "World Fair"; and may be setting the stage to kibosh the Quebec City bid for the 2022 "Olympic Winter Games" by denying funding for a new arena which might also accommodate a new "Nordiques" NHL franchise. If America is to set the trend: The City of Ottawa's plan for a $3-Billion underground "light-rail" system; VIA Rail plans for high-speed links in the Quebec City/Windsor corridor; and subway extensions in both Toronto and Montreal; might very well be tempting targets to "spread the pain" as pressure intensifies to control spending.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

 

HAVE ROOM IN THERE FOR JIMI AND JANIS TOO?

There is tradition dating back a couple of centuries in American politics that an outgoing Head of Government grants clemency to, or pardons "worthy" convicted felons. For instance, it was just shy of 2 years ago that the relationship between the former President, George W. Bush; and his White House partner, V.P. Dick Cheney; iced-up after the President refused to pardon "Scooter" Libby (Cheney's assistant) who'd been convicted of lying to a Grand Jury.

Exiting Florida Governor, Charlie Crist, is causing quite a stir of emotions in his home state with a proposal to grant a "posthumous pardon" to Jim Morrison, who fronted the iconic 1960's rock band: "The Doors". Lest I digress - Mr. Crist, is the Republican Governor who followed Jeb Bush in the Florida Legislature. He turned "independent" last summer and ran for the U.S. Senate earlier this month, and was defeated.

Those of my generation and enthusiasts of Rock n' Roll history will recall the Gladiator like Miami confrontation following a March 1, 1969 "Doors" concert, which ultimately pitted fans of the Sixties counter-culture against those of the "Mainstream" then spear-headed by Miami born orange juice pitch-woman - Anita Bryant.

History lesson you query? - No question that the concert was a ruckus from the git' go! (That's about all anyone has ever agreed on) It was alleged that an intoxicated Jim Morrison..."stumbled through 'Light My Fire' and 'Break On Through', taunted the crowd and threatened to expose himself before fans mobbed the stage." The melee was subsequently investigated by a Miami Crime Commission and six arrest warrants were issued against Morrison for "lewd and lascivious behavior (sic)." A report in the Miami Herald newspaper having claimed that the rock icon..."appeared to simulate masturbation during his performance."

In its wake, three weeks later, songstress Anita Bryant, Comedian Jackie Gleason and "boy band" (1950's version) "The Lettermen" staged a "Rally For Decency" attended by an estimated 30,000 high-schoolers and their parents. In a letter to the rally, President Richard Nixon, told organizers they were showing..."admirable initiative."

A year later, Jim Morrison was convicted on two misdemeanor (sic) charges: Profanity and Indecent Exposure. He was fined $500 and sentenced to 6 months in jail. Morrison was appealing both convictions when he died in Paris at aged 27 on July 3, 1971.

Well passions run deep, and they're threatening to erupt once more down in the (very) Deep-South. Governor Crist has confirmed to no less than the "New York Times" that he..."will submit Morrison's name to a state clemency board next month." Though it's viewed by many as the culmination of a four-decades long battle. Others see it differently: A stoking of the socially polarizing forces which continue to afflict Americans.

At stake (it seems) is the underlying belief that not only were the charges against Morrison "trumped-up," but that they were used to discredit the emerging counter- culture which ultimately led to the subsequent turbulent times of the War in Viet-Nam, the racial tensions and riots, and beyond. Times from which the United States have hardly begun the emerge. It seems that as a parting gesture Governor Crist is choosing to align himself with that interpretation.

Stay tuned!

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

 

TOURIST TRAP OR SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST?

Brand identification is all important in today's instant gratifying social media fueled marketing business. Take television for example; it isn't quite by accident that all TV stations and networks identify themselves permanently with their corporate logo emblazoned in a corner of the screen's image. The cable provider I subscribe to here in central Florida delivers almost 1000 channels. When "clicking" through the channels if a viewer can't identify the channel immediately...it's there...and it's gone. Lest I digress: Apparently "clicking through the channels" at breakneck speed is a "male" thing.

A recent weekend wire service story which received little notice in Canada caught my eye. The New York based "FutureBrand" index moved Canada to the number one position; top o' the list (as it were), in its global survey of countries with the most favorable brand. Heck, this may be the very first time we've topped the list since Shirley Temple and Randolph Scott starred in "Susannah Of The Mounties" in 1939.

The Country Brand Index surveys about 3500 international business and leisure travellers to about 100 countries each year. Canada has been climbing in the survey ranking from 12th place in 2006, to second in 2008 and 2009. The Canadian Tourism Commission takes full credit for the positive showing claiming that's been part of a long-term strategy which was anchored on the success of last winter's Olympic Games in British Columbia.

I suspect the successful "branding effort" can't come soon enough. In reality Canada's tourism business, which ultimately depends on the travel choices and preferences of the vast United States market, has suffered massive decline since Homeland Security imposed its passport rules for returning American citizens in June 2008, at just about the same time the U.S. economy sank into a deep recession from which it hasn't recovered. Less than a quarter of Americans, about 85-million, have a passport. While that is still an impressive number; the stark reality is that cross-border USA visits into Canada have remained flat at 10-million in each of the 3 successive years since the Homeland Security rules came into effect. In contrast, Canada's 35-million residents account for more than 26-million visits to the United States each year, including 4-million to Florida and/or California (blame the rigours of Canada's climate) and close to 6-million to the border states of New York, Michigan and Washington.

The reverse has seen a dramatic decline in visits to Canada's most popular tourist destination Niagara Falls, and other major tourist destinations north of the 49th parallel, including cities like Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto. Large border community casinos built to attract Americans to Canada's "tax-free" gambling conquests are actually losing money! The Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation's (OLG) casinos at Niagara Falls (2) and in Windsor lost money in 2009.

If Canada's effort to reach top status in this global ranking required the Gargantuan effort of the 2010 Winter Olympic Games to succeed, it is a step in the right direction. But, we will need a whole more to stay near (or at) the top; and our North American partner the United-States may need to kick-in a whole lot more into its share than their restrictive security measures on land, sea and in the air currently are willing to allow.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

 

ROAD STORIES...

There was a time when I'd have posted a number with (and to) these "road stories". frankly I've lost track from having commuted between Ottawa and the "Sunshine State" dozens of times since my first road trip in 1987 in my brand new Buick "Sommerset".

GONE: AMERICAN MODEL OF EFFICIENCY - It's obviously a generational thing. In the aftermath of World War II, the "international" border area where I was born and raised was home to Loring Air Force Base: At the time America's largest "Strategic Air Command Operation" - Read: Atomic Bomb carrying aeroplanes - It was the height of the Cold War and American know-how and efficiency in keeping the "bad guys" at bay were held-up as a model to the world. On Wednesday, at the Thousand Islands International border crossing, I was the one to point-out to U.S. border officials that they'd forgotten to open their "trusted traveller" (Nexus lane). Down the road a few hundred miles in Pennsylvania, road "under construction" warnings ended just about a mile before the "actual" construction site started. Speaking of the "Cold War" - If travels take you on Interstate highways; you may have wondered about the frequent "Eisenhower Interstate Highway System" signs: They occur wherever a highway is "one mile" straight. A design, to this day financed by the U.S. Federal Government, meant to allow World War II era aeroplanes to land in the event of war.

IMPACT OF THE ECONOMIC TIMES - Times are tough, states and counties are struggling with massive deficits which are the result of historic unemployment rates and the collapse of the U.S. housing market. It's hard to believe that desperately raising cash is not a key motivator in the unusual number of police "speed traps" along the nation's highways. Something I've never seen before: It's not just the State Troopers out in force, but local Sheriff's Officers along whichever stretch of an interstate highway cuts through their county.

YES!...BUT EXCEPT NORTH CAROLINA - There is a sense of economic gloom through most eastern seaboard states: Not North Carolina which exudes prosperity and optimism. This state is open for business, and it shows. Near Fayetteville they've even built a highway interchange leading to a "future" Highway #295. It seems America's "war on terror" has been very, very good to the NC people. The fore mentioned Fayetteville area is home to Fort Bragg, the Marine training facility; and to Pope Air Force Base, one of the largest in the U.S.

CONCLUSION: WHERE ARE THE QUEBECOIS RV'S - I've whined for years about the convoys of Quebec Recreational Vehicles and Mobile Homes towing every manner of worldly possessions clogging the Interstates and heading south towards Florida at this time each November. This year; they are nowhere to be seen. My conclusion is that this fall's parity of the Canadian dollar with the U.S. Greenback got my fellow (french-speaking) Canadians unto the highways earlier than their usual mid-November. Amen!

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

 

ONE TIN SOLDIER...

At the eleventh hour; of the eleventh day; of the eleventh month...
WE "WILL REMEMBER" THEM:



In tribute of, and memory to, the millions who have served Canada in war:
The Boer wars - World War I - World War II - Korea - Afghanistan

And in the noblest of our professions, "Peacekeeper" to the world (1956-2010):
Suez - Congo - West New Guinea - Cyprus - Middle East - Syria - Lebanon - Sinai - Namibia - Western Sahara - Croatia - Somalia - Haiti - Rwanda - Bosnia & Herzegovina - Central African Republic - East Timor - Kosovo - Ethiopia & Eritrea - Sudan - Darfur.

May there soon be Peace on earth!

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

 

YIN AND YANG IN NEW FRANCE

As with all things in the natural world, contrary forces become frequently interconnected and interdependent. In the concept of yin-yang the complementary opposites often interact within the greater whole.

There is long, sometimes bitter, and much history between France and Canada dating as far back as the 16Th Century with the arrival of the first settlers to the colonies of the new world. More than 500 years later their impact remains in the vibrant North American French language culture firmly anchored in the province of Quebec, and preserved to a degree by the bilingual nature of Canada's national institutions.

Ironically, France's thirty year struggle to solve and come to terms with a terrorist attack on its homeland will reach all the way to Canada's federal capital over the next few days. On Friday, October 3, 1980 a motorcycle bomb blasted a Paris synagogue injuring and killing a total of about 45 people. French authorities believe a Canadian, Hassan Diab, is responsible. Born in Lebanon and educated in Syracuse, New York; Professor Diab taught Sociology at the University of Ottawa until his arrest in 2008. France's demands to extradite Hassan Diad will be adjudicated in a hearing which begins on Monday in an Ottawa court.

From the time of the great wars of the 20Th Century (perhaps before) and certainly through the frequently acerbic, bitter, gut wrenching and sadly occasionally violent struggles of the independence movement in Quebec; relations have sometimes strained between France and Canada. Yin and Yang are often described in the same way: Shadowy places trade with the brightly lit as the sun moves across the sky in the passage of time.

In 1763, the Treaty of Paris ceded all of New France to Britain except for a group of small islands, the Territorial Collectivity of Saint Pierre and Miquelon about 15 miles off Canada's far eastern coast. The islands are France's only remaining possessions in North America. Now the territory says it survival may depend on much closer cooperation with the Atlantic Provinces, especially with bilingual New Brunswick, in matters of health care, social services and economic development.

It seems as with many other matters about the relationship with France; the territory has often been a thorn in the side of Canadian authorities. In 1992, a maritime boundary dispute over fishing rights had to be settled by binding arbitration. In recent months, France has laid claims to an even larger swath of seabed to gain exploration rights to the energy resources at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean.

Economically, Saint Pierre and Miquelon have suffered dramatically from the collapse of the Cod fishery. It's a far cry from the 13 year economic boom locals still talk about, which was fuelled by the period of "Prohibition" in the United States from 1920 to 1933. That's when the territory was the prominent base for alcohol smuggling through the American northeast from Washington, through New York, Boston and just about everywhere else in between. The issue led to a level of discomfort within the U.S. Administration particularly after Franklin D. Roosevelt became President in 1933. It deepened to lasting distrust in December 1941 when, without the consent of, nor consultation with Canada or the United-States, Free-French forces commanded by Charles de Gaulle took control of the islands and installed a sympathiser as Governor.

Lest I digress: President Roosevelt knew the area well having himself been raised on Campobello Island in the Bay of Fundy off the coast of New Brunswick. Ironically, FDR chose another rum-running haven for his own secret World War II confabs with Winston Churchill a month later in January 1942 at the then notorious "Cap's Place" a beached barge in Hillsboro Inlet, Lighthouse Point, Florida. General de Gaulle was never invited to any of those meetings.

The claim is that time heals most ailments. The centuries long turbulent relationships about the territories of "New France" in all their permutations over the last 500 years may be the exception to the rule.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

 

GOOD; BAD AND HAND ME DOWNS

A story which made the circuit of domestic wire services last weekend caused me to reflect about Canada's shrinking contributions to innovation in technology. The story in question deals with National Defence's desire to buy Presidential helicopter cast-off from the United-States as spare parts for the 14 remaining Search and Rescue 'Cormorant' helicopters.

Our helicopters, bought in 1998 and in-service in 2004, aren't that old. The fleet has however faced a series of problems and currently has a shortage of spare parts. After investing more than $3-Billion on its own fleet of three such helicopters: "Marine One" to ferry the President, the U.S. Administration has cancelled their deal as a cost cutting initiative. That's where Canada wants in: Far too willing we are these days to seemingly accept cast-offs and hand me downs from our allies.

Sixty years ago, In the aftermath of World War II and for decades thereafter Canada was a primary leader in the fields of space technology and aviation development amongst the industrialized nations of the world. Our C-102 passenger jetliner flew in August of 1949, ten years before the Boeing 707. It was built by A.V. Roe Canada of Downsview, Ontario, and that success was followed by the astounding technological advancements of the AVRO Arrow jet fighter capable of sustained Mach 2 flight as early as 1958.

In 1972, Ottawa based Telesat Canada launched Anik A-1, the world's first domestic communications satellite capable of maintaining geostationary orbit. Though Telesat is still the fourth largest space communications company in the world; it is now 64% owned by Loral Space and Communications of Delaware.

Canada's contributions to the U.S. Space Shuttle program, and subsequently to the international orbiting "Space Station," by way of the robotic CanadArm are well known. But; with just two shuttle missions remaining, and no U.S. replacement planned, it seems that we'll be forced to hitchhike with pretty much any one who will have us if Canadians expect to continue contributing to the Space Station for its remaining lifespan until the scheduled phase-out in 2020.

Like his new "Marine One" choppers, President Obama has already killed "Project Constellation," his predecessor's return to the Moon program in advance of a U.S. manned Mars mission. Optimism it seems spring eternal: Late in June Canada's Space Agency called public bids to develop two "Lunar Exploration Light Rover" prototypes to be..."upgradeable for short distance crew transportation for one or potentially two astronauts." Okay! That tender call came just days after the agency gave a $10-Million contract to Space X of California. The company is owned by the founder of E-Bay, Elon Musk, and its cargo space crafts have a roughly $2-Billion contract to re-supply the "Space Station," once the last Shuttle Endeavour mission flies in February. Space X hopes some day to fly humans into space, apparently the Canadian Space Agency is already in the boarding lounge with a $10-Million ticket. I hope that it's "Business Class," the wait could be long.

If we are not already quite there yet; there are good signs and ample evidence that Canada's efforts in space and aviation technologies and development are becoming increasingly marginal. Maybe just as much as has our Military's once storied and iconic "Peace Keeping" role to the world has been marginalized. To say nothing of our status with the United Nations Organization.

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