Thursday, July 18, 2024

A little glimpse into who JD Vance is

If you want a little glimpse at who Trump running mate and vice presidential nominee JD Vance is - does he not have a proper name? even his wife calls him JD! - a little snippet from his speech at the Republican National Convention last night affords one such.

Vance makes a big deal about his relatively humble beginnings - the Republicans don't have many members that can do that, so he's a valuable commodity - and one of the tedious anecdotes in his speech was about this grandmother ("Mamaw"), who was found dead in 2005 with 19 loaded handguns stashed everywhere around the house.

Anyway, Vance's point was not, "Crap, that is just so dangerous! No wonder the USA has a problems with gun violence!" It wasn't even, " Now, how did such a poor person get hold of, and manage to pay for, 19 guns?" No, his punchline was, "That's who we fight for. That's American spirit!" Audience members guffawed and cheered wildly, so I guess that was the correct interpretation of the story.

That, my friends, is JD Vance. And, for what it's worth, I'm guessing at Jeremiah Donald. 

Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Republican "unity" merely means bending the knee to Trump

There can be no better illustration of the extent to which Donald Trump has dominated and remade the Republican Party in his own image than the Republican Convention love-fest going on in Wisconsin right now.

Speaker after speaker fell over themselves in an attempt to be seen as even more pro-Trump than the previous overblown speaker. Most notable are the one-time Trump opponents, or even Trump-haters, who have apparently had a spiritual revelation on the way to the Convention. Nikki Haley, Ron DeSantis, Ben Carson, Vivek Ramaswamy, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio - all of these influential Republicans once professed hatred and scorn for Trump, often in very graphic terms. And Trump scorned them back, often with offensive and belittling name-calling (remember Birdbrain Nikki, DeSanctimonious Ron, Lyin' Ted, Little Marco?)

And top of the pile must be one-time "never-Trumper" JD Vance, who has now officially been made Trump's running mate (and potential Vice President). From outspoken critic to lickspittle-in-chief. Pretty impressive.

So, what's with these Paulian conversions, these transformations and 180° flip-flops? Well, the buzzword of the Convention is "unity", by which we are supposed to believe is meant national unity in the wake of the Trump shooting, but which is actually all about party unity. From the vitriol which they continue to spit at Joe Biden and the Democrats, it's pretty clear that they have no interest in THAT kind of unity.

How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for some of these miraculous comversions. Of course, it's all about realpolitik. These are professional politicians and power junkies. They don't care that they may have completely jettisoned some of the policies they once espoused, and on which they were voted into Congress by the people they are supposed to represent. It's all about rallying behind the person - any person - they see as their mealticket into power. Everyone is diminished apart from Donald J. Trump, and they are OK with that. It's not necessary to actually be persuaded by Trump's arguments, only to bend the knee in the interests of "unity". If that requires some Orwellian doublethink, then so be it.

I have been watching House of the Dragon recently, and it's hard not see some parallels with modern American politics. A little less killing and fewer dragons, sure. But the rampant deceit and mendacity, and the cut-throat attitudes, are all quite reminiscent. And it's almost as compelling television, were it not so depressing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Big Grocery beats out Big Beverage in recycling game

For a tantalizing (but short) time there was a possibility that Ontario could finally establish a deposit return system for soft-drink containers, similar to the one that already exists for alcohol containers in the province, and for soft drink containers in most other provinces.

Ontario has the worst recycling rates in Canada for cans, plastic bottles and cartons. But about a year ago, a working group was set up to look into what can be done here, a working group including representatives from the beverage industry, the retail industry, the waste management industry, environmental groups and provincial officials. Hope was in the air for a while.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, out of the blue, senior officials from the Ford administration summarily shut down the working group

It seems the Retail Council of Canada, representing the major grocery and big box chains like Loblaws, Metro, Costco, Walmart, etc, went behind the backs of the other participants and used their prodigious influence to get Ontario to shut down the whole idea of a soft drink recycling system, an idea that might cost them some money and eat into their huge profits. The Canadian Beverage Association, representing the likes of Coca Cola and PepsiCo, which interestingly enough was very much in favour of the recycling plan, is outraged at the province's shifty move, as of course are the various environmental stakeholders. 

Big Grocery 1 : Big Beverage 0. End of game.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Trump's would-be assassin missing a clear motive

The next chapter in the ongoing soap opera (farce?) that is the American federal election is being written as we speak. Front-runner Donald Trump survived what is being called an assassination attempt, the latest in a series of assassinations and assassination attempts that have blighted US politics for decades.

But the "assassin", Thomas Matthew Crooks, a 20-year old math and history geek employed as a kitchen worker at a local nursing home in suburban Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, turns out to have been a registered  Republican (although, to complicate things, he did also make a $15 donation to a Democratic fundraiser back in 2021).

So, of course, the question arises: was it really an assassination attempt? I confess that when I first saw the footage of the shooting, my very first thought was: "I bet this was a set-up by some Republican aiming to elicit a sympathy vote for Trump". It's a huge indictment of modern America, Trump and the Republican Party that such a lurid made-for-TV idea would even occur to me. That, or my own cynicism.

And I'm far from the only one who thought, at least at the beginning, that the whole thing might have been staged, and a bunch of conspiracy theories have already surfaced in the darker regions of the Internet - I'm talking about X/Twitter here -  conspiracy theories on both sides of the political aisle.

Mr. Crooks - who is now dead, killed within seconds by security personnel, so we will probably never know his motives - was big into guns and explosives, watching TV shows like Demolition Ranch, and sporting hunting outfits to school. But it turns out he wasn't actually a very good shot, despite his predilection for crawling around on roofs with his dad's "AR-style rifle". In fact, he never even made his school's varsity rifle team, despite trying. (Wait, schools have rifle teams?) So he probably wasn't capable of deliberately taking out an ear at such a distance (about 150 metres).

So, just another disturbed individual with access to guns? I guess. No clear motive immediately pops out from what we know so far. But Trump will probably get his talking point and his sympathy vote anyway, given that he does not feel the need to stick to the actual truth. Indeed, he raised his little fist to the cameras and mouthed "Fight!", after calling on the security detail to wait while he bled a little more. The crowd cheered and rose to their feet in defiance. 

That photo of a bloodied Trump, fist raised, with an American flag billowing behind him in a pure blue sky, will be shared ad nauseam by supporters (already has), his very own Iwo Jima graphic. Some politicians are already referring to him as a kind of martyr to the cause, even though he actually just has a small nick out of one ear. From one Florida Congressman: "First they tried to silence him. Then they tried to imprison him. Now they try to kill him." ("They", of course, being the Democrats.) I kid you not. Trump's already-formidable persecution complex will be on full display in the weeks to come. And, of course, some are saying that only God can have saved him, so that he can carry out the Lord's (political) will. *Sigh*

Ah, America...

Friday, July 12, 2024

Why do people hold their cellphones like that?

We need to talk about cellphones. Well, we don't NEED to, but I would love some kind of explanation. I'm not talking about cellphones in school, social media addiction or disinformation, I'm talking about the way people hold them.

Most people under about forty - and a smattering of self-consciously modish copycats over that age - seem to hold their phones horizontally in front of their mouths. This looks rather awkward, and is certainly counter-intuitive given that phones come with a speaker at the top and a microphone at the bottom for good reasons. When I see someone move their horizontal phone from their mouth to their ear to hear a response, I itch to show them how it's designed to be used (vertically, by the side of the face), but I know I shouldn't.

Anyway, I have tried and failed to find out if there's a good reason why they do it. I did wonder if it was something to do with avoiding radio waves, but I don't think that's it. I think it's literally a fashion thing - someone somewhere decided it looked cool, and everyone else just followed blindly along. I mean there's no practical reason for people to wear their pants halfway down their bums, but it doesn't stop people from doing it.

Most older people, me included, just don't understand it. Most of what I can find on the internet about it is clearly written, despairingly, by older people (here's one quite amusing example). Maybe someone will explain it to me some day.

Eagles stop cormorant removal work

Urban wildlife management is hard. This is known. 

The double-crested cormorant (the official name of the regular everyday cormorants we see around the Great Lakes) was in terminal decline a few decades ago, mainly due to toxic pesticides like DDT. Due to conservation efforts, it made a miraculous recovery, and now has a very healthy summer population in the area - perhaps too healthy.

Thing is, they are pretty unpleasant birds. Perhaps their worst habit is killing off the very trees they nest in - their guano or droppings is very acidic, as well as pungently, putridly smelly, and kills their nesting trees over time. You might have seen (and smelled!) the blighted area of trees towards the tip of Tommy Thompson Park (better known locally as the Leslie Street Spit), just offshore from downtown Toronto, where they have nested for some years now.

Having killed off that area of trees, the cormorants thought it a good idea to move just across the bay to Centre Island and infest a grove of trees there. But Centre Island is a tourist area and adjacent to the small community of people who live on the islands. Toronto naturalists and park managers tracked the move and have been trying to deter the cormorants from settling on Centre Island

However, that work is now on hold. The reason? Two bald eagles moved in to a cormorant nest on Centre Island this spring, spruced it up, tripled its size, and this has those same naturalists very excited. Because, other than another nesting pair that made an undisclosed Toronto ravine home earlier this year, these are the first bald eagles ever to settle in Canada's most populous city.

So, the cormorant removal work promptly stopped in order to give the eagles some space, and now the cormorant population on Centre Island has mushroomed from about a thousand to at least two thousand. The eagles have been seen snacking on cormorants, but that's not going to be enough to discourage them from wrecking the trees of Centre Island. 

*Sigh* What to do? Well, now that two healthy eaglets  have fully fledged from the nest, Toronto Region Conservation Area personnel believe they can now continue their work of aggressively relocating the cormorants back to Tommy Thompson Park. And I guess they will do the same thing all over again next year if the eagles return.

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

LCBO strike will struggle to find too much support

As workers from the LCBO - Liquor Control Board of Ontario, otherwise known as "the liquor store" in Ontario's restrictive booze business - go out on strike, serious questions are being asked about the organization's continued relevance.

I am normally reasonably supportive of striking workers, who typically don't take such drastic action lightly. But a lot of normally supportive individuals are not quite so gung-ho about this one. It may be partly their rather disingenuous sloganeering which attempts to equate a government-controlled wine and spirits business with the provincial healthcare system. Yes, the LCBO contributes about $2.5 billion in profits into the province's coffers, but under other circumstances that would be achieved by taxation.

I actually think the LCBO does a pretty good job of providing a good selection of local and international wine and beer (I'm not a spirit-drinker and so can't really comment there). A bit pricey, maybe, but a monopoly will do that.

The editorial in today's Globe and Mail laid out the main problem, though. The ship has already sailed. Booze is now available through many different outlets, and the LCBO's monopoly position is already severely weakened (partly due to Doug Ford's alcohol privatization crusade over the last few years, which has had its own problems as I have noted previously).

The editorial breaks down the numbers. There are 650 LCBO stores in the province, but there are also: 628 wineries and winery retail stores selling wine; 82 distillery retail stores selling spirits; 373 breweries selling beer; 437 Beer Stores selling beer; 448 grocery stores selling beer and wine; and 389 LCBO "convenience outlets" inside small stores in rural areas selling beer, wine and spirits. 

Add to that the upcoming further relaxation of retail rules which will allow convenience stores to sell wine beer and premixed cocktails, and there you have it. People are not going to be too worried about the LCBO stores closing for a few weeks. 

The writing is on the wall, the cat is out of the bag, the horse has bolted, use whatever idiom you prefer. But the fact is the status quo has shifted, and we are never going back to the grim old days I remember from when I first moved here, when alcohol was grudgingly dispense in brown paper bags from Soviet-style rationing offices.

Monday, July 08, 2024

Poll: only one person can beat Trump (and it's not Biden)

A Reuters/Ipsos poll looking at US voter intentions based on various Democratic presidential candidates facing off against Donald Trump, and the results are certainly illuminating.

The poll gives Joe Biden a 40% vote against Trump, exactly equal to Trump's vote against Biden. Note that this was AFTER the "Great Gaffe" - the first presidential debate, which Joe Biden memorably bodged - and so this is probably as bad as it gets (except this is much more generous to Biden than some other polls which show him about 6 percentage points behind Trump).

If Biden were to stand down - and, thus far, he insists that he won't - the most likely replacement would be Vice President Kamala Harris. The poll gave her 42% of the vote against Trump, but Trump would get 43% of the vote against her (fewer "don't knows" and abstainers).

Other potential Democrat presidential candidates fare worse still: Gavin Newsom 38%, Trump 42%; Gretchen Whitmer 36%, Trump 41%; Andy Breshear (who?) 36%, Trump 40%; JN Pritzker (who??) 34%, Trump 40%. None of it looks good.

But there is one more name covered by the poll: Michelle Obama. According to the poll, Ms. Obama would win 50% of the vote, compared to Trump's 39%. Problem is, Michelle Obama has repeatedly confirmed that she is not interested in standing for President. I wonder whether this poll might change her mind? God, I hope so.