Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Harper Doctrine: A Talk at CIGI by John Ibbitson

Last night I attended a talk at CIGI in Waterloo by John Ibbitson

The title was The Harper Doctrine: A Conservative Foreign-Policy Revolution.  FYI: Harper is Canada's current Prime Minister, and the person responsible for changes in Canada's foreign policy in the last 7 years.

Although I consider John Ibbitson to be a conservative leaning  (  columnist, and it was -15c, I went anyway, as Mary Ann wanted to go.

My initial thought was that Harper has no original foreign policy.  He simply mimics the foreign policy of the right wing USA, especially Republicans, but to some extent the Democrats too.  For example, he matches the Republicans disdain for the UN, their dismantling of the Kyoto agreement, and their one-sided support for Israel.  He seems to want Canada to cease being a peacekeeper, and become a combat-hardened nation like the US, I assume to help them in  foreign wars.  He even uses the catch phrases of the Republicans like "we won't cut and run".

In his talk, Ibbitson started off by stating that he had come to the conclusion that there was no Harper doctrine and that anyway, doctrines are actually associated with superpowers.  Later on, he stated that Harper's love for Israel developed when he was a teenager, and was not simply a ploy to grab the Jewish vote.  And I assume he was trying to imply without actually coming out and saying it, that Harper was not necessarily copying US foreign policy. I still think that's debatable.

During the talk, Ibbitson took a big swipe at the Province of Quebec for it's newly proposed legislation banning religious garb while performing civil servant or government jobs.  According to Ibbitson, this is clearly a discriminatory practice, effectively banning religions from the teaching profession, hospitals, police etc.  I don't want to get onto a different track here, but I think there is a big difference between banning religions in government jobs and banning religious garb while on the job (and let's also remember religious garb in some cases includes the carrying of weapons).  I'm sure those religions, if they want to accommodate more secular, multicultural Canadian ways, can also find ways to modify their strict "dress codes" to allow their people to take government jobs. After all, look at the Catholic Church and how it finally allowed people to eat fish on Friday, after first making it optional on airplanes. Look at how some religions have abandoned the practice of honour killings (at least in Canada). Most of these religious dress codes are more cultural than a core religious values, but I can leave that for others to argue.  I'm not sure why Ibbitson thought he needed to bring it up, except to point out how Quebec was worse than the rest of Canada.

Ibbitson also talked about how the Conservatives had a strong and growing political coalition that now includes immigrants, the suburbs of most big Canadian cities, and the rural areas of Canada, with very strong support in the Western provinces (that are also still growing in population and influence).  He did not mention that most Canadian voters did not vote for Harper, and that in a true runoff election he would probably lose. From my own point of view, if not for the unfortunate left wing split between Liberals, Green, and NDP; the Conservatives would still be an opposition party.  And just because the west is growing does not mean that all westerners are extreme right wing conservatives like Harper.

In summary, Ibbitson referred to Canada's foreign policy from WW2 up to Harper in 2006, as "Laurentian" and Harper's foreign policy as "Conservative".  My own feeling is that the so-called "Laurentian" policy (a policy based on diplomacy, respect for the UN and world court, peacekeeping, and fairness to all) is more like a "Canadian" foreign policy, while Harper's policy is more like "mini-right wing USA" foreign policy, carried out by his puppet government supported by US oil companies and US evangelicals.  And an embarrassment to most Canadians.

So in the entire talk, which I will admit was fast paced, funny, and worth hearing, Ibbitson described Canada's political situation and foreign policy with the all the conservative assumptions and prejudices.  So it  was not necessarily a balanced view, and he never did mention how Harper's doctrine looks to be a copy of Bush's US foreign policy.  And none of the questions from the audience brought up the subject either. I suppose I shouldn't complain, as I had the opportunity to bring it up myself at the talk, but didn't.  I guess I prefer to write about it in a blog instead.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Starting Campfires

When I was growing up in Baie Comeau, we did not have all the rules to protect me that I now enjoy. And one of the things we used to do was start campfires.  I actually had some training in campfire building, so I suppose there was no real excuse for some of the things I did.  I guess I will start with the worst, and actually it didn't turn out too bad, as I did not burn down the entire town.

I decided to start a campfire in the forest near town.  Sounds bad already doesn't it?  Especially in Baie Comeau, a small northern community surrounded by combustible forests, which was nearly evacuated in the early fifties due to a massive forest fire that came within a couple of hundred yards of the house I grew up in.  And I guess I have doubly no excuse, as my father was a forest fire fighter, and I was in the Boy Scouts.  And the road leading out of town into the bush had one of those huge fire danger warning thermometers on it.  I didn't see it that day, as I built my fire inside the town limits.

So me and a few friends were stoking up this fire, which I didn't realize was right under a big spruce or fir tree.  But after the fire got going pretty good, there was this loud whoosh sound overhead, as the entire tree, probably about 20 ft tall, burst into flame all at once.  I don't remember exactly how we put it out, but no emergency fire crews were involved and the incident went no further.  I guess we must have put out our campfire with water, and then the tree, which was thankfully isolated a bit from the rest of the forest, burned itself out.

Many years later, I had three little boys of my own about 3-6 years old, and we were camping in an Ontario provincial park.  They were poking sticks into the fire, as people sometimes do, and of the sticks began to glow red at the tips.  They started waving them around, and just then a park ranger came by and put an end to this activity.  I think he muttered as he was leaving something about this is the most ridiculous thing he had ever seen.  Well, by my standards it wasn't even close.

Today I was researching methods of starting fires on the Internet, in preparation for our camping trip to Newfoundland this summer.  In particular, I was thinking that maybe I didn't really need to bring a 2 pound axe to make fires.  After all, we are never allowed to gather our own wood at regulation campgrounds.  The wood that is supplied is already cut to length and split.  My only job is to split it down to smaller sticks and supply kindling and a light of some sort.  You can actually do that with a large knife which weighs much less than 1 kg.

While I was watching videos of people using a knife to make kindling, I came across all kinds of interesting ideas.  For example I didn't know that you could use a saw to split wood.  Here's one of many videos about that.

I came across a huge variety of ways to start a fire.  Of course the cliched "rubbing two sticks together", which I have never done myself, unless they were matches.  There is another way involving a 9 volt battery touched to steel wool.  The shower of sparks from certain kinds of metal is a traditional favourite. Then of course, matches and Bic lighters.  Those are some of the ways of getting the first flame.  Next is the tinder, or what you set fire to first with the match or sparks.  Here I came upon another revelation.  Vaseline-soaked cotton balls are now very popular for tinder.  I understand why it would work, but when I was young we frowned on using artificial fuels to start the fire.  For example, pouring a gallon of gasoline on the fire would be a no-no.  And actually, I always thought the politically correct way to start a fire was with some birch bark and thin sticks.  What we always ended up using was scrap paper, and often it didn't burn hot enough to start the sticks on fire.  So the fire would flame out, which was embarrassing in scout camp partly because the big puff of smoke signalled everyone else that you fire starting attempt was a flop.  We used to have competitions, where we had to start the fire with only three matches.  If you could start it with one match, it was the perfect fire start, unless gasoline was involved.  But what about Vaseline?  Apparently it burns pretty good, and nobody has to know you are using petroleum products.  Then I found out that Cherry Chapstick works just as well, and so does Purelle hand sanitizer!

So I started to adjust my packing list for this summer's trip.  I may just take a knife instead of the axe, and save 700 grams in my camping bag.  And I'll add a small jar of Vaseline, but no cotton balls.  I figure I'll just poke the stick of kindling in the jar of Vaseline then set the stick on fire with a Bic lighter.

Before I commit to a new way of starting fires, I must first test it myself.  I don't trust my own eyes when looking at YouTube videos.  Luckily Mary Ann was away today, so I could build my practice campfire in the bathroom with the fan on.  I could also go outside in the snow, but that could attract too much attention in a highly disciplined, rules-driven place like Kitchener, Ontario.  So I grabbed some wood from outside that fell during the ice storm, I'm sure nobody will miss it.  I used a hatchet to cut it into 30 cm lengths, about the same as campground firewood.  Then I brought it inside and used only a knife to split it up into small kindling sticks.  I put it all into an aluminum pan, and stuck one of the sticks in Vaseline then lit it on fire and put it in the middle of the pile. After a while, when I was sure the fire was truly started, I doused it with water and cleaned up the mess.  I also threw the burned sticks out in the snow in the back yard.  See, I'm really careful these days.

Picture: How to start a campfire with  Harley.  It's not what I thought (park the bike in a pile of kindling and toss a match in the gas tank)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Thoughts About Riding Side By Side

I have had at least two people suggest to me that riding side by side on motorcycles is the best way to ride together (as opposed to staggered formation.)

First I will note:

In BC you are prohibited from riding more than two abreast, but two abreast is OK.

Illegal in Alberta

Illegal in Newfoundland

I wonder if three wheelers are officially motorcycles when it comes to riding side by side?  I've never seen two riding abreast.

OK In Australia, but not more than 1.5 m apart, and only in the left lane on a two lane road. (JK, but true also)

OK IN USA except for states beginning with V

PROS (of riding side by side)
- keep together in traffic, without getting separated by four way stops, and traffic lights
- bigger visual impression on other drivers to make them see you
- Faster for either one to hand signal the other (Unless you have radio communication)

- No escape path on one side for sudden swerving avoidance
- Requires a much greater level of teamwork and training (Which most riders do not have, although they may think they do)
- sometimes illegal

Without extensive training, do not ride side by side, except I sometimes get pretty close to it for going through traffic lights and four way stops (Assuming this tactic is understood ahead of time), and that the normal staggered position is immediately resumed.  Otherwise, just ride in staggered formation.

As a rule, I don't do any activity where I must depend on perfect teamwork with another person or we both die:

Exceptions noted:
2. If I'm going to die anyway, and said teamwork is my only hope of survival.
3. This activity is insanely fun.
4. I am going to benefit in some major way from this later.

Picture: I'm not really sure if those girls are exactly side by side, but they are violating a lot of other laws.  And anyway, I don't care that much if they are side by side or not.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Mosquitoes, the Tent Pegs, and Newfoundland

Last night I started coming down with a cold or flu, so I'm cancelling any immediate plans.  Now, with nothing to do and socked in with snow, I will write the first blog entry for 2014.

This coming summer, Mary Ann is trying to persuade me to go motorcycling to Newfoundland.  She has visited the island twice, I have never been there.  I never felt any real need to go, as the flora, fauna, climate and geology is similar to Baie Comeau, where I grew up.  Also she likes to camp in a tent.  I have done some camping near Baie Comeau, with the Boy Scouts, when I was a kid, and it was not too appealing. I imagine camping in Newfoundland would be about the same.  Lots of mosquitoes, and blackflies. And even though there are nice beaches, you can't really go swimming because it is too cold.

Every time the topic of going to Newfoundland comes up, people praise it warmly, saying the Newfoundlanders are very friendly.  They do not mention mosquitoes. Did I mention I hate mosquitoes?  I am still thankful to be able to walk outside in a place like Kitchener, and not be eaten alive by black flies and mosquitoes in the summer.  Funny how other people don't seem to be as bothered about them as I am.

Another thing I like about Kitchener, is that we have a near drought in the summer.  Except for last year, the grass all goes brown for July and August, then revives in the Fall.  This lack of rain is great for motorcycling and camping.  I always had the impression it was much more rainy on the East Coast, but then I checked Wikipedia for scientifically measured precipitation for various locations, and found out I am wrong.  Despite my personal impressions, it rains more in Kitchener in July and August than in Baie Comeau, or [St. John's] Newfoundland.  However the average daily highs are 5c (Celsius) higher in Kitchener.  In Baie Comeau, the lows are also 5c lower, but in Newfoundland it seems that the lows are 5c higher.  So on paper, Newfoundland actually looks like a great spot for camping and motorcycling.  Not as much rain as I remembered, not too hot in the day, not too cold at night.

I am not completely sold yet on visiting Newfoundland.  Many years ago Mary Ann visited "The Rock" by car with a friend.  After getting off the ferry, they set up camp for the night.  The next day, her friend gave up because of the mosquitoes, and they caught the next ferry home.  It was not Mary Ann who wanted to come home immediately, but she does not seem to be as affected by mosquitoes as I am.  I would be more like Mary Ann's mosquito-shy friend.

One hope I see for camping in Newfoundland is because of our tent.  Of course it has mosquito netting, I think (not really sure) even the old boy scout tents had mosquito netting.  But more importantly, it is probably the first tent I have ever had that can stand up to 40 kph winds.  That gives me an idea about how to camp without pesky critters.  Newfoundland has quite a few campsites that are right near the water, and so get a lot of wind.  As a matter of fact, one provincial park is called "Blow Me Down", which I assume refers to the strong winds.  We will also be visiting "Dildo Run Provincial Park", which may or may not have strong winds, but it should at least have a few dildos.

Mosquitoes do not hang around much in strong winds, so if we restrict our camping to exposed areas near the ocean, I might be able to enjoy the days we use the tent.  I do like the scenery near the ocean, and I don't care if it is too cold to swim.

I don't normally try to camp in windy areas, and actually I have never really needed to set up this tent for wind.  It came with instructions, but did not include the necessary guy lines and pegs to set it up for strong wind, .  I have spent some time in the last couple of weeks researching available guy lines and pegs, and found out this is a much more complicated subject than I ever imagined.

I want to just to give an idea of the complications of bashing in tent pegs in the new world internet forums and specialized camping outfitters.  When I bought my first tent in 1972, it came with 8 plastic pegs.  Those were the first plastic pegs I had ever seen.  I remember at one of our first campsites, I was hammering in a peg with a neighbour kid watching, and she went running off upon seeing the pegs: "Mommy mommy! he's using plastic pegs!!!".   Anyway the pegs were fairly good, although twice they let go, and the tent fell down in a rainstorm with me in it.  Once, the tent was  taken down by my uncle's dog, who was camping with us.  The big Boxer was laying down at the end of his 15 metre long leash, after having circled our tent three times.  Suddenly a squirrel ran across the campsite being chased by a yappy little dog and a larger braying Basset Hound. Gip (the Boxer) woke up and suddenly took off after them, thus wrapping his cord around the tent and then pulling it very tight.  The tent folded like an umbrella, the 8 tent pegs each popped out with a "ping" and they were still falling back to the ground as the tent was dragged along behind the dog until the leash ran out with a sudden jerk.

I guess I'm getting off topic, probably the meds I'm taking for my cold.  Back to the present day.  You have aluminum pegs, steel pegs, titanium pegs. Round cross section, Y section, V section,  Snow pegs, circus tent pegs, sand pegs.  You still have plastic pegs, now some are glow-in-the-dark, so you don't stub your toe at night.  If that's not good enough, some plastic pegs have battery operated LEDs.  Our tent can take about 18 pegs, so cost, size and weight are going to be a consideration.

Finally I started going through some of my old camping gear, and found a stash of cheap metal pegs left behind by my three kids in the years that they used to borrow my tent.  It's hard to believe these pegs are bent by simply hammering them into the ground, some are twisted like corkscrews, other more like pretzels.  Anyway I set about straightening them all out, so save a little money at the outfitting store.

So now that I'm bashing tent pegs in a vise with a hammer, I guess camping in Newfoundland is getting to be more of a reality.  Mary Ann really wants to go, and the more I look at Newfoundland on the internet, the more interesting things I see.  Some of the locations we would like to explore, other than Blow Me Down and Dildo Run: Corner Brook (a paper mill town like Baie Comeau), Gros Morne, Twillingate (icebergs), Cape St Mary (amazing close up of a bird sanctuary), and St John's (Pubs and two of Mary Ann's nieces go to school there).  Originally we thought of going to the French (I mean from France) territory of St Pierre et Miquelon, but finally decided it is too remote, expensive, and the ferry does not take motorcycles.  Or cars.  So this time we'll give it a miss, but we will also be visiting the Gaspe and the Magdalen Islands in Quebec, also PEI and the Cabot trail.  So lots still to look forward to.

Picture:  There are a lot more at this site:   Hmmmm wonder why so many pictures on that site look like it's raining.  Maybe because it's in May instead of August.