Archive for the ‘Canada’ Tag

Veterans/Armistice/Remembrance Day

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attends the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  He is holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War.

Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, at the 1982 dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He is holding the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War.

Today, 11 November 2008, is the 90th anniversary of the conclusion of World War I.  The conflict, sometimes called “the Great War”, resulted in the deaths of over 20 million people—about 9.7 million of them military personnel and about 10 million of them civilians.  An additional 21 million people were wounded. 

November 11th is now commemorated as  Veterans Day in the United States, Remembrance Day in Canada, and Armistice Day in much of the rest of the world. Initially, the day honored only those who served in WWI; after WWII (unfortunately, the First World War was not, in fact, “the war to end all wars”) it was expanded to cover all veterans.  Today there are approximately 25 million veterans in the United States.  In their honor, I would like to observe a Canadian tradition; each year they mark Remembrance Day with readings of John McCrae’s poem, “In Flanders Fields.”

Lt. Colonel John McCrae was a Canadian physician who served in World War I and wrote the following poem on 3 May 1915, after he witnessed the gruesome death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, the day before. First published on December 7 of that year in Punch magazine, the poem is extremely well known in Canada; in addition to being read there each year on Remembrance Day the first of it’s three stanzas is on the Canadian $10 bill.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

McCrae died on 28 January 1918 of pneumonia and meningitis that he contracted while commanding the No. 3 Canadian General Hospital at Boulogne.  He was buried with full honors at the Wimereaux Cemetery, located a few miles from his last post.

War is hell, as one veteran very truly put it.  If you know a veteran, or if you just encounter one today, thank him or her; and remember that this need not only be done on November 11th.  And if you are a veteran reading this: thanks.

Sarah Palin, the press, and proximity to Russia

The 0.22% of Americans who live in Alaska are (probably) all closer to this than you are. Are they all more qualified to be Vice President?

The 0.22% of Americans who live in Alaska are (probably) all closer to this than you are. Are they all more qualified to be Vice President?

The Obama campaign reports that Joe Biden has given approximately 89 local and national interviews since his selection as the Democratic Vice Presidential candidate. Sarah Palin has given just three meaningful interviews. Apparently to quiet media criticism about this secrecy, today she met with a few of the media who travel with her—after informing them just 20 minutes in advance; she took just four (4) questions in that brief session (read transcript).

Howard Kurtz, a Washington Post and CNN media critic, said “I have never seen a presidential or vice presidential nominee, in my lifetime, be so inaccessible to the national media.” The protection from the press that she’s getting is incredible, as I blogged yesterday. But it’s easy to see why this is: she’s not doing very well in real interviews with well-prepared journalists and needs to be shielded from them. Sarah Palin is not ready for prime time, let alone the Vice Presidency of the United States of America.

I thought that Palin had given up on claiming that Alaska’s proximity to Russia gave her foreign policy experience, but when Katie Couric brought it up in an interview Palin didn’t back down (see video, read transcript). Couric asked what Palin meant when she cited the nearness of Russia as part of her foreign policy experience.

PALIN: That Alaska has a very narrow maritime border between a foreign country, Russia, and, on our other side, the land-boundary that we have with Canada. It’s funny that a comment like that was kinda made to … I don’t know, you know … reporters.

COURIC: Mocked?

PALIN: Yeah, mocked, I guess that’s the word, yeah.

COURIC: Well, explain to me why that enhances your foreign-policy credentials.

PALIN: Well, it certainly does, because our, our next-door neighbors are foreign countries, there in the state that I am the executive of.

Though she couldn’t give any specifics concerning how she’s interacted with Russia (saying something vague about trade missions was the closest she came) Palin still claims that living near a foreign country is somehow a qualification to be the second highest ranking person in our government. Yes, governors do interact with other countries; but Palin needs to build her case on the specifics of those interactions, not by pointing to a map and saying “see how close we are?”

The nominee didn’t do much better on the economic questions that Couric asked. I don’t get the sense that there is a real deep understanding of the issues under Palin’s answers; she sounds like she’s just regurgitating the talking points. Here’s a short clip:

I feel sorry for Joe Biden. How do you prepare to debate someone like this without looking patronizing or like a bully? Especially given that she’s a woman and he’s quite prone to gaffes, as I blogged previously.

On viewing those interview clips, one Slate blogger said “She cannot possibly be this uninformed. You absolutely have to see these for yourself to believe them. These are self-mocking; they could be SNL appearances. Tina Fey couldn’t possibly improve on this. This is why they’ve been keeping her under wraps.” Yep.

Miscellany

Here are a number of quick new items that I have found interesting; hopefully readers will think likewise about at least some of the following.

Time‘s Michael Kinsley has a good article on “Sarah Palin’s Alaskanomics” that challenges how much experience she has with fiscal conservatism, even besides her early support for the “bridge to nowhere.”  The economy of the state has more to do with Alaska’s natural resources than with Governor Palin, but the details are nonetheless interesting. 

Of the 50 states, Alaska ranks No. 1 in taxes per resident and No. 1 in spending per resident. Its tax burden per resident is 2.5 times the national average; its spending, more than double. The trick is that Alaska‘s government spends money on its own citizens and taxes the rest of us to pay for it. Although Palin, like McCain, talks about liberating ourselves from dependence on foreign oil, there is no evidence that being dependent on Alaskan oil would be any more pleasant to the pocketbook.

Alaska is, in essence, an adjunct member of OPEC. It has four different taxes on oil, which produce more than 89% of the state’s unrestricted revenue.

Former New York City mayor Ed Koch predicts that the “Election Will Hinge on Abortion Issue.”  He says that “the outcome of the presidential election will depend not on the economy, not on the Iraq war, not on the price of gasoline or the issue of national health insurance, but on the issue of the right to abortion.”  He credits McCain’s selection of Palin for making the abortion issue prominent in the race and says she’ll drive evangelicals to the polls just as Obama will drive more minorities, possibly leading to a high turnout election.  Koch will announce his presidential endorsement next week.

To our north, Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has dissolved his country’s Parliament.  To those not familiar with the terminology of parliamentary government, this simply means that he has called for new elections, which will be held October 14th.  Harper’s Conservative party has 127 seats, a plurality, in the House of Commons.  He hopes to gain an outright majority to form a more stable government without having to rely on any opposition parties to pass legislation. Some recent polls say Conservatives may win as many as 168 seats in the 308-member House of Commons, but Harper been downplaying the chances of this, publicly predicting another plurality government.

In other prime ministerial news, Japan’s PM, Yasuo Fukuda, has resigned.  This article has some interesting observations on how two decades of mostly weak and ineffective Prime Ministers have affected Japan’s position and relationship and role with their region and with the United States.  Not really touched on in the article is Japan’s need for some fundamental and painful economic reforms, which probably won’t happen without an executive with some clout. The upcoming leadership election likely won’t produce such an executive.

One of my favorite columnists, Gregg Easterbrook,  has a lengthy item (1356 words) on vehicle fuel efficiency and horsepower in the latest entryto his only partly football-related column, Tuesday Morning Quarterback.  Easterbrook writes that “Less horsepower would mean better fuel efficiency, diminished petroleum imports and lower carbon emissions … [and] would reduce highway deaths” by diminishing speeding and road rage.  He argues for government regulation, writing that:

Courts consistently rule that vehicles using public roads may be regulated for public purposes, such as safety and energy efficiency. NASCAR races occur on private property — there, horsepower is nobody’s business. On public roads, horsepower is very much everybody’s business. You’d be laughed at if you asserted a “right” to drive a locomotive down the freeway. Where is it written we have the “right” to operate an overpowered car that wastes oil and pollutes the sky?

In less important news, KFC is moving Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe.  Apparently, KFC literally has a piece of yellow notebook paper on which Sanders himself hand wrote the secret recipe; the paper is kept in a vault and will be moved while it’s security arrangements are enhanced.  Only two company executives have access to the whole recipe at any one time; people in their supply chain have access only to a small portion thereof.

In other fast food news, 54-year old Dan Gorske has eaten 23,000 Big Macs since 1972.  That works out to about 640 Big Macs per year, or about 1.75 Big Macs per day.  That can’t be good for you.  Gorske credits this feat to his obsessive-compulsive disorder, which also leads him to save every McDonald’s receipt.  The only day he hasn’t eaten a Big Mac was the day his mother died and he says that eating a Big Mac is the highlight of his day. No word on whether he’s considered the possibility that he likes Big Macs perhaps a bit too much.

In slightly more important news, Physicist Stephen Hawking predicts that the Large Hadron Collider, which will come online Wednesday, will not destroy the world.  He puts the chance of it creating microscopic black holes (which would not be dangerous) at less than 1%, but says “I don’t think there is any doubt I would get a Nobel Prize, if they showed the properties I predict.”  Hawking’s main prediction is that microscopic black holes would quickly “evaporate” due to so-called Hawking Radiation produced by quantum effects.  The physicist also doubts that the LHC will produce evidence of the Higgs bosun, which he doubts exists; he has put his money where his voice synthesizer is by making one of his well-known bets: he’ll lose $100 to Michigan University’s Gordy Kane if the Higgs exists.