Friday Bullets For Shane

When I was seven, I had to go to the hospital in North Sydney. I had something but the doctors couldn’t figure out for a week they poked around me, one day taking so many blood tests that they ended up having to hold me down. They ended up figuring it out and I was out in about ten days. Andrew from Bound By Gravity wrote me a few days ago about another seven year old boy who is in hospital in Ottawa with a tougher haul these days. He has Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. But that boy, Shane, has a request. He wants cards from around the world for his birthday. Here is Andrew’s explanation of what you can do to help Shane. I like how Brooksie puts it:

Yes, you do have time to do this. He’s a seven year-old child with leukemia sitting in isolation at a hospital right now. You’ll make the time.

Right?

You can make the time, too. He address to write to is here. Bullet points in a moment.

  • US College baseball season has begun.
  • Earlier this week I saw a blip pass by that for some reason did not get much attention. Canadian pension funds are doing very well.

    Canadian pension funds moved into a healthier financial position last year, buoyed by strong stock market performance and higher bond yields, Mercer Investment Consulting reported Tuesday. The median return for Canadian pooled balanced pension funds was 13 per cent for the year, “benefiting from strong performance in most of the major equity markets in 2006,” Mercer said in reporting the results of its pooled fund survey.

    Whenever there is a tough patch for pensions, people go one about how the sky is falling and turn, in despair, to libertarianism. Expect packed union halls and a spike in NDP polling for the next wee while.

  • A few weeks ago we discussed the meaning of local in our form of Federalism. It appears, however, that in the heartland of the individual, local does not actually mean the local community as the council of Fort MacMurray Alberta is looking for a stop to the expansion of the tar sands that are the windfall fueling the provincial boom and the local social bust. Here is the story for Jim Elve’s place. So is the best “local” really just the next big faceless bureaucracy below the national level?
  • Rob posts an very lucid article from the New York Times on the way food and health have been treated for the last number of decades.
  • Dick Cheney is getting a hard rap this week. Last night on CNN there was a little tag line on the screen which was something like “Cheney Deluded?” Now, if I was ever to have a bull headed crazy power freak in my like, Dick’s the man. Why? Well, he wrote Dad a letter one that hung on the cottage wall next to the one from Michael Palin for one thing. Maybe it is the Libby case where all of a sudden the defense is not backing up all those bloggers that claimed the charges were overkill. NPR has more on Dick the Contrarian, who even seethed at Wolf Blitzer this weekseethed!!
  • I think I would be more sympathetic if there was a concurrent promise to create a Maritimes Union with centralized services, two of which were not nepotism and patronage…did I say that out loud?

That must be it. If you want to check out some great blogging, pop over to the beer blog and read about Knut’s adventures at the world’s northernmost bar. Tough crowd that likes a mural of a shot polar bear.

Knut Goes To The World’s Northernmost Bar

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Three hours by plane straight north from Oslo, excluding 45 minutes stopover in Tromsø, and you arrive at Longyearbyen airport. It is minus 20 degrees Celsius, but the gale hits you as you exit from the plane and run for the terminal building. It is pitch dark, which shouldn’t be a surprise, as the sun was last seen hereabouts sometime in October. As soon as the luggage arrives, it is time to get those extra layers of clothing before entering the airport bus.

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The bus takes just a few minutes to downtown Longyearbyen, and we are happy to find our warm lodging. We are three adult males who have known each other for about three decades, and we have planned this trip since early last year, despite any evident enthusiasm from our spouses.

So what is Longyearbyen? It used to be a company town, established for the sole purpose of coal mining – and maintaining a visible Norwegian presence in the area, especially during the Cold War. It has developed into something resembling an ordinary Norwegian small town over the last few decades. There is now a local assembly, privately owned houses, a school, a kindergarten, a few hotels etc. The miners, and later their families, were the only ones allowed to live here, but now the working population is one third connected to coal mining, one third works in research, and one third works in tourism.

There are daily flights from the mainland, and there are lots of empty seats in mid January. One of the hotels is closed, and the general pace in the shops and the service industry is slow. We decided that a dog sleigh excursion would be the most adventurous part of our stay, and booked tickets before stocking up for our stay. There are regulars ships to Svalbard when the ice conditions allow it, maybe six months per year. This means they have to stock up on food and drink – it is rather expensive to fly the stuff in. Sure, you can get fresh milk, vegetables and fish, but you have to pay for the air transport.

nor6Nordpolet (which is a pun on the Norwegian names for the North Pole and the Wine/Liquor monopoly) is a department in a surprisingly large co-op supermarket, but it has the special attraction of offering duty free prices on alcohol. There are quotas on how much you can buy, both for tourists and for the locals. The beer prices are low, but there are few real finds here, mostly domestic and imported lagers. The Norwegian beers are mainly from Mack, imports are from the Netherlands, the UK and Mexico(!) I had hoped the Russian presence here had made some Russian beers available, but no such luck. The selection of fine wines was rather more impressive, the aquavit was cheap, and you can get some limited edition cognacs unavailable elsewhere.

nor2The dog sleigh trip started with us getting into a heavily insulated outfit before driving a few kilometres out of town. The dogs were eager to get some exercise, and while we fumbled a bit before the sleights were ready to go, it was an incredible experience once we were on our way. A faint blue light on the southern horizon and no sound except the scraping of the skis against the snow. The Northern Lights were flickering while the dogs ran eagerly through the darkness.

Three hours of this was enough, as it was to cold to take any long breaks along the way. Time for a shower before we hit the pubs. The bar closest to our cabin is the one that can claim to be the most northern on the planet, not counting short shore excursions during the summer when they set up a table. The Barentz pub is part of the Radisson SAS hotel, and – as hotel bars tend to – is perhaps not the coziest place. But they have friendly and attentive staff and the best selection of beers in town. Mack Pils and Bayer on tap, Stella on tap too. Don’t ask me why! The bottles span the globe, Singha, Tiger, three Erdingers wheat beers and even the outstanding Goose Island IPA! The pizza was so-so. The next stop on the pub crawl is the Karls Berger pub. The motto here seems to be More is More. Five types of bottled beers, but thousands of varieties of hard liquor. Hundreds of cognacs and single malts, long rows of aquavit and vodka. The locals at the bar were discussing how many times they’d been barred, but they seemed fairly harmless.

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Our favourite hangout was Kroa at Spitzbergen base camp, with the interior having a local flavour, based on driftwood and animal pelts as shown at the top of this post. Comfortable chairs and tables, lots of locals, good food. Beer and aquavit at decent prices. One evening we went up to Huset as well, the remains of the glory days of the coal mine, when most of the social life was focused there. When we popped in, the restaurant was totally empty, and there was lots of room in the cafeteria, too. This is the place to go to splurge, as they have a huge wine cellar and a kitchen that gets good reviews.

How do you get there? There are flights from Oslo via Tromsø year round, and there are boat trips, including more luxurious cruise ships during the summer. And, if you book well in advance, Scandinavian Airlines considers this a domestic destination in Norway. That means that your Star Alliance bonus miles can go a long way.

How To Be A Journalist These Days

An interesting column by the BBC’s Bill Thompson but one which makes me wonder how the conversation got so skewed away from what really is to what is claimed to be. Thompson talks about what a journalism student today is to do given new media:

Unfortunately for those already working as journalists, many readers and viewers seem to feel the same way about the need for professional journalists. The rapid growth of citizen journalism seems less a sign of the emergence of a vibrant new area of online newsgathering and reporting than a symptom of the decline of existing forms of news journalism. It points to a career-threatening loss of trust in what people see on their TV screens or read in the daily papers as they become what citizen journalist advocate Dan Gillmor calls ‘the former audience’. This could be seen as a counsel of despair, but I do not think we should give up hope yet. If we are willing to look closely at what the internet is doing to the practice of journalism then we could do a lot to regain this trust and re-establish a connection with readers and viewers.

My problem, of course, is I have no evidence of there being anything called “citizen journalism.” We have the three news stories that have been affected by popular bloggism: Rather was fired, Howard Dean screamed and someone added 25% more smoke to a picture of a fire in Lebanon. Sure, we have cut and paste cranks of all sorts like me but that is only the new iWaterCooler and nothing more. The closest thing we have to a citizen journalist in Canada is Stephen Taylor’s excellent work at his blog but that, if we are honest, is just a branch of a political party however effective he is – hardly either “citizen” or “journalist.” Other than that? Zippo.

So where did this new era go? If we measure new by new things adding newness, what got gained? We have been happily distracted and convinced of something not well pinpointed. The entertainment value of self-publication and the putative accompanying glam has led ourselves to a more complex but more confused place where substantive analysis let alone criticism is oddly seen as being something only a traitor to the medium would engage in. Trouble is rumours now have it blogs will peak in 2007 which means they peaked in late 2005. Seeing as podcasting, YouTube and MySpace have also run their course by either commercializing, censoring or just looking too damn nerdy, the track record of the digital as dud is starting to show.

Given all that, what would I do if I were a journalism student? Start a newspaper or a radio station or maybe get that masters degree. The next thing is coming and you can’t afford to be be bothered with this old tech, lo-fi anyone-can-do-it stuff. I, for my part, am thrilled to perhaps have access to a summer of 2007 plot where I may be able to get 1000 onions and 50 lbs of storage seed potatoes in the ground.

Communal Boogie Curse Generating Post

It’s not that I hate the Indianapolis Colts like I dislike the Habs, Man U and the Yankees but there is something really appealing about someone being labeled as a top notch loser, the guys who can win, should win but just doesn’t win. Especially when he doesn’t win against the same guy. It’s like if Lemieux had Gretzky’s number from day one.

So, there are sixteen minutes to go and I am now sending messages back through the TV: collapse Colts…oogie-woogie-woogie…throw another interception Manning…oogie-woogie-woogie…

Excellent Satellite Smoking Action

I have to admit, I like China’s style. What other nation would spend a bazillion dollars to smash its own lo-fi satellite out of the sky with a lo-fi ICM with its steering wheel removed, aimed only up.

China’s apparent success in destroying one of its own orbiting satellites with a ballistic missile signals that its rising military intends to contest American supremacy in space, a realm many here consider increasingly crucial to national security. The test of an antisatellite weapon last week, which Beijing declined to confirm or deny Friday despite widespread news coverage and diplomatic inquiries, was perceived by East Asia experts as China’s most provocative military action since it testfired missiles off the coast of Taiwan more than a decade ago.

Provocative? It was gnarly. It’s like a bad guy from Wayne’s World‘s move or even something from a 1950’s Godzilla flick.

[Scene: Dusk. A board room with scientists in lab coats on one side of table with Chinese leaders on the other, all wearing Roy Orbison glasses.]

Lead Scientist: Comrad Chairman, we propose to launch the missile at dawn to smash satellite Golden Happy Tomorrow IV in an unprecedented display of revolutionary power creating a shower of bright burning meteorites that will show your wisdom to the globe!

Chairmen: [Finger tips touching before him, slowly forming a slight smile.] Excellent.

[Room erupts in cautious laughter that builds in a cautious crescendo. Camera pans to a map of world on the wall as laughter continues cautiously.]

Face it: every once in a while a tyranny has to do something stylish and, frankly, Gadafi has the clothes horse thing cornered.

I Am So Clever

News from The Lancet, the British medical journal, that folic acid is good for you:

The folic acid group had significantly better memories and were faster at processing information, the researchers found. Both abilities are known to decline with age, and loss of performance in these areas has been linked to a higher risk of dementia in the elderly. Taking folic acid also led to a significant reduction in levels of homocysteine, a blood chemical linked both to heart disease and dementia.

A few years ago I became a modest vitamin popper – three salmon oil horse pills, a multi, a C and a folic acid. It has gotten to be such a habit I don’t think of it. I don’t know whether I agree with sliding it into the bread supply, however. Shouldn’t people have the right to be pleasantly stunned?

Friday The Bulletteenth

Friday is the new Saturday in the work world. Remembering working Saturdays in the years of schlepverk, retail wages funding weekends reminds me of dressdowns and finishing the afternoon ending with the Beat Authority:

  • Make a flake. Go ahead. You know you want to. Post them on the fridge in the coffee room after.
  • Baseball owners told not to spoil their monopoly for fear of the imposition of fairness.
  • I knew I liked Vermont and Vermonters but now I have a favorite one, Senator Patrick Leahy who lead the good fight in the cause of Mr. Arar yesterday:

    “We knew damn well if he went back to Canada he wouldn’t be tortured. He would be held and he would be investigated,” Leahy thundered, wagging his finger at Gonzales. “We also knew damn well if he went to Syria he would be tortured. And it’s beneath the dignity of this country, a country that has always been a beacon of human rights, to send somebody to another country to be tortured. It’s a black mark on us. It has brought about the condemnation of some of our closest and best allies.”

  • The Globe is telling iLies. These are iLies as I know the world is better with more expensive future junk that does nothing more for me than a walkman did in 1985.
  • I have concerns. We should all have concerns. This year’s center of the infield is no 2006 center of the infield:

    “He’s very athletic,” Epstein said. “He has great range at the position. He’ll make his share of errors, but we think that’s more than compensated for by his fantastic range. He gets to as many balls as anybody at that position. He’s definitely a plus offensive player for the position. He’s a tough out. He can handle all different kinds of pitching.” Though Lugo probably won’t measure up to Alex Gonzalez from a defensive standpoint — who does? — he has the ability to make up for it in other ways…Lugo, who used to be a pest for the Red Sox when he played in Tampa Bay, will make his DP flips to rookie Dustin Pedroia. The Sox opted not to bring classy free-agent veteran Mark Loretta back for a second season. This will be the first time the Red Sox open the season with a rookie position player since 2001…

    I am thinking these days that not signing Loretta is going to be the Achilles heel of the team. In addition to more errors and shortstop, Pedroia was weak at bat last year batting under .200 in September when he was given some late games. What is wrong with having a solid defense and decent bats in the middle?

  • US Senate ethics changes v. the actual CPC Accountability Act. Compare and contrast.