Reflections on Cuba and Castro

The retirement of Fidel Castro has raised renewed interest in Cuba. Here are some resources that I found that might be of interest.

From the Pew Research Center, the article Global Views on Castro and Cuba, which states:

Fidel Castro ends his long tenure as president of Cuba with international opinion mixed on the question of whether his leadership has been good or bad for his country. While Americans have an overwhelmingly negative view of Castro, attitudes in many Latin American countries are far more favorable to the longtime Cuban leader. The Pew Global Attitudes survey in the spring of 2007, for example, found that pluralities in Bolivia (42%), Brazil (39%), Argentina (39%), and Peru (38%) think Castro has had a positive effect on his country.

Opinion in Canada is also positive towards Castro, with 44% saying that his leadership has been good for Cuba, the highest percentage among the nine countries surveyed about Castro. Even there, however, opinion is mixed, with 36% saying he has been bad for his country.

From Straight Goods the article Cuba's accomplishments likely to be overlooked in media coverage, which states:
With Fidel Castro's resignation, Cuba is poised to move onward and upward, building on what he began. Whether Canada and the United States will do so as well depends on the results of the next election in each country.

In days to come, we can expect to hear media reports casting Castro mostly as a strongman, dictator, revolutionary and nuisance to American presidents. He was all of that, but those were means to an end for Castro. The end was to build a miraculous, egalitarian society on a poor mountainous island with a history of colonialism and slavery, surrounded by enemies.

Other important realities of Castro's Cuba usually go unreported in news coverage. Castro's accomplishments in a poor, post-colonial economy are extraordinary.

* All Cubans have health care and free education up through post-secondary.
* Literacy levels are so high that Cuba has been able to offer doctors to other nations — including the US, after Hurricane Katrina.
* No Cubans starve. There is no homelessness problem.
* After the Soviet Union collapsed and Cuba lost its oil supply, it became a world leader in organic agriculture
From CBC-TV: Doc Zone the film Castro, A Life of Revolution the summary of which states:
Now, after ruling Cuba for close to fifty years, Fidel Castro has stepped down. From his childhood in rural Cuba through his fight in the Sierra Maestra to winning the revolution and transforming the country, Fidel Castro: A Life of Revolution presents an account of his life and times that has rarely been heard – the account of Castro himself, taken largely from private letters, correspondence, speeches and interviews.

The documentary concludes with a debate about Castro’s legacy as world opinion now seems divided between those who blame him for executing hundreds, imprisoning thousands and driving hundreds of thousands into exile, and those who credit him with the most influential revolution of the modern era. Exclusive footage of Castro's childhood home and his rebel headquarters in the Sierra Maestra mountains is complimented by classic archival footage, including CBC interviews with Castro when he was the most wanted man in Cuba.


Holy Shit Diaperman

The Ontario Minister of Health may not have much experience with diapers but it only takes common sense to figure out that nobody is going to be comfortable in a soiled diaper, regardless of how full it is or how long it has been soiled.

When we had children it never occurred to me to try wearing a dirty diaper to see how long was an acceptable time to leave them in one. Call it male intuition, but I just knew they would not be comfortable in a soiled diaper for any length of time.

When we are dealing with elderly persons in nursing homes, we are not only talking about discomfort, we are talking about human dignity. There is no acceptable amount or time for someone to be left in a soiled diaper.

Nursing homes must be required have the necessary facilities and staff to provide residents with proper care and to treat them with human dignity.

I think George Smitherman can skip his experiment. He has already proven that he is full of it.


Stéphane You Have A Responsibility to The People of Canada

Canada is a Parliamentary democracy. As such, the government must retain the confidence of a majority in the House of Commons in order to continue to govern. The government’s budgetary policy is always a matter of confidence.

The CBC reports that “The Liberal caucus will meet Wednesday to decide whether to abstain or vote in favour of the budget.”

The Liberal Party, as “Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition”, have a responsibility to decide whether they support the government’s budgetary policy. Not caring is not an option. The choice is not whether they want, or are prepared for, an election. The choice is whether they support the budget, whether they have confidence in the government. It requires a Yes or No, answer, “We don’t know” will not do.

It is time for Stéphane Dion to prove once and for all whether the Conservative Party claims that “Stéphane Dion is not a leader” are true or false. The Liberal Party, and it’s leader, have a responsibility to the people of Canada to take a stand.


Some Good News About Police Taser Use

The good news about Tasers is that, with proper training, they can be used more responsibly by police.

The CBC reports that:

The use of Tasers, guns and physical force by Ottawa police dropped to the lowest level in years in 2007 — the year after the service introduced a special premium for officers who regularly retake a course on the proper use of force.
The CBC story further states:
Chief Vern White credits better training for the decline in the use of force.

"I went through use of force training two weeks ago," he said, "and I have to say I was totally impressed with the use of force training itself, the instructors."

He added that the instructors encouraged officers to talk to the people they deal with before doing anything else.

Since May 2006, officers have been eligible for a special salary premium called responsibility pay if they take the use of force training force every 11 months.

Const. David Zackrias said he believes the constant retraining has contributed to the drop in the use of force.

"The officers receive better training these days," he said. "We have to requalify annually and every time … there's always new scenarios we use in our training."
The good news is that with proper, and repeated, training the police can use Tasers and other forms of force more responsibly. The bad news is that they appear to have poor memories and require regular reinforcement training to prevent them from developing bad habits and overusing force.


Folk Music Heroes on Television This Week

Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger fought the battle for the rights of common people and workers with music.

Tuesday at night at 9:00 PM on Vision TV, Bound for Glory, the biography of Woody Guthrie, will be shown. It will be broadcast on Channel 61 on Rogers Cable in Ottawa.

Bound for Glory is a New York Times Critics Pick.

You can read more about Woody Guthrie on the Woody Guthrie Foundation website.

Wednesday PBS features the documentary, American Masters: Pete Seeger: The Power of Song. I was unable to determine the time or channel it will be shown on in Ottawa even though it was featured in the Ottawa Citizen’s TV Times, but I found it listed on several PBS stations at 9:00 PM.

Mark Klempner reviewed the documentary for the Huffington Post.

You can read more about Pete Seeger on the Pete Seeger Appreciation Page website.

My daddy was a miner
And I'm a miner's son
And I'll stick with the union
Till every battle's won


Hillier Sees Democracy as a Sign of Weakness

Debate is the basis of our Parliamentary democracy. Indeed, even the word “Parliament” is derived from the French “parler”.

c.1290, from O.Fr. parlement (11c.), originally "speaking, talk," from parler "to speak" (see parley); spelling altered c.1400 to conform with M.L. parliamentum. Anglo-L. parliamentum is attested from 1216. Parliamentarian originally (1644) was a designation of one of the sides in the Eng. Civil War; meaning "one versed in parliamentary procedure" dates from 1834.
We are supposedly fighting in Afghanistan for, amongst other things, democracy. Yet, as the CBC reports, the Chief of Defence Staff thinks that democracy in Canada is a sign of weakness in the “war for democracy” in Afghanistan.

Yet another reason why the Chief of Defence Staff should stick to his role in leading the military in implementing Canada’s defence policy rather than interfering in the political process and trying to influence policy. Unfortunately Stephen Harper and his Conservative government, as demonstrated on numerous occasions, have shown just as little regard for democracy as Hillier does.


I Hope You’re All Offended

I have no intention of apologizing for this, nor of apologizing for something without knowing what it is I am apologizing for. But apparently that is not so for at least one politician.

The CBC reports that “Federal Fisheries Minister Loyola Hearn has apologized for a joke he's not sure he made, responding to a complaint from a politician who didn't hear it.”

You cannot get more insincere than apologizing for something when you don’t even know, or apparently care, what it is you are apologizing for.

The politician clarified his apology by stating “"I have never, ever in my life intentionally said anything that would offend anybody, and if I did on the weekend, I sincerely apologize because it's not what I do, or how I do it,"

I have great respect for politicians and government and even countries that can admit that they are wrong and sincerely apologize for it, because it was wrong. It is an indication that they have reflected on their words or actions and learned from them.

I have little respect for politicians who are so afraid of offending someone that they apologize without even knowing what they are apologizing for.

The problem with that attitude is that the easiest way not to offend anyone is to do or say nothing of significance. It is the election strategy of getting elected by offending the least number of voters rather than attracting the largest number of voters. It is a strategy that leads one to support the status quo rather than rocking the boat with new ideas. It is a battle that is being fought out today in the United States Democratic Party primaries between the candidate who has experience with doing things the way they have always been done and the candidate of change, however undefined that change might be.

While Mr. Hearn's apology might have been initiated by jokes during a speech it reflects a broader mindset.

With the state of the world today. We need change. We need new ideas. New ideas will always offend some people. We do not need politicians with a mindset that says that the most important thing is not offending people.


Should Canada Recognize Kosovo’s Declaration of Independence

The province of Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence from the nation state of Serbia and the countries of the world are lining up to denounce or support the declaration. History and international law have been cited as justification for both positions. What should Canada’s position be.

Canada is in a unique position in having it’s own domestic legislation to deal with such a situation. How does Kosovo’s unilateral declaration stack up to the Canadian Parliaments requirements for such a declaration.

The Clarity Act requires that a referendum must be held with a “clear” unambiguous question that receives the support of a “clear” majority of more than 50%.

If the government of Canada recognizes the Kosovo declaration of independence without these criteria being met it would be a “clear” case of one set of rules for Canada and another set of rules for everyone else.


Long Live Fidel ! Long Live Cuba !

The Fifth Column interrupts it's blogging holiday to wish Fidel Castro best wishes on his retirement and the people of Cuba best wishes as the revolution continues.

photo by Yousuf Karsh


Blogging Holiday

The Fifth Column is taking an extended Family Day Weekend break and will return on Wednesday.


Windows Big Lies

As I was contemplating Bill Gates and Microsoft’s quest to rule the world I had to reflect on the big lies upon which Windows was built.

Remember the first lie - that Windows will be a platform with standards that software manufacturers can build software to comply with so that software from different venders con work together seamlessly. Nice idea and it got a lot of us to buy Windows.

Now how many of you remember buying new cars and the salesman would tell you how wonderful it was and that it would never rust and last forever and came with a wonderful warranty. Then you would go to close the deal and the “closer” would tell you forget all that - our warranty sucks and our cars rust horribly and you really have to buy additional overpriced rust protection and warranties if you want to be safe.

Well it was like that. As soon as Microsoft got us hooked on the software interoperability of Windows they told us that was really not true and if you wanted true seamless software interoperability you had to buy Microsoft Office and everyone you did business with had to do that too.

Of course none of that is true. The only thing that really matters is file compatibility, which exists for virtually all applications. Need to share a document, save it in Real Text Format, which every word processor can do and which includes all the features you need for any personal or business document (though it might not include flashing headings). As far as sound goes we have the MP3 format, JPG for photos and MPG for video. Even sophisticated database files can be saved in delimited format and imported into another database as long as the delimiter is defined. Indeed even most proprietary formats will now work on all the major platforms, Microsoft, Apple, Linux, etc.

And now, of course, Bill Gates and Microsoft want us to believe that the Internet will just collapse if we do not let them take control of it. Are we going to let that happen.

Long live open standards! Long live open source software! Long live wikis! Long live the free Internet!


Happy Valentines Day Sweetie

Still my sweetie after all these years!


Never Believe The Press - At Least Not The Toronto Star

Yesterday in the Fifth Column, in relation to the government’s alleged non-confidence motion aimed at pressuring the Senate to pass Bill C-22 quickly, I stated:

The question of whether declaring this meaningless motion a matter of confidence makes it a non-confidence motion is moot, however, as the Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party have indicated that they will support the motion.”
This statement was based on an article in the Toronto Star dated “Feb 08, 2008 04:30 AM” that stated:
The first deadline, in the form of a motion introduced yesterday, will call on the Commons next week to demand that the Liberal- dominated Senate pass Bill C-2, the government's omnibus "Tackling Violent Crime" legislation.

Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe and NDP Leader Jack Layton indicated their parties would happily support the Conservatives in pressuring the Senate to pass the crime bill.
However that statement turned out to be false as the CBC reported:
Even without the Liberals, the motion easily passed 172-27, with the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois MPs voting in its favour and New Democrat MPs voting against it.
The Fifth Column apologies to the NDP. I should have known better than to believe they would support such a motion.


Non-Confidence & A Meaningless Motion

The following motion is to be voted on today following Question Period:

Mr. Van Loan (Leader of the Government in the House of Commons and Minister for Democratic Reform), seconded by Mr. Nicholson (Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada)

That, given the Government has declared the passage of Bill C-2, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, as a matter of confidence, and, that the bill has already been at the Senate longer than all stages took in the House of Commons, and that all aspects of this bill have already been the subject of extensive committee hearings in Parliament, and that in the opinion of this House, the Senate majority is not providing appropriate priority to the passage of Bill C-2, a message be sent to the Senate calling on the Senate to pass Bill C-2, the Tackling Violent Crime Act, by March 1, 2008. (Government Business No. 3)
This is part of an attempt by the government to set up a series of opportunities to lose motions of confidence, which also includes the budget and the motion on the Afghanistan motion. While the government is justified in declaring the vote on Bill C-2 in the House of Commons a matter of confidence, this motion is meaningless and hardly a matter of confidence.

This motion is meaningless as the House of Commons has no authority over the Senate and no constitutional right to provide direction to it.

The confidence convention requires that the government retain the confidence of the House of Commons, not the confidence of the Senate.
• Compendium
• Procedure Online
• House of Commons

Parliamentary Framework
Confidence Convention

By constitutional convention, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are able to exercise authority only with the consent and approval (“confidence”) of a majority of the Members of the House of Commons. Should the Government lose the confidence of the House, the Prime Minister must submit his or her resignation to the Governor General, who either calls an election, or, much more rarely, invites the leader of another party in the House to attempt to form a government.

The confidence convention is a matter of parliamentary practice and tradition that is not written into any statute or Standing Order of the House, nor is it a matter on which the Speaker can rule. However, confidence motions are generally considered to be:

* explicitly worded motions which state, in precise terms, that the House of Commons has, or has not, confidence in the government;
* motions expressly declared by the government to be questions of confidence;
* implicit motions of confidence, that is, motions traditionally deemed to be questions of confidence, such as motions for the granting of Supply (although not necessarily an individual item of Supply), motions concerning the budgetary policy of the government and motions respecting the Address in Reply to the Speech from the Throne.
The question of whether declaring this meaningless motion a matter of confidence makes it a non-confidence motion is moot, however, as the Bloc Quebecois and New Democratic Party have indicated that they will support the motion. Whether the motion has any moral suasion over the Senate is for it to decide,

Any decisions by the Senate on Bill C-2, including extending debate on it, are not matters of confidence. The only way Bill C-2 can be a matter of confidence is for it to be defeated in the House of Commons.


Human Power - Get The Kids Moving

The Ottawa Citizen reports about a new Canadian invention that allows people to generate electricity while they walk and power batteries and electronic devices with it.

The article states:

They also dream of giving youngsters in the developed world access to computers even if they don't have electricity.

"When their laptop starts to run out of juice, they'd have to run outside and play," Mr. Donelan said.
What a wonderful idea. I suggest adapting it to cycling and other outdoor activities and having it charge batteries that can power all children’s electronics. Parents should tell their kids - “If you want your own cellphone, computer, video game or TV in your room that is fine” - but you have to power it with exercise”.

Who knows, once the kids start exercising to power their electronics they might just figure out that real play really is much more fun than virtual play.


I Am Smarter Than A Fifth Grader

Well, at least I am smarter than an American 5th Grader. I got all of the questions correct unaided last night, including the million dollar question. I did happen to luck out on the American history question as it was also a Canadian history question, about the war of 1812. Fortunately they did not ask who won, or they would have been wrong. But then the million dollar question turned out to be an American history question also. But fortunately it was "who was the first American to break the sound barrier". I cannot believe that the neuroscience PhD student missed Chuck Yeager and walked away with $25,000.

While these types of shows are really more about knowledge than intelligence I can still say "I am smarter than a fifth grader".


Omar Khadr: al-Qaeda Says it Best

Ironically, perhaps the best description of Omar Khadr's status as a child soldier was stated by the terrorists themselves, in a biograpphy of Omar Khadr's father, Ahmed Said Khadr, in the "Book of 120 Martyrs in Afghanistan", posted online at the Al-Fajr media centre, al-Qaeda's online news service. The CBC website states that the biography praises Ahmed Said Khadr for "tossing his little child in the furnace of the battle."

Under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict, which was adopted and signed in 2002, the use of anyone under the age of 18 in combat is illegal under international law. National armed forces are permitted to recruit individuals below the age of 18, but are strictly forbidden from deploying them into combat. Non-state actors and guerrilla forces are forbidden from recruiting anyone under the age of 18 for any purpose. (Military use of children - Wikipedia)
Indeed, do we consider "a little child tossed in the furnace of the battle by his father" a terrorist or a victim. International law requires that we consider child soldiers to be victims not warriors.


Hate and Freedom of Thought

We all hate hate, but does that justify compromising our most fundamental of freedoms.

René Descartes postulated “I think therefore I am”, reasoning that thought is the very essence of our being.

Freedom of thought is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which states:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:
a) freedom of conscience and religion;
b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
d) freedom of association.
Freedom of thought is meaningless without the freedom to express one thoughts, thus freedom of thought and expression are interlinked in one statement in The Charter.

Popular ideas do not need protection. The very point of protecting freedom of expression in the constitution is to protect the expression of unpopular ideas. After all today’s heresy may be tomorrow’s science, as history has taught us. And it is those that espouse hate that would love to control what other people think and say. We know better.

The irony of combating hate with restrictions on freedom of thought and expression is that it is these very freedoms that are the best protection against hate. The very worst expressions of hate are those that are institutionalized by governments or corporate media. The best defence against such hate is the freedom of ordinary people to challenge it with logic and reason, without restriction on their freedom of expression.

Take, for example, government censorship and control of information and mandatory versions of history. The truth does not require being made “mandatory” or “official”. It can stand on it’s own. Such mandatory versions of history are virtually always false (with one unfortunate exception which is a subject the Fifth Column will examine separately in the future) and often used to promote hatred by authoritarian regimes.

Government restrictions on freedom of expression to fight hatred can also have perverse effects. Should we make it illegal to insult religion in order to combat hatred on the basis of religion. That is actually not such a huge leap of reason and we have seen what can happen when that leap is taken.

Much has been made of the use of the Internet to disseminate hate but the Internet is the best thing that could happen to the spread of hate. The old way was a lot more work for the hate mongers but a lot more effective. They would target susceptible individuals, often alienated or disaffected youth, and would then befriend them and provide them with an onslaught of controlled information via pamphlets and meetings and oratory. They would only see one side of the picture and this would all be done out of public scrutiny.

With the Internet we all can see the message of hate they are spewing and, more importantly, the target audience using the Internet to access hate messages has unfettered access to all of the counteracting anti-hate information on the web. More often than not the hate mongers will simply end up preaching to the converted, something us bloggers understand all too well.

The only restriction that should be put on freedom of expression is against promoting or counseling others to commit illegal acts that involve violence or cause harm to others and that is where the reasonable limits provision of the Charter comes into play:
1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
Freedom of expression is too precious to compromise, even with the best of intentions, for the best of intentions can go awry. Allowing the government to decide what are acceptable thoughts for people to express is a very dangerous idea.

We must not let the hate mongers intimidate us into compromising our fundamental freedoms but instead we must take the attitude of Voltaire who wrote: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”.


What is ... The Contradictions of Airport Security

What is too dangerous to be allowed on an airplane but safe enough to give to poor people.

Click here for the answer.


Send “Across The Universe” Across the Universe

For the first time ever, NASA will beam a song, The Beatles' "Across the Universe", directly into deep space at 7 p.m. EST tonight.

The transmission over NASA's Deep Space Network will commemorate the 40th anniversary of the day The Beatles recorded the song, as well as the 50th anniversary of NASA's founding and the group's beginnings. Two other anniversaries also are being honored: The launch 50 years ago this week of Explorer 1, the first U.S. satellite, and the founding 45 years ago of the Deep Space Network, an international network of antennas that supports missions to explore the universe.

February 4 has been declared "Across The Universe Day" by Beatles fans to commemorate the anniversaries. As part of the celebration, the public around the world has been invited to participate in the event by simultaneously playing the song at the same time it is transmitted by NASA. Many of the senior NASA scientists and engineers involved in the effort are among the group's biggest fans.

You can play the song below:


Out of Control Police Taser Innocent Teenage Girl

Since when is Tasering a teenage girl during an unlawful arrest “in accordance with our departmental procedures”. Apparently when it is done by the Halifax Police.

On Tuesday, Halifax Youth Court Judge Anne Derrick had harsh words for the officers who tackled the girl in her own bed and shocked her twice with a stun gun.

Derrick found the girl not guilty on charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer because the arrest was not lawful.

"The spectacle of a 17-year-old girl being Tasered in her bedroom is a very disturbing and disconcerting one," the judge said in her ruling.

"I find the police acted outside the scope of their authority in arresting [the girl] and that she was entitled to resist and committed no offence in doing so, and I acquit her of the charges before the court."
It is the courts that decide when someone has done something wrong, not the perpetrator. The police are not above the law. If anything they should be held to a higher, not a lower, standard of conduct.