Archive for July, 2010

2010 Open: Humbled and eating crow

July 19, 2010

As I recall, I made the bold prediction that Louis Oosthuizen would fade on Sunday and allow some other (possibly more Major tested) golfer to claim the Open championship. If I had been betting on my prediction, Oosthuizen would have cost me money two days in a row. Which just goes to show you why I stay away from casinos and other venues that allow you to put down your money and take your chances

Far from fading, Oosthuizen played steady golf all day, shooting a 1-under par 71 to close out his nearest competitor, Lee Westwood by 7 strokes.

Paul Casey, 4 strokes behind at the start of the day could not make the putts drop and after a disastrous triple bogey on the 12th, shot a 75 and faded into a tie for 3rd place. I had really expected Casey to post a score on the final day, but seeing how the South African played, Casey would have had to shoot a 65 just to play his way into a tie.

Nobody gave Oosthuizen the Claret Jug: He claimed it fair and square.

Also tied for 3rd was Rory McIlroy who shot a brilliant 63 on Thursday, then blew to an 80 on Friday and steadied back down to record a 69 and a 68 on the weekend. What could have been! Nevertheless, a solid recovery and no doubt a learning experience. As was noted on the Golf Channel, McIlroy still hasn’t shot a score in the 70s at St. Andrews. Unfortunately he did shoot an 80.

The end result on Sunday was that it was not a very exciting day of golf to watch, with Oosthuizen playing solid ‘hold them off’ golf and no-one near enough to the top of the leaderboard posting a charge to even threaten for the title.

Now the question is whether Oosthuizen will build on this win to become a regular contender on the golf scene or whether he will slowly slip back into obscurity, living with memories of his brief burst of fame and fortune.

2010 (British) Open: Prognostications and Reality

July 18, 2010

I always love watching The Open and especially so this year with it being played at St. Andrews.

My son and I went to Scotland a number of year back on a whisky tour. We covered a lot of distilleries and tasted a lot of whisky and I even got in three golf games. Unfortunately none at St. Andrews. or any of the other courses in the town.

However we did spend a short bit of time in the town of St. Andrews – and always regretted not making it a longer stay – and walked at bit of the Old Course.

So it is rather cool to watch the TV coverage and see the shots around the Road Hole and recognize that we stood there, and watch Tom Watson make his (probably) last official walk over the Swilcan Bridge and know we walked across that bridge as well.

It has been an interesting Open so far (Saturday afternoon).

Many of the top ranked golfers who had been touted to contend in the tournament didn’t make the cut to play over the weekend. Ernie Els, and Justin Rose who have been playing well this year are gone. Tom Watson, last year’s Open story didn’t make the cut this year. Jim Furyk, Justin Leonard and Padraig Harrington have the weekend off plus a number of other noted and lesser lights.

Certainly the savage winds that they experienced on Friday had much to do with the departure of many of the entrants. The commentators tell us constantly that it’s not golf on the links courses unless you have wind, but Friday was ridiculous.

It’s interesting though that regardless of condition there is always someone who rises to the challenge, is oblivious to the degree of difficulty or is just plain lucky and shoots a score that leaves you wondering just what happened to all of the other competitors.

It reminds me of a discussion I was part of back in the years when I was a competitive shooter. I was down in Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the US Army Marksmanship Unit, where some of the best rifle shooters in the world -  Lones Wigger, Jack Foster, Bill Krilling, Margaret Murdock and others – were holding forth on their competitive experiences and how you deal with bad conditions. The comment was made that seemingly every year at the US championships at Camp Perry they would have a difficult day with the wind and some young inexperienced shooter would put up a perfect target when everyone else was just struggling to survive. Invariably, when asked how they had managed to deal with the wind to shoot that score the answer would be a puzzled, “What wind”? Sometimes you can get too involved and sometimes you just need to get lucky.

Luck or whatever, South Africa’s Louis Oosthuizen came off the course at 12 under par on Friday with a 5 shot lead over Mark Calcavecchia. Talk about a dark horse, although he has 5 wins on the Sunshine Tour and got his 1st win on the European Tour this year. His success at Major championships since 2004 has been abysmal but he has put that history behind him so far with exceptional play.

However, if I had been betting on the outcome, I would have put money on Oosthuizen backing up to the field today. As it turned out, if I had, he would have cost me money, going 3 under par, again in windy conditions. However he ended up with his lead cut to 4 strokes, as Paul Casey made a good run at him, shooting a 67 and after 54 holes sitting at 11 under.

Can Oosthuizen maintain his game and hold up the Claret Jug at the end of the day tomorrow? I would wager that the pressure will finally get through to him and he will back away from the win. But even if he does slip on Sunday someone down the list is going to have to rise to the occasion and shoot a score in order to take over the lead.

Sunday it will be a matter of battling weather and nerves. Should be fun to watch.

George Steinbrenner dies and CBC remembers Seinfeld

July 17, 2010

George Steinbrenner died this past Tuesday with news stories on all TV stations talking about his accomplishments and the controversies .that he generated, of which there were many.

CBC Television had a different take on Steinbrenner’s career.

The CBC news show pointed out that for some people the Steinbrenner name would be  more familiar to the viewers of the old Jerry Seinfeld show, where the George Costanza character worked for Steinbrenner, who was portrayed by an actor always filmed with his back to the camera. The news story then went from Steinbrenner to clips from Seinfeld showing the actor playing a fictitious Steinbrenner.

It was a bit bizarre and I wondered whom in the CBC news department thought that clips from an old TV show showing the backside of an actor playing a comedic interpretation of the Yankee’s owner was a valid part of the retrospective  for Steinbrenner.

I ‘m sure they did better on the sports channels.

More interface with Shaw Cable: Or, it only hurts when I pound my head on the table

July 12, 2010

Just when I was starting to have semi-fond feelings for the technical staff at Shaw Cable – at least the ones who work with the business accounts (don’t even talk to me about the residential account people) – I was brought down to earth.

Over the years I have had my ups and downs with Shaw over various things. But after I realized that because my e-mail was a business account and not residential (how I got there is a story in itself) and started dealing with the technicians in that department I thought I had reached Nirvana. The business technicians seemed much more technically competent and helpful.

Then came the reckoning.

For the past 15 years or so I have sent out a little e-mail ALERT, under the name of the BC Wildlife Federation, to about 450 people; a list that I have accumulated over that period. I forward articles, etc., that I think will be of interest to most of the group (you can’t please everyone all of the time or, more correctly, any of the time).

However, recently a nasty problem has raised its head.

A while back, I sent out an ALERT and it just disappeared into the black hole of the internet. I send out the emails with my recipients listed as blind copies and nothing came back to me and nothing went to anyone on my list. It was just gone!

I contacted Shaw and discovered that after all of this time I had been tagged as a spammer. When I tried to determine why, after all of these years, I had suddenly been blocked I was given a number of reasons: Too many addresses on an e-mail, although I was within the limit set for me by Shaw. Inactive addresses that I had not deleted from my list, of which I was guilty.The fact that I was blind copying the addresses on my list,which according to the technician raised the spam suspicion level (this seemed ridiculous to me).

So I reduced the number of addresses per e-mail, which meant that I had to send out more e-mails to cover my list. I deleted the old inactive addresses from my book but I continued to blind copy my list as I didn’t want to have everyone’s e-mail address out there for all the world to see.

I was back on line and everything went well for a while. Then I was closed down again.

This time I was told that I needed to put a line on my posts that told the recipient how to opt out of receiving the ALERTs. I was naive enough to think that anyone who wanted off the list would simply hit reply and ask to be removed – which various people had done over the years. So I added this information and eventually was able to get off the blocking list.

Then the other day it happened again. I sent out an ALERT and it disappeared.

I called Shaw and this time I was told that there had been complaints about the list being spam. I asked them for the nature of the complaint and who had made the complaint(s) so I could remove them from the list. They said they couldn’t do that, although they did indicate that they did have that information (whether or not that was actually true, I don’t know).

I pointed out to them that their handling of this was similar to being tried in court and not being allowed to know what the charges were or who was making the accusations. This argument did not resonate with them in any way – obviously not civil libertarians.

The told me that it was my problem and it was up to me to fix it and they did this to protect their customers. I pointed out to them that I was their customer and they should be trying to help me. Again they were unmoved by this venture into logical discourse.

What they now told me was that I needed to contact everyone on my list and get confirmation from them that they wanted to continue to receive the ALERTs. (This was not a short conversation as I tried the patience of a technician close to the breaking point – although he gamely managed to stay civil – and then did the same with a supervisor. None of which gained me any ground in my attempt to get them to assist me in solving my problem).

Knowing when I was whipped I decided to go the route of getting ‘opt-ins’ from my list.

In my first attempt I wrote up a note asking the recipient to give me a ‘yes’ or’ no’ answer to the question of whether they wished to continue receiving the ALERTs. I put 70 addresses on one email and sent it. Of course it also disappeared into the blogosphere. Now I was in a catch-22 situation. I had to contact my list but Shaw was blocking me from doing so.

So I phoned back to Shaw.

Now if anyone has ever had the need to phone into a call-in centre you know it’s not a process for the impatient. There is a wait (although admittedly Shaw has a call-back process that works fairly well if you choose to use it). But by now this was about 11:00 PM so I opted to just hang on to the phone and eventually I got another technician.

I gave him a ticket number I had received from Shaw some time back which (I presume) explained the history of my problem and I would hope all that had happened since. I told him about my problem with trying to follow their instructions about sending out an opt-in request.

His solution? Send individual e-mails to each of the 450+ list members. I said that bordered on ridiculous. It could have been a serious suggestion, but I think it was a standard call-in centre ploy to try and get your customer off the phone and out of your hair in the quickest time possible. However, that may just be me being cynical.

He then went away and studied further on the situation and came and told me that my e-mails had now been limited to 20 addresses each. At this point, being late and my frustration level set at maximum I hung up. Rudely, I’m afraid.

Then I decided, OK we will play by the new rules. So I set up an e-mail and, playing it safe, put on 18 addresses. It disappeared, presumably into Shaw’s spam folder. I tried it again with 18 different addresses with the same result. I then tried to send an e-mail with 5 addresses, again with the same result.

At that point I gave in to the inevitable. But it is an interesting conundrum.

Shaw shuts down my service because they have tagged me as a spammer. The can’t or won’t reverse their decision when I explain the situation but tell me that I have to fix the problem on my own. Then to complete the circle, they won’t let me even try to fix the problem.

For this I pay them money.

Welcome to the new world of customer service.

Paula Creamer: 2010 U.S. Woman’s Open Champion

July 12, 2010

I watched the U.S. Woman’s Open Championship today, played on the Oakmont Golf Course where Paula Creamer overwhelmed the field, shot the only under-par score for the tournament (a 283, 3-under total), beating her closest competitors by 4 strokes and registering her first Major win at the age of 24.

What is unbelievable is not so much that she won the Open at the age of 24, it’s that she is only 24. It just seems as though she has been around a long time although it has only been 5 years, turning professional in 2005.

Today she put on a marvelous display, hitting her drives on a rope and making the putts when she needed them. This after a surgery on her thumb in March and with her hand still taped up.

A great competitor and fun to watch her play in top form..

Water safety and another dumb law

July 10, 2010

On numerous occasions I have lamented about the stupid laws that get passed by elected officials (here and here are just a couple of instances). Which is why I was pleased (and amused) to see Chris Seeley’s column in the National Post ripping apart the federal government’s attempt to make the waters of Canada safe through its pleasure craft operator’s licencing system.

If the gun registry does die, where will government-haters direct their ire? Easy. I submit that the federal government’s Pleasure Craft Operator Licence has now usurped the long-gun registry as the worst, most insulting, do-nothing undertaking currently being inflicted on law-abiding Canadians. And the Conservative government is foursquare behind it. Their only possible defence is that it cost less — so far — than the gun registry.

A brief history: Once upon a time, the news was full of people, most of them inebriated, who were driving powerboats into docks, other people, other boats, channel markers, islands and anything else not made of water. Folks were dying. The government needed to be seen doing something. So they decided to license boaters — but not in the way governments license drivers. For some reason, that would have been overkill.

Instead they went with something cheaper that still looked useful to the untrained eye — something perfectly in keeping with the quintessentially Canadian notion that stupid behaviour like, say, drunken wakeboarding, can be prevented by telling people that drunken wakeboarding is stupid behaviour: A stringent written test.

[snip]

Not so shockingly, people are still dying on the water. In a particularly gruesome incident on Shuswap Lake in British Columbia last weekend, a power boat launched itself into a houseboat, killing the occupant of the latter. Police are suggesting alcohol, excessive speed and lack of running lights may have been factors — which means, obviously, that people need to be told that driving too fast, drunk and without lights in the dark is a bad idea. One more time ought to do it.

So Transport Minister John Baird is promising tweaks to Canada’s farcical boating licence: “new standards … to improve Internet testing,” a spokesman told The Globe and Mail; a requirement to demonstrate that boaters have read the study guide (I can see it now: “Click here to affirm you have read the study guide”); and, my personal favourite, more questions.

The Pleasure Craft Operator Licence has been with us for a few years now and has been pretty much considered a joke since its inception. But even at this late date it is enjoyable to see it get the recognition it deserves.

But the problem – as with all legislation – whether it is bad, stupid, useless or all three is that the chances of it ever being rescinded are zero or worse. Once on the books, dumb legislation tends to haunt us forever.

“Denormalizing” Firearm Ownership

July 8, 2010

Glen Reynolds, a Professor of Law at the University of Tennessee and the person behind the Instapundit blog, has an interesting article over at Pajamas Media on the 2nd Amendment in the U.S. constitution and the Supreme Court’s Heller decision on Washington DC’s gun ban and the more recent McDonald decision which relates to the city of Chicago’s gun ban.

Read at your leisure, but I was interested in his comments near the end of the article. (Thanks to Michael Bane for the pointer).

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions have made a major difference. In particular, they have offset the gun-control community’s longstanding effort to “denormalize” firearms ownership — to portray it as something threatening, deviant, and vaguely perverse, and hence demanding strict regulation, if not outright prohibition. That effort went on for decades, and received much media support. Two decades ago, it seemed to be working.

But with the Supreme Court saying that it’s clear the Framers regarded individual gun ownership as “necessary to our system of ordered liberty,” that effort must be seen as a failure now. Gun ownership by law-abiding citizens is the new normal, and the Second Amendment is now normal constitutional law. It will stay so, as long as enough Americans care to keep it that way. (Emphasis is mine).

What he speaks of here is what has been happening in Canada with Jean Chretien and Alan Rock, Paul Martin and now the current Federal Liberal Party leader, Michael Ignatieff and his anti-gun prolocutor MP Mark Holland, although we have called it ‘demonizing’ guns and gun ownership. Denormalizing or demonizing: Same thing. Same effect.

One needs only to look at our Federal Firearm’s Act.

Above and beyond the fact that handguns, by the fact that they are hand-held firearms, have been defined as “restricted”, we have others that have been classified as “prohibited” due to barrel length or caliber and a whole list of other firearms that have the same listing because they “look dangerous”.

The reason why a handgun with a 106 mm barrel is classified as restricted and one with a 105 mm barrel length becomes prohibited is something that must only be clear to an Ottawa bureaucrat’s tortured mind.

Then there was the situation with .25 and .32 calibre handguns which, in the mind of those who wrote the legislation, for some reason personified evil incarnate and any handguns chambered to those calibres were automatically delegated to the ranks of the prohibited. Until someone pointed out to those bright people that those were the very same calibres that the world’s competitive shooters used in international competition such as the Olympics. So now there are some (specific) handguns chambered to those calibres that not quite as evil as first thought and have been plucked from the ranks of the prohibited and deposited in the slightly more respectable classification of restricted.

On the face of it, this is all pretty silly, but it was unquestionably the intent of the legislation when written to make firearms ownership increasingly more difficult and to plant the idea in the mind of the public that guns are dangerous and not socially acceptable in Canada.

This philosophy has been the mantra of the Federal Liberal party since Jean Chretien’s time and has been part of the political bark of municipal politicians, notably Mayor David Miller of Toronto, as well as the Canadian Association of Police Chiefs, plus others with their own agendas.

Unfortunately in Canada, we don’t have a 2nd Amendment in our Constitution such as the U.S. has, so we can’t hope for the courts to work in our favour.

But as Professor Reynolds says earlier in his article, the solution is eventually political and that even though they have had some success in the U.S. courts, they should not rely on the legal system to fight their battles.

On the other hand, if gun-rights activists sit back and expect the courts to do their work for them now, they will be sadly disappointed. If pressed with further cases (which Gura says he plans to bring), the courts will do some good. But the primary protection for gun rights up to now, and for all constitutional rights, really, is political. Judicial review was intended by the Framers to be a backup system, not the main source of protection. That was intended to come from the people — and realistically, because if people don’t stand up for their own rights, courts are unlikely to take up the slack for long.

This is true in spades in Canada. If hunters, farmers, ranchers, sport shooters, collectors and all others who own and use firearms don’t begin to finally stand up en masse and state their case we will see a steady erosion of our ability (I can’t call them ‘rights’, as we lost that battle with Bill C-68) to use, let alone own those guns.

One more annoying B.C. HST example and you gotta love the Green Tax.

July 7, 2010

In my posting about the B.C. HST which came into effect on July 1st, I neglected to mention the most egregious attack on my personal lifestyle. A large cappuccino at Tim Horton’s went from $1.92 to $2.05. This could add up to a lot of money over my remaining years.

This is almost as bad as the Green Tax on gasoline that the provincial government stuck us with back in 2008. (Well in time I’ll probably get used to the extra $0.13 on my cappuccino but the gasoline tax I won’t forget or forgive as it rises to an additional $0.07 per gallon by 2012).

Actually, on July 1st we also got a $0.0112 rise in gas a BC pumps. We are now paying an additional $0.0445 for gas in this province thanks to the Campbell government’s green tax initiative. The gift that keeps on giving.

Just another government tax grab as far as I’m concerned.

(I was going to post this under ‘humour’ as well, but then I got into the gasoline tax business and found that my amusement factor had zeroed out).

B.C. officially bans body armour

July 5, 2010

B.C. now has in place their legislation to ban body armour – at least if you don’t have a permit to possess the gear. 

VICTORIA – Canada’s first restrictions on sale and possession of soft body armour have taken effect in B.C., and two other provinces are also trying to deprive gang members of one of their status symbols.

B.C. passed legislation last fall to require a permit to buy body armour, and those who currently own or sell it, have six months from July 1 to pass a criminal record check and obtain a permit. Police can now confiscate body armour from those who don’t have a permit or exemption, and

Alberta passed legislation this spring to create similar restrictions, and Manitoba has introduced legislation. Opposition critics in Alberta compared the permit plan with the federal government’s costly long-gun registry, and security experts noted that body armour can be bought from the U.S. or overseas through websites that promise world-wide shipping.

The B.C. law exempts police officers, sheriffs, corrections officers, conservation officers, armoured car guards, security guards, security consultants and private investigators. Out-of-province individuals who require body armour to work have to apply for a 90-day permit exemption.

When the bill was introduced, former public safety minister Kash Heed said the government expected few applications for permits, such as for gang associates in protective custody in order to testify in court.

Vancouver Police encountered people with body armour and no legitimate use for it 230 times between 2002 and 2009.

At the time the BC government was proceeding with the legislation, I noted my negative thoughts here and here. To date, I haven’t seen anything to change my mind. It won’t stop them from buying the armour and it won’t stop them from wearing the armour.  Just another useless law on the books.

A B.C. Fairytale: How the HST will save you money

July 5, 2010

On July 1st – Canada Day – the much maligned HST came into effect in British Columbia. This is, of course, the combining of our two taxes, the (federal) GST and the (provincial) PST into one super tax, the HST.

For many things that you buy the new tax has no effect; it just adds the existing 5% GST and 7% PST into the new 12% HST. As well, the government says that any items that were GST exempt previously – groceries for example – will be HST exempt as well.

But the other side of the coin is that there were many items that consumers only paid GST on and PST did not apply. That is no more. As of July 1st, any financial transaction that was charged only GST is now charged at HST rates. Thus the cost to consumers on many items has jumped 7%.

The provincial government has tried to make the case that prices charged to consumers will actually drop with the implementation of the HST. They then turned around and proved the lie by increasing liquor prices in their government stores by the 3% that the HST would have cut their costs.

British Columbians won’t be getting a price break on their favourite libations this summer, even though the harmonized sales tax lowers the provincial sales tax on booze.

The provincial Liquor Distribution Branch is ensuring its revenues won’t decline by increasing its markup on wines and spirits to offset a three-percent reduction in the sales tax, said Gord Hall, the LDB’s corporate policy director. In other words, prices of wine, beer and spirits at provincial liquor stores will remain the same.

“On July 1, British Columbians will see virtually no changes in price when they purchase liquor at a B.C. government liquor store,” Hall said in an e-mail.

“Markups are being adjusted to avoid price increases and we expect consumers will only see a difference of plus or minus a few pennies, depending on the product.”

Critics say the coming liquor markup undermines the provincial government’s argument that the HST will lower retail prices by reducing the tax burden on business.

I saw the effect in a minor way this morning out at a local driving range.

A medium sized bucket of balls was charged out at $6.50, pre-HST. This morning the same size bucket was $7.00. The 7% addition on the tax should have raised the cost to $6.93, but of course they rounded the amount up to the nearest dollar, which meant that the price increase was 8% and not the 7% imposed by the additional tax. They didn’t increase the number of balls in the bucket either, as in the interest of fair reporting, I counted them.

The HST will also mean an increase of $100 on my yearly golf course fees as well, along with increases in many other things such as BCAA memberships etc.

Now in all fairness, the provincial government has made some concessions in order to soften the effect on taxpayers by increasing the personal yearly tax credit to $11,000 from $9,373, which will possibly cut my personal income taxes by $100, provided something else isn’t slipped in there to offset that saving. (Cynicism showing).

There also seems to be some disagreement amongst the experts as to whether there will be a real saving to consumers as promised.

The policy strength is that it exempts all business inputs — raw materials, supplies and equipment — that companies need to do what they do. This, HST supporters correctly argue, will encourage investment and make B.C. more competitive.

The political weakness, as the tax’s many critics never tire of pointing out, is that this advantage comes only at the cost of shifting a significant tax burden onto consumers.

Just how much will be shifted is a matter for debate — given an income-tax break, the likelihood of increased economic activity (which will offset some of the cost) and some likely price reductions. These issues are at the centre of the spat over the very different predictions in two recent studies: one done by StatsCan for the Victoria Times Colonist, and another released the same day by the Fraser Institute.

The Fraser study predicted almost all income groups, except the well-to-do, would do better under the tax. StatsCan’s foresaw fairly heavy costs for almost every income group, with an average hit of $580 a year.

Based on past experience with government and taxes, I would lean heavily toward the StatsCan prediction.

There is one other aspect of the HST that really annoys me and that is the effect it will have on charitable organizations. I am involved with a couple of conservation organizations where under the ‘old’ system (prior to July 1st) contractors working on conservation projects only charged GST on their services, of which the charitable organizations got back a 50% rebate.

Under the new regime, the contractors will now have to charge HST at 12%, of which there is still a 50% rebate for the 5% federal portion and a 57% rebate on the 7% provincial portion, which will add just under 3% to the cost of doing conservation projects in the province. Maybe not a huge percentage increase, but with funding hard to come by in the first place it is just more money that will be siphoned off charitable work and fed back into government coffers.

On the ‘further complaints’ side, the Ontario government rebates 82% of the provincial share back to the charities. Then again, on the ‘it could have been worse’ side, the other provinces charging HST only rebate 50% of the provincial share.

The business community in BC is supportive of the HST tax and it is definitely an advantage from their point of view, if for nothing else but having the ability to deal with one agency for your tax filings.

Of course in B.C. we also have the HST Initiative in process to end the HST, which has obtained the necessary number of signatures in order to present the government with a fait accompli. What the government will choose to do with it from this point is moot.

Whatever they choose to do, the surprising success of the Anti-HST initiative (six previous initiatives failed) is going to make things very difficult for the government and if the public anger has legs may damage many of the seated Liberal politicians’ chances for re-election.


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