Archive for November, 2010

Airport scanners: The conspiracy theory

November 20, 2010

For all of the uproar about the invasive nature of the airport body scanners at least I hoped that they had been chosen through some rational  decision making process.

But we now have a conspiracy theory that postulates that governments were manipulated into buying the scanner through insider fear mongering.

If the facts as stated in the blog are accurate, the theory could have legs. Not that anyone would ever admit that they were scammed.

I do like the descriptive phrase, “porno scanners”. Rather makes a point.

Again, thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.


Airport Security: More on professionalism and confidentiality

November 19, 2010

Although this story dates back to 2008 and is (I would hope) an extreme case, it indicates the problems inherent in the screening process.

The incident occurred during the spring of 2008 at Corpus Christi airport, and has (shockingly!) prompted legal action on the part of the victim. And yes, she was a victim: “As the TSA agent was frisking plaintiff, the agent pulled the plaintiff’s blouse completely down, exposing plaintiffs’ breasts to everyone in the area,” say lawsuit documents. “As would be expected, plaintiff was extremely embarrassed and humiliated.”

The woman, highly upset, proceeded to leave the screening area to collect herself. You know, after forcibly going topless in the middle of airport security. And when she came back? A display of class about on par with a fraternity basement at 2 am: “One male TSA employee expressed to the plaintiff that he wished he would have been there when she came through the first time and that ‘he would just have to watch the video.'”

I haven’t heard of anything like this happening in Canadian airports and would be surprised if anything that over the top would ever occur. But it doesn’t do anything to reassure the traveling public.

Thanks to Instapundit for the pointer.

Cod stocks improving: Let’s fish!

November 19, 2010

I am down in Nevada at the moment and listening to NPR radio while I drive.

I just heard a comment there that cod stocks were improving and that commercial fishermen wanted to get back fishing them. The commentator noted that he had sympathy for that point of view.

Well I sure the hell don’t. The commercial cod fishery has a lot to answer for.

The commercial fisheries raped the resource for years. Not only fishing well past the capacity of the resource, but dragging the seabed with some of the fishing techniques and destroying the habitat there as well.

A major factor that contributed to the depletion of the cod stocks off the shores of Newfoundland was the introduction and proliferation of equipment and technology that increased the volume of landed fish. For centuries local fishermen used technology that limited the volume of their catch, the area they fished, and allowed them to target specific species and ages of fish.[51] From the 1950s onwards, as was common in all industries at the time, new technology was introduced that allowed fishermen to trawl a larger area, fish to a deeper depth and for a longer time. By the 1960s, powerful trawlers equipped with radar, electronic navigation systems and sonar allowed crews to pursue fish with unparalleled success, and Canadian catches peaked in the late 1970s and early 1980s.[52] These new technologies adversely affected the Northern Cod population in two important ways: by increasing the area and depth that was fished, the cod were being depleted to the point that the surviving fish were incapable of replenishing the stock lost each year;[53] and secondly, the trawlers caught enormous amounts of non-commercial fish, which although economically unimportant, held huge ecological significance: incidental catch undermines the functioning of the ecosystem as a whole, depleting stocks of important predator and prey species. In the case of the Northern Cod, significant amounts of capelin – an important prey species for the cod – were caught as bycatch, further undermining the survival of the remaining cod stock.

Their attitude was akin to the old buffalo hunters who competed to see who could kill the last buffalo. (OK, I know they’re Bison).

If you want to read an excellent book on the issue pick up a copy of Cod: A Biography of a Fish That Changed The World, by Mark Kurlansky. Or check on it at a used book store. A review of the book here.

However in doing a bit of google research (I didn’t get to hear the actual story on NPR) in appears that the North Sea cod are making a bit of a comeback, but the Newfoundland stocks are just holding their own at this point.

But of course we are still fishing them.

The cod population off of Newfoundland’s south coast is neither rising nor declining, reveals a Canadian Department of Fisheries and Ocean (DFO) research report released Wednesday.

This inconclusive assessment will be used by fisheries managers to set commercial quotas in the coming year.

“It’s certainly frustrating from everyone’s perspective, from our own and from the fisheries managers and indeed from the fishermen, too,” said John Brattey, a DFO research scientist.

The assessment addresses fishing zone 3PS, which has been in steady decline since 2000, reports CBC.

Recently, fishermen in the zone have reported catches of mature cod that are larger than those seen in recent years. This could mean the area is not being overfished, Brattey said.

He said, however, that it is too early to tell how many young fish will survive to maturity.

“We don’t feel that a single mathematical model can reconcile the information into a single assessment of the stock as a whole, so we don’t feel it would be appropriate to do it at this point,” he said.

Cod stocks off the south coast of Newfoundland are one of the healthiest in the area, but only in comparison to other stocks, which remain low.

It was only in April of last year that DFO scientists reported that cod population in the southern Gulf of St. Lawrence had reached a record low point, with only 50,000 tonnes of cod remaining in the area.

The cod stock off the Island’s northeast coast remained in a diminished state even after more than 15 years of a total ban on cod fishing in the area.

The south coast was also closed to commercial fishing in 1992, and only limited areas were ever reopened.

Actually a large part of the blame has to be laid at the door of the federal government’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) which was (supposedly) responsible for managing the fishery and under whose watch the fishery collapsed. There are many complaints that they are equally responsible for problems in the westcoast fishery.

But then again the DFO can’t win no matter which route they take. If they allow the commercial fisheries to take precedence they get hammered by the conservation and environmental groups, and if they err on the side of a conservative strategy they get crucified by spokespersons for the commercial fishery.

The initial jubilation over the massive bounty of returning salmon sockeye is now being washed up in criticism, with Conservative MP John Cummins saying fishermen are furious with the way federal regulators have delayed the fishery.

“People are just disgusted with the way they’ve managed this, these guys haven’t a clue,” charged Cummins, an experienced commercial fisherman and MP for Delta-Richmond East.

Cummins says reports of a large return of Fraser River sockeye started coming in three weeks ago but the industry was forced to sit on the sidelines as the Department of Fisheries and Oceans refused to allow a fishery.

That delay is now the subject of intense debate, with one expert saying that millions of returning sockeye are going to overcrowd spawning grounds, causing significant numbers to die off before spawning — a terrible waste of fish that could have been caught earlier by fishermen.

Cummins agrees and is now calling for a shakeup at DFO.

Although I find the argument that fish performing their natural process of spawning and dying being a ‘waste’ of those fish  pretty amusing, it is however consistent with statements that I have heard over the years from commercial fisheries people to the effect that any fish that got past the commercial nets were ‘wasted’.

We could also talk about commercially fishing down the food chain, but that’s another story.

Airport Security: Don’t touch my junk

November 18, 2010

There is a great deal of comment on U.S. programming right now on the new airport security rules and the choice being given of going through the new scanner units that essentially strip you naked electronically or a very personal physical pat-down by security personnel.

The big story the past few days was about a traveler who was ejected from the San Diego airport for refusing to go through the scanner or agree to the physical pat-down, telling the screener, “If you touch my junk, I’m going to have you arrested,”

I was the recipient of the procedure going through the Vancouver airport a month or so ago.

On general principles I turned down the opportunity to use the scanner (I don’t know exactly why, as I volunteered to go through one a few years ago in the Kelowna airport at a time when they were just testing them out. I suspect I was just succumbing to the old cranky man syndrome this particular day).

Anyway, in Vancouver because I passed on the scanner, I received the obligatory pat-down. The security fellow abd I had a far too personal experience. I had the feeling (actually, he was doing the feeling) that he was a tad more uncomfortable with the procedure than I was.

Regardless, I don’t think I would take that route again.

In fact, flying out of Kelowna a few days ago I was honoured by being picked for a more detailed security check – at least I hope that it was  a random check as I would hate to think that I have been elevated to some government security risk list, although I might qualify for the one that includes ‘cranky old men’.

This check required me to step inside the de-clothing scanner and also required me to take off my shoes and have the interior of my carry-on bag manually inspected. All very politely done though.

Now, if truth be told, I really have no problem going through the scanner. If they want to inspect my private parts via electronics they are welcome to scan away. If perchance the people viewing my electronically de-clothed  body get some titillation from the viewing that is their personal problem. However I suspect that viewing my body parts on a monitor will never gather a crowd in the booth.

But I can certainly see where some travelers would have a problem with the process.

The scanning is supposed to be private and the image is supposed to be deleted immediately after the scanning. But there have been some stories to indicate that this is not always the case.

People are cynical about promises coming from the bureaucracy. This is more than understandable when you think about the recent incident where trained police officers – supposedly professionals – watched sexual activities in one of their jail cells as though it was a private porn show.  It certainly casts doubt on any assurances that airport security personnel can somehow be expected to rise to the occasion and be more professional and discreet.

The other thing is whether all of this additional screening actually makes flying any safer or whether it simply boils down to an attempt to make the public feel as though they are safer.

When you think of it, every new procedure to control the traveling public comes after some failed attempt rather than before.

After the 911 attacks where the terrorists used box cutters to take over the plane, for a time they banned safety razors in carry-on bags. A regulation that didn’t survive the stupidity test.

When there were stories of terrorists bringing dangerous materials on the plane in containers they limited the size of the toothpaste and shaving cream, etc containers that you could bring on in your carry bag.

After the shoe bomber they started making you take your shoes off.

When the underwear bomber was caught they decided that they needed to peek into your pants.

The bad guys just seemed to move on to the next scenario.

I do wonder at what point the powers-that-be will have the epiphany that the way to keep the airspace completely safe is to simply keep people off the planes. Problem solved.

I have always felt that a real weakness in the security system is all of those people who work behind the security wall on a regular basis. This would include the contracted luggage handlers, the mechanics, the people who clean the planes and even the security personnel themselves. Are there ongoing security measures in place that are at least as stringent as those that the flying public are put through?

From my personal point of view flying has become so unfriendly that I tend to avoid it unless it is absolutely necessary. And if it continues to become even more unfriendly – as it undoubtedly will – I expect that I will find more and more reasons why I don’t have to fly at all.

I remember with some fondness when air travel was fun. Those days, unfortunately, because of events and the times are long gone.

Today flying is akin to bus travel with wings. In fact traveling in today’s modern buses with their air conditioning and on-board entertainment may well be a lot more fun, albeit much slower, than flying.

Daylight Saving Time: Eliminate!

November 8, 2010

I hate DST. At least in the fall when we jump back an hour and we lose an hour of afternoon light.

I always understood that the practice came into effect to help farmers who got up early and needed the extra morning light. But then they invented electric lights, so what’s the big deal.

Now it’s still dark in the morning and dark an hour earlier in the afternoon. It’s depressing.

Saskatchewan doesn’t change anymore and it’s farm country, so what do they know that we don’t?

Can we have a referendum on this?

California votes against legal pot:Too bad

November 7, 2010

If you can imagine such a scenario, California voters defeated Proposition 19, which would have made marijuana use legal in the State.

Of course there was a concerted campaign against the measure with the federal government and local police being front and center against legalization.

Certainly that was to be expected, as the police have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo on this issue.

A cynical view?

Possibly, but police forces get their money by convincing politicians (and the public) that crime is running rampant and the more they can make their case in that regard the better their budgets are likely to be.

So if marijuana was suddenly, with a stroke of a politician’s pen, made legal a great deal of ‘crime’ as now defined would be off the table.

It would also reduce the number of people being convicted and spending time, at taxpayers’ expense , in our jails.

As a matter of full disclosure, I have never used marijuana nor have I ever had the inclination to do so. I quit smoking regular cigarettes over 50 years ago and have never felt the need to suck smoke into my lungs since that time.

But that doesn’t change the fact that our laws regarding the weed need to be changed and California had a chance to do so and muffed it – although the dissenting vote came at just under 54%, which is not a ringing rejection of the idea.

What it come down to is that successive governments have made the same mistakes with marijuana that the US government made with prohibition.

They have spent decades putting people in jail and destroying lives for an activity that harmed no-one – possibly with the exception of themselves and that is debatable.

In the process they have also facilitated the growth of a criminal element that feeds richly off the illegal drug trade. A trade so lucrative that in places like Mexico they effectively maintain their own armies and hold the government to ransom.

And for what?

To try and prevent the use of a drug that is widely used by a large percentage of the population, while allowing and profiting from the use of alcohol which by all accounts causes much more disruption to the social fabric.

None of it makes much sense to me. It seems to be another case of stupid, outdated laws making criminals out of citizens for doing something that society as a whole increasingly finds to be – if not completely accepted – at least not a criminal act.

California had the opportunity on November 2nd to embark on a bold experiment, but unfortunately came up short.

All that being said, there were marijuana users in California that were opposed to Proposition 19 as well. They believed that the wording of the proposition was such that if passed it would be used to make their lives much more complicated.

In part:

For instance, Prop 19 supporters are excited about the ’5 foot by 5 foot’ cultivation area they think they would be allowed i.e., one space per residence, no matter how many occupants. But most don’t realize that police will continue to arrest people who can’t show written documentation from a landlord or property-owner giving them permission, which is impossible to get for most. But unlike now, localities will also be able to impose huge monetary fines on such individuals, in addition to the criminal charges.

Cities would also decide how close to minors growing will be allowed.  Undoubtedly many will rule that in the same apartment-complex is too close. Prop 19 creates new felony charges for anyone crossing those limits. So it can be asked: how does Prop 19 make us marijuana-users more ‘free’?

In addition, unlike now, localities will be allowed to enact steep fines for any person caught without a permit for 5 foot  x 5 foot cultivation area – that can be 1 plant. For property-owners the fines can be added on to your property-taxes, so you have to pay. For renters caught without a growing permit, a fine and jail time.

Prop 19 gives localities the power to collect as much money as they want through these fines & fees (wonder how much that’ll be?). Rancho Cordova’s ordinance will charge homeowners $600 per square foot of garden, or $15,000 per year for your 5 foot x 5 foot cultivation plot. And charge homeowners caught exceeding that area $1000 a day for the ‘nuisance’. The same charges and fines also appliers to renters.

All of this is aimed at the same purpose as Prop 19 itself: to discourage people from growing pot themselves and funnel all consumption through high-priced dispensaries (the more they charge, the more tax the locality gets), and at the same time give police clearer criteria of their powers that they can use to bust people.

Going on the above, it’s clear that under Prop 19, pot smokers would be better off buying a doctor’s recommendation.

In short, the objections of pot-smokers to Prop 19: They now live in a climate where anyone in California can get a doctor’s recommendation for less than $100, and with it possess and cultivate amounts 10 times that of Prop 19. Anybody else already has the right to possess 1 ounce.

Prop 19 introduces a plethora of fines and fees for governments to cash in on and making many basic acts which are legal now, illegal, such as smoking in the same home as a minor, or handing a joint to someone who hasn’t turned 21 yet.  Legally defining what amount ‘personal use’ is.  Not even to mention the loss of an entire, thriving cottage-industry — to large corporations. And the negative tax and economic consequences of that.

Looking at the whole picture, it becomes clear what Prop 19′s true purpose is: to empty the wallet of the marijuana user for the benefit of dispensaries, big business and governments. All while the voters embrace it with a big stoned smile.

As they say, ‘the devil is in the details’, and they may very well be right in believing that Proposition 19 left openings for serious abuse.It wouldn’t be the first (nor the last) time that groups got sandbagged by the lawmakers. But legalization something that will eventually come and when it does the people who will be affected need to be very involved in the process.

The problem with random breathalyzer checks

November 3, 2010

The federal government is making noises about allowing the police to make random breathalyzer tests without cause. Now there’s an abuse just waiting to happen.

The federal justice minister is considering a new law that would allow police to conduct random breathalyzer tests on drivers, regardless of whether they suspect motorists have been drinking.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson raised the prospect recently at a meeting of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, according to MADD chief executive Andrew Murie.

If random testing were to be adopted, it would be a major change to Canada’s 40-year-old breathalyzer legislation, which stipulates that police may only administer a test if they suspect a driver has been drinking.

In June, a House of Commons parliamentary committee recommended changing the legislation to allow for random testing, arguing it is an effective deterrent.

Of course the police think it’s a fine idea.

B.C.’s chiefs want the freedom to pull over anyone, anywhere, at any time of day and ask them to take random breathalyzer tests. Currently, an officer requires cause to get a breath sample.

“The randomness of catching people who are drinking and driving is pretty key to lowering the death rate and sending a very clear message to people that break the law,” Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham told CTV News.

“If people know there are going to be officers out there — are not sure where they are — maybe the message will finally get through to those people who just don’t get it.”

If the police think it’s a good idea then obviously our opposition party leaders, Michael Ignatieff and Jack Layton should be solidly behind it as well. At least that was their argument with the long gun registry: The police are in favour of it therefore we have to keep it.

We’ll see what they have to say about random police stops.

But then again, Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) is all for giving police those kind of invasive powers, so it might not be a long-shot to think that I & L would go along with the idea.

Random breath testing is a roadside breath screening test to detect impaired drivers. It is used mainly at stationary checkstops where every passing driver is required to stop and give a breath sample. Drivers remain in their cars, and the process is routine, quick and causes minimal delays for sober drivers.

However that isn’t the way that the police see it working (see above).

I see the proposal as being the old slippery slope proposition. If the police can make the case that they need the ability to randomly stop citizens for drinking and driving offenses they can probably make the case for other situations.

Then there is the likelihood that some police officers will abuse that right by stopping people for reasons unrelated to drinking and driving while using the the breathalyzer test as their excuse.

An editorial in the Calgary Sun, while pointing out the possible benefits of such a law, also argues against the proposed law.

Drunk driving is a scourge. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada estimates that 1,239 people died due to impairment-related motor accidents in 2007 and a further 73,120 were injured. That’s three deaths and 200 injuries per day.

In spite of these alarming figures, we take issue with Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford’s lock-step endorsement of federal Conservative suggestions to let police conduct random breathalyzer tests without cause, a move supported by Calgary police Chief Rick Hanson. If implemented, police would not need to determine if there is reasonable suspicion that a driver has been drinking, as is required even at Checkstops, where a driver’s actions and demeanour must be assessed before a breath sample is demanded.

Richard Rosenberg of the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association properly argues that random testing would be a violation of a person’s right to protection against unreasonable search and seizure. “It has no real place in a democratic society,” he said. “Giving police power to act on a whim is not something we want in an open democratic society.”

Hopefully the federal government will rethink this foolishness.