Monday, April 17, 2006

Construction Versus Policing

There has been a lot of noise about twinning Highway 101 from Halifax to Yarmouth and as we all know, we are well on our way to twinning as far as Windsor. We are spending a great deal of public money to construct new highway. See this news release, and the Cement Association's comment about costs. It is working out to about 1.4 million per kilometer, and whether those are federal or provincial dollars doesn't really matter.

There are quite a few reasons I can think of to twin the highway:
  • improvement of the transportation infrastructure
  • improve the tourist's experience of Nova Scotia
  • public safety; fewer deaths per mile.
We've heard much about the "Highway of Death" from the news media. They pounce on every opportunity to be melodramatic about traffic deaths and how they were preventable if only the highway had been twinned. The provincial Department of Highways Operational and Safety Review doesn't bear this out at all. Section 6.3 contains data from accident investigations and head-ons and sideswipes from the opposite direction account for only 9.1% of the accidents. The largest is 'run off the road' at 28.3% but the stats don't say how they were run off the road. Surely some of that is by oncoming traffic. By far the greatest contributing factors are slippery surfaces, animal action and inattention. Here is the table:

Table 6.3 - Percentages of Accidents by Type and Contributing Factors

Accident Type - Percent of All Accidents
  • Run off road - 28.3
  • Struck object - 18.2
  • Rear end - 10.0
  • Passing - 3.5
  • Head-on - 5.3
  • Side swipe, opposite direction - 3.8
Contributing Factors - Percent of All Accidents
  • Inattention/distraction - 16.8
  • Fell asleep/fatigue - 5.7
  • Inexperience/confusion - 4.2
  • Impaired/had been drinking - 4.4
  • Too fast for conditions - 3.9
  • Failure to yield - 1.3
  • Hydroplaning - 3.3
  • Slippery surface - 23.9
  • Animal action - 18.9
Note that the contributing factors are in many cases anecdotal from interviews by police officers with accident victims. Pretty easy to blame speeding or inattention on the well-known deer or porcupine, or to claim an impossible to avoid four wheel skid, despite the driver's heroic attempts to..... well, you get the picture.

For another view on twinning Highway 101, Larry Hughes has an excellent analysis at Highway 101 - Environmentally Sustainable Alternatives. He is very perceptive about the cost of oil and how it affects public travel. Whether there is any value in establishing a commuter rail link to Windsor sort of depends on what the commuter can expect for public transport at the Halifax end. It does seem a shame to me to rip out good railroad infrastructure when the price of oil is making truck based shipping so very expensive. Canada is all about transportation and communications, but we aren't very smart about moving people or goods. Just remember, "if you got it, a truck brought it". Everything you touch or eat or drink costs more when oil goes up. Ripping out cheap rail transport somehow seems counter-productive, doesn't it?

RCMP constables are paid $70,366.00 per year and if we factor in the cost of pensions, healthcare, shift differential, equipment and what have you, I'd venture to say that it probably costs about $140,000.00 per RCMP constable per year, on the highway and enforcing traffic laws. I drive that highway and there are very few traffic police out there. For the cost of one kilometer of twinned highway, we could have ten constable/years of traffic enforcement. Incidentally, do you know what makes people slow down and mind their manners on the highway? It's traffic accidents, police action and weather conditions. It doesn't take too many folks pulled over for speeding or vehicle safety inspections to lower the speed to the posted limit. Lower speeds, fewer accidents, fewer deaths, and it's cost effective. We just need a few more constables.

I'm not sure about you, reader, but I've often wished I could call the highway traffic police and report dangerous situations and homicidal drivers. If there was a number posted on the highway that travelers could call on their cell phones, it would help a lot. As it is now, when we travel the highway, we know no one is watching, so it's a free for all. If you knew that guy you're tailgating could call the cops and get action, would you do it? Don't think so.

Speaking about cell phones and drivers, it needs to be illegal to operate a motor vehicle while talking on a cell phone. That figure of 16.8 percent for inattention/distraction is pretty much all cell phones. It is a very big number and it needs to stop now.

If the province wants to twin the highway, they should do it for the right reasons and they should be open and honest about what the reasons are. Simply having some talking head on TV pushing for "twinning the highway of death" is idiotic. It is legislation and action simply to keep the noise down. This is a representative democracy. It means that elected officials need to have the guts to make the correct decision for valid reasons; to explain their actions and to rally the public;

to lead, in other words.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Tax Season

Look, I'm a sailor. I know about giving orders and having them obeyed. The navy works because orders are given and obeyed, and if they are not, the offender is subject to Canadian military law. They are charged with Disobedience of a Lawful Command. In the investigation before the charge is brought to court the investigator is charged with discovering the details surrounding the event.

  • was the giver of the order legally allowed to give that order?
  • was it a lawful order?
  • was the recipient of the order able to physically comply with the order?
  • could the recipient reasonably be expected to obey the order?
  • could the recipient understand the order?

That last condition is sort of the crux of my position on obeying the Laws of Canada. I'm no longer an active sailor and no longer enjoy the protections and safeguards afforded me by the Code of Service Discipline as laid down in the Queen's Regulations and Orders. I am a Canadian, vulnerable to provincial, federal, criminal and civil laws, statutes and regulations. I understand why I must pay taxes and I want to do it. I want the government I've elected to spend my taxes on things we've collectively agreed need to be done to make Canada a good place to be. I want to pay the full amount I owe, and that's where things start to get a bit sticky. When I was a sailor, it had to be shown that I could understand the order to comply. If the order was incomprehensible or incoherent, then I could hardly be found guilty of disobedience. That isn't the case with obeying the Tax Law, which is complicated and understood only by people who have made it a life's study - tax lawyers. I may read the tax law and submit my tax return to the very best of my ability to understand the law and my obligations, but if a tax lawyer at Revenue Canada audits my taxes and disagrees with me, then my only recourse is to have my tax lawyer argue and negotiate with their tax lawyer.

Huh? Negotiate? The law shouldn't be a matter of negotiation. I either paid or didn't. Broke the law or complied. Negotiate? Uh-uh. The thing is, if I disagree with my tax assessment and refuse to pay, they just come and take my possessions, destroy my life and move on. If I resist, bottom line, they can kill me. Then they'll take my possessions, sell them and keep the money. You must pay. You must pay even if you don't understand the law and therefore cannot comply. Doesn't sound right to me. If we want people to follow the law, we should write the law so that it can be understood. We should also write contracts so that people can agree to them intelligently. They should be written in standard Canadian English or French.

I want my Prime Minister and Finance Minister and all the members of parliament to read the tax law, arrange their affairs to comply with tax law and annually to submit their own damn tax returns. I want Revenue Canada to audit each one of them, every year while they hold office.

I am not writing this rant because I have trouble with my taxes. Hell no. To have tax trouble, you pretty much have to have money and I don't. No money, no trouble. Besides, I pay an accountant to submit my tax returns. If the feds don't like it, they can talk to my accountant. Maybe they'll negotiate. For help in understanding these laws, offers information on changes, offers a bit of help on filing, a book called Principles of Canadian Income Tax Law is available for only $85.00 for 644 pages. ISBN 0-459-28043-0. Maybe the Library of Canada can help you. Maybe.

I think that until the tax law is written clearly so that those who are subject to it can comply and pay their fair share of taxes, then we Canadians labour under injustice. I suppose what really pisses me off is having my Prime Minister avoid paying his taxes by moving his whole shipping business to a Caribbean tax haven.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I Miss My Dad

In my previous post, about the indecency of the rich and privileged lecturing on excess, all the while 'grinding the faces of the poor', I discussed a bit of my feeling about killing animals. This is a bit more in that vein; you've been given fair warning.

In the earlier part of the last century, 1900 to about 1960, there was opportunity for cruelty to flourish, protected by American and Canadian society's conventions. People who might well have been classified as psychopaths, slid along in normal company unremarked for their cruelties, because they kept their acts at home. Home. That word still has special meaning for us. It's King's X, homefree, sanctuary, the place where the outside world stops. The place where society and its rules and conventions holds no sway. Our own rules apply at home. They did even more so when I was a child, in the forties and fifties. A man's property was inviolate. Trespass at your own risk. Property owners were armed and inclined to shoot invaders, evil-doers and such like. Social workers could damn well stay in the cities.

We have a sort of rose-coloured remembrance of times past, when things were nicer and simpler, but it wasn't so. Cruelty abounded. A man could beat his horse to death if it suited him. His horse, his property, his business. He could shoot his dog by inches if the dog displeased him. He could beat his son with a harness strap until he bled. Children needed discipline and fathers were there to give it to them. Wives were beaten, and in a curious way, a woman with a black eye and cut lip was almost looked down on, viewed askance, as if she shouldn't show herself in public like that. In the country and rural small towns, men did their own butchering; killing rabbits, chickens, pigs and cows, although cows were a bit of a handful and more likely to be taken to the stockyard. How you went about killing, gutting, skinning and butchering your animals was your business.

When I was a pre-schooler, we stayed a couple of times with my father's parents in High River, Alberta, a nice place. My father was a returned war vet with a Scots wife and two small kids and he was still sort of getting his feet under him, although that wasn't what my mother said. She would say, "Ach, he is nae canny". It came out sounding like "he isney canny" in her Scots accent. It meant dad was no businessman. He wasn't.

My father kept his World War II three oh three rifle above the kitchen door on pegs. Grandad and the other surviving sons called it 'that piece of shit 303'. They preferred as one uncle said, "if a man can shoot, he can put down what he wants with a 30-30, 'n if that don't do it, use the ought-six". Dad never argued much about it. He claimed it was a poor workman who blamed his tools, and in truth he was the finest shot in our family.

Grampa's next door neighbours had pigs, goats, chickens and geese and I loved the pigs and goats, and feared the geese. Geese are nasty, while pigs and goats are bright, charming and friendly; especially to small boys. One of the pigs was an escape artist, forever getting out and into trouble, as young pigs will. He'd often be found rooting for turnips or potatoes where he had no business being. I knew that pig. He would often follow me and he'd come if you called him. We spent a few afternoons in the alfalfa field and how that pig loved to roll about in the alfalfa and play hide and go seek. Pretty good pig, I thought.

My father was working on some farm or ranch nearby, I suppose. There came a time when we heard the most horrific noises coming from next door. It was a pig screaming in terror, then agony. The noise kept on for some time, then it would die out. Then we would hear it again. I suppose it was on the second day, although it seemed like weeks, my father came in at lunch time and heard what sounded like a pig being tortured next door. Dad asked Grampa, "what the hell is that?" and Grampa replied something like "that sick, sorry sombitch next door". Dad was a tall, lanky, long-legged man and he crossed the kitchen in a step, grabbed the .303 rifle from above the door and I heard the snick-snock/snick-snock sound of the rifle bolt being operated. Then nothing. Then BANG. Then nothing. Dad came back in and he was silent. The whole house was silent. Dad was that kind of quiet that does not allow any sound, and his face was mean looking and his eyes were cold and blue. It was as if none of the dozen other people in the house were there at all. He grabbed a bowl, filled it with soup and went out to sit on the back step. When I went out to see him, he said "not now son" and I went inside and cried because I thought my dad didn't love me anymore.

Much later, I was with him at a bunkhouse in a logging camp and some guy across the table decided to tell the joke about the wonderfully talented peg-legged pig. He got to the part where the farmer says the punch-line "why son, when you've got a pig that talented, ya don't want to eat him all at once" when my dad hit him. In that moment - in the instant when my dad's fist covered the guy's whole face and he shot back in the bench and tipped over all the folks on the other side of the table - the whole logging camp and sawmill fell away and in great clarity I could see that young vet and his anger, and in that instant I knew what the neighbour had done to his pig way back when I wasn't quite five years old.

My father was a gentle man and I honour him for it. I miss my dad.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Killing Animals

I am an omnivore. My eyes are on the front of my face, giving excellent binocular vision for predatory pursuits and my teeth are suited to meat. Nice sharp incisors, good strong eye teeth for ripping and tearing and strong molars for the occasional bit of bone or gristle. My digestion is suited to meat, fish, insects and plants.

Personally, I like the taste of venison and wild duck. Fresh wild trout is a delight. I can butcher a hog and know how to get the hair off and scald it properly. I know how to hang meat. I've dressed my own deer, elk and one moose. I like to shoot and I'm as good a shot as hunting and the navy could make me. I don't fear firearms nor the people who own and use them. Living in the country as I do, I think it's a good idea to possess a good firearm.

Whenever I have shot and killed an animal, I've always felt a piercing sadness at ending the life of a being so beautiful, free and innocent. It's easy at such a moment to understand why native peoples offered a little prayer of apology and justification to their brother animal when they killed it. I no longer hunt. Balancing that sadness against the taste of wild game, I prefer to eat domestic meat from the local butcher. I'm a wuss, I guess. I do not now, nor have I ever, hunted for 'sport'. All of this maundering has been prefatory to noting that Pamela Anderson hosted the Juno awards in Halifax this year.

I do not subscribe to the theory that blondes with big tits have no brains. I think that they probably have IQs that are distinctly average, although it is true that if they are beautiful, they may not have had to survive on their wits to the same extent as ugly ol' me. Still, that being said, I wonder what idiot turned her loose? She came to Halifax, to the East Coast and proceeded to lecture one and all on the barbarity of the seal hunt. If nothing else, it was extremely bad manners. She could have slapped an old lady in a wheelchair and had the same effect. Don't misunderstand me, I don't much like the way seals are killed either. I'd prefer to see them shot, instead of clubbed to death. I'm not sure what market is served by killing seals, and I somehow doubt that 'culling' them helps the fishery very much. Still, that's the business of those who hunt seals.

These are not rich people. Newfoundlanders work hard; really hard, to wrest a living from that fog and rain enshrouded hunk of rock they call home. It isn't easy. They fish, hunt and garden when they can. Their annual incomes compared to say..... oh, say Pamela Anderson, are ludicrously small. That's what makes it so incongruous when some rich entertainment figure comes and lectures a subsistence fisherman or hunter on the barbarity of their lifestyle. I'm not sure how much of this earth's worldly goods someone like Pamela Anderson consumes in the run of a year, but I think her footprint is enormous compared to a subsistence hunter from Newfoundland. I dunno, maybe Pam gets by on a diet of granola and watercress and wears hand-me-downs and takes public transport, but I doubt it.

What I'd like Pam to do is to investigate barbarism in her adopted country. Just google for "hunting Texas exotics" if you want barbarous behaviour to protest and lecture about, Pam. Down in Texas, you can go hunting for bobcats, coyotes, wild boar, doves, Nilgai (from India), in fact, just about any captive bred big game animal you want, here or here or here, in this place, or in that one. They will pick you up at the airport, carry your bags, lead you to the animal, watch as you slaughter it, take your picture in just the right fearless pose, dress out the animal - not for food, but for taxidermy, pack the carcass back, listen to the tales of your exploits, carry your bags back out to the airport and wish you a fond farewell, all the while preparing for the next "hunter".

So, why don't you mosey on down to Texas there, Miss Pamela and explain their barbarous conduct to them. Be sure to lecture them about cruelty to animals. Let us know how you make out. I sincerely doubt you have the guts to try anything so foolhardy. Easier to come up and lecture a bunch of nice, polite folks who have little money, almost no resources and who don't carry firearms.

While we're mentioning very rich celebrities and their propensity to lecture about the seal hunt, maybe Paul McCartney could stay a little closer to home. Perhaps at the time the Queen knighted him, he might have mentioned her barbarous behaviour in murdering game birds on her estates, or maybe he could scold those who participate in Driven Game Shooting, or talk to these laddies here about the error of their ways. I'd recommend that he wear a flack jacket though. Seriously Paul, if you find animal slaughter so barbarous, why not give your knighthood back to one of the great animal slaughterers - HM Queen Elizabeth the Second? (I've always liked ya Queenie.)

This all amounts to the rich lecturing the poor for being poor, all the while studiously avoiding pissing off their rich buddies for the same behaviour.