Thursday, December 30, 2010

A New Avaaz Petition

The following is a petition from to try to reduce the usurious fees Western Union charges for money transfers to some of the world's poorest nations:

This holiday season, Josh, a Kenyan student in the Netherlands, scraped together a year's worth of savings and sent it home to support 10 struggling family members. Shockingly, the giant money transfer company Western Union skimmed off 20% of the cash meant for Josh's family in fees.

Josh’s story is painfully retold every day, the world over, on a staggering scale -- an estimated $44.3 billion worldwide was lost in transfer fees last year! The World Bank recommends that transaction costs not exceed 5% of the total, but Western Union has never faced serious pressure to lower its crippling charges. If we unite in a global outcry now, we can expose its predatory practices when its carefully crafted, family-friendly image is most vulnerable: the giving season.

Josh's generosity -- and that of millions of workers around the world -- shouldn't go to waste! Let's call on Western Union to lower its fees to 5% for the poorest countries, and when the petition reaches 250,000 we’ll deliver it to the company’s image-sensitive board of directors. Sign now and then forward this petition to family and friends.

Does This Pass The Critical Thinker's Smell Test?

“All is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.” So said Doctor Pangloss in what is probably Voltaire's best-known satirical work, Candide. And perhaps it is understandable that I briefly thought that The Hamilton Spectator had decided to devote part of its op-ed page to French literature upon seeing the title, 'All in all, things are getting a whole lot better' (Dec.30).

Written by David Seymour, described as a senior analyst for the Frontier Centre, a conservative/libertarian organization whose website boasts the article's original title, 'Cheer Up- The World Is A Wonderful Place,' the article extols the tremendous advances the world has made in a number of fields, including economic growth (hasn't Ebay enriched all of our lives immeasurably?) sanitation and longevity. At the same time Seymour hints at something deeply pathological about those who do not see the glass as half-full, dismissing them as 'the glum,' 'the moaners, and 'merchants of doom.'

To the reader with critical-thinking skills, perhaps most risible is Seymour's assertions “that everyone is getting wealthier and the environment is generally improving ...” and that “ freer and wealthier countries are better environmental custodians. “

Hmm... In his worldview, the writer has conveniently omitted that pesky problem of climate change which almost all balanced studies suggest will ultimately engulf low-lying lands in catastrophic flooding, make many parts of the world much more vulnerable to drought and consequent starvation, and cost world economies many many billions of dollars. Indeed, although no single year's volatile weather can be attributed to climate change, one cannot help but begin to see a pattern emerging in hotter summers worldwide, record snowfalls and freezes in Europe, and massive disruptions in travel throughout the world.

Indeed, I suspect that few would argue that it is the industrialized, free and wealthy countries who are responsible for the massive buildup of greenhouse gases at the root of these changes, the same nations that are proving quite intractable in their refusal to lower their emission rates in order to slow down the rate of earth's degradation.

And yet, according to Mr. Seymour, things just keep getting better for our species.

Would I prefer to live in an earlier time, before the advances of which the writer speaks? Of course not. But let's not kid ourselves that a world offering us greater longevity, sanitation, opportunity and technological marvels is one separate from the world of poverty, child labour, human exploitation, starvation, disease and early death that are constant realities for a significant percentage of our fellow human beings.

But let's face it. There is something beguilingly attractive about Seymour's premise that we can enjoy and exploit the world, guilt-free, because after all, things are so much better now than they were in ages past. Indeed, that nettlesome small warning voice in our heads can finally be put to rest – as long as we are also willing to cast out any sense of morality and concern for those less fortunate who have to pay a very heavy price for our indulgences.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Ottawa Police Parody

The following video is making the news spoofing, as it does, the timid reaction and political pandering of management in light of the Tracy Bonds strip search. Reminds me of the sorts of pranks we would pull on management at every opportunity:

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Very Graphic Video on the Dangers of Drinking and Driving

This kind of graphic video from Australia depicting the dangers of drinking and driving perhaps has a place on our North American networks:

For Those Who Appreciate Satire

I just cribbed this from someone else's website. Enjoy, and remember that it is done in the spirit of satire:

A Timely Word About Kiva

Like me, I suspect many in the blogosphere are deeply cynical about governments both domestic and foreign. We tend, for example, to despair of governments' capacity to bring about meaningful change when it receives or gives foreign aid. The recent imbroglio over the termination of CIDA support for KAIROS is but one example of many that come to mind. The slow nature of the reconstruction efforts in Haiti is another.

In this season of giving, many turn their thoughts to philanthropy that benefits people in other parts of the world. For those seeking such an opportunity, I would like to suggest an entity that has a tremendous track record and one which I volunteer with. That entity is Kiva.

A fine example of an NGO doing tremendous work in the developing world, Kiva uses a particular model of microfinance that will appeal to many. For as little as $25, a person can lend to an entrepreneur from an extensive list of people seeking to better their lives and the lives of their families through a slow and gradual development and expansion of their businesses.

One of the exciting aspects of Kiva is that all of the money lent goes to the recipient through a finance organization in the target country. Each financial entity, before becoming a partner with Kiva, is carefully vetted, with Kiva performing all of the due diligence to determine its viability and adherence to philanthropic lending policy. Once the loan is repaid, the lender has the option of either receiving back the money or re-lending. (I should warn you that the lending can become addictive!)

Kiva receives nothing from the loan, depending extensively on both donations and a large network of volunteers to do most its work, including the translation and editing of loan descriptions.

So if you a seeking a worthy cause that requires only a small commitment of funds, I heartily recommend and endorse Kiva.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Young British Student Speaks

I love this young man's passion. It seems to me that his words, based on police reaction to the student demonstrations in Britain, are equally applicable to what many experienced during the G20 police repression of protesters.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

An Internet Scam Warning

I imagine that all Internet users at one time or another have experienced a browser popup claiming that they have won one of the many technological baubles that seem to dominate our culture, be it an IPad, Ipod, or whatever. Recently I decided to click on a claim that I had won an Ipad, just to see where it would take me. My advice is simple: resist the urge.

It initially seemed innocent enough, a rather challenging IQ test (the kind of test I generally resist taking, lest they confirm my worst cognitive fears). After taking it, I had to enter my cellphone number to receive the results. What followed were two more questions, on the cellphone, to which I did not respond.

We then went away for a week to Cuba, having left the cellphone behind since it doesn't work there. Upon my return, I was appalled to find that I had insufficient balance left on the prepaid to make a call. Upon investigating the balance online, I saw that I had received several more messages from the Internet company that had provided the IQ test, each with a charge of $2.

I called my cellphone provider to ask it to block the messages and to restore the funds to my account. While they did the latter with alacrity, they said that I was listed as subscribing to a service from, and provided me with a number to call to halt the emails. The number is 1-866-257-4586.

All is now restored and the messages have stopped, but what I most object to is the fact that there was nothing obvious that I saw on the site stating that by providing my cellphone number, I was in fact entering into a contract with

Personally, I would like to see some kind of CRTC regulation governing such misleading and unethical practices.

Just a word to the wise from someone who should have known better.