Saturday, June 30, 2007

Typical Embassy Dissappointment for Canada Day.

It pains me to inform you, my fellow Canadians, that there will be no Embassy festivities this year for Canada day in Morocco. Rumour has it the Canadian Embassy had a party on Tuesday June 26th, but forgot to invite people. They also seem to have not noticed that Canada Day this year falls on a Sunday, which is the perfect day for an enormous party.

As a shocked Canadian living in Morocco, I called an emergency meeting with Canadian icons Bob and Doug Mackenzie. They said, “What d’ya want eh!” and, “Go away ya hoser,” but were otherwise fully supportive of my plan to celebrate Canada Day, on its actual date, here in Morocco.

In honour of the second biggest country in the world, a special, “Canada Day,” hockey tournament has been organized at the Megamall. It starts with the younger teams at 13h00, however the main match takes place at 18h30.





The men’s team representing Canada will be led by none other than local legend, Dan Sturgis. He is akin to a hockey hero in the land of people who never skated before. Hockey historians call him a, “lazy skater prone to knee injuries,” and hockey insiders warmly refer to him as a “Never was.”

The tournament has been dedicated to Canada’s official head of state, Queen Elizibeth II. Festivities following the tournament will be held in the nearby patio of restaurant XO. Entrance is free, however the event will be held in true Canadian style. Therefore, it’s BYOB, and BYBMS, with MS being interchangeable for both maple syrup and moose steak. You may be tackled at the door if they catch you trying to smuggle beer inside, so hide it well. Those who bring a clever sign, particularly one bashing the Canadian Embassy and ambassador for his lack of National Spirit, will be given a free pancake in which to spread their Maple Syrup on.

Happy Canada Day everyone!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Balsille's exciting options.

There seems to be a setback in the Balsille-Hamilton Predators romance. The Predators current owner says nothing is going on. There's always Phoenix, Atlanta, Florida, Tampa Bay, and another half dozen teams guaranteed to either lose money, or barely make a profit forever in lacklustre hockey markets.

Can someone tell me what the NHL has against putting teams in viable and hockey mad places?

Balsille Preds deal or no deal, I've brought out my crystal ball and am making predictions. It's a bit blurry, but I see one of two things happening.

If Balsille gets the Predators, they will come to Hamilton in one year, two at the most. During that time, Balsille will be racking up draft picks and talent consistent with what the team's started to do already via the Vokoun to Florida trade and trumping free agency by sending high profile unrestricteds to Philly for a first round pick.
Expect a couple more moves in the short term, but continued patience. You can always get more future picks right before the trade deadline if you play your cards right. By the time the Predators come to Hamilton, they will be overflowing with young talent comparable to the current Penguins.
The next move: Expect some of this talent and a wad of cash to move to Pittsburgh for Sydney Crosby. The primary goal of such a move will be to piss off Gary Bettman for interfering in his previous bid to buy the Penguins.

If Balsille does not get the Preditors, my prediction is equally, if not even more enticing. The World Hockey Association, (WHA), existed from 1972 to 1979. They directly rivalled the NHL, forcing the NHL to expand into other markets to compete. The WHA's creation was a result of untapped markets and their willingness to pay more than the NHL wages dished out by a cartel of profit-driven owners.

The league eventually failed, with a handful of the stronger market teams, they merged into the NHL. The Edmonton Oilers dynasty was part of this expansion.

The ingredients for a strong rival league have never been better than they are now. The NHL owners once again have limited players salaries with a salary cap. A rival league could offer someone like Crosby what he's worth, rather than the maximum seven or eight million he makes in Pittsburgh right now. To put things in perspective, a Los Angeles soccer team is paying David Beckham fifty million per year over five years to play for them. Beckham is a waning and aging star known as much for his smile and pop star wife as for his talent. A great player, but his skills definitely aren't worth 50 million.

While low salaries coupled with refusal to expand created the rival WHA league before, there are three ingredients leading to a rival league now.
1) incompetent expansion,
2) instituting salary caps to make that expansion viable, and
3) improved international relations and economies.

Teams in a new league would not go to shaky spots like Las Vegas, Kansas, or pretty much any city below a geographic line drawn from Boston, through Philly and over to L.A.

Instead, there would be a North American League and a European League. Higher salaries means stars like Sydney Crosby would be better off playing for a team like Hamilton.

Who would you rather see, the Hamilton Blackberries with Sydney Crosby vs the Moscow Dynamo with Ovechkin. Or the Phoenix Coyotes with Shane Doan vs the Columbus Blue Jackets with Sergei Federov?

Crosby is good for the US market, but is the US market good for Crosby?
While big names such as Nike would sign Crosby to huge advertisment contracts regardless of where he plays, being on a Canadian team would increase his local brand appeal tenfold. Being on a Canadian team in an international league even more so. Remember Gretzky's spinning hockey game, his lunch box, the retarded kid going "Gretzky!" and whatever else he happened to sell. Canadian businesses would line up to get his endorsement. Crosby merchandise would go through the roof.

Good for hockey!

What the NHL doesn't need is more useless market teams. It's time places who shouldn't even have a team stop winning the cup.

Stealing the Stanley Cup.

Donated by Governor General and converted hockey enthusiast Lord Frederick Stanley of Preston. He wrote out five conditions for the awarding of the Stanley cup when he introduced it in 1892. These conditions prove it is not the property of the NHL.

The original intention of the Stanley Cup, as donated by Lord Stanley, is outlined as follows.


1) The winners shall return the Cup in good order when required by the trustees so that it may be handed over to any other team which may win it.
2) Each winning team, at its own expense, may have the club name and year engraved on a silver ring fitted on the Cup.
3) The Cup shall remain a challenge cup, and should not become the property of one team, even if won more than once.
4) The trustees shall maintain absolute authority in all situations or disputes over the winner of the Cup.
5) If one of the existing trustees resigns or drops out, the remaining trustee shall nominate a substitute.

In lieu of a later dispute, the trustees passed further rules regarding the Stanley cup.

6) The Cup is automatically awarded to the team that wins the title of the previous Cup champion's league, without the need for any other special extra contest.
7) Challengers for the Cup must be from senior hockey associations, and must have won their league championship. Challengers will be recognized in the order in which their request is received.
8) The challenge games (where the Cup could change leagues) are to be decided either in a one-game affair, a two-game total goals affair, or a best of three series, to the benefit of both teams involved. All matches would take place on the home ice of the champions, although specific dates and times would have to be approved by the trustees.
9)Ticket receipts from the challenge games are to be split equally between both teams.
10)If the two competing clubs cannot agree to a referee, the trustees will appoint one, and the two teams shall cover the expenses equally. If the two competing clubs cannot agree on other officials, the referee will appoint them, and the two clubs shall also pay the expenses equally
11)A league could not challenge for the Cup twice in one season.

Revive the World Hockey Association. But this time, include the hockey world markets across the sea to create a true, robust, and exciting league.

Balsille, if anyone can pull this off.

I'll wait in line to buy my ticket.

Leafs take some risks.

Last year the big deal in Leafland was picking up Andrew Raycroft in exchange for a goalie prospect Tukka Rask. Raycroft turned out to be, perhaps the worst starting goalie in the NHL last season. His one good stat was that he was among the top ten goalies with 37 wins. He was also among the top ten goalies in losses. He was number one for most goals allowed. He also ranks near the bottom of the pack for GAA and Save percentage.

The Leafs finished a dissappointing one point away from a playoff spot last season. Andrew Raycroft couldn't lift his game to give that extra nudge the Leafs needed. Instead, the ever important nudge, in a three way battle for the remaining playoff spot, came from the Islanders backup goalie.

With essentially the same team. A slightly older Sundin, a defense corps who could use one more D specialist, and a solid foundation of forwards. The Leafs again pulled the trigger on a trade - their current philosophy seems to be why draft and raise players when you can trade and improve right now. A philosophy I personally don't like as it seem to ensure long term mediocracy. To be honest, I'd prefer short term failure in exchange for a shot at a superstar, and even the cup a few years down the road. In their existence, the Leafs have never had a superstar. While in Pittsburgh's brief reign, they've had two, arguably three or even four if you count Paul Coffey and Malkin.

But with a base of fans screaming for success, it's hard not to make "now" trades. One thing I like is to see a lot of familiar faces back. That in itself is not a bad philosophy considering the Leafs did have a solid season. A goalie who could have picked up one more win would have put the Leafs in the playoffs. A goalie who could have picked up five more wins would have put them in contention for fourth or fifth spot.

While the Leafs young talent pool might be lacking. Few people expect to pick a superstar midway through the first round - especially given the Leafs history at the draft. After the top ten or fifteen, it's a lottery, with some later picks never even making it as regulars to the NHL. With Bell, they have an underacheiving player with potential, traded for none other than the great Martin Havlat only a year ago. Bell was expected to be Thorton's wing man last year.
The true gem of this deal though was Toskala, who at the very least can't be worse than Raycroft. Raycroft is probably a nice guy. He had one amazing season a few years back. I don't know why he can't repeat it. Age? Injury? Vision? Training? Or he's just lost the edge that brought him into the NHL on fire. With a better goalie, all else being equal, on paper the Leafs should be able to make the playoffs this season.

There is still five million bucks of wiggle room left under the salary cap. They would be wise to show patience with it and shave off a few more million in trades starting with Raycroft. Kariya or Lindros would round the team off nicely. Peca hopefully is coming back, which should put them in great shape to take a run at top four spot in their division.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Story excerpts edited out - Jordan

July 2003

I wandered through the streets of Aqaba, the historic Jordanian town on the Western tip of the Red Sea. Parked at a hotel an hour's bus ride away, the defunct buggy waited to be resurrected from my seven month absence.

Travel ebs and flows with highs and lows, and this was one of the shit spots.

Crap piled upon more bureaucratic crap. Expired permits, visas, documents, documents.

I found a fast food restaurant and ordered a chicken combo meal. While I sat down, two young Jordanians walked in. They laughed and greeted the pimply kid behind the counter. The first was dressed like someone who shopped at the GAP, with khaki pants and a grey golf shirt. He ordered for both of them and sat in the booth across from me.

"First time to Jordan?" he asked.
"Second time, I just got back from Egypt."
"What of Jordan have you seen?"
I finished chewing my food and swallowed. "I drove around Wadi Rum, went to Petra, and later visited Amman."
A restaurant employee interrupted our conversation. He went over to collect the tray of food. Meanwhile, his friend, who had a greasy mop of black hair and was dressed in grubby jeans, leaned toward me, putting his hand next to his mouth. "The prince," he said. "He's the prince."
I nodded. Maybe he would buy my car, or fix my import permit problem. Then again, I didn't even have my car.
The prince sat back down with his meal. "Where are you headed next?"
"Back to Petra to collect my car, then onto Syria."
I finished my food and left shortly later, forgetting about the encounter until a couple days later.

+++

At the Jordan-Syria border, a thin-haired official perused my expired documents. He took out his calculator and his ferret eyes scanned back and forth. He then wrote down the cost of fines.

"That's crazy!" I said. "Three hundred and twelve dollars for expired permits?"
"Expired by five months," he said.

"But look, I was in Egypt during those five months. I wasn't even driving around Jordan."

"But you left your car here."

"Is there a cheaper way?" I asked, trying to hint at a bribe.

"You can go back to Amman and try to sort out your documents there."

That made sense. Drive around illegally, rack up more fines, and likely go from office to office where nobody had the slighest clue how to help me. Who in Jordan's history had overstayed their temporary import permit and went through bureaucratic channeles to avoid paying the fine - probably nobody. I clenched my documents with frustration. "Do you know who I ate dinner with two nights ago?" I said.

"Huh?"

"Never mind." I counted the cash out, handed it to him and went back to the car. At least I'd gotten through.

Next stop, Syria.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Afghanistan

Tony Blair, in his resignation letter as published recently in the Economist magazine, speaks of having resolve in the face of those who distort the faith of Islam. He claims that if our resolve is stronger than theirs, we will win in the end.

It goes beyond mere resolve, however. The allied forces must show uniformity in the application of the principles that make Western democratic societies a role model.
Condoning the torture and murder of prisoners, as the Canadian Miitary has done in turning a blind eye to it, perhaps even encouraging it, goes against those principles.

Just punishment, even if culture dictates the death penalty, is okay. As is a fair judicial system and prison system free of torture and non-judicial-sanctioned murder. But that is not the case in Afghanistan.
Our resolve to transform Afghanistan is inherently good, but it must be followed through with the reslove to carry out that action. The government which has replaced the Taliban is seen as corrupt. Graft, which was virtually eliminated under the stringent Taliban, is now rampant. Torture and murder in the prison systems, carried out by corrupt elements willing to grant freedom for a price, devestates our hopes of rebuilding a better society.

Blurred arguments

While the initial invasion was a cakewalk. Rebuilding the country is seen by surrounding Muslim countries as an occupation. The new government is considered a puppet of the west. Never was this argument stronger than when the "coalition of the willing" attacked Iraq without provocation.

The legitimate argument for attacking Afghanistan, that they harboured terrorists who threatened non-Muslim countries, became even more blurred. Al Qaeda's cause for brutal Western resistance had gone from a small force who had to brainwash members, to a force overflowing with volunteers ready to stand up to the new crusade.
There was no legitimate argument. Iraq harboured no more terrorists than any other Arab country sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and had some patience been shown, Hans Blix's UN team could have come to that assessment. Furthermore, while a bad dictator, Saddam Hussein was not the worst.

While Tony Blair insists our resolve must outlast the remnants of the evil regimes and their distorted faithful, the world passes useless motion after usless motion that do nothing to bring an end to the attrocities in Darfur. If ever there was a reason to invade, change regimes, and fight for a just cause, it would be in The Sudan. The Sudanese government has used brutal war tactics for over twenty years to ensure Sudan's oil resources are controlled by the country's Arab Elite.

By pulling vital military and strategic resources out of Afghanistan, and putting them into Iraq, the Afghanistan mission is now in serious jeopardy. Instead of what should have been our original intention, showing the violent Islamic Fundamentalist movement that the West is a helping friend; we are on the brink of two massive failures.

Furthermore, the West no longer has enough clout to help where we are needed. Had Iraq never happened, there is a real possibliity that Afghanistan would be stable and on the road to success. We might even be out by now, leaving a strengthened democratic ally.

It's hard to keep our reslove when the situation deteriorates, as is happening in both Iraq and Afghanistan

I think rather, that western reslove should last only to a point where our presence becomes resented. America and Britain's continued occupation in Iraq is by many considered a blight. Their occupation in Afghanistan is becoming more and more that way.

And we are afraid to tread, unwanted, into another resentful Islamic hotbed; Sudan.

Tony Blair, resolve led to many a downfall and loss.

Germany invading Russia. The Bay of Pigs invasion. Russia's previous escapades in Afghanistan.

Resolve must be tempered with lost-cause logic. To me, that logic dictates getting out of Iraq and focusing on what can be salvaged - Afghanistan.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Off with his hands?

I entered Saudi Arabia, having crossed the Red Sea on a ferry from Port Sudan to Jeddah, in 2003. A huge sign hung above the the final customs barrier. The sign didn't say, "Welcome to Saudi Arabia," or, "Peace be upon you," but rather, the 'not so welcoming message' hanging from the portico said, "The penalty for imporing narcotics into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is Death!"

Saudi Arabian courts are strictly based on Islamic Sharia law. They are notoriously harsh and unforgiving. A Palestinian-Canadian boy found this out recently after a school brawl left a fellow student dead. The blame has been pinned on this Pal-Can boy, despite controversial and limited evidence that would struggle to hold up in a Western Court. He's been sentenced to death.
So, what to do with this Saudi Prince? Through a not so complicated kickback scheme, he organized for Saudi Arabia to pay 80 billion dollars (likely ten billion too much) for aviation equipment from UK based giant BAE. In return, BAE syphoned $240 million per year back into two US embassy accounts directly linked to him.

The penalty for theft in Saudi Arabia is the relatively light sentence of chopping one's right hand off.
That's what I'm interested in. Not the ripple effect through British politics, nor the ethics of BAE.
Due to Prince Bandar's family, does he have impunity to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from Saudi Arabian coffers?
In Canada, a scandal of not nearly the same scale, in which numerous individuals or companies benefited a few million, brought down our government.

I don't blame BAE for their action. If they hadn't been willing to "deal", Boeing would have been happy to. If not Boeing, then someone else.
Prince Bandar bin Sultan is the most important Saudi diplomat in modern history. Prior to leaving his post in 2005, he served as ambassador to the United States for over twenty years. He was America's most important ally in the Middle East and personally helped stave off an oil crisis by assuring increased output leading up to the Iraq war.
He had more influence in Washington than any other diplomat in the world.
He was particularly close to George W Bush, who received the nickname Bandar Bush, and became an honourary member of the rich Saudi family.

Will this icon of global power and wealth be brought to justice for stealing a princely sum? Pardon the pun. So he stole more money than me and all of my friends combined will likely earn in our lifetimes. It's not like he accidentally brought a joint into Saudi Arabia. Then he'd really be in trouble!

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Canadian Visa Nazi to Winnie Mandela - NO VISA FOR YOU!

It came as no surprise to me that Winnie Mandela was rejected a visa by Canadian Immigration. It's a requirement to provide a police certificate with the application, and Winnie's police record isn't exactly flattering.
She was convicted of the assault and kidnapping of a 14 year old boy in 1991. More recently, she was convicted on numerous accounts of fraud and theft while acting as president of the South African Women's league.
Her name is associated with praising the tactic of necklacing, where a tire filled with petrol is tied around a victims neck and set on fire.
She has been accused of bullying political opponents.
Nelson Mandela accused her of adultery leading up to their divorce.

If Winnie Mandela had been accepted, our experience would be even more depressing. Read here.

A criminal convicted of kidnapping leading to murder, as well as theft and fraud, given Canadian visa. Moroccan wife of Canadian, no criminal record, masters degree, high paying job, denied visa. Immigration fears she might be an illegal immigrant risk despite having three unabused visas for Europe, a still valid visa for the United States, and even an expired and unabused single entry visa for Canada.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Sensationalist, and likely duped BBC journalist slams Morocco.

I'm no apologist for Morocco. The country has its problems. There are things that really irritate me. Poor driving and road condition top the list. Bureaucracy overload comes a close second.
A recent article about Morocco, posted today on the BBC website is nothing short of the worst sensationalist journalism I've read from them. I've always held the BBC in the highest of regards. What was written today was more like what I'd expect from some low class tabloid. Sure, in a round about way, the BBC reported the facts. However, other facts and deeper digging seem to have been ignored, as though an attempt is being made to paint Morocco as badly as possible. Did the Moroccan government do something to piss the BBC off recently? Is this payback? Or am I missing something? Is this some Moroccan government sponsored reverse mentality propaganda to increase aid handouts in time for the G8 summit?

It's certainly shoddy reporting. Richard Hamilton regurgitated BS from somewhere.

In summary, the article describes a so-called hard luck family who live in public toilets not far from the capital Rabat. The article says the father worked in the toilets for twenty-three years, and when his daughter was kidnapped several years ago, he had to pay all his money to find her and get her back. They lost their appartment and he moved into the toilets with his family.

I wouldn't put too much stock in what the "toilet guy" says. Perhaps, events in some form or another like he said might have happened. I doubt he'd pass a lie detector test on all the facts however.

First of all, what are these toilets and how did he get his job? Likely, he came off the street and worked for tips, one of countless toilet people who leave a dish for tips on a rickety wooden chair outside public toilets. Inside, the toilets always seem to remain filthy and stinking. The "toilet cleaners" don't put their "not so hard" earned money to good use and invest in a bottle of bleach every so often.
If I ever take a piss in a Moroccan public toilet without having to hold my breath from the hideous stench, I'll tip the guy generously. Case in point, the "toilet" family complains about rats. If their are rats in the toilets, he can't be doing a very good cleaning job can he?

Secondly, even the beggars here in Rabat make more than a dollar a day. Which is what his salary was described as.

The BBC corrospondent describes abject poverty here in Morocco. I think we have different opinions on abject poverty.

I see abject poverty as the scene in Darfur, where people are destitute and rely on handouts just to survive to the next day.

When's the last time you heard of people starving to death in Morocco?

The BBC article finishes with the quote, "It reflects the huge gap between rich and poor in Morocco: some people live in luxury, others live literally in a toilet."

A huge gap between rich and poor? Not so much as in some countries. The majority of the so called rich here are lower-middle class to middle class by Western standards. When someone writes of a huge wealth divide, I think of Russia, where a quarter of the country's wealth is owned by a mere one-hundred people. Here in Morocco, there is opportunity enough to work and provide the bare necessities for a family - a roof and bread on the table. Living in the toilets was 100% this man's decision.

A likely scenario - the man chose to move his family into the toilets because he's trying to cash in on a government handout in the form of a relocation package. Either that, or he's using his "toilet people" status as leverage to increase the begging income for the rest of his family. Come the month of Ramadan, Moroccans are their most generous with almsgiving. A family living in the toilets is in perfect condition for sympathy generosity.

Even more likely still, the guys pathological lying is what got him down the toilet in the first place. The exact same place as where this shoddily researched article belongs.

Harper vs the Environment.

My first blog on this subject, well over six months ago, mocked Harper and the conservative government's environmental package. In my conclusion, I noted if Harper wanted to trick Canadian's into thinking he was greener than he actually was, all he had to do was throw some money at a few environment/renewable energy projects, brag about it in the media, and bam, his ratings would shoot up.
He did just that, and for a while it looked like he might be cruising toward a majority government. (shudder)
Harper is currently attending the G8 summit. He says he's not going to take the high road on the environment and pledge German-style targets. Nor will he take the American low road and pretend Global Warming doesn't exist. Instead he will try and be a bridge between the two, bringing Europe and the USA together on the issue.

Canadian Public Translation - I, Stephen Harper, am in love with GWB. I will do anything for him, even if it jeopardizes my own political career and proves unpopular with Canadian voters. Someone has to act as cover for America's gross environmental negligence, and protect the oil industry which really runs our neighbours to the south.

A stance of solidarity with Germany would have gotten Harper into the voters good books. It would have replenished his tarnished environmental image. I've said it before and I'll say it again. CANADIANS DISLIKE BUSH. Any time one of our leaders disagrees with him, especially over his more controversial, "You're either with us or against us!" policies, it can only boost their popularity.

But Harper, I forgot to mention the second secret of tricking Canada into thinking you are Green. Had you actually figured it out on your own, you might be on your way back to getting majority poll numbers. It's the world's most common political trick, and its called lying. You figured this concept out when it came to Income Trusts. You figured it out with the Afghan prisoner transfer agreement.

The Liberals understood it with their previous envirnomental programs.

What should you have done?

Tell Canada you are going to attempt to meet the targets laid out in the G8 summit. Hold off on the treaty, perhaps making a stipulation or two. If pressure grows, finally sign the thing, but with no intention of doing anything more than superficially following through on its targets. By the time Canadians have figured out that you've renigged on the deal, you could be well into a second, if not a third majority government.

Why?

You've stood up to Bush.
You've painted yourself green enough to hopefully trick enough Canadians into voting for you in the next election.
You've doused the environmental issue that's been plaguing your government ever since you put Rona Ambrose in charge of the file. You've deflated the Liberals biggest critisism of your government.

I'm looking forward to an upcoming Liberal minority government, followed by a Liberal majority not long after.