Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Forget Mount Rushmore: Richard Nixon’s last laugh

Richard Nixon laid back
Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace, after his Watergate tapes had shown the public just what kind of a man he was. Despite his claim that I am not a crook!, most believed he lied to the Congress, to the public, and probably to himself.

There is no chance that Nixon would ever have his face carved into a granite mountain – like Mount Rushmore – to pay tribute to him.

But to all those who scoff at Nixon and his legacy, a word of caution: there is a chance that Mother Nature has on her own done her best to preserve Nixon for posterity.

How so?

Well, I’ve just returned from touring the Joshua Tree National Park in California, and there I discovered something remarkable. President Richard Nixon might have pulled a fast one on all of us!

We were driving along the Keys View Road in the Park, towards Hidden Valley, when I spotted Nixon’s Revenge.

A large rock formation reared up on the side of the road. As we passed it, the side view of the rock showed the profile of Richard Nixon. No Ifs, Buts or doubts about it: it was the spitting image of Tricky Dick.

Saddle Rocks, aka Nixon's Revenge
Known as Saddle Rocks, the largest single rock formation in Joshua Tree National Park rises some 600 feet from the valley floor, just below the west flank of Ryan Mountain.
Saddle Rock has three summits – they make up the heavy chin of Nixon, his most prominent facial feature (the long, oddly shaped nose), and his prominent forehead. Rock climbers call these the Lower, Middle and Upper Summits.

When you compare the various photos of Nixon in this post with Saddle Rocks, you will note the similarities that struck me.

Now, every time someone rides past that mountain, they just might hear a soft, disdainful chuckle emanating from who knows where ...

Friday, October 31, 2014

Ebola, the President, and Quarantines: Who will protect Americans, and how?

Ebola nurse Kaci Hickox
Today we saw an ebola nurse defy the order of the Governor of her state to remain in quarantine, after she returned from ebola-stricken Africa.

Kaci Hickox took to the streets to indicate her opposition, by riding her bicycle.

And Governor Paul LePage of Maine was not amused:

Kaci Hickox took her campaign against an Ebola quarantine out for a spin on Thursday. The Maine nurse, openly defying an order to stay home after she treated patients in West Africa, sped off on a bike ride on a sunny morning with her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur. She returned after about an hour.
“I hope that we can continue negotiations and work this out amicably,” Hickox told reporters. “There is no legal action against me, so I’m free to go on a bike ride in my hometown.”

Authorities in Maine are pursuing a court order to enforce the quarantine through Nov. 10. Hickox says she is completely healthy and free of symptoms, and that the quarantine is unnecessary and unconstitutional.

Several hours after the bike outing, Gov. Paul LePage said that efforts to negotiate with Hickox had failed. Citing confidentiality laws, he did not specify his next steps. But his office pledged in a statement: “The governor will exercise the full extent of his authority allowable by law.”In an interview with NBC affiliate WSCH, LePage suggested it was all right for Hickox to leave home, as long as she doesn’t touch anyone or go into a public establishment. He said a police cruiser outside the home was there for Hickox’s protection. “Her behavior is really riling a lot of people up,” he said. He said he hoped for legal clarification later in the day on enforcing restrictions on her movement. The governor said he was looking out for the 1.3 million people of Maine.
“I don’t want her within three feet of anyone,” he said.

Kaci Hickox’s stance throws into high relief a topic that right now concerns not only the President, but the Governors and Legislatures of several States. There is no vaccine for ebola, and the lethal disease (it has a very high mortality rate for those infected) has caused thousands of deaths in several countries of Africa.

The quarantine order has today been rejected by a judge.

Problems now facing President Obama and the USA:
The Administration’s handling of the ebola crisis inside the country has been inept, to say the least. Slow to react, the President was faced with confusion, fear, slow responses by the Center for Disease Control, and increasing hysteria in the media.

Finally, he appointed his very own Ebola Czar, with the mandate to coordinate the Administration’s response to the crisis.

But the process to date within America’s borders leaves unanswered a number of very important questions regarding the preparedness of the only superpower to handle similar crises in the future.

The problems are how to contain an infector pool, how to respond quickly to a new, lethal and highly infectious disease that appears within the country, what to do with infected persons, how to seek a cure in a rapid way, and who is in charge. None of the responses to date gives much assurance that America is ready to cope with a serious outbreak of a lethal, highly infectious disease appearing within its own borders.

Nor, for that matter, can citizens of any other developed state (such as the UK, Germany, France, Canada, and others) be assured that their levels of government are ready to cope with such an onslaught, and to protect their societies.

I have dealt with such problems in a post today to my author blog, which describes how a similar threat was dealt with in my novel, Silent Lips. The questions are not easily answered, and success is not assured.

Problem: How to contain the Infector Pool

The countries in Africa grappling with this deadly scourge have been unable to date to solve this problem. Because ebola is spread by contact with an infected person during the infection period, it is very easy for those tending the sick to fall victim. So far, ebola has not been spread through the air, but only by bodily contact with fluids of the sick persons.

Preventing such contact is the primary goal of all efforts to prevent ebola spreading. This means putting infected people into containment structures that limit their contact with others, and making sure that all medical and other personnel wear appropriate biohazard clothing. Intense training in the removal of such clothing is also needed.

But what if there are not enough containment structures, and not enough protective clothing?

What then?

The simple answer is that ebola will spread, unless none of the sick are attended to.

Even if all helpers moved away from the sick, ebola will spread of infected people move into fresh populations.

This brings us back to the steps being taken by Governor LePage and by others, to require that any person who has – or might have – come into contact with a person infected with ebola, whether in Africa or in the US, be placed in physical quarantine for the incubation period of some 21 days.

Problem: Is Quarantine legal in the USA?

There is some doubt whether it is. Some Governors have said that they will insist on mandatory quarantine of persons at risk, regardless of legality, in order to protect the citizens of their states.

But what if ebola – or a similar, highly contagious and very lethal disease – should spread inside the USA? Would the US be prepared for this, on a massive scale? Would any developed country?

A US President might consider the spreading of such a highly contagious disease to be a national state of emergency, but even then there is some question whether compulsory quarantine of persons or of areas (or cities) would be legal. The Constitution provides for a national state of emergency declaration by the federal government in cases of unrest etc, but there is no mention of quarantine in case of a spread of disease (a pandemic). The CDC website locates the President’s power to quarantine in the commerce clause of the Constitution.

Can the US federal government or any state government quarantine a nurse or doctor who goes to Africa to aid ebola victims and returns without any sign of infection? The safest course would be to quarantine all such high-risk persons for the 21 day infection period, but can this be done legally? Nurse Hickox was supported in her fight by a court today, as mentioned above.

This issue needs to be resolved speedily and clearly, before any American can be assured that he or she is fully protected by the governing powers.

Problem: How quickly can America react to a disease threat?

The ebola reaction was slow, and many fumbled in actions they took. Some Governors have decided to take matters into their own hands, to protect their state’s inhabitants.
However, the quick reaction force – the CDC – did not step in fast enough. The speed of reaction to a possible threat (think how long the ebola crisis has been brewing in Africa, and how unprepared American authorities seem to be despite such early warning). How fast could they react if a new, more deadly, and faster spreading threat arose within the US?
And who would lead the charge? Where is the prepared, highly-trained, quick-response disease hit team? We have seen no signs of such a team, yet.

Problem: Does America have enough available resources for such a disease?

An MSNBC report said that there were less than a dozen high-security, maximum-protection containment units/beds available in the country.

Even a slight hiccup could have caused all such containment units to be filled.

Ebola container
So the question is: how many biohazard containment units are required to cope with a wide threat of a highly contagious disease appearing within America, and who will be trained to run them?

Where should they be located?
Problem: What protocols should apply to the search for a cure?
If such a highly contagious and lethal disease that suddenly starts spreading inside the US, would normal strict protocols governing the development of a potential vaccine or potential cure be appropriate?

Should not a quicker, more relaxed process be available in cases of high emergency?

The debate needs to start on this aspect asap.

Enough thoughts for a rainy Friday afternoon.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Will Canada have a snap election over new anti-terrorist laws and ISIS?

Big Brother is watching ...
There is a clear fault line between the two opposition parties, and PM Stephen Harper’s policies with regard to how to combat ISIS. 

The Conservatives favour actual fighting (planes dropping bombs etc.), while the opposition parties are against this. 

The NDP is further from the government’s position, while the Liberal Party would have Canadian armed forces join the anti-ISIS coalition led by the US and help its efforts (including transporting goods for the coalition), but short of Canadian planes dropping bombs on ISIS targets.

Now another fault line has appeared: the Conservatives want to tighten legislation to combat the use of the Internet by terrorists, while the two opposition parties want to slow things down, and check what is not working before passing new laws.

The police and security arms have voiced concern about their ability to actively monitor dozens of identified potential terrorist threats, without increases in their numbers and funding.

Tom Blackwell has an article that refers to the views of some experts that our laws need tightening:
Does that mean Canada’s counter-terrorism policy contains fatal flaws? Or did the two lone-wolf attackers slip through a net that can be made only so tight — without unacceptable curbs on freedom?

Experts and advocates said Thursday there may be cause to draw that net a little tauter, even if it does mean some further limits on civil liberties...

“Apparently we can do a good job of detecting them, apparently we can do a good job of doing surveillance on them, we can do a good job of removing their passports,” he said.

“But somehow we can’t put them in jail and keep the public safe. That’s the hard question.”

In fact, a Canadian law passed last year allows police to temporarily detain suspected, would-be terrorists under what are known as preventive arrests. Police seem reluctant to use the power, however, likely because they fear judges would require ironclad proof the individuals would otherwise commit terrorist acts, said Prof. Leuprecht.

John Ivison writes that the Conservatives, which have the majority in the House and can pass any laws they wish to, have been considering changes to our laws:

The Conservatives are understood to be considering new legislation that would make it an offence to condone terrorist acts online.
 There is frustration in government, and among law enforcement agencies, that the authorities can’t detain or arrest people who express sympathy for atrocities committed overseas and who may pose a threat to public safety, one Conservative MP said. “Do we need new offences? If so which?”

Sources suggest the government is likely to bring in new hate speech legislation that would make it illegal to claim terrorist acts are justified online.

The Prime Minister told the House of Commons on Thursday that Canada’s law and policing powers need to be strengthened in the areas of surveillance, detention and arrest. He said work is already under way to provide law enforcement agencies with “additional tools” and that work will now be expedited...

The Criminal Code already prohibits “hate propaganda” and it is not clear how any new legislation would dovetail with existing provisions.

The new legislation is likely to prove controversial with the opposition parties and shatter the harmony that emerged in the House Thursday, after the terror attack on Parliament Hill.

David Cameron, PM of the UK, recently announced new laws designed to come to grips with terrorist-tourism:

Among measures announced:
  • Legislation will be drawn up to give the police statutory powers to confiscate the passports of suspect terrorists at UK borders
  • The UK will challenge any attempt by the courts to water down these powers
  • Plans to block suspected British terrorists from returning to the UK will be drawn up on a "cross-party basis"
  • Terrorism prevention and investigation measures (Tpims) will be extended, to include the power to relocate suspects
  • Terrorists will be required to undergo de-radicalisation programmes
  • Airlines will be forced to hand over more information about passengers travelling to and from conflict zones
The home secretary already has executive powers to seize the passports of those travelling abroad in certain cases but Mr Cameron said the police needed greater discretion to act where needed.

How far will the Canadian government go in its new laws? 

We clearly have a problem with the use of the Internet to spread terrorist propaganda, which raises the question of what legitimate limits we can put on the use of the Internet in the public interest. 

We also have a problem with potential terrorists whose behaviour gives our security forces cause for concern.

Will Harper extend the list of new laws to include some of the proposed UK new laws (such as forcing terrorists to undergo de-radicalization programmes, and giving police the power to relocate suspects)?

Given the clear fault lines between the government and the other parties, will Harper decide to table a comprehensive set of new laws and other provisions, and then, if these are opposed by the other parties, decide to go to the people to gain their blessing for the new measures, and also for the government’s decision on our forces going to war on ISIS? 

Coupled with the reduction of the deficit and the cutting of government costs, he could run a two-pronged campaign (best choice to manage the economy, and best choice to keep Canadians safe from terrorism), during a very short election (say, 4 weeks, with election day in late November).

We will see soon if he decides to do this.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Shameless self-promotion: Review of my Purrfect Way Book

Thought I would give my how-to book another shameless plug – the delightful review on Amazon of my book, Your Purrfect Way to Publish & Promote Your Amazon & Kindle Books said it all, I think.

Join the revolution!

You know that you are a Rebel.

The chances of a north American writer finding a publisher for his or her book are slim. But that does not mean that your book must forever remain unpublished.

You have an option.

You can decide to rebel against the traditional publishing way, and  become a revolutionary. You can ride the wave of the future.

You can join the ranks of the thousands of Independent publishers – also called Indie publishers or just plain Indies. That's a title to wear with pride. As such, you will become part of a major historical movement, as dramatic as the first invention of the printing press in 1458 by Johannes Gutenberg.

You can join the Gutenberg+ Revolution by publishing your own book, using Amazon's print on demand (POD) for your soft cover version, and Kindle for your eBook one.

Just as Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in the 1450's started a massive revolution in the production of books, so too the services offered to all of us by Amazon and Kindle are triggering a similar revolution.

Your Purrfect Way has been given 5 stars by the reviewer, also an author, and a great boost. Here's Sarah Sheard's review:

"Customer Review
A powerful go-to manual for aspiring self--publishers, May 21, 2013

Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)

This review is from: Your Purrfect Way to Publish & Promote Your Amazon & Kindle Books (Paperback)

I thought it absolutely fantastic in its usability and breadth. I'm a novelist who recently began ebook self-publishing. I've figured out some of the basics but this book maps a gazillion new pathways onward and upward.

I've found nothing to compare to this manual in clarity, range of topics and dip-in-ability. Ashton's been generous in offering this amount of research so affordably to ebook self-publishers at all levels. Written in a readable, friendly style too.

Sarah Sheard
author of: Krank: Love in the New Dark Times."
There you have it. Now, if you know ANYONE who is or might be writing a book, or who, in your mind, should be thinking of writing a book, tell them about this one – better still, gift it to them (Amazon softcover 400 plus pages only $14.99, and Kindle eBook only 99 cents).

And really, really think about writing a book and publishing it, yourself. 

What have you got to lose? Gift it to your relatives, your friends, and your carefully selected enemies.

If you are in business (employed or your own), how about writing a book about a field you know about? Looks good on your resume, eh?

Go for it!

And once you have published your own book, you will need to promote it.

That's tough.

But not impossible.

You will need to build your Author Platform, along the lines of this diagram:

And you will need to prepare your own Promotion Plan, like the one described in this post.

Don't forget to check out my manual for self-publishers – Your Purrfect Way to Publish & Promote Your Amazon & Kindle Books, which you can  read about at my Amazon author site: https://www.amazon.com/author/glennashton

And the best of luck to you!

And please consider subscribing to my author Newsletter using the subscription form in the right hand panel of this site.

When you subscribe, you will get a FREE 16-page summary of Blake Snyder's Save the Cat! beat sheet.
Welcome to the Rebellion!

Thursday, October 09, 2014

From My Quotes Cupboard: The Feudal Power of Britain’s Justices of the Peace

Justice of the Peace, with folded hands
Rural England, which was then three-fourths of England, was governed by the absolute patriarchal sway of the Justices of the Peace. Of county self-government there was none, till the establishment of County Councils in 1888...

The Justices of the Peace absorbed more and more judicial and administrative functions, thrust upon them by a Parliament composed of country gentlemen like themselves – justices gone up to the national Quarter Sessions at Westminster. Indeed, the magistrates in the eighteenth century were hardly in any way controlled or inspected by the central authorities.

Though nominees of the Crown, they in fact co-opted each other, for the Government accepted the recommendations of the Lord-Lieutenant, a local magnate primarily anxious to stand well with the squires of the county...

[The] Tudor and Stuart monarchs had, for a period of two hundred years, tried to make these unpaid local magistrates subserve the purposes of a bureaucracy devoted to the partisan projects of the Crown. But this long experiment had broken down in the final crash of 1688.

Thenceforward the Justices of the Peace may be said rather to have controlled the Central Government through the Houses of Parliament than to have been themselves under any supervision. Nominally State officials, they really represented feudal power tempered by civilization and public spirit...

[The Justices of the Peace] were in fact responsible to no-one ... And their powers and functions covered all sides of county life. They administered justice in Quarter or Petty Sessions, or in the private house of a single magistrate. They kept up the prisons and bridges. They licensed the public houses. They administered the Poor Law. They levied a county rate.

These and a hundred other aspects of country business lay in their absolute control. But they had not, for the multifarious purposes of justice and administration, any proper staff in their pay. Prisons and workhouses, like everything else, were farmed out to contractors, with results disasterous to efficiency and humanity.

British History in the Nineteenth Century (1782 – 1901) by George Macaulay Trevelyan 1928

For more Quotes, please CLICK HERE and for even more, CLICK HERE.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Kudos to Premier Wynne for remedying our democratic deficits

Political Reformer Premier Wynne
While many premiers, MPs, politicians and commentators wring their hands about the low voting counts in elections, and the feeling of impotence of many citizens, Premier Wynne of Ontario has decided to stop whining and do something about it.

With one bold step, Wynne will provide Ontario municipalities with the chance to try a radically different method of electing municipal councillors than the undemocratic first past the post sytem:

Premier Kathleen Wynne has ordered her municipal affairs minister to give Ontario cities the alternative of employing ranked ballots in the 2018 civic elections.

In her mandate letter to Ted McMeekin, Wynne spells out the importance of leading from the activist centre” with democratic reforms.

“We will spot emphasis on partnerships with organizations, communities and individuals to support foster continued economic growth and make a positive impact on the lives of every Ontarian,” the premier wrote.

“This collaborative approach will shape all the work we do. It will ensure we engage men and women on the troubles that matter the most to them, and that we implement meaningful options to our shared challenges.”

The advantages of a ranked election system are spelled out in the RaBIT website, and also discussed in two Wikipedia articles – on its use in the USA, and a general one.

Wynne’s instructions are wider than simply using the ranked system:

Substantially, Wynne has instructed McMeekin to start an evaluation of the Municipal Elections Act following the 2014 municipal elections” next month.

“You will assure that the act meets the needs of communities, and that it offers municipalities with the solution of making use of ranked ballots in future elections, beginning in 2018, as an option to initially-previous-the-post,” she wrote.

More to come?

By crafting the mandate of her Municipal Affairs Minister to ensure that the Municipal Elections Act must “meet the needs of communities”, Premier Wynne has given the Minister a pretty wide mandate.

Transparency and Open Data:

For example, the Minister should check out the suggestions of the Manning Foundation for Democratic Education on the need for open data to allow for more transparency in municipal government. This is one way to ensure that communities have ready access to information about their municipalities, so as to find out avenues to meet their various needs, and to inform themselves of the steps being taken by their councils.

Citizen Referendums &  Initiatives:

The Minister should investigate changes to the Act to provide for democratic input in civic decisions through some form of citizen referenda, or citizens’ initiatives. See also the Wikipedia summary of particpatory democracy.

Barriers to Running for Office:

Another topic the Minister should investigate is whether the Act needs amendment to allow municipalities to experiment with different measures aimed at reducing barriers to citizens running for election to the municipal council, and what support should be given to enourage wider participation by under-represented groups (such as women and minorities).

Citizen Input into Municipal Governance:

The Minister should review the use of Creative Insight Councils and Wisdom Councils as a means allowed to municipalities under a revised Act to encourage greater participation by citizens in the identification of needs to be met by the council, and methods to meet those needs.

He should also consider amending the Act to allow the use of collaborative e-democracy methods, along the lines spelled out in this article.

The Act should also allow for municipalities to experiment with different forms of empowerment through public participation in municipal governance. These could include the setting aside of a portion of the municipal budget for allocation by citizens to chosen activities or needs (participatory budgeting), including forms of neighbourhood planning.

Funding could be provided under a revised Act for the establishment of municipal Think Tanks with membership from citizens and experts, focused on local issues. One example could be a regional ThinkYoung organization, aimed at increasing the involvement of young people in municipal affairs and governance.

This initiative by Premier Wynne could be one of the most significant steps taken by any level of government in  Canada to improve the state of our democracy.

Successful outcomes in various municipalities undere this program would encourage other provinces to try similar experiments, and other levels of government to modernize their governance practices.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Iraq, Syria & the Islamic State: Obama’s new & revised Queensbury Rules

For many years, a code has governed the manly art of boxing: the Queensbury Rules, endorsed by John Douglas, the Marquess of Queensbury. These rules set out what you can and cannot do to your opponent in the boxing ring, and are equated with a sense of fair play and sportsmanship.

The essence the Queensbury Rules is that you do not enter the ring to fight to win; you must win by the rules. The rules are very specific (no wrestling; if a man falls down, you wait for him to get up; no seconds in the ring to help one fighter; no spikes on your boots, and suchlike.

Today, we are faced with a superpower that under its latest president has issued a new set of Queensbury Rules, governing how states and others may box in the arena of international behaviour.

Obama’s revised Queensbury Rules are a far cry from the old Queensbury Rules, and anyone trying to understand what President Obama is trying to achieve with his undeclared war on the Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria should take a little time to understand what he has changed in the Rules.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Israel & Gaza: Tectonic shift in past 24 hours

Israel's embattled prime minister
The Egypt-brokered truce agreement just struck has resulted in two shifts in the underlying political forces in that area.

The first shift is a de facto recognition by Israel of the pan-Palestinian government that Abbas had set in place, as Zvi Bar’el writes in Haaretz:

But this is just a preliminary agreement. The important agreement will come in another month, when both sides return to Cairo to negotiate over core issues like a port and airport, prisoner releases and Gaza’s reconstruction. Over the coming month, the cease-fire’s stability will be tested, and that is the innovation in yesterday’s agreement: The truce is of unlimited duration. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why is Justin Trudeau dancing to victory?

Heather Mallick in the Toronto Star has a few good reasons why our next Prime Minister will be named Justin Trudeau:

But what makes some politicians attractive and others repellent?

Trudeau is intelligent, humane and self-confident, a Québécois who is devoted to Canadian unity and has the most marvellous family: a sophisticated career-minded wife, Sophie Grégoire, and three adorable young children with the interesting names that only confident parents bestow: Xavier James, Ella-Grace and Hadrien. He has an English degree from McGill, a UBC teaching degree and taught for several years. He has his father’s intellect and wit, while being more down to earth, and his mother’s good looks and warmth. And the guy, a Montrealer, can wear a suit.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

New program can analyse your personality (and a politician’s)

Yair Neuman: Personality Analyzer
Prof. Yair Neuman, a researcher at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has developed such a program, and has used it to analyse the views of President Obama and Hillary Clinton towards Israel:

Neuman’s method, which he describes as augmented intelligence, works with any text of a person’s words – from a speech, interview, essay, or online post. The text is processed by computer software he developed. An expert must interpret the results.

Among other things, Neuman has used the program to profile political leaders and school shooters, to predict behavior on Twitter, and to evaluate online customer reviews.

How does it work? You feed a speech you made into the program, press a button, and voila! results arrive which an expert can interpret:

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