Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Post

What a great way to begin the season of Advent than by commenting on this:

Happy (almost) Holidays! 

I don't generally use Merry Christmas because I don't celebrate it and I don't want to assume that everyone who reads this blog does either. I teach my kids to say Happy Holidays, but they always ask me why everyone says Merry Christmas to them. They are not of an age where they understand that us non-Christmas celebrants are the minority. 

I'm not anti-Christmas, I'm pro-inclusion. This makes me an enemy of the American Family Association who are policing retailers to make sure that they are putting the "Christ back into Christmas". They are encouraging shoppers to boycott stores who do not mention Christmas in their advertising. 

How are you being "pro-inclusion" by offering a generic greeting? Happy Holidays. What holidays?  Martin Luther King Day is a holiday. Gwangbokjol is a holiday. Neither of these holidays are in December, however. Christmas is. Whether one likes it or not, people observe Christmas. They should focus on the more spiritual aspects of it, yes, but that is another topic for another time. What remains is that the obviously generic "Happy Holidays" refers not to Christmas but the discomfort some feel in acknowledging it. We are not doing others a favour by ignoring a popular holiday. We are lying to ourselves, trying to salve our "white guilt" or "political correctness" or whatever neurotic hang-up we have by pretending that we care that cultural minorities may be offended. Did we bother asking or are we assuming? I say the latter. Even if someone was offended, so? Are we to come to a crashing halt for everyone who may a problem with something? Surely decorating a tree and making sugar cookies cannot be so objectionable that we ban them or hide their existence? These attempts to shield the public at large come off as absurd. Call it a "winter holiday" or "holiday tree" all you want but everybody knows you are really talking about Christmas.

Just say "Merry Christmas". It won't be the end of the world.

Why would anyone want to blow up people watching a Christmas tree lighting?

(Sidebar: there is no such thing as a "holiday tree". Please see above.)

Immigrants are failing the tougher immigration test:

Failure rates for immigrants writing citizenship tests have soared since the spring, when tougher questions and revamped rules made it harder for newcomers to become Canadian.

The new test, introduced March 15, was based on a bulked-up citizenship guide released a year ago to give immigrants a richer picture of Canada's history, culture, law and politics.

The 63-page guide, Discover Canada, replaced a slimmer volume dating from 1995 that had fewer facts to memorize. The failure rate for the old citizenship test, with questions drawn from the smaller guide, ranged between four and eight per cent.

Failure rates for the new test, however, rocketed to about 30 per cent when it was first introduced — prompting officials to revise the rules to avoid clogging the system with thousands of would-be Canadians who, because they had flunked, often had to plead their cases before busy citizenship judges.

A reworked test introduced Oct. 14 is helping to cut the national failure rate to about 20 per cent, still far higher than historic levels and making the exam-hall experience much more nerve-wracking for newcomers....

This is the highest number of fails I have seen in my time here with CIC (Citizenship and Immigration Canada) doing the test," said a harried official at a Mississauga, Ont., office on March 19 this year, where 15 of 43 people had failed that day.

The old and new tests both have 20 multiple-choice questions and a 30-minute time limit. Only those citizenship wannabes aged 18 to 54 years are required to write the test, which is available in French and English.

But the pass mark for the test introduced March 15 was set at 75 per cent, meaning at least 15 of the 20 answers had to be correct. That compares with just 60 per cent, or 12 right answers, for the old exam.

The impact of the tough new standards was dramatic: shocked officials at testing centres across the country reported massive failure rates in the first sittings.

"I couldn't believe it, it's the highest fail rate I have ever seen here," one Toronto-area official reported by email to headquarters.

An internal survey of 35 testing centres across Canada, carried out between April 19 and June 24, showed an average of one in four people were flunking. At some centres — such as the busy Etobicoke office in Toronto — it was one in three.

And while many people under the previous regime finished the test within 15 minutes, the new exam had most people sweating for the full half hour.

People who failed the old test were automatically referred to a citizenship judge. In 2008-2009, for example, 9,500 applicants who blew the test had to spend up to an hour with a judge to argue they were still worthy of citizenship.

Worried that the tougher tests could swamp the system, officials decided that applicants who flunked would be allowed to rewrite. And in the revamped test introduced Oct. 14, the department further eased the rules by eliminating a long-standing policy requiring correct answers to a few mandatory questions.

"We anticipate that the pass rate will settle in the 80 per cent to 85 per cent range, which would indicate that the test is not too easy or too difficult," said department spokeswoman Karen Shadd.

She added that the test questions are being shuffled more often to help end what the department believes was rampant cheating under the old system.

"In the past, with the old test, some people would buy the answers from unofficial sources," Shadd said in an email.

"After paying for the answers, they would memorize them in order to pass the test. This accounted, in part, for a much higher pass rate."

Shadd also said the option of rewriting the test is only a temporary measure implemented to deal with the transition to the new exam.

Putting aside words like "fails" and "wannabes" (I'm sure they meant "failures" and "applicants" but were not smart enough to use those words), I would like to express my disappointment in a number of things. There are any number of native-born Canadians who would do poorly on this test. Are these the same people who are helping immigrants prepare for this test? I would like to know. If a twenty question multiple choice test takes more than thirty minutes, there is something wrong. Questions like "What colours are on the Canadian flag?" are so simple that even a Canadian public school student can answer. If you have to bribe someone for the answers, you shouldn't be allowed in the country. Cheating on a test like that is just pure idiocy.

It's time to put on the Big Boy pants:

The United States and South Korea began joint military exercises in waters west of the Korean Peninsula on Sunday in the face of opposition by regional giant China and threats of "consequences" from North Korea.

The exercises, which Washington says are intended as a sign of deterrence to North Korea, come less than a week after the North shelled a South Korean island near their disputed maritime boundary in the worst assault since the end of the Korean War in 1953.

The nuclear-powered carrier USS George Washington, which carries 75 warplanes and has a crew of over 6,000, has joined the exercises and will be accompanied by at least four other U.S. warships, an official from U.S. Forces Korea (USKF) told Reuters.

South Korea has deployed three destroyers, frigates and anti-submarine aircraft, Yonhap news agency reported, adding the exercises were being held far south of the disputed area where the artillery firing took place on Tuesday....

Serious (-ish) fire power. Now how does this translate into making North Korea and China shake in their boots?

South Korea's marine commander on Saturday vowed "thousand-fold" revenge for the North Korean attack that killed two servicemen and two civilians and prompted an unusual expression of regret from Pyongyang.

North Korea, not known for agonizing over policy decisions, said if there were civilian deaths, they were "very regrettable," but that South Korea should be blamed for using a human shield.

It also said the United States should be blamed for "orchestrating" the whole sequence of events to justify sending an aircraft carrier to join the maritime maneuvers.

There are people who like blaming America/Israel/Canada for problems real or imagined and now South Korea has joined the ranks of the perpetually maligned. South Korea should dignify that particular insult by blowing up Kim's private castles. The targets are big enough.

China has sent senior officials including its top diplomat, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, to Seoul for unscheduled meetings, both sides said. Dai met South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Dung-hwan on Saturday and will hold talks with President Lee on Sunday.
If the South Korean minister has any sense, he would refuse to even speak to the Chinese diplomats. Don't talk to them. China sent its own men out as Bren gun fodder during the Korean War. Now it owns North Korea. China talks and makes excuses for its errant vassal state. Enough. Cut those people off at the knees.

Related: the current Korean conflict could re-involve Canada.

If war breaks out on the Korean peninsula, Canada could become embroiled due to a half-century-old United Nations military alliance, federal documents reveal.
Canada's military obligations in the volatile region are outlined in a briefing note prepared for Defence Minister Peter MacKay shortly after North Korea detonated a nuclear device last year.

The note by the Defence Department's policy branch, which was obtained by The Canadian Press, says the UN alliance could be used to generate an international fighting force if war erupts.

It is not too likely we could be called in but if we are, we should finish the job this time.

Somebody is making idle threats to people who could actually beat them up. It's a good thing there are people calling them out on their stupidity:

@00:24:09        “So Ezra or Christie: If you’re listening—which I know you are, because you really just listen to what other people have to say all the time—yeah, don’t come to Waterloo. Straight up.”

@00:56:30        “Her unacademic and apologist language is still not appreciated here, and—I’m going to guess—is still not going to be spread here beyond her books.”

@01:02:08        “It has been made evident to the community that Blatchford and her like are not welcome…”

@01:02:16        We are proud to have stopped this racist apologist from further disseminating her lies, and we firmly pledge to be present at the rescheduling of [Christie Blatchford’s speaking] event in order to continue our campaign against Christie.” 

I find that people who swagger on Facebook and the like are usually the same cowards whose intelligence is marked only by how erect they stand. Mr. Shouman should showcase these alleged brain-trusts against Christie Blatchford and Ezra Levant in an arena cut off to the general public but with closed-circuit cameras and a huge outdoor screen. Let's see these "brave intellectuals" face off with people who are as smart as they think they are, especially when there no morons to interrupt by singing children's songs or chaining themselves to stationary objects (who would want to steal them, anyway? Talk about self-flattery!).

Ezra Levant unfurls his cape:

But back to Portugal. It’s not just a matter of debt and continued overspending. The economy is structurally weak — unproductive and strewn with thick red tape that kills jobs. Only a miracle could help, and Europe is running out of those. And even a spendthrift like U.S. President Barack Obama couldn’t get away with bailing out Portugal’s banks.

But there is someone ready to help: The People’s Republic of China.

China doesn’t have a debt. It has a surplus. It has $2.6 trillion in cash that’s burning a hole in its pocket. And it’s out shopping for power.

Earlier this month, China’s president visited Lisbon and met with the Portuguese prime minister, Jose Socrates. That in itself is surprising. Portugal is a small country — just 11 million people, and an economy of just $250 billion — smaller than Alberta’s.

But that’s the point. China’s hobby is collecting small, weak countries. You collect enough of them, and you’ve got yourself a little sphere of influence. You’re not just an economic and military superpower. You’re a geopolitical superpower, too.

“We are willing to take concrete measures to help Portugal cope with the global financial crisis,” said China’s President Hu Jintao. All of a sudden, Portugal has a new patron, and it’s not Germany or the U.S.

In addition to loans, China is talking about buying a stake in Portugal’s power utility and telephone company.

Giving Portugal $100 billion is unthinkable for America. After Greece and Ireland, it might not even be possible for the EU to do. But that’s just a rounding error for China.

What a nice trinket Portugal will make on China’s mantle, right next to its other beneficiaries, like Sudan.

Sudan is a rogue state; the butcher of Darfur. But it’s also a major source of oil for China, and a growing customer for Chinese weapons. Sudan gives China what it wants. And China returns the favour, by protecting Sudan from criticism at the UN with its permanent veto at the Security Council.

Seriously- how does China sleep at night?

And now for some cat earrings.

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