Monday, December 28, 2015

Monday Post

How was your long week-end?

While Christians around the world celebrated the miracle of a Savior's being, others whined and fussed that this even occurred at all, faith being a dreadful impetus to do good in any form.

Even the Christmas tree is controversial though it shouldn't be.

Rough creatures slouch toward Bethlehem and all that.

Anyway, things to talk about...

Instead of doing any actual work, Obama has decided to host Trudeau at an official state dinner and perhaps trade notes on how to further milk taxpayers of their meagre earnings or unilaterally decide how the country is governed:

U.S. President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have set a date for their first meeting in Washington.

Trudeau and his wife are to be welcomed by the Obamas for an official visit and state dinner at the White House on March 10.

(Sidebar: he and his sponge wife can bloody well stay there.)

Tima Kurdi, who, at no time ever sponsored her nephew, Aylan Kurdi, to come to Canada, welcomes in some other relatives whose bloated little bodies don't provoke knee-jerk electoral reactions:

Mohammed Kurdi, his wife and their five children have come to Canada as refugees, sponsored by his sister Tima Kurdi, who has become a spokeswoman for people fleeing the war-torn nation.

To wit:

The Canadian government says it never denied refugee applications from the family of three-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose lifeless body on a Turkish beach Wednesday sparked an international fervour.

Earlier reports said Canada rejected a refugee application from the boy’s family in June. But the boy’s B.C.-based aunt clarified Thursday, saying she had not yet submitted an application to sponsor his immediate family. In fact, she had applied for another member of her family, she said.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall asks that seeing as energy prices are now low his province's money should be returned to it:

Saskatchewan's premier wants the federal government to consider returning a portion of the money it is taking from so-called "have" provinces while energy prices are low.

Brad Wall says provincial taxpayers in Saskatchewan continue to send hundreds of millions of dollars Ottawa's way through their taxes.

The federal government sends money out to poorer provinces through its equalization program.

Wall says because of a lag in calculating those payments, Saskatchewan is sending money when its resource economy is struggling.

He says the same is true for other energy-dependent provinces, such as Alberta and Newfoundland and Labrador.

"It might be time for the federal government, not through a direct bailout to any sort of sector, but to realize that Newfoundland and Labrador... Alberta and Saskatchewan perhaps should be provided some of that [money] back," Wall said.

Skin-flints like PM Trustifarian and Premier Wynne simply do not play that way. Mr. Wall. Tax dollars are there for the exploiting, as Ontario's senior will soon know:

Canada’s retirement system consists of three pillars: universal government benefits, the CPP and employment pension plans/individual retirement savings. Expanding CPP would effectively rebalance the system towards the second pillar by raising the proportion of retirement income generated through CPP.

The cost to Canadians would be higher contributions into the CPP during their working lives, and they will likely react by reducing savings through individual retirement savings, including tax-sheltered vehicles such as RRSPs and TFSAs. An unfortunate consequence is that Canadians will lose the flexibility associated through private savings. CPP provides a fixed income for life as well as some survivor benefits. Disability benefits are available through CPP but only before age 65 to compensate for lost earnings. Private savings provide for more flexibility. RRSP and TFSA savings can be withdrawn at the individual’s discretion. Registered private defined pensions can be unlocked under specified conditions such as financial hardship. ...

Provincial governments like Ontario will hardly be in a position to allocate more funds to long-term care given how much they are already spending beyond their means. Insurance is available but only 348,000 Canadians were covered for long-term care in 2014, according to industry figures. Hence, out-of-pocket expenses will likely rise for seniors with long-term care needs. In contrast to private savings, CPP will not provide financial flexibility for seniors needing long-term care. CPP also does not provide Canadians with financial advice on how to prepare for the contingency.

Japan and South Korea finally settle the decades-long issue of "comfort women", Korean (and others) girls and women abused by the militaristic Japanese and then denied apologies and compensation:

Japan and South Korea announced a breakthrough Monday, putting an end to a decades-long impasse over Japan's exploitation of Asian women, including many Koreans, at military-run brothels before and during World War II. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a pledge from South Korea to halt criticism of Japan over the issue, something that an earlier 1995 Japanese apology and government-organized welfare plan failed to achieve. Here's what each plan entailed and why this one appears to have succeeded:

— Japan's government will directly fund a 1 billion yen ($8 million) fund to be set up by the South Korean government to help deal with the psychological and physical needs of the 46 surviving former South Korean victims.

— Japan's government acknowledged that its wartime military was involved in the abuse, and that it was "a grave affront to the honour and dignity of large numbers of women."

— Abe, a nationalist who has been accused of whitewashing Japan's military atrocities, nevertheless expressed his "most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds." It was largely a repeat of what his predecessors have said over the past two decades.

— Japan and South Korea agree that the agreement settles the comfort women "finally and irreversibly."

North Korea is spying on its citizens- again:

North Korea's homegrown computer operating system mirrors its political one, according to two German researchers who have delved into the code: a go-it-alone approach, a high degree of paranoia and invasive snooping on users.

Their research, the deepest yet into the secretive state's Red Star OS, illustrates the challenges Pyongyang faces in trying to embrace the benefits of computing and the internet while keeping a tight grip on ideas and culture.

The researchers, Florian Grunow and Niklaus Schiess of German IT security company ERNW GmbH, spoke to Reuters before presenting their findings to the Chaos Communication Congress in Hamburg on Sunday, a gathering of hackers and security researchers.

The operating system is not just the pale copy of western ones that many have assumed, they concluded after downloading the software from a website outside North Korea and exploring the code in detail,

"(Late leader) Kim Jong Il said North Korea should develop a system of their own," said Grunow. "This is what they've done."

North Korea, whose rudimentary intranet system does not connect to the outside internet but allows access to state media and some officially approved websites, has been developing its own operating system for more than a decade.

This latest version, written around 2013, is based on a version of Linux called Fedora and has eschewed the previous version's Windows XP feel for Apple's OSX — perhaps a nod to leader Kim Jong Un, who like his father has been photographed near Macs.

But under the hood there's a lot that's unique, including its own version of encrypting files. "This is a full blown operation system where they control most of the code," said Grunow.

Boko Haram has killed at least forty-eight people in bombings in northern Nigeria:

At least 48 people were killed in suicide attacks and bombings on Monday in two cities in northern Nigeria where the jihadist Boko Haram group is waging a six-year campaign to create an Islamic state, officials and residents said.

The attacks came a day after the army fought Boko Haram militants west of Maiduguri, capital of Borno state and birthplace of their insurgency in the northeast of Africa's most populous country.

No word on hashtags as of yet.

Mohamed Fahmy, the Canadian Egyptian journalist who excoriated the former Harper government for not springing him out of an Egyptian jail, wants his Egyptian citizenship back:

A Canadian journalist who was released from prison in Egypt this fall said Monday he has asked authorities in that country to restore the citizenship he renounced in hopes of regaining his freedom.
Mohamed Fahmy said he initially refused to give up his Egyptian citizenship when it was suggested to him as a way of speeding up his release.

But he eventually relented late last year after receiving reassurance that he could reapply for it at a later date, he said.

Even so, it took almost a year — and a presidential pardon — before he was freed.

Fahmy, who now lives in Vancouver, said he is seeking to recover his dual citizenship as a “matter of principle.”

(Sidebar: I'm sure he is.)

You really can't make things like this up.

Celebrity Apartheid is so important. Clearing away the chaff and so forth:

Early in the movie, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, played by Bryan Cranston, explains to his daughter what it means to be a Communist. You go to school with a sandwich for lunch, and one of your classmates doesn’t have a sandwich. So you share. From each according to her sandwich, to each according to her need for a sandwich.

As a description of Communism, this falls somewhat short.

If one wants to compare Communism to sandwich-making, then you have to acknowledge that the Communist sandwich was state-planned, state-manufactured and state-distributed, leading to long line ups for indigestible sandwiches. Communism was as much about sharing as Breaking Bad – the series in which Cranston played anti-hero psychopath Walter White — was about teaching chemistry.

Trumbo continues the noble tradition of redwashing Hollywood Communists of the 1940s and 1950s as, at worst, dupes for a regime whose true character they didn’t understand, or, at best, merely promoters of a “better world” of caring and sandwich sharing. Forget all that Stalinist stuff about aspirations to global conquest. The film necessarily makes no reference to the fact that Trumbo and co. closely adhered to the Moscow line, being great promoters of U.S. pacifism during the Hitler-Stalin pact, but immediately switching to enthusiasm for fighting Hitler once he attacked the Soviet Union. Nor does it mention that they were all too keen to blacklist any of their own colleagues who dared to deviate.

Communism and sandwich-making in practice:

The FAO also asserts that there was a “drastic” reduction in food rations distributed in the lean-season months of July and August, when rations are already typically low. Individual daily rations were cut twice; first to 310 grams in early July (down from the 410 grams distributed throughout the first half of the year), and then to 250 grams in the second half of July. These lean-season figures are very low, as the FAO points out, but they have been worse in the past. (Ration sizes have presumably increased since September, when the agency made its estimates.)

It is important to remember that Public Distribution System (PDS) food rations do not represent the whole story, as most North Koreans probably rely on markets for a very significant part of their food consumption. Most survey studies indicate that the majority of food people consume comes from the markets and from other private sources, like kitchen gardens. In addition, there are likely to be disparities in food access between populations in different regions and in urban and rural areas. For example, the FAO recently estimated that the proportion of underweight children is twice as large in the countryside as it is in the cities. Vulnerable segments of the population are more dependent on the PDS, and thus more likely than the average citizen to be adversely impacted when harvests decline.

This year’s malnutrition figures are indeed dire, even though malnutrition has been improving since the late 1990s. The absolute number of undernourished people is expected to increase in the 2014-2016 period, though they would represent a slightly smaller portion of the overall population than in 2010-2012. As the FAO notes in its yearly report: “The only major exception to overall favourable progress in the region is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, which is burdened by continuously high levels of undernourishment and shows little prospect of addressing its problems any time soon.” However, the proportion of undernourishment appears to be going down, so the trend still seems possible even though the situation is not stable.
At what point does Kim Jong-Un share his sandwiches?


A true hero is being honoured:

A French police dog named Diesel who was killed by terrorists in the aftermath of last month’s Paris attacks will be awarded the prestigious Dickin Medal for gallantry.

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA), a British veterinary charity, instituted the medal in 1943 to honor animals that fought for the British Empire during World War II. Considered the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross military decoration, the medal is widely seen as the highest animal honor in the world.

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