Monday, July 28, 2014

Another Police Overreaction?

   Only in Canada, eh? Indeed. Other countries probably would think three times before sending a fully armed tactical team aboard a passenger aircraft returned to the ground because of a possible bomb threat.
   It happened last Friday when a Sunwing vacation jet left Toronto for Panama. It turned around over West Virginia after a young man, reportedly upset by the price of cigarettes, made ‘direct threats’ to the aircraft. It was escorted back to Toronto by two F-16 fighter jets from the U.S. National Guard.
   Once on the ground, a tactical unit aiming assault rifles stormed into the aircraft’s aisles. They grabbed the young man and yanked him off without incident, which was fortunate for the 161 people on board.
   The police action appeared to be a gross overreaction that seriously frightened passengers and could have injured them.
   I’m not alone with that opinion. John Nance, former airline pilot and ABC News consultant, said that had the man had his finger on a bomb trigger, he would have blown the plane up when the police stormed it.
   “I’m not sure this was the correct reaction,” he said on Saturday’s ABC World News.
   The incident left many questions needing answers. Whose SWAT team stormed the plane? One news report said RCMP took charge once the plane landed. Peel Regional Police took the man under arrest. Who made the decision to send combat police aboard? What are the protocols and procedures in place for such incidents? Was there an air marshal aboard?
   There have been enough bad police actions in this country (i.e. OPP killing of Dudley George, RCMP killing of Robert Dziekanski) to raise concern about the leadership decisions of our police services. 
   The Sunwing incident must be investigated and the answers to the questions it raises must be made public.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Movie Popcorn and Chimpanzees

   I don't buy pop and popcorn at the movies. The only reason, until recently, has been that I am a penny-pincher and the thought of the biggest part of $20 going for popcorn and pop gives me a sore stomach.
   N ow I found another reason to think twice about buying popcorn at the movies. The theatres ‘butter’ popcorn with palm oil because it is cheaper than butter and many other vegetable oils. More and more of it comes from palm oil plantations that are creating ecological concerns.
   In an article being prepared for Current Biology, researchers lay out concerns about how the increasing number of palm oil plantations will affect great ape populations. They say that almost forty percent of the distribution of great ape species on unprotected lands overlaps suitable oil palm areas.
   Palm oil has become extremely popular in the last thirty years because it is cheap. It is cheap because the trees are super productive: they bear fruit in just four years and continue producing for twenty-five. The trees are native to Africa and palm oil has been used as a cooking oil for centuries.
   Thirty years or so ago manufacturers discovered the cost benefits of palm oil and huge swaths of forests in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia and  Indonesia were knocked down in favour of palm oil plantations. Since then the oil is being used increasingly in everything from foodstuffs, to soap to cosmetics. The World Wildlife Fund has estimated that half of the products on the shelves of major supermarkets contain palm oil.
   The researchers reporting results in Current Biology say guidelines are needed urgently for expansion of oil palm in Africa to minimize the impacts on apes and other wildlife. The great apes, which include chimpanzees and gorillas, already are threatened by hunting and habitat loss and the worry is that palm oil expansion without controls will put them on the final stretch to extinction.
   No one is saying don’t buy popcorn at the theatre, but we all should be aware that palm oil production poses risks to the global environment if people don’t pay attention and demand controls.
   Current Biology can be found online at: More on palm oil can be found at:

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Lights Are Finally on at the CBC

The lights finally have come on in the CBC executive suites. The corp’s brain trust has accepted, very reluctantly, that CBC is dying and the life support of taxpayer dollars is running low.
   So out of the executive suites last week came A Space for Us All, CBC’s new-five year plan that details some operational changes instead of simply whining that it can’t do its job properly without more money. The plan sees CBC shifting priority to digital and mobile services. There will be less in-house production, some of its broadcasting palaces will be sold and 1,500 staff will be cut. (In fact, the ‘cuts’ will be through attrition over five years and people who retire etc. simply will not be replaced).
   The whole idea is to shake the mindset of cost cutting to survive, which has been the CBC’s main strategy for the last 10 years.
   The CBC has a long history of making governments and taxpayers feel guilty about not doling out increasing amounts of cash to maintain their most cherished cultural institution. Examples can be found throughout the corp's 78-year history. In 1947, the CBC appeared before a House of Commons committee with the statement that its level of service could not be maintained without more money. In 1974 it told the Canadian Radio and Television Commission that the CBC was pretty much perfect and “needs only more money to make it great.”
   There are reasons to be skeptical about the CBC’s planned new directions. Firstly who follows a five-year plan these days? The communications industry is changing by the minute. Mega-successful Twitter is only eight years old; Facebook 10. Five years is a light year in this digital age.
   Also, the CBC’s plan for change is dripping with syrupy language and buzz phrases. Like the CBC will be the public space for “our conversations and experiences as Canadians.” And, inspiring Canadians “to participate in the public space.” And, providing “distinctive content” to increase “and deepen engagement with Canadians.”
   The CBC also hopes to build a culture of collaboration, accountability, boldness, action and agility. You mean a culture with those attributes doesn’t already exist in one of the country’s larger businesses? Anyone opening a peanut stand would be expected to have those.

   Despite the skepticism, we all should wish the CBC luck. It was once an important part of Canadian life, and if its brain trust can restore it we’ll all be winners.