Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Saving Face

You know those horrible ads for "#1 tip of a flat belly"? Those drive me nuts. If it's a flat belly, how can it have a tip? Or is it that the flat belly is giving you a tip? I wish someone would rewrite those ads.

Anyway, I also have a tip for you. I got it from Rob Carrick's Personal Finance Readers a couple of weeks ago. His semiweekly blog is always entertaining, if not always entirely useful.

A tip came up on Rob's Personal Finance Reader a few weeks ago which was: dry your razor completely after every use. Being the experimentally minded person I am, I gave it a try. For the last few weeks I have been using my breath and a small amount of toilet paper to remove all the water from my razor blade after use. And you know what? It works.

Previously, I would probably get 3 or 4 shaves out of a blade and on the 4th one my neck would look like a freshly plowed field. I'm now on shave 6 with this blade and not a nick at all today. So give it a try, it'll save you money and save your face.

Let me know if it works, or if you have any other easy money-saving (or environment-saving) tips you want me to try out and write about.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Paying Our Dues

I live in a country that doesn't even rank enough to have received an iPhone 4G release date today. In order to remedy this, our government has decided to throw a $1-billion, 3-day long party for a handful of old, rich men.

I pointed out to my friend A that to pay for this you would have to go around to every single man, woman, child and other person in Canada and ask for $10 a day for 3 days.

"Shame," he responded, "that you couldn't just collect the whole $30 on the first day."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Monopoly on Force

A leaked audio feed showed up on Youtube recently. It depicts a Canadian couple, apparently from Mississauga trying to enter the United States for a shopping trip. Listen to the whole thing and listen carefully.

I was going to simply repost but I feel that this situation is complex enough to warrant some discussion. I have known many people in law enforcement and worked for the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency (back when that existed) as a customs inspector so I have some insight.

Back to the audio stream. The officer on the line was clearly being belligerent. But anyone who crosses the border with any sort of frequency knows that you should expect that. So by answering so flippantly, the traveller should probably have expected to land himself in secondary. Once there, the officer interrogating him was quiet and reasonable. There are two things to note about that interview: 1) he was absolutely correct that no traveller has any rights when being detained at the border and 2) I find it extremely hard to believe that 3 terrorists a day are caught at the Port of Buffalo. If he'd said, "we arrest 3 middle-Eastern looking people every day at the Port of Buffalo" I would have been more inclined to believe it. But that's not what he said. So this sets him up as a probable liar.

Unfortunately, our friend the traveler remains agitated and presents the officer with some difficulty. Then some stuff happens with the wife and the audio stream gets a bit muffled. Presumably there is some kind of scuffle with the officers. It's entirely possible the audio clip has been edited here, but if we assume that it wasn't, then the most threatening thing the traveler said was, "what are you gonna do? shoot me?"

He is subsequently put in a cell and the superintendent tells him that he and his wife are going to jail because they have audio of the entire scene and the traveler has been recorded threatening. The first part is likely true, the second, if we assume the audio hasn't been tampered with, is not.

This is all quite reminiscent of the recent beating, trial and conviction of Peter Watts. Basically, customs inspectors started searching his car without so much as a "pleased-to-meet-you". When he got out to ask what was going on, he was beaten and pepper sprayed and thrown in a cell. All through the trial the customs people lied and contradicted their own statements but ultimately he was convicted because the obstruction law (which is mentioned in the audio feed above) includes a catch-all for failing to immediately obey a command from a border guard.

Now, there are lots and lots of good people in law enforcement. I have known some of them personally. But these types of positions tend to attract bullies. There seems to be a big difference in the types of bullies Canada and the US have in law enforcement. My evidence is, of course, all anecdotal or from personal (and therefore biased experience) and so should be taken with a grain of salt. Basically, the Canadian law enforcement bullies tend to be honest. The one glaring exception in my mind is the RCMP in the case of Robert Dziekanski. American law enforcement bullies, however, seem to have no qualms at all about perjuring themselves to defend their positions as evident in the Watts case above and as heard in the audio stream: 3 terrorists a day, we have a recording of you threatening us.

And all this is, I think, quite evident in the audio stream. The traveler says he's had intimate dealings with Canadian law enforcement. I think it would shock many Americans to hear that and then hear the way he talks to the border guards. But it's because he's used to Canadian law enforcement where, if you talk back, they will make your life a little more difficult for a little while, but you won't get beat up or be thrown in a cell for it.

I hope to hear more about where this audio stream came from. If it was a hoax, it was an elaborate one. I also want to know what the outcome of all this is/was/will be. I suspect that this will turn out much like the Watts case: US border guards will lie and lie and lie and then get a conviction because of the catch-all clause in the obstruction law.