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title Up Front

December 17, 2001 Issue Full Text

by Colby Cosh

Ladies at sea

Shocking news reaches us from the American aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt stationed in the Arabian Gulf. On November 21, six Miami Dolphin cheerleaders were airlifted to the ship to perform dances for the crew. Wearing skimpy flag-festooned outfits, the girls shook their pompoms to songs like James Brown's "Living in America." But according to the Washington Post, some of the carrier's otherly gendered crewmembers disapproved.

"It's good for the cheerleaders to see an aircraft carrier. But it's not good for the men. They've been at sea for close to 65 days and their hormones are definitely on high," griped Shenandoah Hawkesworth (rank not given; name may be an absurd joke at the reporter's expense). Fellow sailor Andrea Commander (see previous disclaimer) concurred: "I don't think they should have come...why should they bring something that is sexually provocative on a ship full of young men? It's cool to have them show their support. But you know what young men think about."

As we read these quotes, we realized to our horror that apparently the United States is forcing fragile young women to join its Navy and serve on combat ships with hundreds of men, some of whom may experience occasional feelings of lecherous arousal. Do the annals of history contain a greater outrage? Won't someone let these imperilled ladies go home and take up the safe civilian careers they so clearly desire?

Hubris Inc.: the final chapter?

Business writer Grant Robertson informs us in a November 24 Calgary Herald piece that Air Canada, having finished off discount rival Canada 3000, is turning its attention to WestJet. Canada 3000 went bankrupt earlier in the month after Air Canada announced plans to create Tango, a no-frills carrier for the eastern market. Now Air Canada, despite a crippling debt load, wants to create a similar western-based carrier, probably based in Calgary. As Mr. Robertson points out, Air Canada is forbidden by statute to create money-losing subsidiaries to kill smaller rivals. Fortunately for them, Canada 3000 went bust before anyone could successfully object to Tango.

WestJet will, of course, not be so easy to destroy. The company remained profitable right through the September 11 terrorist attacks; as noted in Up Front, while Air Canada was screaming for a federal bailout, WestJet CEO Clive Beddoe said that the help was not necessary, thank you very much. Now Mr. Beddoe says he will fight Air Canada's attempt to put a cross-subsidized rival in his breadbasket. "We think it's an illegal airline," he told the Herald.

Even if the new airline is not unlawful, Ottawa should step in. Business is business, but our tax dollars were used to "save" Air Canada's fat bacon after September 11. A mere two months later, Air Canada magically has the cash to expand fleets and schedules in areas already well endowed with cheap flights. Of course, WestJet may be able to win even an unfair fight, but that is not the point. We just want the Transport Minister to explain why we should pay for a big, stupid airline to pummel a small, smart one.

You've got (Arab) mail

Readers may recall our coverage of the news that Customs routinely opens private envelopes sent to and from Canada, sometimes copying the contents into a database which is viewable by any government agency or ministry that is feeling curious. Since Customs does not need a warrant to read your mail, how do they decide what to look at? Customs and Revenue spokesman Colleen Gentes-Hawn answered that question in a March 2 Globe and Mail story. "If the package is from Colombia, obviously that says something," she said. "If it's from France or Holland, there could be ecstasy [she probably means the drug] in there."

It is hard, no doubt, to agree with the government that all Colombians and Europeans should be treated as drug traffickers. But if the government is willing to race-profile your mail and mine--in essence, to discriminate against those of us with foreign friends and relatives--surely it would consider allowing airport security personnel to discriminate in "profiling" travellers according to national origin?

Apparently not. Edmonton Journal reporter Scott McKeen tried to get to the bottom of this for a November 10 story, but it "proved a tail-chasing exercise. Edmonton airport officials passed the question over to an Air Canada spokesperson, who suggested calling Transport Canada, who in turn referred the question to the RCMP, who suggested calling Edmonton airport officials. A couple of officials in the bureaucracy, however, denied that racial profiling would ever be allowed because of the Canadian Charter of Rights, as well as human rights legislation."

Just to be clear, then, the charter protects Saudi-born air travellers from airport scrutiny, but is silent about the government's perusal of your personal correspondence. How very...Canadian.

From this magazine January 9, 1978:

Sunday morning, January 7, and legendary wild-well fighter Red Adair is preparing to extinguish the fiery sour gas blowout at Lodgepole, Alta, with 200 tons of high explosives. For nearly a month the well has been spewing rotten-egg smell as far south as Montana. Mr. Adair's blast promises to be a great show, but the government has imposed a mile-and-a-half "no-go" barrier around the well, frustrating TV newsmen. But one man has no intention of taking the order lying down.

The young Calgary CBC reporter takes a cameraman and heads to Drayton Valley with skullduggery in mind. No one has told them how far the no-go zone reaches, St. John's Edmonton Report notes, but they certainly do not ask. Instead, they sneak out to a site overlooking the column of flame and set up a carefully camouflaged tent. That night CBC has exclusive footage of the gigantic explosion, and officials are livid. "We did as we were told, and no harm was done," says the reporter. Thirteen years later, that bravado will make Arthur Kent a news legend when he covers Gulf War action for NBC.

A little something for Madame

Maybe you were wondering how Jean Chretien was able to persuade former South African President Nelson Mandela to spend a week in Canada last month, bouncing rays of reflected glory off our PM. Of course, there was that honorary Canadian citizenship they arranged for the great man, but that and three bucks will barely get you a Starbucks latte, even on Parliament Hill. Aside from that, we cannot say what attractions Canada might have for the liberator of South Africa.

We did notice on November 18, however, that our federal Minister of International Cooperation, Maria Minna, announced a new $1.3-million grant for a Mozambican charitable foundation run by one Ms. Graca Machel. "Graca Machel has devoted her life not only to raising awareness about the situation of children in developing countries, but also to inspiring global action to support them," said the minister. She failed to mention that in private life, Ms. Machel is also the current Mrs. Nelson Mandela. (She is not to be confused with the original article, Winnie Madikizela, who kept herself busy murdering teenaged political enemies while her husband passed the time on Robben Island.)

Of course, a million and change is a mere bagatelle to the Canadian International Development Agency, which will spend nearly $1.4 billion on loans and grants abroad this fiscal year. Still, every little bit helps, even if you are married to a Nobel laureate whose speaking fees run into six figures.

Hard numbers on Ritalin

The December 11 Canadian Medical Association Journal contains one of the most comprehensive studies yet made of patterns in prescriptions of Ritalin to children. Ritalin is the controversial stimulant used as a treatment for what is, for the moment, called attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A team of B.C. health evaluators led by Dr. Aaron Miller used the province-wide medical database to crunch the numbers and found that 81.5% of young Ritalin recipients were boys. That will scarcely delight those who have said all along that the drug is essentially used as medication for maleness.

The study highlights other classic concerns with Ritalin distribution. In some health regions in B.C., prescription rates are as low as 12 per 1,000 children; in others, it is over 35. Children in low-income families were 17% more likely to receive the drug than those in wealthier households. If ADHD is a legitimate biological disorder with solid diagnostic criteria, why should either of these things be true? The question continues to await a sensible answer.

One of the study's interesting sub-findings is that new prescription rates soared from 1 per 1,000 in 1990 to 4.7 in 1995, but declined to 3.5 in 1996. The reason? The authors believe children were being switched to Dexedrine, which is an increasingly popular ADHD therapy. Doctors, in other words, are moving away from a controversial pseudo-amphetamine to the real McCoy. Lord knows we're supposed to stimulate our kids' imaginations, but are bucketfuls of greenies really the best way to go about it?

Duly Noted

The zero-tolerance follies continue, this time in Ottawa. Aaron Appel, 7, has been suspended from Manotick Public School for five days for bringing a wooden replica of an African knife to school for show-and-tell. "No weapons means no weapons," a spokesman for the school board told the Canadian Press, but the board's policy allows the principal to exercise "discretion," which may or may not mean "common sense." Aaron's father, a former missionary who uses the fake knife as a letter opener, feels his son has been branded a "troublemaker" because of fights he has gotten into over his fruity surname. Come to think of it, maybe children named Appel should be allowed to carry real knives to school.

Calgary political consultant Rod Love blasted Canada's "conservative movement" in a scathing November 25 editorial for the Calgary Herald. Addressing those who are unwilling to unite the Canadian Alliance with the Joe Clark Party O' Greatness, Mr. Love said, "Don't get me wrong, principles are important...but what do you call it when blind adherence to a principle, or its misrepresentation, stops an organization from moving forward? Defeat, that's what you call it." Note the use of the phrase "moving forward" as a synonym for "putting Rod Love in the PMO." "After four straight election defeats, which part don't you get?" Mr. Love asks us in his cri de coeur. To be honest, the part Up Front doesn't get is why big, famous party advisers are allowed to blame everyone but themselves for screwing up elections.

Reverend Bill Phipps, the former United Church of Canada moderator famous for his doubts about the divinity of Christ, has issued a poignant appeal for the forgiveness of Third-World debt. In a University of Calgary lecture he called for the creation of a worldwide "moral economy." Mr. Phipps explained that loans made in the 1970s to poor countries were squandered by socialist politicians on showy dams, airports and other wasteful monuments. (The usual cure proposed by the debt-relief crowd: more socialism.) "They've actually paid back more than they originally borrowed because of compound interest at high rates," the reverend noted. This news presumably came as a big surprise to everyone in the audience who ever had a mortgage.

The National Post revealed November 29 that thousands of Ontario teachers are boycotting the Harris government's new testing procedures. Newly implemented rules will require teachers in the province to participate in quinquennial assessments of their knowledge and abilities, or lose their certification. "The idea is ludicrous," said Emily Noble, a vice-president of the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario, calling it a "slap in the face." "We believe professional development should be self-directed." Once again members of a so-called "profession" howl over the imposition of standards on their work. These tests would never have been necessary if teachers' unions did not regard jobs as lifetime sinecures. In real "professions," workers can be fired or decertified for incompetence; did you ever hear of that happening to a teacher? If these whiny jerks really cared about saving public education, they would celebrate the idea of making teaching jobs conditional.

Received opinion, in the person of New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman, tackled the tricky "What are we fighting for in Afghanistan?" subject November 27. This is not just a battle against bin Laden, it turns out, but against the concept of orthodoxy itself. "Can Islam, Christianity and Judaism know that God speaks Arabic on Fridays, Hebrew on Saturdays and Latin on Sundays, and that he welcomes different human beings approaching him through their own history, out of their language and cultural heritage?" Mr. Friedman asks. No mention of truth in that grocery list. But what we really wonder is whether Mr. Friedman knows just how few Catholic churches "speak Latin" to the Lord these days.

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