January 13th, 2010

[LINK] "The demographics around the anti-prorogation anger"

A BCer in Toronto's Jeff Jedras quotes from an interview with a pollster on just who's opposed to the government's prorogation of Parliament and what this could mean for the Conservative minority government.

an interview with Kathleen Petty yesterday on CBC Radio's The House, pollster Frank Graves of Ekos Research made some interesting points about what his research is showing him about the growing discontent with the Stephen Harper Conservatives around the decision to shutter parliament for two months. The short of it: it's not just the usual suspects that are annoyed, and it goes deeper that the prorogation.

[. . .]

GRAVES: [. . .] There's another very interesting feature to the demographic, but I think the most striking one is the... how much this issue has caught the attention of the most educated portions of the electorate and the "baby boom" cohort, which as we know, has been an extremely influential and large portion of the electorate, ones that all show up to vote, ones who have an inordinate level of influence. You could argue that this particular group has exerted almost a stranglehold over the political system for a long time. This group has been pretty solidly onside with Mr. Harper for some time, now. They came onside in the last election and were one of the keys to this success which almost propelled him to a majority victory. So, the fact that they're now having second thoughts about this particular issue... I think this particular issue has become a bit of lightning rod which is capturing a broader sense of disaffection on a number of other issues which have occurred previous to it, but it is something that probably signals greater importance as time goes on, or it could potentially do that.

[. . .]

And we've got a trend, and that's the other interesting part. You talk about the NAC performance, but as you take a look at your polling over a period of time, the gap between the Tories and the Liberals used to be wide.

Almost insurmountable; You had a daunting 15-point lead which was understating the Conservative edge, because the Conservatives have a much more committed voter base, so in fact, when they were running 41-42 points, our calculations are that they would have produced a very decisive majority in the neighbourhood of 180 seats at that point. Today, these numbers would suggest that they're at least as close, probably... no they are closer to actually sitting on the wrong side of the House than they are to that goal of forming a majority.

[LINK] "Google to Stop Censoring Search Results in China After Hack Attack"

Thanks to Michel from Facebook for pointing me to Kim Zetter's Wired's article.

Google has decided to stop censoring search results in China, after discovering that someone based in that country had attempted to hack into the e-mail accounts of human rights activists. The company disclosed the move in a startling announcement posted to its blog late Tuesday.

Google said it was prepared to pull its business out of China, if issues around the surveillance and its decision to stop censoring results could not be resolved with the Chinese government.

Although the company did not accuse the Chinese government of being behind the hack attacks, Google said that the attacks, combined with attempts by China over the last year to “further limit free speech on the web” led it to conclude that it needed to “review the feasibility of our business operations in China.”

[. . .]

The search and advertising giant discovered in December that it was the target of a “highly sophisticated” cyberattack on its corporate infrastructure, which resulted in the theft of intellectual property. However, in investigating the incident, the company wrote on its blog, it soon realized the attack was something more than a simple security breach.

At least 20 other large companies were targeted as well, including other internet and technology companies as well as businesses in the financial, media and chemical sectors.

Google concluded that the primary goal of the attackers who targeted its network was to hack into the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. The attackers appeared, however, to succeed at obtaining access to only two accounts. That access was limited to basic account information, such as the date the account was created and the subject lines of e-mail, not the content of the correspondence. Google spokesman Gabriel Stricker told Threat Level that the company has already notified the owners of those accounts.

[. . .]

Google launched its Chinese-language search engine, Google.cn, in January 2006. The company said at the time that it did so in the belief that a search engine would help open access to information for Chinese residents. To obtain permission to operate in China, however, the company had agreed to censor search results that the Chinese government deemed objectionable. Google was harshly criticized by civil liberties groups for its concession to Chinese authorities.

The company now appears to be regretting that decision.

“We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech,” Drummond wrote Tuesday about the company’s reversal of its position in China. “The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences.”

[LINK] "Earthquake worries Haitian Montrealers"

Haitians of the "tenth departement"--the Haitian diaspora--are reacting to the catastrophe in their homeland, and including this department's Canadian residents, in Toronto, for instance.

Unable to contact loved ones as darkness fell over the earthquake zone, frantic Haitians across Toronto and Canada turned to each other for any scrap of hope.

"We're all worried, we're all calling each other in Montreal, in New York and even Florida trying to find out anything about cousins in Petionville where the earthquake hit," said Tonia Dyer, who moved to Canada from Haiti 40 years ago.

The earthquake severed most lines of communication with the battered island, making it hard to determine the damage and virtually impossible to reach family and friends.

"It's so frustrating. I heard a hospital collapsed in Petionville but I can't get through to my cousin," said Dyer, whose relative lives in the same 100-year-old wooden house in which she grew up.

"This earthquake happened ... just as night was falling. It would be jet black on the streets. I can't imagine the confusion."

Dyer and other Haitian-Canadians called Eric Pierre, Haiti's honorary consul general in Toronto, when news of the earthquake broke Tuesday afternoon. Frustrated at not knowing if his brother in Port-au-Prince was safe, Pierre, a dentist, said he hoped to be able to announce a community relief effort by Wednesday morning.

The disaster arguably made a bigger impact in Montréal.

"The situation is catastrophic, everyone is in shock," said Jean-Ernest Pierre of Montreal community radio station CPAM.

Pierre said he was able to speak to a cousin living in Port-au-Prince for only a few moments before the line was cut.

Pierre said his cousin told him the ground seemed to shake for three to five minutes.

Tuesday evening the radio station was inundated with calls from concerned members of the community.

In the fall of 2008, members of Montreals Haitian community joined together to provide relief for the country after it was struck by hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike.

Pierre said it is too soon to say how the community will respond to this disaster.

"For now we are trying to keep ourselves informed, but it isnt easy," Pierre said.

Many people have been unable to reach their family members, including Haitian-born actress Fabienne Colas, whose father still lives in the Caribbean nation.

"My heart is kind of beating so hard now because anything can happen," said Colas, who is also president of the Montreal Black Film Festival.

"It is so sad for us and I think tonight the whole Haitian community here in Montreal and everywhere else will maybe not sleep at all," Colas said. "How can you sleep at all when you have your family over there and you cannot reach them?"

Almost 90% of the one hundred thousand Haitian-Canadians live in Québec, mostly in Montréal, attracted by that province's efforts to recruit Francophone immigrants from the 1960s on.

Canada as a whole has stronger ties that one might expect with Haiti, based on shared Francophone identities, migration, and aid links, Canada's Governor-General Michaëlle Jean being herself Haitian-born. Canada's emergency response is on its way as I type.

[LINK] More on Google and China

Twitter user and Globe and Mail journalist @markmackinnon has been posting a series of links to various commentaries on the Google/China dispute. One of the most interesting is the Xinhua News Agency's report, which suggests that Google's bargaining power is limited.

An official with China's State Council Information Office Wednesday said Chinese Internet authorities were seeking more information on Google's statement that it could quit China.

The high-ranking official, who requested anonymity, made the remarks in a phone interview with Xinhua, a day after Google's corporate development and chief legal officer, David Drummond, posted a statement Tuesday on the company's official blog, saying it was to "review the feasibility of our business operations in China."

"It is still hard to say whether Google will quit China or not. Nobody knows," the official said.

He refused to reveal more information, but promised to follow the case and accept more interviews if possible.

The China Internet Illegal Information Reporting Center deputy director Xi Wei told Xinhua: "I am sorry I can't say anything. I am not clear about many problems in the case."

[. . .]

But Guo Ke, a professor on mass communication from Shanghai International Studies University, said it was "almost impossible" for Google to quit China and that Chinese government would not eliminate its censorship either.

"It will not make any difference to the government if Google quits China, however Google will suffer a huge economic loss from leaving the Chinese market," Guo said.

"Chinese Internet users are the real victims if Google quits China. I think Google is just playing cat and mouse, and trying to use netizens' anger or disappointment as leverage," Guo said.

Millions of Chinese are fans and loyal users of Google and its services such as Gmail, Gtalk and Picasa. Many Chinese journalists, like other users, rely on Google Docs to save useful information and contacts.

If Google quits China, all its users will have to move their e-mails and other documents and pictures in advance.

"But the government will never yield in ideology, or the bottom line," Guo said.

[LINK] "Proof of Martians 'to come this year'"

This Scientific American report makes me happy. The 1911 Nakhla meterorite fall, it turns out, might provide critical evidence.

David McKay, chief of astrobiology at NASA's Johnson Space Centre in Houston, says powerful new microscopes and other instruments will establish whether features in martian meteorites are alien fossils.

He says evidence for life in the space rocks could have been claimed by the UK if British scientists had used readily-available electron microscopes. Instead, images of colonies of martian bacteria were collected by American scientists.

The NASA team is already convinced that colonies of micro-organisms are visible inside three martian rocks that landed on Earth. If so, this would have profound implications for our understanding of life in the universe.

[. . .]

The NASA team believes a planet-wide network of micro-organisms came to life underground on Mars 3.6 billion years ago when the planet was much warmer and wetter with a much thicker atmosphere. Simple life was developing on Earth around the same time.

McKay says it is remarkable that some of the most striking new evidence for life on Mars has been sitting in London for nearly 100 years.

He told the website Spaceflight Now that if British researchers had examined their Nakhla meteorite with readily available electron microscopes and other tools like those used by the U.S. team, the new evidence for life on Mars could have been a British discovery, rather than an American one.

He added: "We do not yet believe that we have rigorously proven there is - or was - life on Mars. But we do believe that we are very, very close to proving there is or has been life there."

[LINK] "Welcome to coffeetown"

Last week's blog post by the National Post's Rob Roberts takes an interesting look at Torontonians love for coffee and the places where it's sold.

Toronto has become a city that runs on coffee. Our downtown is thoroughly caffeine-fuelled, as made obvious by the per-square-metre concentration of Starbucks, Timothy's, Second Cups, Tim Hortons and other chains, along with a handful of independent cafes. Then there are the city's loose orbit of coffeetowns, neighbourhoods where coffee shops easily outnumber vegetable stands --or even bars.

Toronto's caffeinated hubs have emerged in the past decade, each shop unequal parts pit stop and ad hoc social centre, catering to the needs of emerging neighbourhoods where a good barista and reliable wi-fiaccess in the middle of the day has trumped cheap groceries, for adults who need to be fuelled and connected.

[. . .]

[M]aybe -- just maybe -- coffee isn't the point. While most of the traffic in and out of a coffee shop are in search of a caffeine fix, it's rare to find a place without at least a few tables, a stack of dog-eared magazines or newspapers, and a crowd taking advantage of the free wi-fi. Rare is the cafe owner these days who doesn't offer broadband gratis to his laptop-toting customers --it's a perk built into the cost of doing business, like the cardboard cup sleeves and wooden stir sticks. It's also worth remembering that when Starbucks arrived in Canada in 1996, it piggybacked on the then-nascent Indigo bookstores, with their comfy chairs and tacit encouragement of customers as loiterers.

[. . .]

While a ubiquity of cafes is something a European would take for granted, they remain a noteworthy phenomenon in a city like Toronto. The Methodist probity embedded in the city's fossil memory might look askance at what looks like so much creative loafing, but they're a sign that freelancers and telecommuters can afford homes in resurgent neighbourhoods, and that the fitfully employed can still connect with their affordable luxury. Whatever else they may be -- real estate bellwether, legal narcotic purveyor -- our coffeetown's coffee shops are a canary in the coal mine, letting us know that the economic air is, for the moment, still clean. When they go, we're in real trouble.

For the record, I am employed, and I am enjoying a nice sandwich and large coffee (naturally) while enjoying WiFi at Bloor/Bathurst's Aroma.