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Podcast: March 23, 2011

24 Mar

For whatever reason, someone thought it would be a good idea to put me on the radio. Last Wednesday, Jeff Lagerquist and I hosted our first episode of Headlines and Deadlines – one of the official radio shows of The Eyeopener – on CKLN 88.1 FM.

This Wednesday, we aired our second episode, and decided to start up a podcast for those unable to listen when our show airs.

This week’s topics included meeting Donovan Bailey, my pets’ NCAA brackets, and why I hate Earth Hour.

Headlines and Deadlines Ep. 2 – Hosted by Jeff Lagerquist and Charles Vanegas – March 23, 2011

Headlines and Deadlines (Lagerquist/Vanegas version) airs every Wednesday at 6 a.m. on CKLN 88.1.

You can follow Jeff or me on twitter – send us a note, and we’ll be sure to read it on air.

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Newfoundland police officer charged with drunk driving

16 Mar

A Newfoundland police officer has been charged with impaired driving, after he allegedly crashed into the side of a McDonald’s restaurant in St. John’s, while going through the drive-thru. RNC (Royal Newfoundland Constabulary) officers stopped Sgt. David Byrne, 54 – who was off-duty – early Friday morning, after receiving a complaint about a possible drunk driver.

A St. John's sergeant is just the latest Canadian police officer in trouble for drunk driving / photo courtesy of West Georgia DUI

On Tuesday, the RNC announced they have suspended “the officer”, without pay, pending the outcome of internal disciplinary proceedings. He will appear in court on April 1. The RNC did not release Bryne’s name, saying they would not because he had yet to appear in court, but his identity was soon discovered by CBC News.

This is just the latest drunk driving case involving a police officer in Canada.

In October 2010, a Saskatoon police constable was convicted of impaired driving. Const. Roy Rodgers was banned from driving for a year and given a $1,000 fine. He was found not guilty of driving with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, but the judge said he believed the officer who stopped Rodgers intentionally botched the investigation by waiting over 45 minutes before giving him a breathalyzer test.

On Sept. 30, 2010, the police chief in Lévis, Que., was charged after being stopped in Quebec City with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. Jean-François Roy was suspended, with pay. His case is still ongoing.

Jenny McCarthy still believes autism caused by vaccines

17 Feb

Award-winning journalist Brian Deer answers a student's question after speaking to a group at Ryerson University.He says there is no medical evidence to back up Jenny McCarthy's claims about the causes of autism. / Charles Vanegas

Brian Deer, the British journalist who exposed fraudulent research linking the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism, spoke on Wednesday to a group of more than 200 at Ryerson University in Toronto. Deer spoke candidly about the disgraced doctor behind the theory, Andrew Wakefield, and his supporters – specifically actress Jenny McCarthy, who has a child with autism.

“She’s put out her son’s name in the media [linking his autism to vaccines],”said Deer. “She has no medical evidence to back up her claims, so I challenge her to release his records to a panel of doctors –who will keep them confidential – and then she can see the facts.”

In 1998, the Lancet, a medical journal, published the findings of a study conducted by a group led by Andrew Wakefield. Although inconclusive, the study suggested that the MMR vaccine might be linked with autism and intestinal problems, a “new syndrome” that Wakefield later referred to as “autistic enterocolitis.”

After numerous reports from Deer dating back as far as 2004, Wakefield has been exposed for knowingly falsifying study results and having a conflict of interest – he received over £400,000 (about $690,000 CDN) prior to his 1998 study, from solicitors planning to sue vaccine distributors. The Lancet has “fully-retracted the study from the published record”, and ten out of 13 co-authors have retracted the interpretation featured in the study.

In a January 2011 blog, McCarthy referred to Deer’s findings as “one dubious reporter’s allegations”, saying that “I know children regress after vaccination because it happened to my own son”.

In 2008, as a blogger for Oprah.com, she praised a woman who refused to let her 18-month-old son get the MMR vaccine, for “following her mommy instinct.”

In the UK, where Wakefield’s study was done, cases of measles rose from 56 in 1998 to 1,348 in 2008.

Can journalism still be profitable in the internet age?

9 Feb

Technological advances have forced the music industry and the media to adapt. The internet has made things more accessible, and therefore CDs and newspapers have been largely replaced by online alternatives – especially by young consumers.

And while pay-to-download services like the iTunes Store (which has sold over 10 billion song downloads in eight years) largely compensate for the decrease in album sales, online media has failed to make up for income lost from newspapers.

A large portion of newspapers’ funding comes from advertising. However, online classifieds, such as Craigslist and Kijiji, are more popular and cheaper – often even free – to use than their print counterparts.

Cost of a week-long ad in the Toronto Star

In addition to the loss of income from personal ads, newspapers and online media have been unable to obtain the same levels of revenue from corporate advertisements that newspapers once had.

Val Maloney, editor of Masthead, says the industry still doesn’t know how to address this issue.

“There aren’t any hard answers yet,” she says. “A lot of publications are talking about adopting the advertising strategies used by Facebook, but so far no one has been able to do it.”

Because there is so much free content on the web – even from newspapers that charge for its print form – many wonder how online journalism can compensate for money lost from subscriptions.

In a March 2009 blog, Clay Shirky, a writer and internet authority at NYU, said  nothing can be done to repair what he calls a broken model.

Maloney isn’t so sure.

“You have to make it easy for them to use [a micropayment system], making it possible to link it to your PayPal account or a service like that,” says Maloney. “If you have the right audience, and make it easy for them to pay for content, eventually that’s a model that could have success.”

Top 5 Super Bowl XLV ads

7 Feb

Every year, Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest T.V. spectacle.  It’s the biggest stage in professional sports. Last year, the game was watched by over 106 million people (this year’s numbers are still unknown). With that many eyes watching, selling commercial time has become a lucrative business for the network showing the game. This year, companies were paying a reported $3 million for thirty seconds of screen time.

Overall, the commercials were pretty decent this year, but certain ones stood out.

Here’s the cream of the crop:

5.  Volkswagen

They don’t really sell the actual product that well, but this kid is definitely keeping Volkswagen on our minds. My only knock on this commercial is that they violated the “Super Bowl commercial rule” (that I just made up). Super Bowl ads should be seen first during the game. The ad already had 10 million YouTube views prior to. I’ll let it slide, but VW: you’ve been warned.

4.  Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola makes great commercials. This one hooked me pretty quickly with the animation, and the story was great. Some of the longer ads can’t hold the viewer’s attention, but this one certainly did. It doesn’t beat 2008’s Stewie vs. Underdog, but it definitely beat Pepsi.

3.   Kia Optima

This was the first great ad of the night. What beats a helicopter? Poseidon. This ad made me forget about how unsafe it is to own a Kia (while showing a fictional scenario where it is also unsafe to own a Kia. Zing!).

2. Bridgestone

Not only was this entertaining, Bridgestone actual did what a commercial is supposed to do – it sold its product. Bridgestone was probably the big winner of the night, as the “Reply All” commercial was also very good.

1.  Budweiser

I will shoot you over a Bud. As soon as I saw the Clydesdales, I knew something good was coming up. Usually I’m a stickler about anachronisms, but when the bar started belting out “Tiny Dancer”, I lost it. When something makes you laugh out loud after seeing it multiple times, you know it’s good. Budweiser is one of the most consistent advertisers of the Super Bowl, and the ad’s success probably warrants the $6 million it cost to get on air.

“Baby Doc” returns to Haiti, is arrested

19 Jan

Supporters of Jean-Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier hold signs. Duvalier returned to Haiti this week, after 25 years in exile.

Jean-Claude Duvalier was arrested yesterday by Haitian authorities, two days after the former president-for-life returned to Haiti after living in exile for almost 25 years.

He was charged with corruption and the theft of national funds during his 15-year reign.

Duvalier, 59, took power in 1971, after the death of his father, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier.

Papa Doc kept power with the help of the Tonton Macoutes, his police task-force, who were responsible for an estimated 40 000 deaths, and by filling all upper-level military positions with his supporters. In 1964, he rigged elections to give him 100 per cent of the vote and the title, “President-for-life”.

Becoming president at the age of 19, Jean-Claude was unable to maintain the strength of his father’s regime. His 1980 marriage (which cost the public an estimated $3 million) to Michéle Bennett, a member of the mulatto elite, lost him the support of the poor, black majority that his father had had. The marriage also strained his relationship with his mother, Simone, and military leaders appointed by his father. While U.S. aid was restored when Jean-Claude took power, reportedly 64 per cent of public funds were used for “extra-budgetary expenses”, including tens of millions into Duvalier’s personal Swiss bank accounts. He was also known to have lavish parties at public expense.

Unable to stop mounting civil unrest, Duvlier fled the country for France in 1986.

Southern Sudan awaits independence

12 Jan

South Sudanese soldiers pose with their rifles. After decades of civil war, Southern Sudan will vote this week for independence.

In the 1960s, Philip Geng Nyuol was ambushing and firebombing cars in the name of Southern Sudanese independence. After Sunday’s referendum, his cause may be realized.

“This is a dream,” Nyuol told the New York Times, “a dream we always hoped would come true, even if it took one thousand years.”

Even prior to becoming an independent nation, Sudan has been a land of conflict. In the 1920’s, British colonizers declared that Sudan should remain separate – in order to stop the spread of Islam from the Arab-controlled north.

Sudan gained independence in 1956, but a 17-year civil war had begun the year before.

A second civil war lasted 22 years and resulted in an estimated 2 million deaths, and led to the rise of current president Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir. al-Bashir is the first sitting head-of-state to be indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court.

Although polls will remain open until next week to allow those in all regions to vote, Nyuol told the Times he expected to vote as soon as the polls were open, early Sunday morning.

“We have waited for this, we have fought for it,” he says.

Harper: marijuana will never be respectable

29 Mar

In a joint venture with YouTube, on March 16, Prime Minister Stephen Harper answered a selection of questions submitted by Canadians. After almost 1,800 questions were submitted and almost 170,000 votes were counted, the top four questions dealt with the legalization of marijuana. Harper used the last five minutes of the forty-minute interview to address the issue of marijuana legalization and explain his government’s stance against it.

“There are lots of crimes that are a lot worse than casual marijuana use, but when people are buying from the drug trade, they are not buying from their neighbour,” he said. “They are buying from international cartels that are involved in unimaginable violence and intimidation and social disaster and catastrophe.”

Neev, lead organizer of the Toronto Global Marijuana March, says Harper inadvertently makes a good case in favour of legalization. While he agrees that there is violence involved in the drug trade, Neev says that if marijuana were legalized, the violence associated with the drug trade would be eliminated.

“Under a legalized, controlled regime, [the association with violence] would be false. He doesn’t see the full picture,” says Neev, 38. “I’m trying to understand his perspective, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.”

In 2007, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson introduced Bill C-26, proposing amendments to Canada’s Controlled Drugs and Substances Act, including a mandatory six-month prison sentence for someone possessing as few as five marijuana plants. Reintroduced as Bill C-15, the bill was passed by the House of Commons in June 2009. In December 2009, the Senate also passed the bill, with some amendments, which are still awaiting approval from the House of Commons.

Libby Davies, joint-deputy leader of the federal NDP, says the proposed increase in enforcement will do nothing to deter drug use, and there are many irrational and problematic aspects of the bill.

“Under the proposed bill, passing a joint can be considered trafficking,” says Davies. “Minimum-sentencing means more people will be put in provincial jails. No one has really talked to the provinces, but (as many of the proposed mandatory minimum-sentences would be less than two years) that’s who will end up paying for it.”

In his YouTube interview, Harper brought up his own children as a reason why he was against marijuana legalization.

“I have two young children. Ben and Rachel are now getting pretty close to 14 and 11,” he said. “They are at the age where they will increasingly come into contact with drug use. As a parent, this is the last thing I want to see for my kids, or anyone else’s kids.”

Davies says that the government’s approach to marijuana and other drug use is ineffective, because it prioritizes punishment, and does not use a medically-based approach. She also questions the appropriateness of police officers teaching drug education.

“It makes about as much sense as police teaching sex education. You should be teaching them enough so they can make educated and informed decisions. This super-heavy drug-enforcement agenda doesn’t help anyone,” she says. “They play on people’s fears. Parents are concerned about drugs, but they also don’t want their children to have criminal records.”

Health Canada allows those with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, spinal-cord injury or disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, or severe forms of arthritis, to apply for the authorization to possess marijuana for medicinal purposes. Despite this, it is still difficult for many Canadians with medical conditions to access medical marijuana. Dana Larsen, former owner of the Vancouver Seed Bank, a store that sells medicinal plant seeds, says there are other unnecessary problems that arise from the use of medical marijuana.

“Not everyone gets approved for medical marijuana, so people get charged. With a criminal record, it can be hard to get a job or cross the border,” Larsen says. “Even people who are legally allowed to possess marijuana have had problems. Both Canadians and Americans, who were legally allowed to medicinally use marijuana, have been stopped at the border.”

Larsen, 38, was a founding member of both the Canadian Marijuana Party and the British Columbia Marijuana Party. However, after seeing Jack Layton appear on PotTV in favour of marijuana legalization, he joined the NDP and started End Prohibition, a group that works within the NDP to fight against marijuana prohibition. He says the group’s name is meant to “compare the failed prohibition in the early-twentieth century to the drug war of recent years.”

“It’s essentially a war on plants,” says Larsen.

According to Neev, the main problem with the debate of marijuana legalization is the lack of depth. He says many who favour legalization lack any sort of plan of what to do if marijuana ever became legalized.

“You can legalize it like alcohol – you can legalize it like aspirin – you can legalize it like morphine. There are all sorts of models to choose from, but no one is going past that initial yes-no stage,” says Neev.

The only marijuana question that made it into Harper’s YouTube interview asked why marijuana wasn’t taxed and regulated like alcohol. While he did not directly mention marijuana, Harper said he did not believe drugs could become a respectable industry.

“It will never be that,” he said. “And we need to understand, and make our kids understand that.”

Larsen disagrees. He says that if legalized, marijuana could be regulated in a similar fashion as alcohol. He says it would be economically beneficially, as it’s possible to generate huge profits by taxing marijuana, without increasing current prices.

“Marijuana is really overpriced because it’s illegal. If you eliminate that element of danger, the price goes down. Not only that, you’d be taking it out of people’s basements and putting it into the fields, where it grows better,” Larsen says. “It would be essentially free to grow marijuana – costing about as much as it does to produce the finest apples. They could tax whatever they wanted, and make a huge profit; at the same time, they’d be eliminating an entire wave of criminals.”