Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Suburban Plague

From the Toronto Star, some signs of intelligence coming from the urban planners in Ontario. At long last a recognition that the suburban landscape with its dependence upon the automobile is detrimental to society – and more importantly, demonstrating the will to change things.

The "Places to Grow" Plan sets out a blueprint for population growth in the high density Southern Ontario region. I wish them well. As a distant neighbour of Calgary, I would sure like to see some of that intelligence transplanted to Alberta – I fully expect to see those ticky tacky boxes come spreading over the hills at me one day. I'm not going to hold my breath – intelligent Alberta government is an oxymoron.

The plan protects farmland from the spreading suburbs, makes use of higher density development in city cores, and emphasizes the growth of neighbourhoods with dwellings, services, and jobs located in closer proximity. The plan incorporates the switch from automobiles to public transit, which is certain to generate howls of outrage from your well-heeled car dealers, auto manufacturers, and the juvenile laddies who dote on their cars.

Suburbs! What on earth generates such slavish attachment to one and two hour commutes by car and the loss of weekend time to mowing a lawn? Grass should be only grown to feed something, not to waste water on, treat with poisonous chemicals, and then manicure to an inch high so that the clippings can be sent to landfills. Don't all those chappies with their baggy shorts and lawnmowers feel foolish out there? They should.

The growth of real communities, where everything a family needs is within walking distance would be within our grasp if suburbs gave way to higher density dwellings. A cousin of mine had a five minute stroll to work every morning because he was smart enough to buy into a development which had the light industry and housing close together. His daughter has a two hour drive into London to work since she bought her own home. When I was a youngster in a Southern England town, all the stores we needed were withing walking distance, and school was a seven minute train ride to the next.

Looking at Calgary, I've long thought that a change of regulations and an upgrade of utilities could hand a nice little nest-egg to older householders. Or to anyone who cared take advantage of owning land they didn't need. When the chore of looking after a hundred foot lot, while living on only half of it, becomes too great, the owner should be able to consider subdividing it, and providing space for another family in the mews, which was formerly a back lane. Older districts could be re-zoned successively, and their utility systems altered to allow for the doubling of population density. With a higher population density, frequent public transit could connect with the industrial parks.

It has to be better than sitting in an auto for hours. Go to it, Ontario. Maybe intelligence is catching.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

The CSIS Way with Terrorists

"Welcome to our security seminar entitled "Handling Terrorism". Now, as you all know, the demand for and the financial health of our security services has been markedly increased since 9/11. This course is intended to teach all of you to how to advance your careers in this expanded security environment.

"The general public has been brought into a high state of alert over threats to their safety and we must all do our utmost to ensure it stays that way. This prioritization of security services has not been easy to achieve, and so I'm sure you're all aware how vigilant we must be to ensure the threat stays fresh in the general public's mind.

"Now, there is a right and a wrong way to handle terrorism. The recent example of the arrest of seventeen Moslem terrorists in Ontario is a prime example of the way it should be done.

"First, you need your terrorist magnet. These are very hard to come by, so you must handle your terrorist magnet with great care. He must never become aware that you are using him. You must never let any of the incipient hotheads that he attracts become aware that their association with him has brought them under observation as well."

"But are you saying that these incipient terrorist people are not actual terrorists?'

"That's right, but they have the potential to become terrorists, and with a little care the security services can incubate these people until we have a credible terrorist cell."

"Isn't that entrapment?"

"Of course not! You have given us the first blatant example of the wrong way to handle terrorism. If you play your hand too soon, there will be nothing in it."

"Because there are no terrorists. Merely foolish hotheads."

"What are you? Some kind of idiot? They are all terrorists when they play their hands. The smart security service bides its time until the proper moment to swoop and round them all up."

"And when is that?"

"I'm glad you asked that question. You need two factors to gain the utmost security value out of handling terrorists. Firstly, you need a legislative atmosphere that's conducive to throwing vastly increased funding at the security services before you shoot your wad. If some pussy-footed government is in power that will merely send you a letter of commendation and pat you on the back . . . well, you get my drift. Don't waste all your hard work. Wait two years, if necessary. You need a government in power that has the same agenda as your security service – who know people are dangerous, their thoughts are dangerous, and that the first duty of government and a vigilant security agency is to ensure these people don't act out their thoughts."

"But isn't that what we did by allowing this hothead two years to gather others around himself and start making actual plots?'

"Not at all. We were merely gathering enough evidence to strike."

"I'm not sure . . . How do we tell the difference?"

"What are you – some kind of commie leftist? The difference is simple. When they do it – it's terrorism. When we do it – it's homeland security."

"Then what's that second factor we need?"

"You have to catch them with hard evidence before you strike. Explosives, fuses, cell phones – things like that."

"Cell phones?"

"Of course. To set off the bombs by remote control. That's how you know they're a terrorist cell."

"I see. Cell phones – terrorist cell. What next?"

"You need to set up some sting operations – posing as legitimate companies. Actually collecting bombs or bomb making material has never been easy, so the security services have to facilitate this."

"You mean the security services have to supply the terrorists with bomb making materials?"

"Of course. How else are we to catch them red-handed?"

"Isn't that –"

"No! It isn't anything! I'm getting tired of your yellow-bellied questions. Now, get one thing perfectly clear. We don't need to supply actual explosive material – just something they think is explosive material."

"But doesn't that destroy your case against them? They are no longer a de facto terrorist group if they can't perform terrorist acts."

"You again? Why don't you shut up? As long as we have sympathetic courts and sympathetic judges, the present legislation will work perfectly well. To be a terrorist, you only need to think like a terrorist – you don't actually have to be one."

"Unless – "

"Yeah, gotcha! I know what you were about to say. If the courts start following your leftist commie ideas and throw our charges out, you are turning the threat into something much more dangerous. We'd have to supply our terrorist suspects with real bombs and real explosives to make our case stick. See how terror escalates?"

"But we'd be doing the escalating."

"No, we wouldn't – we're preventing it. See this shoulder patch I'm wearing? It says "Security".

"We'd be preventing terrorism if we were to act before the first hothead influences and collects his little band of incipient hotheads."

"Nonsense. Now you're back to the wrong way to handle terrorism. What kind of publicity would we get out of that?"