Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dec 31 Offers You A Blue Moon ...It happens only once in a blue moon

(CNN) -- It happens only once in a blue moon -- and scientists say a blue moon is exactly what we'll see in the skies this New Year's Eve.

Don't expect an azure glow over our lunar satellite, however. The term "blue moon" simply refers to the second full moon in a calendar month, something that hasn't happened on a New Year's Eve for nearly 20 years, NASA says.

"December 1990 ended with a blue moon, and many New Year's Eve parties were themed by the event," said Professor Philip Hiscock of the department of folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland, in Canada. "It was a lot of fun."

Most months have just one full moon, because the 29.5-day cycle of the moon matches up pretty well with the length of calendar months. Occasionally, there will be two full moons in a month, something that happens about every 2½ years, NASA says.

But a blue moon on December 31 is rare.

The Farmers' Almanac lists these Algonquin Indian names for the full moon of each month:
January: Wolf Moon
February: Snow Moon
March: Worm Moon
April: Pink Moon
May: Flower Moon
June: Strawberry Moon
July: Buck Moon
August: Sturgeon Moon
September: Corn Moon
October: Harvest Moon
November: Beaver Moon
December: Cold Moon
  • New Year's
  • NASA
  • Cultural History

Elvis Presley crooned about it when he sang the old Rodgers and Hart song "Blue Moon," in which he stood alone without a dream in his heart or a love of his own.

He struck a more hopeful tone in another tune, singing about his love returning to his arms "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again." He also covered Bill Monroe's bluegrass classic, "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

It is possible for the moon to have a cerulean hue, NASA says, but that's sometimes caused by fine dirt circulating in the Earth's atmosphere or the dark blue tone of the sky.

A blue moon hasn't always meant the second full moon in a month. Hundreds of years ago, it simply meant "never" or "absurd," Hiscock said.

"The phrase 'blue moon' has been around a long time, well over 400 years, but during that time its meaning has shifted," he said. "I have counted six different meanings which have been carried by the term, and at least four of them are still current today. That makes discussion of the term a little complicated."

When the Indonesian volcano Krakatoa erupted in 1883, it put so much dust in the atmosphere that the moon actually appeared blue -- an event so unusual that the term "once in a blue moon" was coined, according to NASA's National Space Science Data Center. The effect lasted for almost two years, Hiscock said.

Full moons used to have 12 names, one for each month, such as "harvest moon," NASA said. The term "blue moon" referred to the 13th full moon in a year.

The term acquired its current meaning in the 1940s, after the Farmer's Almanac of Maine offered an astronomical definition of a blue moon "so convoluted that even professional astronomers struggled to understand it," NASA wrote on its Web site.

A writer at Sky and Telescope magazine in the late 1940s tried to explain the almanac's definition by saying it referred to the second full moon in a month.

"That was not correct, but at least it could be understood," NASA wrote. "And thus the modern blue moon was born."

E-books turn page on paper

E-books turn page on paper

December 30, 2009

Ellen Roseman


The Sony Reader, foreground, and’s Kindle e-book reader. Amazon sold more e-books than paper books on Christmas Day.


I'm not an early adopter of technology. But I jumped at the chance to buy an electronic book reader more than a year ago.

My Sony Reader goes everywhere with me. I revel in the luxury of carrying 50 books around in a device that weighs less than one hardcover.

Electronic books are starting to muscle in on physical books. It's a narrative that will pick up speed in the next year, creating winners and losers., the online bookseller that sustained losses for years, now makes money thanks to its Kindle e-book reader, finally available in Canada.

This week, Amazon said its customers bought more e-books than physical books for the first time ever on Christmas Day.

Investors are taking interest, pushing Amazon's stock price from $51 (U.S.) a year ago to $139.41 on Tuesday. The shares pay no dividends and have a lofty price-to-earnings ratio of 82.

Indigo Books & Music, Canada's dominant book retailer, recently announced it will develop its own e-book reader to come out next year.

It already offers e-books through a spinoff company, Kobo, that is backed by Borders Group, a big U.S. bookstore chain. The e-book service is available on Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices.

Indigo's share price was $15.84 (Canadian) yesterday, up from $12 a year ago. It pays a 40-cent annual dividend and trades at a reasonable 13.5 times earnings.

Book retailers without a foot in the online world will suffer – such as McNally Robinson, which said it is closing its Toronto megastore, which it opened last April, because of losses.

However, we're only a couple of chapters into this story. There's too little variety in e-books to satisfy an avid reader.

I can buy current bestsellers at Sony's store for $9.99 (U.S.), such as John Irving's Last Night In Twisted River, which has a regular price in Canada of $34.95, or $21.91 plus shipping at

I can also buy classic works from long-dead authors for next to nothing, such as the epic War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, which sells for 99 cents (U.S.) at Sony's store.

But aside from blockbusters and golden oldies, you won't find many e-books written 10 or more years ago by authors who aren't household names.

That could be a result of Amazon's proprietary technology, which doesn't allow a Kindle library to be transferred to another electronic reading device.

Book publishers are reluctant to transfer older titles to an e-format unless there's a common standard.

GalleyCat, a publishing newsletter, checked the 100 e-books on the Kindle bestseller list and found 64 were available for free.

"How can publishers interact with this new readership and still earn money?" it asked.

The pages may not be turning as quickly as Amazon wants us to believe. Apple could change the game with its tablet computer, to be released next year.

It's said to have a 10-inch screen, versus a six-inch display for Kindle and Sony, and a price of around $1,000 (U.S.).

The e-reader, expected to be known as iSlate, will be integrated into a fully functional computer – putting to shame a $300 to $400 price tag for a device that does only one thing.

"Amazon and Sony ought to be terrified," says GalleyCat's eBookNewser about the Apple plan rumours.

Still, there's something to be said for an "old-fashioned" electronic reader that isn't connected at all times to the Internet.

I agree with Jack Illingworth, who wrote about the pleasures of his Sony Reader in CNQ, a Canadian literary magazine:

"The real genius of the machine is its existence as an unconnected platform, with no rabbit-holes of links to disappear down, no emails or instant messages asking

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Latest Xmas Craze

Ugly Christmas Sweater Party!

Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties are becoming more and more popular, and we hope this site serves as a resource for everyone out there looking to buy the ugliest Christmas sweaters of all time!

If you're looking to buy an Ugly Christmas sweater,
click here.

Are You Ready for the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party ?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Who's Doing The Work?

population of USA is 300 million. Canada is 33 Million .

million are retired.

That leaves 140 million to do the

There are 85 million in school.

Which leaves 55 million to do the work.

Of this there are 35 million employed by the federal

Leaving 20 million to do the work.

2.8 million are in the armed forces preoccupied
with killing Osama

Which leaves 17.2
million to do the work.

Take from that total the 15.8
million people who work for state and city
Governments. And that
leaves 1.4 million to do the work.

At any given
time there are 188,000 people in hospitals.

1,212,000 to do the work.

Now, there are 1,211,998 people
in prisons.

That leaves just two people to do the

and 33 Million Canadians who are busy getting ready for the Vancouver Olympics passing the torch from 1 person to the next from coast to coast. So nobodies working along the torch parade route ...

then theres you and me ...

And there you are, Sitting on your ass,

At your computer, reading jokes.. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Spanish lottery dishes out $3 billion


A schoolboy reads the number on a lottery ball during the world's richest lottery, known as El Gordo or "the fat one", in Madrid December 22, 2009. The total prize of 2.32 billion euros ($3.3 billion) is split into thousands of cash prizes among the winners in Spain. The top prize is 3 million euros ($4.2 million). REUTERS/Susana Vera

MADRID, Spain - The top prize of Spain's Christmas lottery - billed as among the world's richest, went Tuesday to holders of tickets bearing the number 78294.

The number appears on 1,950 tickets, and each holder stands to win C300,000 ($430,000). Organizers said the tickets bearing that number were sold in a Madrid city centre lottery office.

Thousands of other people won smaller prizes in the lottery known as "El Gordo" (The Fat One) that is held each year on Dec. 22. The lottery dishes out C2.32 billion ($3.33 billion) in prize money.

The numbers were drawn by pupils of Madrid's Saint Ildefonso School in a nationally televised draw.

Although other lotteries have bigger individual top prizes, the Gordo is ranked as the world's richest for the total sum paid out. Rather than a single jackpot, the lottery aims for a share-out in which thousands of numbers yield at least some prize money.

The Gordo is a favourite holiday tradition in Spain. Excitement builds up for weeks before the draw as workers and relatives pitch in to buy tickets while clubs, shops and bars sell shares in their tickets to clients.

The lottery starts at 9 a.m. (0800 GMT) and people throughout the country typically turn on the radio, television or Internet to find out if their numbers are called for a prize.

This year, it sold an estimated C2.7 billion euros nationwide - nearly 3 per cent down on last year, the state lottery agency said.

The agency estimates per-capita spending of some C60 ($86) on the Gordo this year.

Seventy per cent of lottery sales goes out in prizes, and 30 per cent goes to the state.

Spain established its national lottery system as a charity in 1763, but its objective gradually shifted toward filling state coffers.

Spain holds another big lottery Jan. 6 to mark the Feast of the Epiphany. It is known as "El Nino" (The Child), in reference to the baby Jesus.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Things You Can Only Say At Christmas

Things You Can Only Say At Christmas.
1: I prefer breasts to legs.
2: Tying the legs together keeps the inside moist.
3: Smother the butter all over the breasts.
4: If I don't undo my trousers, I'll burst !
5: I've never seen a better spread!
6: I fancy a little dark meat for a change.
7: Are you ready for seconds yet ?
8: It's a little dry, do you still want to eat it ?
9: Just wait your turn, you'll get some !
10: Don't play with your meat !
11: Stuff it up between the legs as far as it will go.
12: Do you think you'll be able to handle all these people at once ?
13: I didn't expect everyone to come at the same time !
14: You still have a little bit on your chin.
15: How long will it take after you put it in ?
16: You'll know it's ready when it pops up.
17: Just pull the end and wait for the bang.
18: That's the biggest bird I've ever had !
19: I'm so full, I've been gobbling nuts all morning..
20: Wow, I didn't think I could handle all that and still want more.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Cherry blasts doctor for `totally unfair' attack

Cherry blasts doctor for `totally unfair' attack

December 20, 2009

Chris Zelkovich

As expected, Don Cherry came out swinging Saturday night.

Responding to comments from Dr. Charles Tator that the brand of hockey Cherry promotes is contributing to head injuries, the Hockey Night In Canada mainstay lashed out at what he termed a "totally unfair" attack.

"You know, I give it out pretty good, I dish it out," Cherry said during his regular Coach's Corner segment of Saturday's hockey broadcast on CBC.

"I've always been taught if you dish it out, you gotta take it. And I usually take it, but this is totally unfair for this guy to say that I'm responsible."

After holding up the front page of a newspaper featuring Tator's comments, Cherry defended his record.

"I'm not going into all the things I do with touch icing," he said. "I was the first guy for Shoot for a Cure on the whole thing, I could go on and on with a million things ... stop stickers ... I put my money where my mouth is.

"For this guy to come out and blame me for all the injuries I think is totally unfair."

He then launched a new attack on the highly respected neurosurgeon.

"I would hate to think Dr. Tator is doing it just to get his name in the paper," he said.

"I always thought doctors were above all that stuff. I tell you, evidently I was wrong."

When host Ron MacLean added that Tator had been trying to get hold of him, Cherry cut him off.

"Nah, I don't want to talk to him," he said. "I don't want anything to do with the guy."

Cherry then asked, "What's next?" before moving on to hockey-related matters.

He didn't address his profanity-riddled response to a reporter's question on the issue last week.

Don Cherry's views on violence a negative influence on hockey: surgeon

With concern over hockey concussions mounting, a Toronto brain surgeon has singled out television personality Don Cherry for promoting an aggressive on-ice culture he believes is leading to more hits to the head.

"I think he is a negative influence because he applauds aggressive hockey," Dr. Charles Tator said in a telephone interview, after delivering similar comments at a seminar on hockey concussions in Regina.

"We like skilled hockey, we like hard-fought hockey, but we don't like people going to the next step where there are hits to the head."

Dr. Tator said studies show that concussions among professional hockey players have increased.

There is no data on amateur hockey, but anecdotally, Dr. Tator hears concussions are also on the rise there.

"We don't want to change the game of hockey," said Dr. Tator, but it needs to return to a time when players "had respect for their own safety and respect for the safety of their opponents." He said Mr. Cherry, known for plugging "rock 'em, sock 'em" hockey play, should be espousing respect .

Mr. Cherry did not return calls for comment last night.

Dr. Tator's remarks come as the National Hockey League grapples with how to better protect players from the kind of head injuries that have taken more than a few out of the lineup. The league has struck a committee to look into head shots, as a debate simmers over what physical play is part of the game, and what goes too far.

But blaming Mr. Cherry, who champions other safe-play causes, is not fair, says former NHL player Keith Primeau. He was forced to retire in 2006 after at least four, but probably more, concussions.

"No one promotes hitting to the head," Mr. Primeau said in an interview yesterday, noting Mr. Cherry's efforts to reduce injury in minor hockey with the "STOP" decal program that gets children to think before they hit an opponent from behind.

For years, Mr. Cherry has also railed against touch icing, saying it needlessly endangered players who chased after a puck, only to barrel into the boards.

Sherali Najak, executive producer of Hockey Night in Canada, said Mr. Cherry "has been the leader in teaching tough, smart hockey and promotes respect amongst players at every level. Everyone who has watched Don over the years knows this, and any indication otherwise is misguided and a short-sighted misrepresentation of the facts."

Dr. Tator, however, thinks those initiatives are "window-dressing" and won't lead to a cultural shift.

"[Cherry] should be espousing no hits to the head in the professional league because he should know that the pros are the role models for the young people," said Dr. Tator, founder of the Think First foundation, which works to prevent head injuries. The Regina conference was a collaboration between it and Hockey Canada.

"I had a mother in my office with her boy last week who said, 'There's a bounty on his head.' And that just is bad culture. And where do they get that bad culture? I think they get it from people like Don Cherry," Dr. Tator said.

Todd Jackson, senior manager of safety and insurance at Hockey Canada, would not comment on Mr. Cherry's influence. He said awareness of head injuries is certainly up among parents and coaches of amateur players, and there is greater demand for education on how to take a hit, and how to give a hit.

Parents and coaches are reporting concussions more, but it's hard to say whether the actual incidence is up or down. Indeed, there is a lack of data in Canada on long-term effects of head injuries in hockey. That's why Dr. Tator is asking players to commit to donating their brains after they die to a research project he is leading at the Krembil Neuroscience Centre at the Toronto Western Hospital.

According to studies of U.S. football players, sports-related concussions can have devastating effects.

"The concern is that they are shortening their lives, and they're markedly reducing the quality of life, because when they get these changes in the brain, they generally get demented," Dr. Tator said. "So far we don't have pathological proof that this occurs in hockey players. There's a suspicion of it, but we have not proven the case."

Mr. Primeau, who suffers from headaches and cannot exercise without feeling light-headed, has agreed to donate his brain after he dies to a centre in Boston conducting similar research. He is convinced of the long-lasting effects of hockey concussions and urged the NHL to ban head shots.

Read it on Global News: Don Cherry's views on violence a negative influence on hockey: surgeon

Friday, December 18, 2009

Turn off Your Ipod and Cell Before Takeoff= Bull!

"There is no evidence that iPods and other non-communications devices could do the same. But David Carson, a Boeing associate technical fellow who co-chaired a special committee the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration asked to evaluate the use of portable electronic devices, said the government has not yet done sufficient research to permit them during the most sensitive segments of flights."

The US Airways flight attendant told U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer to turn off his cellphone before takeoff. Schumer called her a "bitch."

Very bad. Schumer apologized on Wednesday. But the sentiment that prompted his epithet – how dare you pry me from my hand-held device, you relentlessly-polite-yet-ferocious airline employee – is widespread. And, unlike the b-word, it might, in the case of iPods and similar devices, be justified.

Transport Canada bans iPods during takeoff and landing. The reason, said spokesperson Maryse Durette, is that "passengers are required to listen to the safety briefings that are given prior to takeoff and landing." So passengers may ignore these briefings by, for example, napping, whispering, or sticking their fingers in their ears. Those ears must only be devoid of earbuds.

To at least one veteran Los Angeles-based pilot, who flies 737s for a U.S. airline, this is flighty logic. He had thought takeoff and landing prohibitions were prompted by concerns over potential radiation interference with pilots' instruments.

"I find it absurd," said the pilot, who requested anonymity for fear of a scolding from his employer. "It sounds ridiculous."

A younger pilot for another U.S. airline said he did not much care about the existence or non-existence of the iPod ban, but he offered two justifications for it.

During emergencies, he said, passengers must not be distracted as flight attendants give them instructions. And when takeoffs are aborted, forcing pilots to stop at high speeds, "the iPod will be pulled from your hand right away, and it'll go flying."

Both pilots said it is possible that the use of cellphones will significantly interfere with flight instruments. There is no evidence that iPods and other non-communications devices could do the same. But David Carson, a Boeing associate technical fellow who co-chaired a special committee the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration asked to evaluate the use of portable electronic devices, said the government has not yet done sufficient research to permit them during the most sensitive segments of flights.

"Anything that comes on an airplane, we want to make sure that it's proven to be safe – to the extent that for millions of departures per year, and thousands of different airplane configurations, you can predict that they'll be safe," Carson said.

A widely discussed Dec. 7 post on the technology blog Gizmodo, in which author Joel Johnson acerbically challenged the iPod ban, was titled "Can My iPod Make This Airplane Explode?"

Carson did not suggest that iPods could explode a Boeing. He said, however, that the government must test the ability of various planes to withstand iPods' unintentional radiation.

"It sounds kind of silly to say `withstand the radiation of an iPod,' because it is pretty low. But you have to know that."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

How do Atheists grapple with Christmas?

How do Atheists grapple with Christmas?

December 15, 2009

Stuart Laidlaw

Relax and enjoy the holidays, maybe even sing a carol or two. It won't kill you.

That's the advice of the woman behind a how-to book for non- believers on surviving the holidays.

"We can all celebrate being with our loved ones," British comic Ariane Sherine says via telephone from her home in London.

Sherine coaxed 42 well-known atheists, including Richard Dawkins, to contribute chapters to her first book, An Atheist's Guide to Christmas, asking only that they reflect on some aspect of Christmas and that they not take themselves too seriously.

"Nobody would think it's too polemic a book," she says.

Her book makes public a private quandary atheists face every year as they grapple with how to take part in the biggest celebration of the year without looking like hypocrites.

"I want to stay true to my principles," says Justin Trottier, executive director of the atheist Centre for Inquiry in Toronto, who wonders each year what to do.

He says he'll probably be working through Christmas.

Sherine rose to international fame earlier this year by organizing a British campaign to buy bus ads saying, "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life." The idea soon spread to cities around the world, including Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa.

The ads were initially criticized by hardcore atheists, Dawkins included, for the use of the word "probably."

They are, after all, sure there is no God. Sherine said it's only polite to leave open the possibility, and pointed out that the bus campaign wasn't meant to offend anyone.

Her cheerful civility won Dawkins over, and his contribution to the book is a lighthearted narrative about the life and death of Jesus, as told in the Bible.

Much of the book is like that, with several of the contributors declaring their love for the Christmas season, even if they don't believe the story behind it.

Some, like author and journalist Simon Singh, suggest finding something else to celebrate at this time of year that is equally miraculous – such as, maybe, the Big Bang.

"Christmas Day is an excuse to celebrate the biggest birth of all, namely the creation of the entire universe," writes Singh.

He even suggests listening to white noise on the radio, which is in part generated by electromagnetic waves leftover from the birth of the universe some 13 billion years ago.

This is, really, an ideal Christmas book.

With 42 very short chapters on such topics as science, philosophy and the arts, readers can dip in and out at their leisure between snacks and naps throughout Dec. 25 and the days to follow.

Novelist Jenny Colgan, raised a Catholic, confesses to being "enthralled by Christmas" all her life. She writes about trying to keep the magic of the season alive for her children despite her disbelief in the story at its heart.

"She feels unaccountably romantic for a life she never wanted," observes Sherine.

With no big festivals or rituals to claim as their own, most atheists keep a soft spot in their hearts for Christmas, she says. It is, after all, associated with many secular things beyond the birth of Jesus that few would have trouble with – peace, goodwill and getting together with friends and loved ones.

"Most atheists really do enjoy Christmas," says Sherine, who plans to spend the holidays with her grandparents and her boyfriend.

Trottier, who says Christmas means little to him, will debate the topic of atheists and the holidays this Friday with centre co-founder Jennie Fiddes, who plans to visit family in Uxbridge for the holidays.

"It's a discussion we've had many times in pubs over a few beers, and we just decided to take it public," says Trottier, adding the discussion will be entirely tongue-in-cheek.

Fiddes, who runs a support group for atheists raised in religious families, will argue that Trottier's intended hard line against celebrating Christmas is wrong-headed and likely impossible.

"Christmas is entirely entrenched in our culture," she says.

Atheists, she says, should find something about the holidays they like – seeing family, exchanging gifts, food, even pagan solstice beliefs – and celebrate that while others around them celebrate the Yuletide.

Such sentiment would find an easy home in Sherine's book, which includes several tips for atheists to make the holidays their own.

"Eat, drink and be merry," writes journalist Claire Rayner in the book. "And have a very humanist pagan Yuletide."

Rayner recounts a conversation with a neighbour that perhaps sums up how many atheists approach the season. Knowing Rayner is an atheist, the neighbour asked what her family had planned for Christmas.

"`Oh, the same as you do, I imagine,'" I responded sunnily. `Spend too much money, spoil the kids something rotten, eat and drink too much, and fight with each other's relations.'"

Certainly sounds a lot like Christmas, religious or not.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

What Cats Do While You Are Away...

In October, Friskies doled out small "collar cams" to 50 house cats in a first-of-its-kind feline focus group. The aim was to help answer the age-old question, "What exactly do cats get up to when we're away from home?"

The cameras were programmed to take a photo every 15 minutes and the results revealed that there's a lot more to life than catnaps and cultivating furballs for our feline friends.

"What surprised me was how active the cats were," Jill Villarreal the animal behavior scientist who collected the data on behalf of Friskies told the Associated Press. "I believed my three cats were sleeping during the day."

And Villarreal wasn't alone in her assumption. In a survey of cat owners prior to launching the study, Friskies found that 71 percent also thought that their cats were snoozing while they were away from home. But the most photographed activity was actually of cats looking out windows and interacting with other family pets.


A "cat cam" shot of another family pet.

Based on the 777 photos that cat owners submitted, about 22 percent of the cats' time was spent watching the world go by, 12 percent was used to play with (taunt?) their fellow pets and 8 percent was spent climbing on chairs or kitty condos. Just 6 percent of their hours were earmarked for sleeping.

Cats watched television, DVDs or other media 6 percent of the time and hid under tables another 6 percent. Coming in at 5 percent was playing with toys. Eating or looking at food finished last at 4 percent. Read the full Friskies report here.

Roseman: Beware 'free-sample' online offers

Wouldn't it be nice to have white, bright teeth?

Jamie Naessens thought so. She used her credit card to get a free sample of a tooth whitener advertised as cheaper than visiting a dentist.

"A friend of mine on Facebook posted about a product she was happy with that she got for free," she says. "Her account was hacked, but I didn't know until later."

She went to the website,, and agreed to pay $1.95 (U.S.) to cover shipping costs. But a confirmation email showed $11.90 charged to her credit card.

"We charge an extra $9.50 for international orders," she was told after calling the Colorado-based company for a live chat on the night she did the transaction.

Only when she asked to cancel did she find out that accepting the trial order could have trapped her in a monthly shipping program.

"If you don't cancel, you will be billed $87.62 for the product and you'll then become a PremiumWhite Celebrity Member," the website says.

Naessens cancelled the trial order, but the company insisted the $11.90 shipping charge was non-refundable. Luckily, she had a screen shot of her live chat and sent it to her credit card issuer, President's Choice Financial.

She also cancelled her credit card and asked for a new one to be issued with a new number.

Erin Gray, a President's Choice spokeswoman, said customers have to take precautions against online scams.

"Ms. Naessens was reimbursed for the charge she incurred from the company," Gray said. "By taking the extra step of closing her card and opening a new one, she should avoid further charges related to the online offer.

"Should the company proceed with charging the card again, we will certainly work with Ms. Naessens to find a resolution (including adjusting the charge)."

Complaints about recurring charges by merchants often have the same result. Customers have to call their credit card issuer every month and file a dispute.

This happens despite guarantees by Visa and MasterCard against unauthorized purchases made in a store, over the phone or online.

Naessens feels a little foolish, but a lot wiser, about how credit card companies operate.

"I have always considered myself a fairly smart consumer. However, I've been humbled recently.

"I feel that credit card issuers are not committed to changing the system to protect consumers.

"It is true that the issuer has promised to work with me in the future. However, that is not the same as making a promise to reverse any future charges, even though I did everything I could possibly do, given the situation.

"The very fact that suspect merchants can resubmit the charges is unacceptable — and once again, the consumer is victimized."

Naessens had one more surprise. She joined a security group at Facebook to share her experience.

But she couldn't comment online without verifying her Facebook account. This meant having to provide her cellphone number, so she could be sent a text message with a security code.

"I'd already compromised my credit card number. I wasn't going to do that with my cellphone number," she says.

Internet user beware. A free sample is a common come-on for monthly shipments of vitamins or cosmetics. And if you complain, the company will say you agreed to the terms and conditions before placing your order.

A menacing bubble of magma rumbling beneath Yellowstone Park really does threaten to blow its top and wreak havoc upon the planet. But when?

There's a scene in the hit disaster epic 2012 when John Cusack outruns a monstrous dust cloud from a volcanic explosion at Yellowstone National Park, as red-hot lava spews thousands of feet into the air and fireballs annihilate the surrounding landscape.

Cusack outrunning a dust cloud that size is a fantasy. The Yellowstone super volcano is not.

Much of Yellowstone National Park, which straddles the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana, sits on one of the largest volcanoes on the planet, and when (not if) it erupts, it'll be messy.

About 15 kilometres below the park, in a magma chamber 85 kilometres wide, a restless molten blob is bubbling and oozing like neon taffy. The pressurized heat and gases from this chamber are what cause Old Faithful and its more erratic brethren to spout.

The volcano has erupted three times in the last 2.1 million years, forming the series of calderas (underground chambers) illustrated here. The last eruption, 640,000 years ago, blasted a pillar of ash 100,000 feet in the air, leaving a hole in the ground larger than the Greater Toronto area. It devastated everything within a 50-kilometre radius. The plume spread layers of dust across North America as far as the Gulf of Mexico.

Meanwhile, a haze of sulphur dioxide mixed with water vapours was propelled into the earth's atmosphere, blotting out the sun. A period of global cooling cancelled summer – and whatever primitive barbecues may have been planned – for at least a year, maybe more.

The volcano is still very active, rising and falling under pressure at a noticeable rate for the last quarter century. The Yellowstone plateau has risen seven centimetres a year for the last three years, bulging like the belly of some gassy, lethargic monster.

Scientists agree: this volcano will one day blow its top.

Will yellowstone erupt within our lifetimes? Despite current seismic hyperactivity and occasional news reports spelling out a volcano-provoked apocalypse, experts say there's nothing to worry about.

"We don't think that anything going on right now indicates an eruption is coming anytime soon," says Jake Lowenstern, scientist-in-chief at the Yellowstone Volcano Observatory, one of five in the U.S. which monitor volcanoes for scientific purposes and public safety.

No one has ever seen an eruption as big as Yellowstone's could be. All suppositions are based on blasts a tenth of the size, that history has recorded.

"It's of dubious information content of what would or would not happen because we don't ultimately know," Lowenstern says.

The Yellowstone observatory was founded in 2001 to monitor the volcano's erratic behaviour with seismographs and other devices plugged deep into the earth, with antennas poking from the surface like metal flowers. They feed information to researchers across the U.S. via satellite.

While an eruption is unlikely to come soon, earthquakes happen all the time.

In 1959, a 7.5 magnitude quake adjacent to the park killed 28 people. Last Christmas, hundreds of small quakes kept geologists on their toes — they were the most energetic earthquake "swarms" to occur in the park in decades.

It's no 2012 fantasy that the Earth could hiccup and shudder at any moment, and before we know it mountains could be levelled or cities buried in ash. Scientists say they could predict an eruption by days or even months; an earthquake by not so much.

"Nobody ever knows with absolute certainty anything in science," Lowenstern says. "We are quite good at forecasting eruptions around the world, but it's a little trickier at a place like Yellowstone because it's very active."

Being warned may not matter.

Even a "small" Yellowstone eruption would be well beyond our current acquaintance with what volcanoes are capable of.

The worst might not come first. Toronto would see a sprinkling of dust and possibly a few weeks of spectacular sunsets. Then, with the rest of the planet, we'd feel the climatic effects – forests and wildlife under stress, disruption of agriculture for years. Summers would be cancelled, barbecues and all.

The Earth won't end. But humanity . . . well, the films can speculate on that.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Obama's not afraid to tell ugly truth

During the Democratic leadership campaign, I followed Senator Barack Obama to a speaking stump in South Carolina, where he appeared before an audience of servicemen and women. On that occasion, I had strong doubts that this candidate could ever wear with comfort or inducement to allegiance the presidential mantle of commander-in-chief.

Yes, he can.

It may not fit easily over top of Obama's signature asset as the un-Bush, nuanced and diplomatically collaborative; indeed might come as a revelation even to him, that cherished ideals must sometimes be recalibrated and reconciled to harsh, irrefutable realities.

"I face the world as it is," he said Thursday, accepting his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, "and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world."

It was Obama's finest oratorical hour since he assumed office 11 months ago.

There is a weariness of war in America, as there is in Canada – and our share of the burden, while proportionately heavy in Afghanistan, is still so much lighter than what has been undertaken by the U.S. This fatigue, reflected in numerous opinion polls, has fostered an attitude of defeatism south of the border quite at odds with a core American characteristic: A buoyant can-do assuredness, the historical willingness to fight battles when others have ceased caring, given up, or judged the sacrifices insupportable.

Doubts are entirely legitimate. There is no guarantee – far from it – of even modest success in so contorted a dilemma as Afghanistan, and that's against the restrained agenda as reformulated by the Obama administration: Concentrating on the threat of Al Qaeda and allied radicals in the petri dish of terrorism along the Afghan-Pakistan border.

Yet Obama, who now has access to intelligence the rest of can only fearfully imagine, has clearly been convinced the threat is real and the counter-strategy achievable.

That is also the hopeful assurance that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has been selling, and as the individual who also brought Iraq to heel, he has credibility as tactician-in-chief.

Obama clearly longs to be a man of peace, but that could also describe many of his predecessors in the Oval Office who likewise found the necessity to wage war as the means to that end. I believe Obama bleeds with every American casualty and has ample room in his heart for the innocent civilians who lose their lives in conflict. But he is president of the United States and that means protecting, as best he can, the security of his own nation first and foremost.

It was brashly attacked in 9/11 and Obama has to be mindful of how much harm can be inflicted by even small cabals of the self-righteously militant who seek to kill as many Americans as is within their capacity, because that is the sole triumph available to those with crazed ambitions of a clawed-back caliphate.

The pacifist resistance championed by the likes of Martin Luther King and Gandhi has little traction in a world turned upside-down by asymmetrical warfare, a state of vulnerability more complicated than even the nuclear threat of the Cold War era.

"There will be times when nations acting individually or in concert will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified," said Obama, even as he recognized the "moral force of non-violence" preached by King and Gandhi.

" As a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone ... A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince Al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism. It is recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason."

No contradiction exists in Obama delivering what was essentially a treatise on justifiable war while accepting the global community's highest recognition of peace. These two seemingly irreconcilable concepts have always been entwined. Somebody with delusions of power or a grand cause pushes; somebody else is forced to push back. Obama's challenge is to do so within conventions of honour and moral integrity.

To his mind, that means, for example, dismantling Guantanamo and cleaving to the Geneva Conventions, though not always in the details – such as rendition of terror suspects to countries where they might be tortured – which he's taken pains not to discuss.

"America cannot insist that others follow the rules of the road if we refuse to follow them ourselves. For when we don't, our action can appear arbitrary, and undercut the legitimacy of future intervention, no matter how justified."

That was an implicit criticism of the Bush administration's justification for invading Iraq. Yet the two presidents don't differ that much in their creed of justifying military intervention – only on when it should be triggered.

"I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That is why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace."

Many, including some in Oslo who selectively withheld their applause, will feel betrayed by Obama. But it takes guts to speak unpopular truths.

Obama is not and never was a soldier. He is, however, a brave man.

Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

woman accused of faking witchcraft, bilking veteran lawyer of more than $100,000

Still on the books

"There's got to be a couple dozen provisions that absolutely make no sense in the modern era."
Alan Young, Osgoode Hall Law School

Section 163 (1b) – It's illegal to print, publish, distribute, sell or possess a crime comic – those popular 1940s comic books with graphic depictions of violence and illicit doings.

Section 49 (a) – It's illegal to commit an act with "intent to alarm Her Majesty." This offence carries a prison sentence that can't exceed 14 years.

Section 143 – Each time a victim of theft puts up a poster advertising a reward with "no questions asked" for the return of a stolen item, they are breaking a federal law.

Section 339 (1) – Anyone found guilty of "fraudulently" taking driftwood found in a lake or stream can be imprisoned for up to five years.

Sections 32-33 and 64-69 — These provisions require raucous groups to disperse within 30 minutes after being read the declaration commonly known as the Riot Act or else run the risk of facing life in prison.

Police have dusted off an old chapter of the Canadian Criminal Code and charged a woman with posing as a witch, allegedly to defraud a Toronto lawyer of more than $100,000.

Vishwantee Persaud, 36, is accused of conning veteran criminal lawyer Noel Daley by saying she was the embodiment of his deceased sister, whose spirit would guide him to financial success.

"She told (Daley) that she had a history in her family of them being sort of good witches, or having occult powers, and that she could do a tarot card reading for him," said Det. Const. Corey Jones.

It was an attempt to gain Daley's trust, police allege, and the spell worked. Over the next few months, police say, the lawyer coughed up money for a variety of reasons – including alleged bogus law tuition and rent for a premier office space in the heart of the financial district.

Persaud also faces two fraud charges.

Daley declined to discuss the matter with the Star, saying it is before the court.

But in an interview with Law Times, published Nov. 30, he described being conned by a woman who was "the epitome of the skills that make up a good confidence man."

Despite its archaic tone, the witchcraft charge isn't all that rare.

From January 1999 to October 2009, 38 people in Ontario were charged under Section 365, which deals with fraudulently pretending to exercise witchcraft, sorcery, fortune telling or conjuration.

The provision is really a remnant from the dark ages, said Alan Young, a professor at York University's Osgoode Hall law school.

The charge, which was part of the code when it was enacted in 1892, has nothing to do with the occult, but with scammers who fake mystical powers, Young said.

"They wanted to regulate the practice to protect vulnerable people from giving their life savings over to fortune tellers who were basically con artists."

If Persaud is found guilty, there won't be any burning at the stake. The witchcraft charge carries a maximum sentence of six months in jail and up to a $2,000 fine.

Daley befriended Persaud, who allegedly claimed to be a third-year law student in a bad financial situation, in January 2009, police said.

Dubious of her schooling, he quizzed her on her legal knowledge. She got it all right.

Within months, she was working at his law firm and he occasionally pitched in for her grocery bills.

Then came the alleged tarot reading, which police say she used to gain Daley's trust.

After that, she began proposing business ideas, police allege. She said she had connections from her days at a successful Toronto marketing firm, police say.

And Daley paid up, fronting cash for proposed deals with Sony and Wal-Mart, Jones said.

"My desire to make an easy buck clouded my judgment," Daley told Law Times.

Soon, Daley said, he was paying rent for an office at First Canadian Place, as well as $18,000 for cancer treatments.

Then Persaud allegedly proposed they make money hosting and providing security for celebrities at the Toronto International Film Festival, police said. No actors showed, and Daley became suspicious.

Persaud, who is also charged with four counts of failing to comply with recognizance and two counts of failing to comply with probation, is being held in custody.

But the news of the arrest is bittersweet in the psychic community.

"It definitely puts a stain on our business. The outside world sees that and think that there are just bad readers out there," said Lisa Marvin, a psychic adviser and co-owner of Metaphysique in Yorkville. "People who go to readings are looking for guidance," she said.

"They shouldn't be taken advantage of."

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cops as props? Off-duty police cash in on private 'paid duty'

Call it Cops, Inc. Profits are soaring. Work orders stream through the fax at headquarters on Eglinton Ave. W.

Employees are on the job across the city and easy to spot. They wear reflective yellow jackets and navy caps and holstered handguns. They stand on downtown street corners, sometimes leaning on a light pole or sipping a coffee.

Operating out of a city police station, this outfit, run by the police for the police, sells off-duty but armed Toronto officers as security and traffic control to municipal and provincial departments, construction firms, utility operators, community groups and funeral homes.

"Company" managers call their product "paid duty," their customers "clients." They are selling public property for private gain. And doing a brisk business.

Charging nearly double what an officer earns doing real police work, the company clears $24.8 million a year. If it were a publicly traded company, it would rank among the 150 most profitable in Ontario.

Taxpayers funded its startup. You paid to hire the workers and for their expensive equipment and prime office space. Think of yourselves as shareholders.

But forget about seeing any dividends.

A Toronto Star investigation has found paid duty is an unnecessary tax on the public, companies and community groups. Eliminating or modifying its use would save millions. Critics also say it cheapens police work, reducing frontline officers to overpaid flagmen.

"Who decided we actually need the officers on these particular assignments?" said city Councillor Pam McConnell, who serves as vice-chair of the Police Services Board. "When I talk to (other municipalities) around Ontario, nobody's ever heard of putting police officers to look down holes, to make sure construction sites are patrolled. I find the whole notion ... undermines their credibility."

Paid duty officers also get this extra money for guarding prisoners in provincial custody. And McConnell was surprised to learn from the Star that officers hire themselves out as security guards for the provincial government when disability support cheques are disbursed.

Police Supt. Earl Witty says having so many paid duty officers around the city increases the force's visibility and helps deter crime. Though Witty added the force is open to exploring a new system that could save taxpayer money.

"By having those paid duty officers out there, we have more public safety because we have more police presence," he said, adding that it was a paid duty officer who first tried to apprehend the Union Station hostage-taker in 2004. "Are there ways of saving money? Potentially. ... Is it good to re-examine things? Sure. We're always trying to be fiscally responsible, and if somebody's got an idea ... then let's take a look at it."

Officers work paid duty on their days off from policing. Constables receive $65 an hour and a minimum three hours per gig. Several officers told the Star that a city "bylaw" requires their presence at many paid duty jobs. But a city solicitor said there is no bylaw dealing exclusively with the issue.

Instead, a miscellany of provincial and city rules, unevenly applied and poorly understood, loosely governs this booming private police business.

No other major Canadian city spends nearly as much on paid duty. In 2007, Toronto officers pocketed 10 times more than their counterparts in Montreal, and the year after that 16 times what Ottawa officers earned.

On a recent afternoon, an officer stood on paid duty directly outside police headquarters on College St. while a construction crew refurbished the city-owned building's front steps. A worker said he had to hire the officer for a minimum of seven hours. At $65 an hour, plus related fees, that's a paid duty bill of more than $500 sent to the taxpayer. Another of the crew teased the officer for wearing a balaclava with the temperature above zero. "It's always cold when you're doing nothing," the worker said.

A retired police sergeant was more blunt in his assessment of what he calls a "cash cow" for Toronto cops: "There are times when you need that police expertise. But standing over a hole in the road? Like, can we get you a couch and a free cup of coffee, too? There has to be a better system."

The Star spoke to several officers working paid duty around the city. Many declined to comment. All refused to give their names.

When asked if $65 an hour was a waste of taxpayer money, a paid duty cop standing near a city work crew on Bay St. shrugged and spread his arms wide, saying "No comment" through a mouthful of breakfast sandwich.

Several officers said they do not decide when and where paid duty is needed, that city rules require it as a condition of construction and event permits.

Another, interviewed while nursing a Tim Hortons double-double on Adelaide St., said use of paid duty is sometimes wasteful and thinks lawmakers should fix the problem. "If there was a change, I would agree," he said.

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Most paid duty requests originate from private entities, such as event organizers wanting crowd control, movie production companies required by the city to have police oversight of special effects, and funeral planners. The police force also maintains a fleet of 25 taxpayer-purchased cruisers – once used for real police work – for the sole purpose of renting them to bereaved families wanting funeral escorts.

But many paid duty requests come from entities spending taxpayer dollars. While it is difficult to determine exactly how much these off-duty officers have drained from the public purse, the Star has found taxpayers have been billed an estimated $9 million for paid duty on city infrastructure projects and special events since 2007.

The Star has also learned two provincial ministries spend taxpayer money on paid duty officers. The Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services hires officers to escort dangerous or high-profile inmates. A spokesperson said the ministry spent $2.7 million on paid duty in Ontario last year but could not say how much went to Toronto officers.

And the Ministry of Community and Social Services hires officers as security guards inside a downtown Yonge St. office where many needy Torontonians get their disability cheques. An officer who said he recently worked paid duty in the social services building explained that it was due to concern that recipients may get upset and unruly over the amount of their cheques. The ministry says it spends a total of $1,200 to hire two paid duty officers once a month for security and crowd control.

Though the amount is not known, another public impact can be seen in the paid duty cost passed on to ratepayers by essential utilities – such as city-owned Toronto Hydro – that are often required by the city to hire paid duty officers to guard and sometimes direct traffic around work sites.

Citing privacy concerns, the police force would not say how many paid duty requests originated from public entities in 2008.

City officials have expressed concern for years and ordered review after review but they have done nothing to fix a growing problem. McConnell said she is concerned the public interest is being abused and plans to raise the issue at the next Police Services Board meeting on Dec. 17.

The paid duty wage is almost double what a constable with four years experience earns on duty – $37.40 an hour – patrolling a dangerous area or answering a 911 call.

In addition, Toronto Police tacks on an extra 15 per cent "administration fee" that the force says is a "cost recovery" scheme to help pay for the office and staff handling requests as well as the use of taxpayer-purchased police equipment on paid duty. "It's at no cost to the city, to the taxpayer," said Witty.

But when the city or a provincial ministry or public-owned entity like Toronto Hydro is doing the hiring, it does cost the taxpayer.

In 2008, the force netted $3.7 million in administration fees, which goes into general police revenue.

Police leaders say there can be no other system, that a provincial traffic safety law and other rules allow only officers to do this work.

Sgt. Don Ryan, the man in charge of paid duty assignments, said there's a reason for this: "A civilian cannot do what we do."

In Calgary and Ottawa, where paid duty costs are significantly lower, civilians and inanimate objects do the job of Toronto officers. On a recent afternoon, a utility company work crew set up in the middle of a busy four-lane road, right outside a Calgary police station. The crew used pylons and yellow safety lights but no officer. "(Our system) appears to work," said police force spokesman Kevin Brookwell. "It has been working for some time."

Backed by what police say is a legal authority, and an uncontested hold on the market – Toronto officers get 42,000 requests for paid duty annually – the officers have raised their hourly rates every year. The wage has jumped 25 per cent since 2004. The powerful officers' union (the Toronto Police Association) – not the mayor or a city public works official or even the police force – sets the wage rate, and has done so unopposed since 1957.

"I think the system is fine," said Mike McCormack, the newly elected head of the union, adding it keeps on-duty officers focused on emergencies while leaving the other work for off-duty cops.

The Star was given no reason why officials could not write a new law or rule allowing other, cheaper traffic authorities to do the job.

"It's not to say others couldn't do that work or be trained to. It's not rocket science," said city lawyer Karl Druckman. "I think there's probably a way of dealing with it, to provide other people with authority to do certain things on roadways. It all could be changed."

The Star found the rules governing the use of paid duty unevenly enforced and in some cases blatantly ignored.

While a paid duty officer in reflective yellow jacket stood watching over idle construction equipment on Adelaide St., just a couple hundred metres west at another job site – the building of the Trump Tower – a young flagman for Grascan Construction Ltd. jogged out into traffic and stopped all three eastbound lanes so a dump truck could drive into the site. The episode backed up traffic into the Bay and Adelaide intersection.

Roberto Stopnicki, a top traffic management official for the city, said such a scenario would require a police officer. "Only a policeman has this authority," he said.

But the flagman told the Star an officer is not required. At a major development on Queens Quay, just east of Yonge, where multiple companies are working on a new office building, construction company flagmen stopped traffic in all directions on a recent morning to allow large trucks in and out of the job site. A foreman declined to comment on the absence of a paid duty officer, saying he did not want to get on the police force's "bad side."

An officer working a paid duty assignment on Yonge St., just north of College St., agreed that paid duty is required by the city inconsistently. While he spoke to a reporter for 30 minutes about why he is needed to help safely redirect foot traffic around the area barricaded by an Enbridge subcontractor, he paid little attention to jaywalking pedestrians. He would not give his name.

Upwright Sign Service paid $65 an hour for an officer to stand near a lift hoisting a worker level with a Royal Bank storefront sign at King and Jarvis Sts. A city official said an officer is typically needed whenever a sign company lifts something above the sidewalk.

Upwright vice-president Kip Panayiotou said of paid duty officers: "They charge an arm and a leg. I don't feel they're necessary." Panayiotou estimated he pays $10,000 to $15,000 to paid duty officers in a year and that he must pass that cost on to his customers. "It can make a client shy away (from hiring us) because all of a sudden there's an additional cost." He is also frustrated at what he says are arbitrary paid duty rules: On Yonge St. he is required to have two paid duty officers, one at King and Jarvis, and none in Scarborough. Panayiotou would rather give his money to a crossing guard, saying, "They could do the job."

McConnell of the Police Services Board said she does not know why crossing guards, who are regulated by the police force and get paid as much as $13.75 an hour, cannot do paid duty work.

"The people who are experienced in getting children across the street should be equally experienced at looking at a crane or telling people they can cross or stopping people from crossing because the dump truck is coming."

In Vancouver, where construction and road maintenance proliferates in the run-up to the Olympics, work crews are allowed to use their own "flagmen" to direct traffic with "Slow" and "Stop" signs. Vancouver officers on paid duty work collect a lot less than Toronto cops. In 2007, the last year for which data is available, they got only $1.3 million.

Vancouver police Const. Lindsey Houghton said that in the case of a large city construction project with significant traffic impact, the city uses "special traffic constables" who have authority to arrest and lay charges and who carry batons and pepper spray but no guns. The special constables get paid $33 an hour, about half the Toronto rate.

Some Toronto event organizers wonder why the city requires paid duty police officers as a condition of special event permits. Yvonne Bambrick, a coordinator of Pedestrian Sundays in Kensington Market, said in past years paid duty officers were required to stand near barricades blocking vehicle traffic.

"They really didn't do much. You had a different one every time. They didn't know about the event. They just stood there. They couldn't answer any questions," she said, adding that on-duty officers should have staffed the event. "It would have been interesting to have one of the local beat patrol hanging out and getting to know the community better."

Joe Eustaquio feels he is getting gouged by the police.

The organizer of the Portugal Day Parade said he is required to hire paid duty police officers to watch over his post-parade festival in Trinity Bellwoods Park.

Paid duty rules say that for every four constables hired, a higher-ranked officer is needed to supervise. But Eustaquio says in recent years he has been forced to hire one supervising sergeant for every two officers. A sergeant is not cheap, earning $73.50 an hour, for a minimum of three hours, on paid duty.

"I will have eight guys policing the park and four supervisors doing nothing. The costs are ridiculous," Eustaquio said, adding that the burden is one reason he has scaled the celebration from two days to one.

Supt. Witty said that while it is "highly unlikely" a customer would be asked to hire one supervisor for every two constables on paid duty, such a decision would be made by the police precinct in which the event is held.

The size of Toronto's paid duty industry seems unparalleled in Canada. According to data collected by the Toronto Police Services Board, Toronto officers netted $24 million in 2007. In a distant second was Peel Region officers with a profit of $4.4 million, then Montreal officers with a comparatively meagre $2.3 million. While 2007 data was not available for Ottawa, a senior officer told the Star his officers took in only $1.5 million in 2008 and are on track for around the same amount this year.

This system has been left virtually unchanged for half a century, though in 2002 the police force set up the Central Paid Duty Office to better manage the tens of thousands of work orders coming in each year and more equitably distribute the profits to the force's precincts. Chief Bill Blair is credited with setting up the office when he was working under then-chief Julian Fantino.

The operation seems to be running smoothly for officers as dependence on paid duty continues unabated.

At a time of recession that has hobbled many companies, Cops, Inc. has seen its profits soar about 50 per cent since the beginning of 2004. Demand is so high, Ryan needs nine clerks to handle all the work orders coming in to the third floor of 53 Division on Eglinton Ave. W.

"It's a very costly habit in a time when there's few enough resources to have regular workers on regular shifts," McConnell said, "let alone these officers who are not only on overtime, but over-overtime."

Friday, December 4, 2009

Guilty plea in $5.7M lottery fraud

A former convenience store owner pleaded guilty on Friday to stealing a winning lottery ticket and fraudulently claiming $5.7 million in prize money.

Ontario Provincial Police charged Hafiz Zulqarnain Malik, 60, of Mississauga, Ont., two years ago with two counts of fraud and one count of theft.

Additionally, about $5 million worth of his assets were seized or frozen by police, including his Mississauga home, bank and investment accounts and three vehicles.

In an agreed statement of fact, Malik admitted he tricked a customer into giving him the 6/49 ticket after telling the customer it was worthless.

Malik was operating a convenience store near Dufferin Street and Dupont Avenue in Toronto when he stole the ticket which belonged to a group of four Toronto co-workers in June 2004.

He cashed it six months later, in January 2005, and went on a buying spree.

The charges were the result of an investigation launched in July 2008, following a complaint to the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation.

The charges against Malik were part of an OPP investigation into so-called insider wins between 1999 and 2006.

Malik will be sentenced on March 16 and could face up to 10 years in prison.

The rightful winners were eventually given their lottery prize cash, plus interest of $788,000

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Is It True That Blondes Have More Fun?

Two blondes living in Oklahoma were sitting on a bench talking, and one blonde says to the other, "Which do you think is farther away.... Florida or the moon?"

The other blonde turns and says "Helloooooooooo, can you see Florida ?????"


A blonde pushes her BMW into a gas station. She tells the mechanic it died.

After he works on it for a few minutes, it is idling smoothly.

She says, "What's the story?"

He replies, "Just crap in the carburetor."

She asks, "How often do I have to do that?"


A police officer stops a blonde for speeding and asks her very nicely if he could see her license.

She replied in a huff, "I wish you guys would get your act together. Just yesterday you take away my license and then today you expect me to show it to you!"


There's this blonde out for a walk. She comes to a river and sees another blonde on the opposite bank. "Yoo-hoo!" she shouts, "How can I get to the other side?"

The second blonde looks up the river then down the river and shouts back, "You ARE on the other side."


A gorgeous young redhead goes into the doctor's office and said that her body hurt wherever she touched it.

"Impossible!" says the doctor. "Show me."

The redhead took her finger, pushed on her left shoulder and screamed, then she pushed her elbow and screamed even more. She pushed her knee and screamed; likewise she pushed her ankle and screamed. Everywhere she touched made her scream.

The doctor said, "You're not really a redhead, are you?

"Well, no" she said, "I'm actually a blonde."

"I thought so," the doctor said. "Your finger is broken."


A highway patrolman pulled alongside a speeding car on the freeway. Glancing at the car, he was astounded to see that the blonde behind the wheel was knitting!

Realizing that she was oblivious to his flashing lights and siren, the trooper cranked down his window, turned on his bullhorn and yelled, "PULL OVER!"

"NO!" the blonde yelled back, "IT'S A SCARF!"


A Russian, an American, and a Blonde were talking one day. The Russian said, "We were the first in space!"

The American said, "We were the first on the moon!"

The Blonde said, "So what? We're going to be the first on the sun!"

The Russian and the American looked at each other and shook their heads. "You can't land on the sun, you idiot! You'll burn up!" said the Russian.

To which the Blonde replied, "We're not stupid, you know. We're going at night!"


A blonde was playing Trivial Pursuit one night. It was her turn. She rolled the dice and she landed on Science & Nature. Her question was, "If you are in a vacuum and someone calls your name, can you hear it?"

She thought for a time and then asked, "Is it on or off?"


A girl was visiting her blonde friend, who had acquired two new dogs, and asked her what their names were. The blonde responded by saying that one was named Rolex and one was named Timex. Her friend said, "Whoever heard of someone naming dogs like that?"

"HELLLOOOOOOO......," answered the blond... "They're watch dogs!"

A Funny story non the less...The Tie and The Taliban

A fleeing Taliban, desperate for water, was plodding through the Afghan desert when he saw something far off in the distance. Hoping to find water, he hurried toward the oasis, only to find a little old Jewish man at a small stand, selling ties.

The Taliban asked, "Do you have water?"

The Jewish man replied, "I have no water. Would you like to buy a tie? They are only $10."

The Taliban shouted,"Idiot! I do not need an over-priced fricken tie. I need water! I should kill you, but I must find water first!

"OK," said the old Jewish man, "It does not matter that you do not want to buy a tie and that you hate me. I will show you that I am bigger than that. If you continue over that hill to the east for about two miles, you will find a lovely restaurant. It has all the ice cold water you need. Shalom."

Cursing, the Taliban staggered away over the hill.

Several hours later he staggered back, almost dead & said........"Your brother won't let me in without a tie."

Friday, November 27, 2009

Judge awards $10,000.00 to Live In Caregiver

A foreign caregiver brought to Canada with a job offer from a "ghost employer" has been awarded $10,000 in damages in what is believed to be the first court victory against a nanny recruiter.

Marivic Perlas Rivera told a small claims court judge she paid $2,800 to Winlorfely Caregiver Providers "to find me a legal employer in Canada as a live-in caregiver."

But upon arrival from Hong Kong last November, Rivera was told her would-be employer, Wayne Smith, whom she has never met or even spoken to, was no longer interested in her services and she was "released on arrival."

Rivera's victory comes on the heels of a Star investigation over the past year that found numerous cases where nannies paid high fees and came to Canada on the promise of a job, but none materialized.

After six months of looking for a job she could legally do under immigration rules, Rivera, 29, sued recruiters Winston James and his wife, Lory Felipe, who run Winlorfely out of their rented basement apartment in Scarborough.

"If they didn't have an employer for me they should have told me the truth before I left Hong Kong," she said. "This was a ghost employer."

Judge Julie Hannaford agreed with Rivera, awarding her $10,000, the maximum allowed in small claims court, plus $300 in costs. She also tacked on interest at a rate of 2 per cent.

Calling the Nov. 17 award for damages "unjust," Winston James told the Star he's thinking of appealing. The judge, he said, didn't buy his story that Rivera arrived early and her employer was not in a position to hire her at the time.

Rivera was offered other jobs in the GTA but turned them down, he said, acknowledging she did not have the federal work permits required to work legally for those employers.

As for Wayne Smith, he is not a ghost, James said. Smith "lives across from me," he said.

According to Google Maps, the distance between James' apartment on Sudbury Hall Dr. and the Heatherbank Trail address listed on federal documents as Smith's place of residence, is 1.6 kilometres.

Reached on the phone, Smith said he did hire Rivera but "the story you are working on is not the way it sounds." He then refused comment.

"And don't call me back and ask about this," Smith said before hanging up.

A Filipina national who holds a college degree in accounting, Rivera worked as a domestic helper in Hong Kong for 20 months before being recruited by Winston's sister-in-law, Fely Felipe.

Documents filed with small claims court show Rivera was directed to deposit $1,400 into "PPJ Fire and Safety," a TD Canada Trust account belonging to James. She paid an additional $1,400 before she arrived in Canada on Nov. 10, 2008.

Rivera said she began to suspect something was wrong before she left Hong Kong because she was not able to reach her employer at the phone number provided by the agency.

James picked her up at Pearson International and took her to his Scarborough home, she said.

Anxious to start work to support her husband and two young children in the Philippines, Rivera said James admitted after three days that he had no employer for her.

"I started crying. I don't know where to go, I don't know where to start," she said. "I have a lot of bills to pay. My kids depend on the money I send, and my husband was not working."

James took her to a job interview in Brampton that would pay $200 a week, far below the minimum wage and the $9.25 an hour she had been promised in her contract with Smith. She refused to take it because it would have meant working illegally, she said.

James then handed her over to another recruiter in Thornhill who housed her in "one room in the basement with eight other nannies in the same situation as me."

That recruiter lined up interviews for her with a single mother who admitted she could not afford a nanny, and with a family of 13 adults, none of whom had children.

"They all wanted me to work right away. I said I don't want to work without a permit. I want a legal employer because I did not want to get in trouble with immigration."

A desperate Rivera turned to the Canadian Coalition for In-Home Care, who helped her sue the agency. Rivera is now working in Hamilton for a family with three children.

"This case is significant because most Filipina ladies in this situation are afraid to come forward," said Marna Martin, chair of immigration and labour issues for the non-profit organization. "This is the first case we're aware of where a nanny has gotten judgment against an agency."

The current Live-In Caregiver program is rife with exploitation, Martin said. "Everybody abuses it, employers, agencies and caregivers, but I truly believe that agencies have been the biggest abusers in the past few years."

A year-long Star investigation highlighted much of that abuse, including nannies paying between $5,000 and $10,000 placement fees for bogus job offers.

In some cases, the Star found nannies were housed in high numbers in basement apartments and flophouses around the GTA, and then forced to work illegally to start paying recruiters their placement fees.

The series has prompted both the federal and provincial governments to take action to rein in rogue operators.

Provincial legislation banning all fees for nannies coming to work in Ontario is expected to pass before Christmas. Federal Immigration Minister Jason Kenney has also promised to crack down on unscrupulous agencies with amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.

Humane society boss charged with animal cruelty

Animals left to die in cages. Some suffocating on their own phlegm. Cats with skin hanging off their bones.

That picture – painted by the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals – followed an afternoon raid on the Toronto Humane Society that led to the arrest of president Tim Trow and four others for a handful of criminal charges, including cruelty to animals.

During the arrests, a pit bull-Labrador cross named Bandit that lived in Trow's office was pepper sprayed into submission when he attacked a police officer. The drama ended with Trow walking out of the River St. building in handcuffs, with a police officer on each arm. As cameras flashed off the cruiser's windows, Trow stared straight ahead and did not answer questions.

"The animals are left to suffer in cages," said Christopher Avery, a criminal lawyer representing the OSPCA. He said the OSPCA has a "board room" full of vet records, photographs and video statements from current and former employees, detailing the allegations: suffering animals, food covered in feces, and a lack of disease and pathogen control.

THS spokesman Ian McConachie said there was nothing wrong with the shelter's standard of care.

"I'm in there every day. Some animals are old, some are sick, but if you go to St. Mike's (hospital), it's the same thing with people. Some get better, some pass away. We give them that opportunity," he said.

The charges came from OSPCA investigator Kevin Strooband, who has the same powers as a police officer. Toronto police were on hand for public safety during the execution of the search warrant. Avery said the search warrant will allow investigators to match alleged tales of abuse with animals currently at the shelter. The THS is expected to be closed to the public until Tuesday.

The search and charges appeared to blindside the THS. McConachie said he hadn't heard from the OSPCA since June. He was in a "state of shock" Thursday as he paced outside the building in a T-shirt, locked out of his office.

"It's a dark day for animals altogether. These charges are nothing but political motivation," he said, adding that a third party should have done the investigation.

"That's like complaining that the Toronto police investigated you when you live in Toronto," Avery responded.

Avery said the OSPCA is not against the THS, just its management. "The THS is a wonderful organization that's been around for over 100 years caring for the animals of the city, except for the reign of Tim Trow and his current management team," he said.

"We're only here to help them get back on their feet."

Thursday's raid came after a tumultuous year for the THS. The OSPCA launched its investigations in June, after a newspaper report described a dysfunctional shelter at which animals allegedly suffered because veterinarians were overruled and staff intimidated by Trow, a retired lawyer known for his reluctance to euthanize animals.

In fact, the dog that was pepper sprayed by police, Bandit, was sentenced to death by the court after he mauled a 3-year-old in 2003. The THS appealed the decision and Trow has kept the dog in his office. Bandit is in veterinary care following the pepper-spray incident.

Trow, general manager Gary McCracken, head veterinarian Steve Sheridan, manager Romeo Bernadino and shelter supervisor Andy Bechtel were charged with conspiracy to commit an indictable offence and cruelty to animals.

Everyone but Sheridan was also charged with obstruction of a peace officer, for allegedly hiding and euthanizing sickly animals prior to a June OSPCA visit.

Avery said a guilty conviction for an animal cruelty charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in jail, while the obstruction conviction would carry a maximum two-year sentence.

All five men and the board of directors face additional charges under the Ontario SPCA Act for animal cruelty.

Avery said the charges will not dissolve the board.

"I'm sure the membership would not be pleased," he said. "We're hoping they appoint a supervisor from the office of the public guardian and trustee."

That office, which is part of the Ministry of the Attorney General, deals with dissolved corporations.

With files from Denise Balkisoon, Tamara Baluja and Daniel Dale

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