This feels weird.

Well, here it is. I don’t know the date of my last blog post. I only know it was over two years ago. It honestly seems like a lot longer.

Most of my past blog posts were focused on news that was going on in the world, specifically in Mexico. I’m essentially done with that. Right now, I have no desire to write anything related to current events in the world. I’m just going to use this blog to vent about the stuff that I can see with my own two eyes – situations, irony, whatever. 

With that out of the way, I guess I’ll start off with where I’ve been for the last two years. 

Sometime after my last blog post, I made the decision to move to Monterrey, Mexico. It wasn’t an easy decision, and it wasn’t an easy thing to do. Honestly, it was probably the most difficult and independent thing I have ever done, but I did it anyway. I don’t know if there was any blood involved, but I know there was certainly some sweat and tears. 

The thing that led me to Monterrey is too personal for me to write about. I try to keep that locked away, for better or worse. What has kept me there, is probably the same thing. Anyway, I’m still there, not at this exact moment, but I’m obligated to return there in somewhere around ten days.

I’ve had the funnest of times down there and the saddest of times. The fun comes from the great friends and people I’ve met. I wouldn’t be there still if I didn’t know them. They’ve made it feel like home away from home. The sad comes from a broken heart. Again, I won’t write too much about that, other than by saying things didn’t work the way I’d dreamed they would.

I suppose that all I can do is fire up my ignition and look to the headlights…though it’s almost impossible not to glance in the rear view mirror every now and then.

Whatever I see in the headlights this year, I’m finally going to try to write about it.


If you’re Canadian and enjoy freedom, then Vic Toews is the bad guy

The headline might be a bit harsh, but I really think it’s justified. I honestly hadn’t been paying much attention to Bill C-30: Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act, an internet surveillance bill that is aimed at catching those involved with child pornography, until Vic Toews name started trending on Twitter last week under ‘#TellVicEverything.’

My interest peaked today when I heard he was now the recipient of death threats, and that the hacker group ‘Anonymous’ had released a video singling out the bill and Toews himself.

Now I don’t agree at all with threatening violence to make a point, and I don’t think any of the death threats came from Anonymous, but I do like their threat of revealing personal information on Toews because that’s exactly what his proposed bill does to Canadians.

“These attacks, which have included criminal acts and threats of criminal acts against me and my family, have been referred to the police for investigation. Any further criminal activity or threats of criminal activity against me or my family will also be referred to the police,” Toews wrote in the letter, which was published by the Winnipeg Free Press.

At a quick glance, Bill C-30 it seems like an agreeable policy that is aimed at catching criminals, but if you take a minute to look further into what it allows, it’s quite disturbing, and unfairly asks for a lot trust from Canadians without getting much in return.

The only time the words ‘children’ or ‘predator’ are mentioned in the bill is in the title – leaving the public skeptical about its true purpose.

The main protest from the public is that telecommunication providers would be required to give personal data and information of its users to police, national security agencies, and The Competition Bureau without the requirement of a warrant.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said the bill “strikes the balance between investigative powers used to protect public safety and necessity to safeguard privacy.”

Charlie Angus, digital affairs critic for the NDP and MP for the Ontario riding of Timmins-James Bay, said, ‘What’s very disturbing in this bill is it’s going to force cellphone providers, the telecom providers, to build in the spy mechanisms so that police and security can track you any time they want,” he said at a news conference following the bill’s introduction but prior to the government news conference.

I agree with Charlie on this one. The last thing the police need is more power over the public, and whether Vic Toews admits it or not, this bill affects the entire public. A watchdog society isn’t a free one.

Felipe Calderon wants the flow of U.S. weapons into Mexico to stop

The black market of drugs that are smuggled from Mexico into the U.S. is one that can be measured in terms of dollars for kilograms. The black market of American guns that are smuggled into Mexico can be measured in terms of dollars for dead bodies.

Yesterday, Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon called on the U.S. to stop the flow of American guns into Mexico and into the hands of the drug cartels that Mexican forces are at war with.

Calderon was in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s murder capital, to unveil a giant sign (21-meters long, eight-meters high) that, in English, displays the message “NO MORE WEAPONS.”

“Dear friends in the United States, Mexico needs your help in order to stop this terrible violence we are suffering, and the best way to do that is by stopping the flow and sale of weapons to Mexico,” Calderon said in a speech at the Cordoba Bridge of the Americas in Ciudad Juarez.

Calderon said that out of 140,000 weapons Mexican authorities have seized since he declared a crackdown on cartels at the beginning of his presidency, 84,000 were high-powered assault weapons which, due to strict gun laws, are banned from sale in Mexico.

In 2004, Mexico called on the U.S. to approve the “Federal Assaults Weapon Ban,” a law that would have prohibited the sale of high-powered semi-automatic rifles, and one that U.S. lawmakers ultimately scrapped.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has traced many guns seized at scenes of drug violence in Mexico, where an estimated 50,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since 2005, to U.S. commercial sources.

There’s a saying that can be applied to anything that’s generally considered bad, it’s  ‘friends don’t let friends’…drink and drive, smoke, etc. Would a true friend hand the enemy a loaded machine gun? No; so try to imagine having a friend hand the enemy tens of thousands of them.

Better news: record number of Canadians visited Mexico last year

Canadians continue to flock south to Mexico, proving that having warm sand between your toes feels better than having your toes frozen.

My last post regarding the apparent opinion of Canadians on Mexico’s recent safety issues was a bit gloomy. Poll results showed that the majority of Canadians were hesitant to book a vacation to Mexico because of safety and security concerns, mostly due to recent incidents of violent crime in Mexico where Canadians were victims.

About a week later there is some very positive news for Mexico’s tourism industry (Mexico’s third largest source of hard currency) regarding Canadian and other international visitors. Canadians made a record 1.7 million visits to Mexico in 2011, up 7% from 2010. That’s good news for a country that has seen a flurry of bad press in Canadian newspapers in recent months.

Mexico’s presdent, Felipe Calderon, must be happy to see that figures released by Mexico’s tourism industry show Mexico also saw a record number of foreigners make trips to his country last year, despite ever-increasing violence that stems from the drug war he launched over five years ago. 22.7 million foreigners made trips to Mexico by air, the most since 1980, when the Bank of Mexico first started keeping track of such figures.

The number of American visitors to Mexico dropped by 3%. The cause of the decrease in American visits could be a combination of a wavering U.S. economy, and numerous travel advisories for Mexico issued by the U.S. government. The drop in U.S.  visits is countered by increases from 2010 to 2011 in visitors from China , Russia, Brazil, France and Peru.

Mexican residents also made a record 167 million visits to tourist spots in the country; another good sign for Calderon that the desire of Mexicans to vacation isn’t being deterred by cartel violence.

Hopefully, for Mexico, any decreases in trips by Canadians to Mexico in 2012 due to recent Canadian deaths in the country are short-term, because the numbers show that Mexico continues to be a favorite destination for Canadian sun-seekers.

Canadians are thinking twice about visiting Mexico

In the eyes of most Canadians, Mexico’s reputation as a safe vacation destination has diminished over the past couple of months, results from a new poll show. High profile murders, violent assaults, and the arrests of several Canadians, along with an ongoing war between Mexican forces and Mexican drug cartels, are the main culprits in the apparent change of heart.

A majority of middle-aged (78 per cent) and older Canadians over 55 (76 per cent) said Mexico has a “serious problem” compared to 66 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 34.

Slightly more younger Canadians also believed the incidents to be “isolated” (34 per cent) compared to older (24 per cent) and middle-aged adults (22 per cent).

In my home province of British Columbia, 72% of respondents to the Ipsos Reid poll conducted between Jan. 30, 2011 and Feb. 1, 2012 with an online survey of 1,002 adults,  said they were reluctant to book a vacation to Mexico because of safety and security concerns.

The numbers were highest in Ontario, with 80% of respondents sharing concern; and lowest in Alberta with 67% of respondents feeling reluctant about booking trips to Mexico.

British Columbia has had direct ties to the last three Canadians who have been murdered in Mexico.

On Dec. 27, 2011, the bodies of 39-year-old Ximena Osegueda, a UBC  student in Vancouver, and her Mexican boyfriend Alejandro Alvarado were found buried on a beach in the town of Huatulco – about 500 kilometers south of Acapulco. Osegueda and Alvarado d had been missing since Dec. 14. Their hands were bound and their throats were slit.

On Jan. 3, Robin Wood, a 67-year-old longtime resident of Salt Spring Island, was shot and killed after two robbers confronted him and a friend in a house near Melaque, a fishing village 200 kilometres south of Puerto Vallarta. Wood had been living in Puerto Vallarta for the last four years.

On Jan. 5, Salih Abdulaziz Sahbaz of British Columbia died in a shooting in the city of Culiacan, the capital city of the northwestern state of Sinaloa. Sahbaz had apparent ties to the United Nations gang, and is suspected of working directly with Mexican drug cartels in drug smuggling operations, though officials have yet to confirm the circumstances surrounding his death.

Other recent high profile crimes involving Canadians include Canadian pilot Cyndy Vanier, who was arrested in November under suspicion of being the ringleader of a plot to smuggle Mommar Ghafadi’s son and his family from Libya into Mexico. Vanier has contacted the Canadian government with claims that she has been tortured and abused while in Mexican custody. Vanier has been charged with falsifying documents, organized crime and attempted human smuggling.

The most recent serious assault on a Canadian took place in Mazatlan. Calgarian Sheila Nabb, 37, had every bone in her face broken when she was beaten unconscious in an elevator at the Hotel Riu Emerald Bay in Mazatlan on Jan. 20 while she was vacationing with her husband. A suspect was arrested and confessed to the beating, but claims  Mexican police forced him into signing a confession that raises the crime from an assault to attempted murder.

The poll results have to be disheartening for the Mexican travel industry. The number of annual visits  by Canadians  to Mexico doubled between 2006 and 2010 – peaking at an estimated 1.6 million in 2010. The growth has been an encouraging sign for a country that’s watched its international  reputation worsen, as its drug war death toll approaches the 50,000 mark in the same time frame.

Despite all of these unfortunate events involving Canadians, they do remain isolated incidents.  According to the Foreign Affairs Department, 112 Canadians have been killed in Mexico in accidents, murders, drownings or suicides between 2006 and 2010. Of those, 15 Canadians were murdered or died in suspicious circumstances.

In a survey of top sun vacation destinations, Hawaii topped the list, with 95 per cent of Canadians surveyed saying they believe it is the safest out of six destinations. Florida ranked second at 92 per cent, followed by Cuba (78 per cent), Dominican Republic (72 per cent), Jamaica (64 per cent) and Mexico (29 per cent).

For the record, the five year average of deaths or assaults per visits from 2005-2009 in Mexico is 2.1 to 100,000.  Cuba’s average was 1.5 to 100,000;  the Dominican Republic’s was 1.6 t0 100,000; Jamaica had the most deaths or violent assaults of the questioned countries at 3.6 per 100,000 visits.

Despite Jamaica being statistically more dangerous than Mexico, most Canadians – for some reason – believe Jamaica to be a safer place to travel. One would assume that the recent string of Canadian incidents in Mexico are the reason in question.

It goes to show you what bad press can do to a country that in recent years saw a record number of Canadians flock south to the Mexican sands. If this poll is any indication, expect the number to shrink in 2012 as Mexico’s reputation among Canadians continues to get burned.

If you would like to get my view on travelling to Mexico, please click the link below to read my post titled “My Mexican experience: a different Canadian perspective.”


Twitter should tweak ‘trending topics’ feature

Follow me @mikeroscoe on Twitter.

When I log on to Twitter and glance at the trending topics section of my home page, my hope is that I’ll be able to find and read about interesting news and information. Lately, I’ve noticed that the trending topics section has become clogged with, for lack of a better word, crap. Important issues, at least ones worth reading about, are often buried under trending topics that are completely unimportant and spam-like.

More often than not, fans of Justin Bieber, or any choice of Disney alumni, have pop star related topics trending worldwide, which is to be expected. Adolescent fans obsess over their idols and are generally uninformed about more important issues going on in the world.

I’m not blaming the kids for flooding Twitter with tweets that are virtually identical and equally pointless; I’m blaming Twitter for subjecting me to seeing them every time I glance at the trending topics, hoping to find something worth reading and discussing.

Add death hoaxes as an annoyingly common mainstay in the trending topics section. Over the weekend I saw RIP Adele and RIP Justin Bieber, just to name a couple. RIP trends should only be visible if deaths are actually verified. If they’re fake – as most are – they’re nothing more than spam.

Twitter users shouldn’t have to be subjected to spam, and should at least, have the option to remove it from the trending topics list so that it can be replaced by the next most tweeted topic, one that that might actually be worth discussing.

Right now, you can localize the trending topics by changing to a different geographical location, but what I would like to see is a trending filter for age groups. Trending topics would be different for 12-19 year old’s and 20-27 year old’s. I’m sure I speak for a lot of people in their mid twenties who don’t care about what ‘Demilovatics’ are talking about. I’m going to make an assumption that the older users of Twitter are more interested in what people in their age range are thinking and discussing.

Aside from choosing who you follow, there isn’t much you can do in terms of customizing the information you find relevant on Twitter. In my opinion, this idea would be a great addition to the trending feature. Twitter still comes across as a bit juvenile, especially in the trending topics section. I think trending topics based on optional age groups would add some maturity to Twitter, for those of us who want it anyway.

Review of The Social Network

I wrote this review when the movie came out in late 2010. Tonight, I found it lying around in my files. Here it is:

In a year filled with Hollywood remakes and big budget sequels that overreached, The Social Network is a complete breath of fresh air. Directed by Oscar nominee David Fincher, the film flirts with visual perfection, making the most out of technological advances in digital cinematography.

The script, penned by three-time Golden Globe nominee Aaron Sorkin, is witty, relevant, and paced to perfection. Sorkin based the script off the non-fictional novel, The Accidental Billionaires, written by Ben Mezrich. Both works tell the story of how young Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg along with his friend Eduardo Saverin came to create what is now known as Facebook.

The film starts off with Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, getting dumped by his girlfriend. Shortly afterwards, a drunken Zuckerberg  blogs a personal attack against her from his Harvard University dorm room. For the sake of realism, the blog entries that Sorkin placed in the script are actual entries taken from the blog of Zuckerberg from back in 2003, when part of the film takes place.

Sorkin’s script doesn’t portray Zuckerberg in the greatest light, perhaps because The Accidental Billionaires was written from the perspective of Eduardo Saverin, who ends up suing Zuckerberg and winning.

Saverin isn’t the only person who files a lawsuit against Zuckerberg. Two crew rowing twins from Harvard, Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss, also have a sixty-five million dollar bone to pick with Zuckerberg, as they believe that he stole their idea for a very similar social networking site that they approached him with prior to the creation of Facebook.

The film flashes backwards and forwards in time from the point that Facebook is created in 2003, to the separate meetings of the plaintiffs – Saverin and the Winklevoss’ – and the defendant, Zuckerberg, during the discovery phase of law suits against Zuckerberg in 2007.

From the two separate legal offices, the characters recall the past, revealing relevant information to the lawyers. This is done brilliantly through the writing of Sorkin, and with quick seamless transitional shots under the direction of Fincher.

The Social Network features standout performances by the entire cast. Jesse Eisenberg’s portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg is that of a socially awkward elitist, who could easily be considered a misogynist. Eisenberg’s Zuckerberg knows more about coding websites than he does about the female brain anatomy.

Andrew Garfield, who was recently cast as Peter Parker in the new Spiderman reboot, does a fantastic job as Eduardo Savin, gaining sympathy from the audience with his ethical attitude as a businessman and friend.

Justin Timberlake adds some humor to the mix with his portrayal of Napster creator Sean Parker, as he lures Zuckerberg from Massachusetts to California to capitalize on the exploding growth of Facebook.

Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss are played by a single actor, Armie Hammer. Hammer portrays two identical twins with opposing thoughts so convincingly, that it’s hard know it’s a single actor without taking a peek at the films credits.

The Social Network defines the internet generation. With 500 million users, on the surface, Facebook appears to connect friends around the globe. After watching this film and exploring its creation, I think it reveals that Facebook, and social networking in general, can be seen in a different light. Friendships can be just as easily destroyed through social networking as they can be maintained – with something as little as an insensitive comment, or a bad photo.

Zuckerberg ended up creating something that cultivates anti-social behavior, fuels his own greed, and ultimately ends several of his  close friendships .In the end, Facebook is a product of Zuckerberg’s superficial and shallow values.

Since the actual creators of Facebook played no part in the making of the film, it’s hard to differentiate what is truly fact from what is purely fiction. One thing is certain; The Social Network’s themes of friendship and greed are as relevant as ever. This is one of the best films of the year.

SOPA shelved; Megaupload seized

Following massive organized protests  by Internet and tech companies around the world on Wednesday, the main sponsor of the Stop Online Piracy Act announced that the bill would be shelved indefinitely.

It was an announcement that was considered a major victory for protestors and tech companies in opposition of the bill, including Google and Wikipedia.

There was one victory for bill supporters, though.

Megaupload, a file sharing website that was the 13th most visited website on the Internet, was shut down by the FBI. U.S. authorities accuse Megaupload of generating roughly $175 million in illegal profits via premium membership sales and advertising revenue.

During the operation, federal authorities seized $50 million worth of assets, and executed search warrants in 8 different countries. Servers in the U.S., Canada, and the Netherlands were shut down.

In retaliation, the hacking group known as Anonymous, hacked the FBI’s website, among other entertainment-based websites.

“We Anonymous are launching our largest attack ever on government and music industry sites. Lulz,” the group announced over a Twitter feed. “The FBI didn’t think they would get away with this did they? They should have expected us.”

Anonymous also managed to bring down the websites of Universal Music, the Motion Picture Association of America, and the Recoding Industry Association of America – all supporters of the SOPA bill.

A spokesman for RIAA brushed aside the attack, and celebrated the seizure of Megaupload.

“The fact that a couple of sites might have been taken down is really ancillary to the significant news today that the Justice Department brought down one of the world’s most notorious file-sharing hubs,” he said.

The RIAA isn’t wrong in being happy about the seizure, though the issue of Anonymous sounds  as if its being underestimated, obviously for appearance sake.

This is about as close to online warfare as you can get.

Internet vs. Congress

High traffic websites like Wikipedia, Craigslist, Reddit and smaller websites like the one this blog is found on – WordPress –  temporarily shut down on Wednesday in protest of two Internet regulation bills that are currently making their way through the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

Other web giants, Google and Twitter, showed support to protestors without shutting down their websites. Google had over 7 million signatures on an online petition, while Twitter was constantly trending with topics related to protests.

The bills, the Protect International Property Act and the Stop Online Piracy Act, aim to punish those responsible for piracy. The protesting websites, and millions of other protestors, argue that the bills would restrict the freedom of  innovation and information that the Internet currently enjoys by over-regulating U.S. businesses.

PIPA and SOPA would allow U.S. courts to force Internet Service Providers to block service to any .com, .net. or .org websites that publishes material that breaches the new copyright laws. Primary support for the bill comes from ‘Hollywood’ production companies and lobbyists.

The protests appear to have had some impact. Thursday, news broke that supporters were desperately trying to make changes to the PIPA bill ahead of  a January 24th vote for Democratic leaders. The outcome of the vote, which needs 60 votes to pass, will determine whether or not the bill will continue forward in legislative process or be shelved.

6 of the 40 of the co-sponsors supporting the bill dropped their support.

Here’s to hoping the Democrats side with the Internet on this one.

Canadian Gangsters Killed in Mexico and Vancouver

Live by the gun, die by the gun

When I saw on my Twitter feed that another Canadian was gunned down in an unknown area of Mexico, I was preparing for more disappointment. My assumption was that it was a vacationer or retiree in another coastal town. Then I saw more details.

As soon as I saw the person was gunned down in Sinaloa, I was suspicious. Sinaloa is home to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the billionaire cartel leader of the Sinaloa cartel. Guzman has been listed on Forbes list of world billionaires numerous times, and has been in hiding since escaping a high security Mexican prison in 2001.

Salid Abdulacis Sabas, who was a Canadian citizen of Iraqi decent, was gunned down at an intersection in Culiacan, the capital city of the state of Sinaloa. Sinaloa has been one of the regions of Mexico hardest hit by drug related violence. Most people following the war would be able to tell you that, so the fact that the murder took place there raised somewhat of a red flag when the news broke.

It was also, not surprisingly, determined that Sabas was a member of the United Nations, a gang that originated in the Fraser Valley, and has heavy operations in Metro Vancouver. Sabas was apparently in direct contact with Mexican cartels, helping run a drug smuggling ring between the U.N and an unknown cartel. Sabas owed money to the cartel due to a failed shipment, and was in the process of paying it off.

The two predecessors of Sabas, also Canadians, were also murdered in Mexico, so the death wasn’t surprising news to Canadian security officials familiar with him and the United Nations gang.

Proving a point

One thing I want to mention is that, in my previous post, I stated that it was quite possible to catch a bullet “sitting down at a restaurant in Vancouver.” I was somewhat psychic, because only a few days after posting that, Vancouver saw its first homicide of the year when high profile gangster, Sandip Duhre, was gunned down in Cafe One, a restaurant located at the Wall Centre in downtown Vancouver.

The Wall Centre is a hotel that has been frequented by cast members of Twilight, among other celebrities, and is currently home to the U.S. women’s soccer team during the Olympic qualifying tournament in Vancouver. None of the U.S. team members witnessed the shooting, but they were shocked nonetheless.

This is an incident that basically solidifies everything that I said in my previous post. An innocent bystander in the restaurant could have easily been struck by a bullet. This murder is only going to create more violence as revenge is sought by those with ties to Duhre. Is Vancouver that much safer for Canadians than large Mexican cities like Mexico City, Guadalajara, or Monterrey? It’s starting to become a difficult question to answer.

My life through words.