Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, December 27, 2004

Blahg Notes

I have been remiss in not mentioning up to this point two projects currently being undertaken by the tireless Robert Mcclelland over at his blahg.

The first is The Canadian Blog Awards which he is accepting nominations for up until the end of the year. The list of Blogs already nominated can be found here. Even if the awards concept doesn't grab you, it's still a handy list of a lot of the best Blogs this country has to offer. My understanding is that you'll be able to vote once a day for 15 days or so once polls open in the new year (or something like that), but Robert's Blog is of course the definitive source for info on how it will work. The Crawl Across the Ocean editorial board (i.e. me) will announce who it is endorsing for each category, shortly after polls close (that's the plan, anyway).

The second project is the Cavalcade of Canucks, a weekly roundup of interesting Blog posts from the left / centre of the political spectrum.

Thanks Robert for all your work in building the blogging community.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Predictable, Yet Sincere Thought for the Day

Merry Christmas!

Labels: ,

Friday, December 24, 2004

Jetsgo Premium

Update (Mar 11, 2005): This post has been made redundant by yesterday's announcement that Jetsgo is going bankrupt, effectively immediately. What a shocker.

Warning: Self-Indulgent Complaining Ahead - read at your own peril (of wasting time)

Adversity can happen to any company, and more specifically, bad weather can happen to any airline. What sets companies/airlines apart is their ability to manage these situations. Now, if you'd asked me a couple of days ago about how I rated Air Canada or Westjet on dealing with bad weather / delays, I probably would have rated them about average, with reasonably high marks for minimizing the length of the delay and somewhat lower marks for their communication and attitude during the situation (especially Air Canada).

But after my experience1 yesterday with Jetsgo, and keeping in mind that it's all relative, I would now have to re-classify Air Canada and Westjet as Avatars of Adaptability, the Royalty of Resourcefulness, and Caliphs of Communication.

Now, it would be unrealistic for me to claim that I'm never booking with Jestgo again, since I'm not a rich man, and if the price difference was big enough, I'd take my chances. What I will say, is that from now on, I will apply a $200 premium (return) to any Jetsgo flights ($125 one way). That is how much they'll have to beat Westjet/Air Canada's price before I'll fly with them, and I recommend to anyone reading this, that if they have a choice between similarly priced Jetsgo and competitor flights, don't pick Jetsgo.

1 My flight was originally scheduled to leave at 2:30 but was delayed 5 hours for the weather (which is fair enough - they even gave us $7 vouchers to buy a meal with). A few hours later it was cancelled, the only flight out of Vancouver that day which was cancelled. No explanation was offerred and in fact it took over 2 hours for me to get any information at all (after being told to wait for an announcement which was never made, having to line up in the general check-in line to ask a question only to be told I needed to line up in the comfort plus line to ask a question, and waiting an hour in that line to be told that there were no seats left on any flights that day and being booked on a flight this morning, leaving at 8:55 (since delayed to 2:15)). At no time did anyone from Jetsgo give me the impression that were particularly sorry about the delay/cancellation or volunteer any information whatsoever. It even took over half an hour for them to get the luggage back out, mainly because there was a jam which nobody noticed until people asked what was up with the luggage taking so long. I guess we'll see how things go today, they've still got two flights (there and back) left to try and repair the damage they've done so far.

Update: Well, my flight on the 24th ended up leaving after 5 and arriving just after midnight on Christmas morning. Somebody must have said something because everyone at Jestgo seemed to be trying a lot harder today and we were offerred $100 discounts of our next (we'll see about that) Jetsgo flight. Still, it was strange that they seemed so apologetic about the flight being delayed from 9am to 5pm, but still didn't have anything to say about the people who were supposed to leave the day before but were strung along for hours before being sent home.

The flight back was (thankfully) pretty uneventful (only 1/2 hour late). Given that my $100 discount isn't the same as real cash, I'm only going to reduce my premium by $75. So my next flight will be Jestgo if it's $50 cheaper one way or $125 cheaper return. After that trip (if it happens), I'll reevaluate.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 23, 2004

That'll Show Those *!&#! Canadians!

How childish is this? Embarrassing.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Programming Note

Well it's the holidays so perhaps it's time for something less serious. With 'The Greatest Canadian' completed, and still no hockey, I figure the CBC still has a few holes in their schedule.

So, just like CTV held the Canadian 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire' and 'Canadian Idol', it's time for CBC to develop 'The Amazing Canadian Race'.

This will be the same as the CBS show except the entire race will take place within Canada and to generate extra interest, we will have 11 teams of Canadian celebrities competing rather than just everyday Canadians.1

Picking the pairs of celebrities who will race together will be easy (see below for my suggestions) - the hard part will be negotiating a route. CBC will have to make sure the race visits each province at least once. Quebec will probably only agree to participate if at least 25% of the race takes place there and will insist on having complete control over every aspect of the race while it is in Quebec. The West is likely to complain but go along no matter what happens so it's probably a good area to go light on. In the same vein, Ontarians are used to sacrificing a little for the sake of their smaller provincial siblings so they'll probably accept a smaller share of the race as well.

Assuming an appropriate route can be found, here are my suggestions for the teams:

1. Don Cherry / Ron MacLean - the obvious choice, they can be expected to do well, and will benefit from the all-Canadian course since a trip to Sweden could lead to fatal bickering. Quebec is likely to be the toughest province to navigate for this pair.

2. Frank and Belinda Stronach - every Amazing race needs a parent/child team and this is a pretty high-powered one. While other teams are having pointless disagreements, decision making will run smoothly for these two since all decisions will be put to a vote2.

3. Leslie Nielsen and Paul Gross - this team is primarily here to pull in the female viewers. While Nielsen's advancing years could prove a liability these two will excel at any challenge that involves deadpan humour or pretending to be an RCMP officer.

4. Shania Twain and Celine Dion - this team should have the broadest cross-country support and could do well - if they can avoid the accidents that can arise from always driving down the middle of the road.

5. David Suzuki and David Frum - Perhaps the smartest team in the race, but not likely to perform well due to endless arguments about whether to turn left or right or just stay straight. With luck Bruce McCulloch can be talked into writing a team song for this pair.

6. Elisha Cuthbert and Sarah Polley - this isn't Fear Factor or some show on Fox so we don't have to worry that Elisha will be locked in a cage and need to be rescued by Sarah every episode. While I don't really like this team's chances in any eating challenges they should have youthful energy on their side (plus if any zombies need to be dealt with...)

7. Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul - Well, we know they like to travel. There are those who would question whether they will be able to manage roughing it during the arduous race, but I'm guessing they can take it. A pretty tough team to beat most likely.

8. Alanis Morissette and Avril Lavigne - This team will tell it like it is and should be entertaining as a result. Ironically, they could end up getting eliminated because they take simple tasks and make them too complicated. Or they could just get lost because they're paying more attention to how they feel than they are to the road.

9. Julie Snyder and Pierre Karl Péladeau - As creator & marketer of one of the most successful reality TV shows ever made, these two are a must have - even if it means giving the Quebec rights to TVA instead of Radio-Canada. (Not from Quebec and wondering who are these people? - here is some background).

10. David Pelletier and Jamie Salé - Perhaps no two Canadians have shown a greater ability to work together flawlessly than these two. Of course that can be pretty intimidating so I wouldn't be surprised if some of the other teams made a deal with the race organizers to, you know, level the playing field a little bit.

11. Paul Martin & Sheila Copps - Now some would say this team could never work together, but I think if you let Paul do the driving and have Sheila tell him where to go, they could go far.


1 Credit to Greg for the idea of picking favourite celebrity Amazing Race pairings.
2 Frank gets two votes.

Labels: , , ,

Break Out the Champagne (1L this time)

Just a little Pico-post to celebrate the site reaching four digits in visitors (I'm guessing that I couldn't have made up more than 20% of these). Next stop 10,000.


Sunday, December 19, 2004

Shouldn't We All be Paid for Our Work?

OK, enough about the Blog, back to Politics.

If Paul Krugman is the American columnist you should read if you only read one, then Maclean's columnist Paul Wells (and his Inkless Wells blog) is probably the Canadian equivalent. But is that going to stop me from nitpicking at a throwaway comment he made in a recent column? Of course not, if anything, the best need to be held to a higher standard.

The recent column in question included the following line,
I have enough musician friends that I'd really rather see musicians get paid for their work.

First off, there's a word for what happens when people set policy according to who their friends are, and I believe it is 'cronyism'. But I'm guessing that Wells' didn't really mean it the way it came out, so we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

More interesting, and the reason I made this post, is the 'Musicians should get paid for their work' argument, which I've heard a number of times. The problem, to me, is that the word 'Work' has two (relevant) meanings.

From my girlfriend's concise (yet massive) Oxford dictionary:

1. activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result.
2. such activity as a means of earning income

So taken on definition 2, the statement is basically that musicians should earn an income from the activity they take as a means of earning income, the logical fallacy of 'begging the question'.1

Even if the people who say this have definition 1 in mind, their argument derives force from the fact that the reader has definition 2 in their mind. After all, shouldn't we all be paid for our work?

Given that the question we are trying to answer is, should musicians be paid for the music they create?, it would seem to be more (at least equally) intellectually honest to say that you think musicians should be paid for their hobby, but it doesn't have quite the same ring to it, does it.

1 Via the Nizkor Project,
Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. This sort of "reasoning" typically has the following form.

1. Premises in which the truth of the conclusion is claimed or the truth of the conclusion is assumed (either directly or indirectly).
2. Claim C (the conclusion) is true.

In this case, the Premise is that what musicians are doing is work (in the sense of work being something you do and get paid for) and the conclusion which follows is that they should be paid for their work which they are doing to get paid for.

Irony: The Blogger spellchecker suggests Nigger as an alternative to Nizkor.
Go Figure: The Blogger spell-check dictionary recognizes Nigger but not Blog???

Labels: , , ,

Giving thanks / Giving Grief - Blog Notes

I just wanted to take a moment to say thanks to all the Bloggers out there who have supported this Blog in its infancy.

In particular, thanks to Captain Flynn (from Against All Flags), honourary holder of the prestigious first-commenter award, Terrible Timmy (from Voice in the Wilderness), Pogge (from his eponymous site - recently mentioned in the Toronto Star) and Andrew Spicer (another self-titled blog).

Additionally, thanks to those who have linked to or mentioned my Blog, including J. Kelly Nestruck (at On the Fence), Jonathan Dursi (at No More Shall I Roam), Theresa (at Heart of Canada), Justin (at Flash Point Canada) and Ian King (self-titled). If I missed anyone let me know!

Also, special thanks to Jim Elve, (of Blogs Canada), the e-group he set up there was the first Blog I ever ran across (it's still one of the best Blogs I know), and it was Jim's invitation for me to join the group which helped give me the confidence/motivation to start my own blog.

Finally, for any readers who are personal friends or family, my 'Family and Friends' section of links is still looking pretty thin - aside from the amusingly self-deprecating, Skeeter's Thoughts - so let's get moving :)

Labels: ,

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Good Thing I'm Not Running For President

On second thought, I decided to stick with Blogger comments for now. I didn't realize at first that I would lose all my old comments if I switched, or that Haloscan makes no commitment not to wipe out your old comments after a few months. Plus, I'm guessing that if I ever move from Blogger it will be easier if everything is with Blogger rather than split over two providers.

Hopefully Blogger will improve its comments feature sometime soon. In the meantime feel free to comment anonymously (you can always add your name at the bottom of your comment) if you don't want to register with Blogger.

(Flynn: your comment was the only one that snuck in during the brief (Jane Grey-esque) Haloscan regime so I reposted it manually)

Labels: ,

Site Note

I switched to the Haloscan comment system, so it should be a little easier to make comments.


I Know Where You Live

'I Know Where You Live' is a phrase usually used as a joke in my experience, but I see that in a recent survey done by the Media and Society Research Group at Cornell University1,
27% of people surveyed agreed with the statement, "All Muslim Americans should be required to register their whereabouts with the federal government."

I'm no historian, and I know 27% isn't a majority (I'd be curious to see the equivalent figure in Canada), but I'm thinking that when you look at the historical record of countries where unpopular minority groups have been asked to register their whereabouts with the federal government, the phrase 'I know where you live' probably lost some of it's humour value, to say the least.

On the other hand, I was also surprised that only
47% agreed that, "Islam is more likely to encourage violence compared to other religions."

In a nutshell, the report suggests that folks who watch a lot of TV news, who are Republicans or who are highly religious are more likely to: be scared, favour restricting the rights of Muslims, forbid people from protesting, authorize indefinite detainment of terrorism suspects, believe the media shouldn't criticize the government during a war, and of course, outlaw un-American activities.

On a more subjective level, the number of people who support most of these things, while still a minority, and relatively unchanged since 2002, seems pretty high to me - high enough that another attack could make a majority possible on a lot of these questions - especially among Republicans.

Troubled times in the U.S. these days, I don't envy them.


1 From the survey: "The survey was conducted between October 25 and November 23, 2004; it consists of 715 interviews from a national listed household sample. The response rate was 25.7% and the cooperation rate 54.5%, measured according to AAPOR standards. All results presented in this report have been weighted based on age, gender, and race. The margin of error for reported nationwide results is plus or minus 3.6 percentage points. Margin of error may be higher for reported results from sub-groups."

Labels: , , , ,

If I were Prime Minister: Episode 1

This is intended as the first installment of what will be recurring (albeit perhaps so infrequently that by the time it recurs you forgot it ever curred in the first place) feature in which I make random suggestions on untopical topics of what I would do, were I Prime Minister (although some of my suggestions may require true dictatorial powers as opposed to the merely quasi-dictatorial powers which the PM actually possesses).

Since this is the first installment, I'm going to start small, real small, with a riddle, in which I give three clues and you have to guess what everyday item I am talking about.

1. It's an item you accumulate without trying to.
2. People are always giving it to you, and although you'd prefer to just leave it behind, it would seem impolite, and just dropping it on the ground would be littering.
3. As a result, you carry this item around in the hopes of being able to pawn it off on someone else.



What is it? It's the brown sheep in the silver family, the unwanted penny. And if I was Prime Minister, the penny would be the first casualty.

Thinking about how much everybody's time is worth and thinking about how much time each person spends giving, receiving and dealing with pennies each year, its time is up. Australia and New Zealand have abandoned theirs and it's time we did the same.

I mean, I find dealing with the $1 bills tedious in Monopoly, and that's a game where you can buy prime waterfront property for $400.

And it would certainly make these folks happy

Next time out on this feature, I promise to take on a more important topic, I just had to get the penny out of the way first.

Labels: ,

STV in BC, levy on MP3

Daniel Girard has an informative, albeit oddly timed article on B.C.'s electoral reform situation. This is the kind of concise, informative, matter-of-fact information piece a long-winded, opinionated person like me could never pull off. The one thing he doesn't do (and realistically couldn't in the space of a column), is provide much information on how the electoral systems in question (the proposed [and far superior] Single Transferrrable Vote and the existing [outdated and undemocratic] First-Past-the-Post ) actually work.

For that, I recommend this , a flash animation put together by South Austalia's State Electoral Office, that explains it all and is entertaining enough in its own right to watch even if you're not trying to learn about electoral systems. Well, it's pretty cute at any rate.

One thing to note is that what the Aussie's refer to as Proportional Representation in the animation, we call Single Transferrable Vote, and what they call 'Exclusion (Bottom's Up)' is often referred to as Instant Runoff voting here.


In other news, the Federal Appeal Court overturned the levy which was being charged on mp3 players (from what I understand it varied from $2 - $25 depending on the storage capacity of the device). The decision was based on a technicality so the levy could be restored if lawmakers get around to making the necessary changes to the law.

I really only brought this up so I could point out this great line,

London Drug's Mr. Powell said the fee is inappropriate for digital music players because they have uses beyond just music. For example, some new iPod models can also store photographs. "So why, when you put your family memories on an iPod device, should you be sending money to Céline Dion?"

Why indeed.

Labels: , , , , ,

Friday, December 17, 2004

Random Thought for the Day

I ran across this article on Yahoo about the (very commendable) reductions in Iraq's debt load, which have been spearheaded by the U.S.

And I couldn't help wondering about the human benefits which could be achieved if the U.S. were to devote the same political will towards forgiveness of the debts of all the destitute countries around the world.

I imagine the citizens of the poorest countries, where the money which goes to debt repayment dwarfs spending on health care, fighting aids, etc, must be wondering, as I am, why it's possible to achieve such massive reductions in Iraq's debt, but progress is so painfully slow (or nonexistent) everywhere else.


Edited to add that if you want to get some background on this issue, the Jubilee USA network is a good source, the news links down the right side of their homepage provide a pretty good background of recent developments on this issue.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Trouble With Professional Hockey....

So what's the problem with the NHL these days? The owners and players are all idiots? Perhaps, but it wasn't that long since we were in the same mess with largely different owners, management and players. And not too long since we had similar problems with baseball, and certainly most pro sports have had their share of this type of trouble.

In fact, it seems like pro sports leagues head to a breakdown anytime the owners don't have the players under their thumb. So while it may be tempting to write off the current NHL lockout as Bettman's fault or Goodenow's fault, or collectively the fault of all involved, it seems more logical to look for a systematic explanation of why these problems keep recurring.

If the NHL is a professional league, with the price of everything involved (tickets, merchandise, franchises, etc.) set by market forces, why does the whole thing fall apart if player salaries are also set by market forces?

The problem as I see it, is that a franchise is a business, but whereas the goal of a business is to make money, sports franchises have a dual goal of making money and winning championships. Because teams are not just businesses but represent the 'pride' of a city or an owner, they are willing to pay overly high salaries and take on losses in an effort to win. And whereas in a normal industry, if some of the companies simply had too small a revenue base to compete, they would merge, be taken over or fold, that isn't allowed or considered acceptable in sports leagues.

A salary cap can prevent the problems of owner overspending but it brings with it its own questions. Why should owners of clubs with higher revenues basically be given a license to print money? Doesn't it seem a little artificial to force everyone to be equal? Why should ticket prices and other revenues be set by market forces if the costs (salaries) aren't?

If you're like me, there's a fundamental sense of confusion and conflicting priorities which underlies almost every aspect of the NHL that involves the commercial side of the game. We feel that an owner should make an effort to win and not just try to make as much money as possible. We feel that small market teams should have a fighting chance even though their economics don't justify it. We don't respect a player who leaves for another team because they can pay more money, at least not in comparison to the player who takes less money to stay with the team he likes. We feel that places where people care passionately about the game should have teams over places where people don't really care, even if the disinterested have more money to support a team. The same goes for ticket prices where the wealthy, leave-a-tie-game with-ten-minutes-left corporate seats in the front with the poor but enthusiastic fans in the back row just seems wrong.

All these questions come back to the same issue. On the one hand, hockey is a game which we all instinctively feel should have a certain moral code to it but at the same time hockey is a business and there are certain rules that govern how you run a sensible and ethical business. These two sets of ethics do not match.

Now, if you read my earlier post on corporate subsidies, you have probably already guessed where I am going with this (if so, you may want to skip the next three paragraphs). For those who didn't, here's a recap:

Back in 1992, Jane Jacobs wrote a book called, Systems of Survival in which she built on Plato's Republic to argue that humans have two ways of making a living: our traditional one based on control of territory and a somewhat newer one based on trading. Each of these ways of making a living has it's own set of ethics, with ethical trading relying on shunning the use of force, competing, honesty, openness to novelty, invention, collaboration with strangers and a bunch more.

In contrast, ethical territorial (or 'guardian' as Jacobs calls them) activities (such as government) rely on a different set of values including shunning trading, respect for hierarchy and tradition, loyalty and a bunch more.

In Jacobs' view, unethical behavior inevitably arises when values which are ethical in one way of making a living are used in the other way. i.e. When the two ethical systems are mixed together. An example she gives is organized crime, where the mixture of legitimate commercial activity with activities that normally only a government is allowed to perform (such as use of force) leads to a 'monstrous hybrid' of the two ethical systems.

Now suppose, for the sake of argument, that Jacobs' theory is true. That is, we have a system of ethics based on control of territory and a different, conflicting set of ethics for commercial enterprises. And that we inevitably run into problems when we mix the two.

This raises the question: Is hockey naturally a business which has been corrupted by introducing the ethics of guardian (government/military/territorial) activities or is it naturally a non-commercial enterprise which has been corrupted by the introduction of commercial values.

It seems like a no-brainer to me (but in case you need more info to make your decision I included the full list of ethics for each ethical system from Systems of Survival at the bottom of the post). I would say that from backyards, to minor hockey, to the junior leagues, to the college leagues, and even to the Olympics, hockey clearly shows itself to be naturally successful as a non-commercial enterprise.

And in fact, commentators often point to the purity of non-commercial leagues as a contrast to the impurity of the professional NHL (where people just care about the money).

So from my point of view, the true solution to the NHL's problems is to remove, as much as possible, the commercial aspect of the game. i.e. Make it an amateur league. Good modern examples of thriving amateur leagues would be the collegiate sports systems in North America (especially in the U.S.), the sports leagues for Hurling and Gaelic Football in Ireland (in which each county has a team made up of modestly paid players from that county, or the kids and adult recreational leagues in just about every sport in just about every country around the world.

Imagine for a moment, a league where if you lived in Winnipeg you would have a team made up of players from the Prairies (we'd probably give 'em Northern Ontario too), who would play for the team for their whole careers. If you had a bunch of good players in the same era from your region, you could build a dynasty; if you didn't you might face some lean years. The players would be paid enough not to need to take another job but that would be all. The team would be owned by a public body with any revenue beyond what was needed to run the team either folded into general government revenue, used to support minor sports leagues or just given to charity. The lure of big money would be reduced by keeping ticket prices as low as possible without creating big scalper markets, giving away TV rights in return for a promise to show the games with minimal commercials, and the removal of advertising from the rinks.

Sounds pretty good to me.

Even if we acknowledge that it is unrealistic to ever have that occur with the NHL, I still think it is worth knowing why it is we have the problems we do, and how, in an ideal world, they would be fixed.


For the record, I tend to sympathize with the players in the current dispute and favour a gradually steepening luxury tax (reaching punitive levels and possibly even a hard cap up around the very highest payrolls) as the best solution (among our shortsighted options) for the current problems. I might have more sympathy with the owner's need for cost certainty if they were willing to adopt revenue certainty as well and give away any revenues beyond a certain amount.

Commercial Moral Syndrome:

Shun Force
Come to Voluntary Agreements
Be Honest
Colllaborate easily with strangers and aliens
Respect Contracts
Use Initiative and Enterprise
Be Open to Inventiveness and Novelty
Be Efficient
Promote Comfort and Convenience
Dissent for the sake of the task
Invest for Productive Purposes
Be industrious
Be Thrifty
Be Optimistic

Guardian Moral Syndrome

Shun trading
Exert Prowess
Be Obedient and Disciplined
Adhere to Tradition
Respect Hierarchy
Be Loyal
Take Vengeance
Deceive for the sake of the task
Make rich use of leisure
Be Ostentatious
Dispense Largesse
Be exclusive
Show Fortitude
Be Fatalistic
Treasure Honour

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

What's Better Than a List?

So as the House of Commons shuts down for Christmas, I have to say that the minority government is going pretty well so far. They managed to sneak in a stocking stuffer for Canadians before they wrapped up, re-introducing into the house a proposal to create a 'Do-Not-Call' list which would allow people to tell telemarketers to leave them alone.

Apparently the only big hangup remaining (besides the usual public consultations) is the decision on whether or not to include charities and surveyors (especially political ones) on the list.

As John Ibbitson says in his globe article(for willing to be gouged subscribers only):

...there is no important obstacle, apart from figuring out the exemptions, to the swift passage of this legislation and the creation of the registry. Even with the obligatory round of public hearings, with any kind of luck, the registry should be up and running by early 2006. For every Canadian who has risen from the dinner table to answer the phone, only to slam it down in wrath, the day cannot come too soon.

Now don't get me wrong, the list is great - a no-brainer really - but I don't really see any reason why instead of a list we can't have a table (i.e. a spreadsheet for you computerized folks out there).

In the first column would be your name, just like on the list. Then in the second column you could have a check box for telemarketers (Y = telemarketers can call me, N means they can't). Then in the third column, you have a check box for surveyors, possibly a separate one for political surveyors. Finally in the last column you have a check box for charitable organizations.

Seems simple enough to me. Problems?

Now a really ambitious plan (I analyze data for a living, so I tend to be a bit of a geek about this stuff, so bear with me) would be to add a column with an hourly rate.

People would be able to call you, but they would have to pay you your going rate for your time. Because really in the end this is all about power. Should people have the power to invade your home life at any moment for their own selfish purposes - of course not. Should we have the power to define in detail the terms on which we are willing to participate? Sounds good to me.

today's moral: One column good, four columns better.

As an aside, I loved the name of the bill, "Bill C-37, an Act to Establish a Do-Not-Call List for Telemarketing" I think a general rule in politics is that when the names of the bills are such a clear straightforward description of what the new law will actually do, the government is on the right track. And vice-versa.

I remember when the Harris government in Ontario introduced the 'Tenant Protection Act'. Now, if the government wants to shift the balance of power from tenants to landlords a little bit, I am not necessarily opposed to that. (Trust me, I could tell you some horror stories about the rules here in B.C. and how they can unreasonably tie a landlord's hands to the detriment of some of their tenants, but that's another story). If the Harris and co. bill had been called the "Landlord Relief Act" I still would have opposed many of its more poorly thought out provisions, but I would have respected the government's integrity. But to introduce that bill and to call it the 'Tenant Protection Act' was a clear declaration that they knew the people of the province wanted Tenant Protection, while at the same time they were giving them something else. That I can't respect.

Labels: , , , , , ,

Winter in Vancouver

It's funny how the shortest days of the year often feel like the longest.

Labels: , ,

Sunday, December 12, 2004

World's Biggest Margin Account

A few posts back, I tried to (satirically) make the point that in the current 'idea-assessing' environment in the U.S., the government could propose just about anything, no matter how idiotic, and the reaction would depend more on the 'spin' than it would on how idiotic the idea was.

Turns out, I needn't have bothered, since the Bush administration decided to demonstrate it for me. Last week they announced (admitted?) that they were planning to fund Bush's plan to partially privatize their Social Security accounts1 by borrowing roughly $1 trillion (maybe $2, but who's counting).

My first reaction was, "So they want to borrow a trillion dollars, give it to the population to invest as they see fit, hope that people earn a return above the interest paid on the borrowed money and then reduce people's benefits accordingly once they retire? i.e. They want to set up the world's largest margin account?2

But people seemed to actually be taking it seriously as a proposal, so I was starting to doubt my initial reaction. Luckily, I happened upon Paul Krugman's article in the NY Times which reassured me that it was Bush, not I who was going crazy.

If you're interested in this issue, I highly recommend reading his article. In fact, if you want to read one American columnist (and you also care about my opinion) than I'd recommend Krugman - alas he is taking a break right now to work on a textbook, but he'll be back in a few months (I'll let you know).

1 For those not following this too closely, the U.S. Social Security Program is similar to the CPP in Canada whereby tax revenues from people currently working are used to provide payments to the retired. Bush wants to change the U.S. system so that each person's taxes fund their own retirement. It's not a bad idea, but, since retirees are depending on the current taxpayers for their benefits, if the taxpayers start keeping that money for their own retirement - it leaves a bit if a gaping hole, so you need to inject a lot of cash into the system to make the transition.

2 A margin account is when you borrow from your stock broker to invest more money. If you invest $5,000 but borrow $4,000 of it, then if the value of your investment goes up to $6,000 then you have made a 100% profit (because you invested $1,000 of your own money and now it's worth $2,000). Of course if the value of your investment goes down from $5,000 to $4,000 you've lost all your money (since you owe $4,000 and that's all your investment is worth). The net effect of buying on margin is to increase the risk , without any net improvement in your odds (plus you have to pay interest). So it only really makes sense if you're pretty confident about what you're investing in (or you're just a gambler at heart).

Labels: , , ,

Friday, December 10, 2004

Anti-Americanism (or something like that)

Here’s an almost true story about something which happened to me the other day. Almost true because I changed one little detail, see if you can spot it.


So I was at the gym listening to the radio and they were doing a typical contest call-in or whatever, and the dj asked the woman on the phone where she lived and she said she lived on America Drive.

Well, you can imagine the reaction. Basically the dj told her she should move to a different street because nobody liked people from America.

So it got me thinking about this Anti-Americanism. And it’s true, people here do make jokes about how all Americans think their home is the center of the world and how they don’t care or know much about the people anywhere else. They tend to get a little more excited when they beat the Americans at sports. And they certainly complain about the politicians from America and remember all the ways those policies made in America have hurt them, even going back 30 years. They take a childish pleasure in seeing bad things happen to Americans or in getting a chance to one-up them in any way. They come up with derogatory nicknames for America and for things American. And they give you funny looks when they find out that you are (like I am) from America.

Yes, this anti-Americanism is some pretty serious business; it’s almost enough to make me feel like I’m not welcome here. It’s a good thing I’ve got such a thick skin.


OK, so did you guess what I changed? Well the station I was listening to was from Vancouver (95.3) and the person lived on Toronto St., not America Drive. So substitute Toronto (or Ontario), for America everywhere in my story (including me being from Ontario, not the U.S.) and you have the true version.

So what’s my point? That we need to do something about the serious problem of Anti-Torontoism in various parts of Canada? No, it’s that people who get worked up over Anti-Americanism should chill out and acknowledge the natural relationship between the peripheral and the central, between the relatively big and the relatively small.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Hypothetical Scenario for the Day

Suppose for a moment that you have lived a long life and that you know you are nearing its end. You struggled financially some years ago and piled up some debts, but you got things in order and you've managed to pay about a third of them off. Now you have to decide how to spend your last few years. Do you:

a) Do what you can to pay off more of your debts before you pass on
b) Buy a new car, and leave your remaining debts for your children to deal with.


Just something to think about every time you hear someone recommend that we stop paying down the principal on our (roughly) $500 billion national mortgage so that we can devote more money to tax cuts or spending increases this year.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Parable of the (Digital) Loaves

Over at his ‘jealousy-inducing-because-it-looks-nicer-than-mine’ blog, “On the Fence”, Kelly Nestruck has a post up on the ‘stale’ topic of music downloading. Seeing it inspired me to write my own take on the intellectual property issue and I figured if it is indeed a stale topic, then bread should make a good metaphor:


Once upon a time in the peaceful, harmonious country of Ipland, Mr. A was walking down the street with a loaf of bread in his hand. But before he could even take a single bite, Mr. C snuck up behind him, grabbed the loaf and ran off down the street.

Such a thing had never been seen before in Ipland, so once Mr. A got over his shock, he went to the police. The efficient police of Ipland soon found Mr. C and he was brought before the chief judge in the land, Queen B, who handed down her ruling on whether this new activity should be allowed or not:

“I have been charged to look after the welfare of the people of this land,” pronounced Queen B, “and I see no net benefit to them in allowing one person to take something from another. What is gained by one is lost by another, and who will make or buy bread if it can just be taken from them. If we are forced to divert our energies to protecting our possessions instead of enjoying them than we will all be poorer. Henceforth we will call this activity ‘theft’ and it will not be permitted in Ipland.”

Mr. C recognized the wisdom of Queen B’s ruling, but he was not easily dissuaded from getting Mr. A’s bread and he soon came up with a new plan. The next time Mr. A walked down the street, Mr. C approached him, from the front this time.
“Please sir,” he said to Mr. A, “may I just borrow your loaf for a moment?”
Mr. A was suspicious, but he knew that stealing had been outlawed so he warily handed over the loaf. Mr. C took the loaf in his left hand, waved his right hand and said the magic word, “Kazaam!” There was a soft clicking sound and then, there in his right hand, was another loaf of bread, exactly like the one Mr. A had been carrying in every detail! Mr. C smiled, handed the original loaf back to Mr. A and continued walking down the street with his new loaf.
He couldn’t put his finger on it, but Mr. A felt that there must be something wrong with what Mr. C had done, so he once more called in the police and once more Queen B delivered a verdict:

“So you had a loaf of bread before you met up with Mr. C?” she asked Mr. A, “and then you still had the same loaf of bread after you met up with Mr. C? It seems like you were not harmed at all. And this new magic Mr. C has developed means that even if we only have one loaf of bread in our land, we will be able to feed the whole country. We will call this great blessing copying and it shall be permitted everywhere in the land.”

Now most men would have been satisfied with this, but Mr. C was a restless fellow and it wasn’t long before he came up with yet another plan. This new plan was so bold that he was called upon to propose it to the Queen at the general assembly where all the people from the land would come together.
“Listen,” he said to Queen B and the assembled people. “Thanks to my new copying procedure, we all have as much bread as we want, but is it not true that our bread is a little tougher, a little less flavourful than it could be? I have developed a new bread, one that tastes much better than the old bread.”

There was a great rush of murmuring and whispering from the crowd. “Well then”, said the Queen, “what is the problem? Present us with this new bread and we shall make copies for everyone and we will all be better off.”

“But what about me”, replied Mr. C, “if everyone just makes copies of my new bread, how I will be compensated for all my hard work in developing it? Why should I even bother giving it to you and not just keep it for myself?”

“Shame!” cried Mr. A from near the back of the assembled crowd, “nobody forced you to develop this new bread, why should we have to pay you just to make copies of it – it’s not like we’re harming you or taking anything away from you by just making copies.

“Fine,” replied Mr. C, “I’ll just go then and leave you to your stale, dry bread.”

“Wait”, said the Queen, “truly you have presented me with your most difficult case yet, Mr. C. On the one hand, my people’s interest is to have the best bread available at the cheapest price. On the other hand, if there isn’t an incentive for people to develop new bread, we’ll always be stuck with the old stuff. Therefore, I propose that....


OK, what should the Queen propose?

a) The fame and glory of having his bread eaten by all should be enough for Mr. C. His new bread can be copied freely throughout the land, and if he chooses not to offer it, then we will live with our old bread.

b) For the next 5 years, anyone wishing to make a copy of Mr. C’s bread will have to send him a donation of 1 penny. After this time, he should have received adequate compensation for his bread and it can then be freely copied.

c) Nobody can make a copy of Mr. C’s bread unless they pay him whatever he asks for it. This rule will apply forever, with the right to charge for Mr. C’s bread passed down to his children and to their children and so on.

d) Something else? (Opinions welcome)


So what’s my point? Mainly that, when people (industry lobby groups primarily) try to convince you that downloading is piracy or that copying is theft, they are, quite simply, wrong. Furthermore, they are deliberately confusing different terms and ideas in an attempt to manipulate you into feeling guilty about something you have no reason to feel guilty about.

Theft is one thing, copying is another. The key distinction is that theft involves taking things while you make copies. The true justification for intellectual property rules is solely as an incentive for the development of new ideas/products and intellectual property rights should only be extended as far as is necessary to provide a genuine incentive – not further.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Bravo to Our Primary & Secondary Schools

According to today's globe, Canadian students are falling back in OECD tests.

Meanwhile, according to the headline in the Vancouver Sun, B.C. students are among the world's best in reading, math and science (registration required).

Personally, I recommend going straight to the source, the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The report is free to download, and even if you don't like numbers and tables as much as I do, it still makes for fascinating reading.

Basically PISA has done two studies of reading, math and science skills among 15 year olds, the first in 2000 and the second in 2003.

Here are some of the key points about Canada's performance:

1) We rank near the top in math (5th in OECD) and reading (3rd), and a little bit further back in science (8th).

2) Neither our absolute or relative ranking has changed very significantly since 2000. The only statistically significant changes were an improvement in one area of mathematics, a small decrease in scores among our top scoring readers and a general (albeit small) decline in science.

3) Canada scores very high on almost all measures of equal opportunity for students. We have one of the smallest variations in score based on economic background, which school you attend, social background or immigrant status. On gender gaps we were roughly in the middle of the pack (girls do much better on reading, guys do a little better on math and it's a dead heat in science).

4) For those who like to compare us to the U.S., there is no comparison. The U.S. is below average on just about every measure while the reverse is true in Canada. And this is despite the U.S. spending roughly 33% more than we do per student ($79,716k vs $59,810 in equivalent U.S. dollars).

The only real messages I take out of it for us are:

1) The system is working pretty well, any suggestion of a crisis or a need for radical change should be viewed with deep suspicion.
2) We need to focus more effort on science education
3) The example of leaders such as Finland and Korea show that we could do even better if we have the will.
4) The Globe should take a lesson from the Vancouver Sun in writing accurate headlines. I can't imagine someone reading this report and not having the 'Canada is kicking ass' reaction outweigh the 'Canada is falling behind' reaction.

I'm not saying there isn't room for improvement or that we should just sit back and relax, just that we should acknowledge that what we have is pretty impressive.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, December 06, 2004

What About Logic? - One Stop Shopping For Bad Arguments Against Banning Trans-Fats

I've already talked about the trans-fat ban over on the e-group but today's column (subscription required) by Lysiane Gagnon was so irritating that I had to devote an entire post to it.

She starts with a multi-paragraph ode to Tenderflake, and then says:

Practically all parliamentarians blindly followed the NDP into this new crusade, as if the house was on fire and we were all about to die from an overdose of trans fats.

1) Did the people who voted against the ban 'blindly oppose it' - or does the word 'blindly' only apply to people with the wrong opinion?

2) Crusade? - hyperbole anyone? Actually, crusade is one of those shorthand words columnists seem to use when they want to convey an impression without backing it up with an argument. I'll be sure to include an entry for it when I compile my Canadian columnist dictionary (someday, someday).

3) Presumably, if they thought the house was on fire, they wouldn't have voted to set up a committee to study the issue for a year to come up with a sensible way to implement a ban (OK, they're politicians, they might indeed do that if the house was on fire, but I still think it's a misleading impression of the action they took here).

Next up:

But, hey, let's calm down. A pie for eight persons requires two tablespoons of shortening. This makes a quarter of a tablespoon a person — not enough, certainly, to end up in a cardiac ward!

And I suppose if a typical Canadian's average lifetime exposure to trans-fat was to eat an eighth of a pie, this might possibly be relevant. Joking aside, the reason for the ban is that scientists figure thousands of Canadians have ended up in the cardiac ward due to trans-fat consumption.

On a roll, she continues with my favourite bit:

The same, actually, could be said of any food, even of supposedly healthy food. Taken in excess, anything can be bad for your health, even milk, yogurt, lentils, fibre, tomatoes and olive oil. On Friday, this newspaper's health page even warned us that drinking too much water could be terrible for our kidneys. A healthy diet is made up of a little bit of everything — including, yes, an occasional bowl of oily chips or a handful of fat-laden cookies. The only rule lies in a single word: moderation.

I'm no health expert, but presumably Dr. Walter Willett (from the Harvard School of Public Health) is. He's quoted in an article on the CTV website as saying: ""trans fats have no place in a healthy diet."

Look, it's simple, if something is good for you, it still needs to be taken in moderation. This DOES NOT apply if something is just plain bad for you.

She goes on:
Why was Parliament in such a hurry to pass a motion calling for a full ban of processed trans fats from food sold in Canada within a year? Even though the food industry has started to move in this direction, it hasn't yet developed acceptable substitutes to ensure texture and shelf life of pre-packaged food (only people who don't cook and don't shop think these are unimportant considerations).

Is it maybe just possible that food isn't meant to last for a year?

What is certain is that consumers will absorb the cost of the research. This may be why no other country except Denmark resorted to such a radical solution — not even France, which is at the forefront of the battle against genetically modified organisms and where people are highly sensitive about the quality of their food.

Or maybe it's because we are only starting to realize the true impact of trans-fat and Canada is ahead of the curve for once. Or maybe it's because the food lobby is stronger in other countries. And to be honest, if my government decided to leave something harmful in my food supply because otherwise I'd have to absorb the increased cost of accelerating research which was being done anyway, I wouldn't be all that impressed. Bring on the research costs - if a Mars bar is still worth it to me, I'll buy it, if not, I'll buy something else.

The French have adopted the sensible solution of requiring clear labelling, so consumers know what they are buying. Are Canadians so dumb they couldn't learn to decipher labels and make an informed choice?

This is a straw man, the problem is not being informed (it's easy to pick out trans-fat in an ingredient list already), the problem is having a choice. A label won't help if all your choices contain the same ingredient in the same quantity (as they do now). And it won't help at restaurants, when visiting friends or pretty much any time you eat something you didn't shop for yourself.

After a bit of rambling we get to the big finale:

"And what about logic? In Canada, tobacco products are freely sold, even though they are noxious and a major cause of cancers. Alcohol is also freely sold, even though it can lead to countless diseases. And now Parliament intends to decriminalize the use of pot, which can be harmful to teenagers. The country's leaders, meanwhile, are all worked up about Oreo cookies. This is more than illogical — it's ridiculous!!"

OK, it's a bit late now, but what about logic? Is there a logical distinction to be made between tobacco/alcohol/pot and trans-fat?

The short answer is yes. Tobacco/alcohol/pot are all stand-alone products which people consume knowing the risks involved because the benefits of the harmful substance outweigh the risk (in their opinion). Everybody can make their own choice to consume or not consume these products without it affecting anything other than their consumption of that specific product. And because people want these benefits, banning these items will lead to a black market.

Now consider lead. Nobody ever went out to consume lead saying, I know this lead is going to kill me but I just like it too much so it's worth it to me. People wanted to paint a wall so they went out and bought paint, or they wanted to drive a car so they went and bought gas.

Lead is now banned (in most cases) but tobacco/alcohol/pot are not.

Which one is trans-fat more like. A stand-alone product you consume because it offers benefits to you which outweigh the risks? Or an ingredient in another product which you use for a purpose unrelated to the effect of the harmful substance.

More to the point, will banning trans-fat lead to the development of a black market because people are willing to pay so much extra for products with a longer shelf life?

Banning trans-fat isn't a crusade, it hasn't been rushed into, it's not illogical and it's definitely not ridiculous with two exclamation points - it's just a sensible idea that will make life a little better and a little healthier for the people of Canada.

Labels: , , , , ,

On the Bright Side

I've generally been tuning out the whole Judy Sgro - stripper affair, but I can't help thinking:

If it's really true that so few Canadian women are willing (or feel compelled) to do what we apparently need to import Eastern European women to do in order for the Strip Club industry to prosper, doesn't that suggest that as a society we're doing something right?

Labels: ,

Hypothetical Question For the Day

I wonder how the U.S. would react if China (or Russia, India, France or whoever) decided to 'bring democracy to Saudi Arabia'?

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 04, 2004

When Competition Goes Bad

Interesting article in the National Post today (that alone is noteworthy!) about corporate welfare.

The article is primarily about a recent court victory by Ralph Nader which argued that state subsidies to lure businesses to set up there were a form of illegal discrimination against other states.

It's a pretty good article and it almost gets right to the heart of the matter when the author (Peter Foster) argues that,
"As Nobel economist James Buchanan noted several years ago, politicians are every bit as self-interested as market actors. The difference is that private actors in free markets do, as Adam Smith pointed out, a "good that is no part of their intention." Political actors invariably do unintentional damage."

Unfortunately, in his haste Foster oversimplifies matters in saying that the private sector always achieves good by following its self-interest while the public sector does the opposite. When private actors dump toxins into our environment for their own benefit, no unintentional good is done. When public actors ensure that police forces are properly trained, staffed and free from corruption this is both in their own self-interest and good for the public as well.

I would argue that private actors achieve an unintentional good not through all their actions, but when they are in competition with each other while public actors do harm when they compete with one another.

Let's look at an example. Suppose Ford wants to open a new auto plant somewhere in North America. Suppose further that whatever state/province the plant moves to will get a total financial benefit (lower unemployment, higher tax revenue etc.) of $100 million. Ford wants to keep its costs as low as possible (which is good for the public) because of its competition with other auto-makers.

Now suppose that Ontario offers Ford $10 million to put the plant there. This is perfectly reasonable since there will be a net benefit to Ontario of $90 million. Seeing this, Alabama offers $50 million, and Ohio then offers $80 million, and so on. In the end, because it can play one jurisdiction against one another, Ford can capture and keep pretty much all of the social benefits of it's new plant.

I am reminded of Jane Jacobs brilliant book, Systems of Survival, in which she builds on Plato's Republic, to argue that humans have two ways of making a living: our traditional one based on control of territory and a somewhat newer one based on trading. Each of these ways of making a living has it's own set of ethics, with ethical trading relying on shunning the use of force, competing, honesty, openness to novelty, invention, collaboration with strangers and a bunch more.

In contrast, ethical territorial activities (such as government) rely on a different set of values including shunning trading, respect for hierarchy and tradition, loyalty and a bunch more.

In Jacobs' view, unethical behavior arises when values which are ethical in one way of making a living are used in the other way. As an example of what happens when governmental organizations adopt commercial tactics she documents a case where a consultant to a police organization recommended introducing market incentives to the force by financially rewarding officers based on how many arrests they made (basically, putting them on commission). As you might expect, the whole thing unravelled amid numerous false and marginal arrests being made. Jacobs could just as well have used governments competing over the location of a new factory as an example of what goes wrong when a commercial value like competition is introduced into a territorial (governmental) system.

In the end, the Post hopes that Nader's actions will end the corporate welfare by appealing directly to the courts to tie the government's hands. Still, I think if they want to provide the subsidies, state and provincial government will find a way to skirt the law (and I'm sure the corporate law troops will only be too happy to help.) The true solution would be to move jurisdiction over subsidies to multinational companies under federal jurisdiction instead of state/provincial. Of course as a global problem (Many companies can build new plants pretty much any where on the globe) it really needs to be dealt with by a global government. A global government wouldn't be in competition with any other jurisdictions and would therefore be able to protect the global public interest, but that may still be a few years off (we're doomed without it, but alas, that's no guarantee it will happen).

Labels: , , , , ,

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home

So Bush came to town and tried to sell us on joining up with the States' wacky "lasers from space", a.k.a. "missile defence" plan.

The thing I find odd about Canada-U.S. relations is how many people (mostly, but not entirely from the 'right wing') believe that Canada should do things we don't like because if we don't we will be punished by the U.S.

Now admittedly, there are situations where this is a prudent course of action. For example, if someone has kidnapped a family member and is demanding a $100 ransom for their release, it seems logical to pay them, as distasteful as that may seem. But if you keep getting hostages taken time and time again, any normal person would look for a way to change the dynamics of the situation.

So, the part that really puzzles me, is that a number of commentators don't seem to really mind this state of affairs where Canadians are forced into policies we don't like (appeasement on trade issues, unnecessarily tough stance on pot use, etc.) because of our fear of retribution from the U.S. In fact you never hear them say something like, "Well, we have to go along in this case, but we need to take steps so that we can do what we want without fear of retribution in the future" or even less likely, "we may be punished for doing this, but it's worth paying the price in order for us to maintain our independence and do what we think is right."

I can't help wondering if the people who take this approach view the Canadian public as an unruly child which stubbornly won't go along with what they (the nagging mother) think they should do. As a result, they resort to telling the public to wait until their father (the U.S.) gets home, and then they'll be sorry they didn't change their ways sooner.

Unfortunately, I don't have any good examples of this type of reasoning on hand at that moment, but I'll keep an eye out and post them if I do. I'm guessing that if you read the news regularly, you know what I'm talking about.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Start digging already!

Yet another vote on the RAV (Richmond-Airport-Vancouver) transit project in Vancouver today. Is it expensive? - sure (roughly $1.8 billion - or over $300 per B.C. resident), but what's the alternative - perpetual gridlock and sprawl.

Once thing is for sure, with the Olympics coming, building costs only likely to rise as time goes by, gridlock on the north-south streets getting worse every year and with funding already lined up from the federal govt, the provincial govt and the airport, there will never be a better time than right now to get this thing started.

Hopefully today's vote will do just that.

Update: The vote was indeed in favour, now's lets just hope the whole thing comes in on time / on budget (not likely with a project of this size / complexity, but maybe the P3 structure of the deal will help - we'll see.)

Update (July 17, 2009): They did start digging - the project is due to be finished in the next month or two, ahead of schedule by a couple of months and over budget (by 20-30%, depending on how you measure), but less so than most projects undertaken in the last few years.

Labels: ,