Crawl Across the Ocean

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Break Out the Champagne (10L? woo-hoo!)

This is just a little nano-post to celebrate the site reaching 5 digits in total visitors (thanks to all of you). Next stop 100,000*.


* Unlike previous milestone posts, this time I'm not sure if I'll make the next one. I have no plans to quit, but at current traffic rates, 100,000 will occur roughly around Christmas 2008, which is a long time from now - heck it's like 3 or 4 federal elections away. I guess time will tell.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

CEO overpay cons

It's always interesting to see what searches bring people to this site. So far my favourite was a recent visitor who searched for "CEO overpay cons" - a search for which this site comes up a respectable 8th on google.

In honour of that search I direct your attention to this post by pogge in which he rightly takes Thomas d'Aquino (president of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives) to task for his hysterical, hyperbolic reaction to the deal between Paul Martin and Jack Layton to cancel corporate tax cuts in the federal budget.

Says Thomas,
"By reneging on the corporate tax cuts in the 2005 budget, the deal announced today will sacrifice Canada's ability to foster more high-paying jobs and to ensure that our economy grows fast enough to pay for the massive federal commitments to expanding social programs and equalization payments,"

As pogge notes, given that the federal corporate tax rate has already been reduced from 28% to 21% since 2000, it seems a bit absurd for supposedly serious people to be making statements that not cutting the rate further for a few years is going have some huge negative impact on our economy.

Personally, I think Paul Martin should have stuck to his guns on this one, and on principle I worry about deals which increase spending but don't increase revenue to pay for it (the spending occurs now while the corporate tax cuts didn't take effect for a few years - and Martin is now telling the Conservatives he's going to go ahead with the cuts anyway), but we're not talking about a huge amount of money on the scale of the federal government and it would be nice to discuss it like adults rather than having flacks like d'Aquino making ridiculous statements with no connection to reality.

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Personal Note #2 - I Hate Moving

Perhaps it's not surprising that I hate moving since, by my count, this weekend will mark my 21st move (covering 8 cities) in the last 12 years. Anyway, blogging may take a bit of a backseat to packing and unpacking over the next week or so.


Personal Note #1 - Uncle Dec

With all due respect to Spirinez, the star of my 'family and friends' blogroll is clearly my sister Trish's Journey To (and with) Faith which tracks their (her and her husband's) progress in adopting a baby girl (named Faith) from China. If you're interested in adopting - especially from China - or just interested in that kind of thing generally, I recommend it.

Fortunately (for me) the trip back from China with the baby included a one night stopover in Vancouver, so my girlfriend and I made the trip out to the hotel to see little Faith - quite an experience. As Trish mentions on her blog, I planned to buy Faith a ball to make sure she wasn't just given a bunch of 'girly' presents, but the only suitable ball I could find was a 'My Little Pony' ball. I guess we'll call that a mission semi-accomplished.

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The Last Days of Paul Martin

Interesting times at the Federal parliament these days, what with Paul Martin taking Jack Layton up on his offer to support the Liberal's minority government in return for changing the budget to get rid of some corporate tax cuts and increase spending on students, the environment and foreign aid (among other things).

My thoughts on this are pretty much Calgary Grit's thoughts. I'd be surprised if this modified budget ever gets passed and it looks like we'll be heading to another election soon - an election where the big story will be how much Liberal support collapses and whether it defects to the NDP, the Conservatives or the Greens.

It's a good thing that nobody can take away Paul Martin's legacy as the Finance Minister who helped put (and keep) our fiscal house in order, since I'm guessing that the history books will (somewhat unfairly) not look too kindly upon his brief time as Prime Minister.

While I'm on the topic of CalgaryGrit, check out this post as well, if only for the excellent title. I wish I'd come up with that one.

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Monday, April 25, 2005

Were #32! - and #58

Via #21, Capitalist pig vs. Socialist Swine, in turn via #1 (and #23 and #24) Warren Kinsella, check out this link for a much more interesting honours project than I ever undertook while I was in school.

As I understand it, the author, Wayne Chu, wrote a webcrawler (a computer program which roams around the web following links from site to site) consisting of essentially 3 parts: a module to validate whether a site was a blog or not, an algorithm for proceeding from one blog to the blogs it is linked to, and an iterative formula for ranking blogs - and then he set the crawler loose in the Canadian blogosphere.

The appendix in the report contains a list of the top #100 Canadian political blogs according to his crawler. Based on the top #100, it seems like the crawler had the good sense not to venture too deeply into the Conservative side of the blogosphere, and as Wayne admits in the paper, the blog validator could use some tweaking as the odd newspaper article snuck through. Plus, some simple de-duping (like google's 'omitted similar search results') might clean up the list.

But don't let my quibbles give you the wrong impression, this paper is really quite an excellent piece of work and well worth a read. And I'm not just saying that because it ranked CAtO ahead of both Coyne and Wells... (I'm guessing the crawler didn't like Wells since, when it comes to following links to Canadian political blogs, he's a bit of a dead end, sort of a blogospheric black hole, many links go in but none come out, you get the picture).

Speaking of Wells, his last post on the relatively small size of the corporate tax cut which the NDP is demanding that the Liberals repeal in exchange for their support of the budget, is a good one. Even though his description of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives as a "strictly and scrupulously non-partisan" organization, while tongue in cheek, still makes me want to reconsider my membership in the Alliance of non-partisan bloggers. Any club that would have Tom D'Aquino as a member is one I'd rather not join.

Did I mention we're #32?

I know, enough meta-blogging. I'll get back to policy soon, I promise.

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Sunday, April 24, 2005

Blogging Alliance of Non-Partisan Canadians

Regulars on the Canadian political blog scene will know that there is a group of bloggers known as the Blogging Tories. More recently, Robert McLelland of HisBlahg has decided to set up a group of blogging New Democrats.

Over at his blog, James Bow explains why setting up blogging 'alliances' can be beneficial to alliance members (because it translates into more links which in turn means a higher profile on sites which measure blog popularity by linkage and it also generates a little more traffic).

Personally, I am uncomfortable about the idea of aligning myself with a particular party. I still haven't decided whether to vote green, ndp or liberal (note: this is a right wing party) in the fast approaching B.C. election, and my vote in the next Federal election could be wildly different from my provincial one. In fact I think I've already voted for at least 4 different parties in the relatively short time I've been voting.

Luckily James has a solution for this, as he is creating the Blogging Alliance of Non-Partisan Canadians. I guess the risk here is that if the members of the Alliance end up having nothing in common then what's the point. But in an ideal world, this alliance could be made up of open-minded folks willing to look at each issue and topic on its own merits with a clean slate, not always viewing things through a partisan filter. I guess we'll see.

In James' words,
"Do you refuse to be tied down to a particular party or ideology? Would you rather talk about culture, religion, the latest books or anything other than politics? Are you sick of being left out because you’re not a card-carrying Tory or New Democrat? Then join the blogging community that takes in those that all the other communities leave out in the cold. Become a card-carrying non-partisan blogger.

Seriously, folks: the Blogging Alliance of Non-Partisan Canadians has few rules about who can join. You should be a Canadian. You should be non-partisan — meaning, not a card-carrying member of a political party, and not firmly identified with a political party. You can be reasonably certain of who you intend to vote for, but if you feel that you have an open mind and can be convinced by persuasive arguments to change your vote, this alliance is for you. "

Anyway, as you've probably guessed, I'm signing up so as soon as I get the technical details sorted, the list of alliance members should show up on the ol' blogroll.

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Friday, April 22, 2005

Blogging Dilemmas

Over at Voice in the Wilderness, Timmy eloquently follows up on Rob (from One Damn Thing After Another)'s earlier post in which he wonders what the best response is to idiotic and offensive stuff like David Frum's recent NY Times column in which he suggested that, unlike the U.S., Canada was immature because of the corruption in *our* politics.

As Rob says,
"right now, the conversation is entirely about Frum’s comments. What’s more, it pushes progressives into the uncomfortable and ill-fitting role of defenders of the status quo… which we actually feel needs some serious changes."

but as Timmy replies,
"There are many things one can bring oneself to ignore. If I responded viscerally to every outrage perpetrated by the far right, I'd be fresh out of viscera, but to never respond is to completely surrender the media landscape to the extremists."

It seems hard to imagine a blogger running out of viscera(!), but Timmy has a point here, as he does later on when he notes that it's not always about framing or controlling the debate,
"To ignore the Frums and the Coulters and the O'Reillys completely is to invite madness from their constant repetition, their undying contempt, their naked hate and the disturbing ease with which they peddle their lies. Sometimes, a response is really a form of therapeutic scream, and occasionally - occasionally, mind you - that's reason enough [to] vent."

In the end I can't really completely answer Rob's question (when to respond, when to ignore, and what the most constructive course of action is) either. I think that for the most part I lean towards ignoring the nonsense and the stuff which just irritates me rather than wasting any energy or time on it (no post on Frum's column here).

But I make a distinction between people like Frum who, while smug and irritating and seemingly willing to betray his own intelligence to score points with those he seeks approval from, is simply making a poorly argued case for his agenda, and people like Coulter for whom reason and logic and facts are clearly just a thin veneer covering up an agenda which looks to exploit the depths of human anger, irrationality and hatred for personal or ideological gain.

It's when this latter group, which should be confined to the lunatic fringe, starts to work its way into the mainstream (and Time is one of the most widely circulated magazines on the planet) that I feel like something has to be said, if for no other reason than so that, looking back, I can say that I wasn't completely silent in the face of the legitimization of hatred.

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Speechfest Roundup

Well, since I'm a night owl who lives on the West Coast, maybe I'm in a good position to offer a roundup of what my favourite bloggers are saying about today's little speeches (my own thoughts are in the post below this one).

Paul Wells figures that Martin accomplished his main goal, delaying the election:
"Martin wins the big play. It is a moment of consummate irony: it's the play Chrétien used against him. "OK, I'll leave, but on my schedule." I will be amazed if the next three days' polls don't show overwhelming support for letting Gomery report."
and he also identifies Layton as a big winner for focussing on some actual issues.

pogge agrees that Layton made a favourable impression, after rounding up some favourable Layton comments he notes:
"They're all talking about Jack Layton on an equal footing with Martin, Harper and Duceppe in the midst of a scandal that involves Liberal corruption, the possible fall of a government and national unity issues. That in itself is a victory. The fact that they all say nice things is gravy."

Timmy at Voice in the Wilderness disagrees with Wells and figures that Martin's effort, while valiant, wasn't enough,
"This is a stink that will live with the Liberal Party for a long time. I truly believe Martin is unfairly tainted by it, but it doesn't make him any less damaged goods. Life is unfair, and politics even more so."

Andrew at Bound by Gravity figures that Layton came off the best of the bunch and is well positioned to be the one to observe that most people on the centre-left figured Layton did a good job while most of the right were unimpressed (what does this say about Andrew himself?):
"Remember - it doesn't matter what a CPC voter thinks of Layton's performance (he'll never get our votes) - only what the left-leaning voter thinks matters to Jack."

Andrew Spicer agrees with Timmy
"Let's get used to it...

* There will be a new election soon
* There will be a Prime Minister Harper"

and figures he could live with that if it's only a minority government.

CalgaryGrit figures Layton was the best of the bunch but is skeptical that the whole TV appearance had any impact,
"Basically, I don't think this will make a huge difference. Everyone rehashed what they've been saying for the past few weeks. Martin looked really good, but he was followed up by half an hour of opposition leaders who also looked good bashing him. Still, he'll get most of the media clips so it was likely worth the risk. I'll be very curious to see if this has any real impact on voters - my gut tells me no, but we'll see."

The Gritty one also echoes my reaction and commenter Neil at Andrew Spicer in decrying the 4 pm start on the West Coast.

Adam Radwanski makes a good point (in my opinion) that even if Martin wins (on getting the election delayed) he loses,
"What he's still trying to do is win the Gomery debate, which is impossible. The only way for the Liberals to win the next election is to make it about something other than the Adscam. But what he's effectively done is ensure that, whenever the election is, it'll be almost exclusively about the scandal. Hell, he more or less promised as much."

Greg at Sinister Thoughts thought Layton made a good impression and warns Harper not to get too overconfident,
"Harper looks like a guy who thinks he has the world by the balls. He already thinks he has a majority. He must, he brought up a "made in Canada" environment plan again. Forget about honoring Kyoto, that's so last week. Remember Mr. Harper, you lost the election in a weekend last time. Don't count your seats before the votes are counted."

Alan at Gen X at 40 figures that Martin did well, but won't win the election. He also calls Harper on some mistakes,
"Harper did not do well. There is nothing stopping Paul Martin from the TV spot and Harper was wrong to imply here was any time of convention relating to the Prime Minister presenting on the TV. Harper wrongly said that Martin asked to be the one to fix the scandal. Martin said the opposite. He said he will call the election for 30 days after the final report."

Damian at Babbling Brooks focusses on what he felt was Harper's best line (when he suggested that non-Quebecers shouldn't let Quebecers get ahead of them in the demanding accountability sweepstakes), noting that,
"In three sentences, the man praises the integrity of Quebec voters (nurturing nascent CPC support), and challenges the Rest of Canada (read: Vote-Rich Ontario) to demonstrate the same degree of principle. From where I sit, the subtle jab at Ontarian pride is brilliant - especially given the implication that Quebec is setting the standard. If they were listening - a big if, I know - Canadians in the Centre of the Universe won't sit still for that."
He also sees no reason to wait on an election.

Justin at Flash Point Canada is proud of Martin.

Cathie from Canada liked Martin's performance and figured that circumstances could be working in Layton's favour,
"So if Layton becomes the government's saviour over the next month, this could be Layton's big chance to shuck his Toronto-alderman-not-ready-for-prime-time image and finally demonstrate to the country that he IS a leader."

Sean Incognito nicely matches tonight's speakers with their film noir alter egos.

JimBobby wasn't too impressed with the decision to hold a national broadcast on such a trivial topic and doesn't figure it will help Martin anyway,
"I reckon it don't matter whether we hold the vote today or next January, the GrittyFellers is all washed up - leastwise fer the next 10 years or so."

Matthew at Living in a Society is still pretty upset about the whole affair:
I give Martin some credit for trying to take responsibility but it is far too little, far too late.

Finally, Darren Barefoot is more of an issues guy, and thus was easily most impressed with Layton:
"I'm not crazy about Layton's party, but he's by far the best speaker, and is far succinct that his fellow speakers. It's also the best-written speech, pointed without being catty. He wins my respect by not focusing on the scandal, but on what government should be doing instead of the scandal."

So what does it all mean? My general impression is that in the short term, the centre-left of the spectrum was impressed by Layton seeing that the country still needs to be governed and felt that Martin made, if not the best, then at least an improvement out of a bad situation. People were generally non-committal / negative about Harper's performance with a lot of negative comments about his speaking ability / posture / mannerisms etc.

Notwithstanding all that, the general feeling is that when an election comes, it's not going to go well for the Liberals. Where there's most disagreement is on the timing of the election. My feeling is that unless the polls consistently, overwhelmingly show the public is against having an election now, the Conservatives and Bloc will be unable to wait. Not waiting likely won't cost the Bloc anything but it may backfire on the Conservatives.

One thing which will be interesting to see is how many voters aren't willing to vote for any of the three main parties under the circumstances. Anyway, it should be an interesting year - it's too bad about policy.

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Thursday, April 21, 2005

Here's Hoping

Well after Paul Martin's little speech tonight, it looks like an election this year (sooner or later) is a sure thing. With that in mind, here are a few of my hopes for the coming year in federal politics:

Here's hoping that at the end of the Gomery inquiry and the subsequent criminal investigations we will be able to sort through all the accusations and denials and blame passing so that those who were innocent will have their names cleared and those who betrayed the public trust will get the punishment they deserve.

Here's hoping that all parties take from this mess a clear message that Canadians have no tolerance for the corruption of our political processes.

Here's hoping that they don't take the message that it's better to sweep this kind of thing under the rug rather than hold an inquiry to find out the truth.

Here's hoping that the damage done to relations between Québec and the federal government can be repaired. While I only lived in Québec briefly, I have a lot of respect for Québec and Quebecers and this country would be much the poorer for their absence.

Here's hoping that people don't read into this affair that all politicians and civil servants are crooks and liars. I'm certainly no insider but I've held a few jobs in both the Federal and Provincial civil service and, in my experience, the vast majority of both politicians and civil servants are people of sincerity and integrity. In fact, one of the drawbacks of working in government for me is that there is so much concern for accountability and transparency that sometimes it's hard to get things done (i.e. you have to have an open competitive bidding process to buy a stapler). Having said that...

Here's hoping that every party comes into the next campaign with a platform which includes clear, sensible changes to the rules and procedures of government to ensure that this kind of thing can't happen again - and that nobody asks us to just trust them because they're not the Chrétien Liberals and they wouldn't do that kind of thing. Maybe Andrew Coyne could be put in charge of this.

Here's hoping that if the Liberals win the next election they don't take it to mean that they can get away with just about anything and still get elected.

Here's hoping that if the Conservatives win the next election they stick to policies like clean government, good financial management, effective environmental stewardship, and care for the less fortunate members of society - policies that a majority of Canadians support - and that they don't go down the fiscally reckless, corporate giveaway, scapegoating of the poor and minority road like other right wing governments have done in the last 10 years in North America.

Here's hoping that if the NDP gains power from an election that they use it to bring in proportional representation so we no longer have to worry about people elected by 40% of the population governing like they got 100% of the votes.

Here's hoping that our unelected network executives will bow to the will of the people and allow the Green Party leader to participate in the televised debates. Now more than ever Canadians need to be informed that they have more options than a choice between the ghosts of corruption present and corruption past.

But most of all, here's hoping that among all the politicking and maneuvering for position and breathless horserace reporting, people and politicians actually manage to find some time to debate some issues and to move forward on legislation to make the lives of Canadians better which, last time I checked, was what government was supposed to be about.

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Wednesday, April 20, 2005


While researching my post on polls I came across this discouraging poll which estimated that 44% of Canadians believe the Federal government is running a deficit - up from 37% two years ago! Yikes.

Of course, when was the last time you saw the results of any poll / survey / test / whatever and your reaction was, 'wow, people really seem to be informed about what's going on'? There seems to generallly be a wide gap between what people know and what we (I?) think they should know.


It's been a while since I linked to 'No More Shall I Roam', but the last two posts there are both worth a look. This one on why we need science to be able to truly understand the world around us is a gem.

Also, not only does Jonathan read Ezra Levant's column so you don't have to, he even writes about it afterwards. It seems like a lot of effort to devote to someone so lacking in interesting ideas, but it makes for a fun read. The latest episode is worth reading not so much for the Ezra related content but rather for how Jonathan picks apart the claim that Alberta's provincial spending is up 90% since 1996. Why use 1996 as a benchmark you ask? So does Jonathan.

The graphs and discussion which follow in his post are a great demonstration of why your pundit sneak-o-scope should immediately go off any time you see a claim that Item X has changed by Y% since year Z - especially where Z seems like an arbitrary choice.

For example, 'airlines are a great investment because air travel is up 50% since fall 2001.', or 'The number of tourists visiting Montreal has been flat with ony a 5 increase since 1976', or 'The tech era is over with tech stocks down 30% in value since mid-2000.' I could go on.


Bringing together the themes of ignorance and people getting more attention than is warranted, I have to say I was left typeless by Time magazine's embarrassing decision to feature right wing hatemonger Ann Coulter on their cover. Luckily Eric Alterman wasn't and neither was Digby:.

"Ann Coulter is not, as Howie Kurtz asserts today, the equivalent of Michael Moore. Michael Moore is is not advocating the murder of conservatives. He just isn't. For instance, he doesn't say that Eric Rudolph should be killed so that other conservatives will learn that they can be killed too. He doesn't say that he wishes that Tim McVeigh had blown up the Washington Times Bldg. He doesn't say that conservatives routinely commit the capital offense of treason. He certainly doesn't put up pictures of the fucking snoopy dance because one of his political opponents was killed. He doesn't, in other words, issue calls for violence and repression against his political enemies. That is what Ann Coulter does, in the most coarse, vulgar, reprehensible way possible.

Moore says conservatives are liars and they are corrupt and they are wrong. But he is not saying that they should die. There is a distinction. And it's a distinction that Time magazine and Howard Kurtz apparently cannot see."

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Monday, April 18, 2005

Plagiarized B.C. Election Notes

The Green Party has released their platform, as has the NDP

I haven't had a chance to look at them yet, but ainge, over at lotusland has a look at the Green platform, and Sacha at Double Blind has some comments on the NDP.

Best line from ainge (on taxing junk food): "the civil libertarian inside me screams, 'let them eat cake' but ultimately, this platform does need to be financed, so let's make teenagers and fat people pick up the tab."

Now that's pragmatism!

Best line from Sacha (on the large picture of Carole James on the front of the NDP platform): "Whoever put that picture there needs to learn that you need to make sure the entire face is lit, since the shadows on the left hand side make her seem ominous and scary." (it's true).

Sacha's also on the lookout for a copy of the 2001 B.C. NDP platform (don't look at me, I didn't even live in B.C. then!) in case you have an electronic version lying around on your hard drive (or know where to find it online).

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

This Post Worth Reading 19 Times Out of 20

With B.C. heading to the polls in one month (vote yes!), and Federal politics in a state of uncertainty, potentially leading to an election sometime this year, I thought this would be a good time to add another dropdown box, this time with Canadian Polling firms in it (if I missed any important ones, drop me a line).

Like with many topics, it seems, I have mixed feeling about polls. On the one hand, I'm a numbers person with a bit of a stats background, so I enjoy digging into poll results to see what can be made of them. On the other hand, I find that polls feed into the 'horserace' mentality in which all people care about is whose numbers are good and whose are bad, rather than looking at actual issues. Furthermore, because the general population often seems to be a little lacking in its ability to interpret numbers, statistics tends to be an area where unscrupulous people will try to manipulate the numbers to suit their point. And in no area of statistics is this more true than in regards to polls.

The most common way to manipulate a poll is through the structuring of the questions. The pathetic B.C. referendum on native issues was a classic example of how to write a question to get the answer you want to hear. If this fails, the second line of defense is to interpret the results in a way which isn't consistent with the answers received. My recent post on my STV blog, is a good example where the 'lead' headline from a poll gave the opposite result from the poll results themselves.

Another problem with polls is that people try to interpret small movements which could well just be random fluctuations. This is especially true when the numbers are broken down into regions or different demographic groups which typically have much higher levels of uncertainty than the national totals.

There is legislation which outlines disclosure requirements for polls but as this article by Claire Durand, Professor at Université de Montréal shows, compliance with these rules is inconsistent at best. Of course I'm not sure how much good these rules do since I'm not sure people really pay attention to the poll fine print anyway.

Even if the pollsters are doing their job honourably and competently (as many are) and the media is interpreting the results clearly and objectively (this happens every now and then) there are still issues with polls. One of the biggest is the continuing rise in refusal rates. Veteran pollster Angus Reid refers to high refusal rates as polling's 'dirty secret' in this worthwhile article on polling in the Tyee. Besides increasing costs and putting downward pressure on sample sizes, this potentially biases the results if the refusal rates are different for different parties. Reid figures the solution is for the media to spend more on polling (shocking!) to make sure they get things right and notes that in the era before polls became prevalent, people were still devoting a lot of effort into 'horserace' politics and attempts to predict the outcome.

So far, there's no word on the possible rise of a new generation of pop-culture-referencing-smart-asses who are happy to talk to pollsters and just make up false answers as they go along (count me in with this group) and how that could skew the results.

It's been a rough year for the pollsters. They completely failed to see the Liberal minority government coming and down in the U.S. the massive discrepancy between the exit poll1 results and the vote count still has not been resolved half a year later.2

Looking to the future, it seems like times will only get tougher for the pollsters. While on the one hand our growing demand for up-to-date information will drive more and more polling, our growing reluctance to talk (honestly) to pollsters will make it harder for them to get accurate results. People are already skeptical about relying too heavily on poll results or trusting media interpretations of poll results and this isn't likely to help. Darren's negative reaction to polling (which proved justified when the results came in in the Federal election) may become increasingly common. Polls make for good amusement in the punditocracy but their usefulness in the real world is pretty limited. If nothing else, I recommend taking all poll results with a grain (or two) of salt.

If you're interested in polling and recent Canadian polls, here are some links:

HillWatch's polling station which has a good historical log of political polls.

Maple Leaf Web has a really good FAQ (list of Frequently Asked Questions) on the topic.

CRIC has a great archive of polls organized by polling company

Michigan State University's Canadian Studies Centre has a dated (but still useful for those companies which are still around) list of polling companies with descriptions of each one.


Polling companies tend to match up with media outlets:

Typical pattern is:

Environics = CBC
Ipsos-Reid = Globe and Mail / CTV
SES Research = Toronto Star / Sun Media
COMPAS = National Post / CanWest

although there are certainly exceptions and this can change as contracts/relationships end.


1 Exit polls are polls conducted as people are leaving the voting station. Because they record what people actually voted (of they are honest) as opposed to just who they are going to vote for, exit polls are generally much more accurate than pre-election polls.

2 The firm responsible for the exit polling released a report on what went wrong which said that, "Our investigation of the differences between the exit poll estimates and the actual vote count point to one primary reason: in a number of precincts a higher than average Within Precinct Error most likely due to Kerry voters participating in the exit polls at a higher rate than Bush voters.".

But they didn't really do any analysis to back that up and as this report shows, their explanation doesn't really hold water: "Edison/Mitofsky did not come close to justifying this position, however, even though they have access to the raw, unadjusted, precinct-specific data set. The data that Edison/Mitofsky did offer in their report show how implausible this theory is."

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Kyoto Plans

The Liberals have released their very Liberal plan for meeting Canada's Kyoto targets.

As far as I can tell, it follows what is beginning to seem like the Liberal party blueprint:

1. Identify problem
2. Announce intention to create plan to address this problem
3. (later) Announce intention to create plan to address this problem
4. Announce plan to allocate money to solve problem.
5. Allocate money to solve problem
6. Announce plan to solve problem. Plan will contain little or no regulatory rules or financial mechanisms to achieve goal but will instead create a [insert fuzzy buzzword here] fund which will be responsible for distributing allocated funds to various recipients who are theoretically capable of using said funds to take action to solve problem. Also, plan should extend over numerous years but be presented with a single dollar figure in order to sound more immediate and impressive.
7. Announce each allocation of said funding as if it was new money being devoted to solving the problem.

Now, you'd think that given recent history they may want to shy away from the "create fund / disperse money from fund" approach to solving problems, but apparently not.

Of course I am being pretty unfair, the plan does contain a modest expansion of the Clean/Wind Power Production Initiative (which creates a financial incentive for renewable power development) as well as the 'negotiated' deal with the automakers who have 'volunteered' to reduce their emission by 25% and it does (plan to) impose some (likely inadequate) regulatory requirements on large emitters to cut back their emissions as well.

Perhaps people just focus on the funds which are created because it is these which contain the big price tag in terms of government spending. Still, I remain skeptical about the efficiency and transparency of the central funding approach and would prefer to see something along the lines of a carbon tax which would allow people to make their own decisions about where to cut back without having to go through a bureaucratic process of 'selling' emission reductions to the government.

Overall, my initial reaction was neutral/slightly negative, mainly due to the excess of bureaucracy and shortage of market-based solutions, but in the course of writing this post and thinking about the problem a bit more, it's probably improved to neutral/slightly positive. They could do a lot worse.

Speaking of which, I criticize the Liberal plan, but that doesn't mean I was too impressed with the NDP plan or with the Conservative approach of pretending the scientists are all wrong - although that may be changing(!)

And just so you don't think I only criticize without offering any ideas of my own, I wrote about this topic in more depth (including my recommended Kyoto plan) here.

As an aside, Annex 4 of the report makes for a good (very high level) summary of the evolution of climate change science over the last 15 years or so.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2005

"C" is for Cauliflower, that's just not good enough for me...

A reader passed me a link to this disturbing news that the Cookie Monster is going to be telling Sesame Street viewers that 'A cookie is a sometime food' as part of an anti-obesity drive. Hey, it's not my fault my kids are fat - it's that darn bad influence cookie monster!

No word yet on anger management training for Oscar the Grouch as part of an anti-violence campaign, or having Snuffaluffagus become visible to everyone in order to discourage kids from lying about having imaginary friends ... oh yeah, never mind. Sigh.

Anyone looking for ongoing commentary on this issue, should probably check here.

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Fill 'er Up! Posted by Hello

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The View From Here

I mean that title figuratively, but also literally, since the picture above is the view from my apartment. Which tells you a couple of things. One: I have a lousy view1 and two: Gas prices are pretty high compared to the last few years.

Now, I know what you're thinking - 'sure they seem high, but aren't they pretty low once you adjust for inflation' - OK maybe you weren't thinking that, but some people were, I'm sure of it. Anyway, this chart shows the historical price of oil in inflation adjusted terms and you can see that, aside from the spike caused by an arbitrary decision by OPEC to reduce supply in the 70's, oil prices are looking pretty high, even after adjusting for inflation.

Mahigan over at True North has a post up which looks at 'peak oil' and some of it's potential consequences. The basic idea behind peak oil is that one of these years were going to hit an all-time peak in terms of oil production and after that oil production will begin to decline (because we've already extracted so much of the easy-to-get-to oil).

In fact, there's little dispute that this will occur sooner or later but where people differ (besides the sooner vs. later part) is on what the impact will be.

On one side we have the optimists. While they don’t deny that we are beginning the long process of running short on traditional fuel supplies (oil & gas), they believe that human ingenuity combined with pricing signals from the market will ensure an orderly transition. Count Alan Greenspan among this group. Optimists will point out that civilization has made it this far without hitting any resources constraints and that every previous time people have predicted some sort of resource crisis, they have turned out to be wrong. Basically they figure that if supplies of oil and gas get short the price will rise and people will figure out ways for our economy to keep on running with less oil and gas.

On the other side are pessimists such as James Howard Kunstler (quoted extensively in Mahigan’s post) who believe that the coming oil crunch will cause a drastic change in our lifestyles with car-dependent fully-detached suburban living no longer being viable for the middle class in a world of sky-high fuel prices. The geo-political pessimistic viewpoint sees the war in Iraq as just one example of what is likely to become an ever more desperate and high-stakes battle among the world’s most powerful economies to secure their share (and more) of what remains of the world’s oil supply.

Besides optimism/pessimism, another way to look at the situation is from a demand/supply perspective. As we can see here, worldwide oil consumption (demand) has been on a steady upward climb throughout recent history. The pessimistic view says that as huge, developing nations like China and India industrialize, we can only expect this consumption to keep climbing even if oil consumption in the developed world were to level off or decrease due to increased prices. The pessimistic view acknowledges that higher prices will lead to cutbacks in oil and gas use, but figures that prices will have to go high enough to cause crippling economic conditions before any significant changes will be made.

The optimistic view figures that human ingenuity and resourcefulness will find ways for us to easily lower our consumption if this proves necessary (true optimists don’t think it will be). Reasons for optimism on the consumption side would be technological advances which allow us to do the same things using less oil and gas (hybrid cars, led lights, efficient appliances, better insulation, etc. etc.), the colossal amounts of energy we currently waste at the consumer level (leaving room for relatively painless cutbacks), the fact that Europe manages a competitive quality of life using much less energy than North America, and the decreasing energy intensity of the economy (ratio of energy used to gdp) which show that energy use is making up a smaller % of our total economic activity over time.

More attention is generally shown to the production side. Generally, we get energy either from oil, gas, coal, hydro or nuclear (wind, while growing fairly rapidly, does not meet a significant % of our energy needs, and is unlikely to ever get beyond 5-10% of total energy supply). At best, oil and gas will require us to undertake ever more expensive efforts to ensure a steady supply. For example, building massive terminals to receive gas from overseas or drilling for oil in remote/environmentally sensitive areas or undertaking the huge costs of pulling oil out of the Alberta tar sands. At worst, even these efforts will be inadequate and prices will continue to rise faster than inflation.

There’s no shortage of coal in the ground, but if you’re worried about global warming, or if you live in Toronto and miss the sky during the summer, or if you happen to know one of the (estimated) thousands of people who have died prematurely do to air pollution caused by coal, you may not be too excited about the world making a big switch back to (or even continuing to use) coal as a primary fuel. The optimistic view is that innovation will find ways to burn coal without releasing carbon (or mercury or anything else nasty) into the environment, but while progress has been made (especially with regard to acid rain) there’s still a lot more work to be done and no guarantee that it will be successful (at a reasonable price). Also, if you consider the history of energy use from wood, to coal, to oil to gas the historical trend has been toward sources containing less carbon, not more.

Nuclear power represents another option. Here is a good example of the typical argument made in its defence. The trouble is that nuclear power needs uranium as an ingredient and world uranium supplies are hardly unlimited. Also, nobody needs a reminder of how dangerous nuclear power can be (20 years later, Chernobyl remains uninhabitable), and while the recent overall operating safety record of nuclear plants is pretty good, it wouldn’t take many accidents to change that in a hurry. And given that we look forward to a world likely to contain more and more terrorist actors possessed of ever more sophisticated weaponry, is it wise to have such potentially catastrophic targets scattered around the countryside – especially in the vicinity of large cities?

Disposal of the waste remains an unsolved problem as well. Do you really trust these people to run a nuclear program which will be safe for the next 10,000 years?

At its root, my worry about nuclear is that even if humans didn’t make it, the planet would probably survive serious global warming or most other environmental disasters with it’s ability to support life intact. Radiation however, is pretty much hostile to life in all forms – and for a very long time. If we are to use nuclear power its use should at least be based on a fair economic comparison with other power sources. That is, the costs of nuclear plants should include waste disposal costs (for perpetuity) and, most importantly, they should pay for their own insurance (right now, the government has assumed the liability from a nuclear accident in order to make nuclear power financially viable).

The last remaining major source of power for Canada is hydroelectric. Personally, I feel that the government should be working towards an expansion of our hydro capacity. I know, it's a provincial responsibility, but one way to help would be to divert infrastructure spending away from projects which promote energy consumption (such as twinning the trans-Canada highway through the less populated parts of the country) and towards projects which will produce energy – for example, helping to fund a high-voltage transmission line between Ontario and Manitoba to allow Manitoba to build more hydro capacity and sell it to Ontario.

True, there are some concerns with hydro, especially native land rights and salmon runs, but we need to avoid letting the perfect be the enemy of the good on this issue, because there are no perfect solutions - not even close. It seems clear to me that the environmental impacts of (carefully designed and implemented) hydro are less than that of the alternatives whether they be nuclear, coal, oil or gas (see here, for a good speech on the topic).

As an aside, I remember my dad telling me the story of one of the older dams in the northwestern U.S. where, after decades of operation, plans had been made to modify the hydro station. But there was opposition from local groups because the plans would upset the local ecosystem which people really liked – the same ecosystem artificially created by the dam’s construction many decades ago.

After hydro, there is wind which, while now cost competitive, is limited in its potential scope and is unreliable as a primary power supply (since wind doesn’t always blow). Furthermore, after you factor in all the effort and materials required to build a wind farm, it takes a number of years before the wind actually generates enough energy to cover all the fossil fuel energy which was used in its construction.

Finally, there is hopeful thinking, innovation and niche applications. Solar, geothermal, tidal, biomass, etc. power have all come a long way in recent years but remain limited to narrow applications (e.g. off-grid applications such as marine lighting for solar, location specific development such as Iceland for geo-thermal). Whether they will ever develop to the point where they can actually substitute for fossil fuels remains to be seen.

People talk about hydrogen in this context, but hydrogen isn’t really so much a source of energy as a means of storing it. That is because it takes energy to produce hydrogen. An adequately efficient process for generating, storing, transporting and using hydrogen is yet another unsolved problem in the world of energy.

The optimistic view is, ‘look at all these alternatives we’re bound to come up with a good, safe, cheap replacement for fossil fuels, it’s only a matter of time’. The pessimistic view notes that in the last 100 years the only really large scale energy source we’ve come up with is nuclear and that has a whole lot of problems of its own.

Looking at the overall picture, I am somewhat ambivalent about our energy future, with respect to having enough energy to maintain a lifestyle with a similar level of comfort to what we have now. On the one hand, the problem of finding a suitable replacement for fossil fuels seems like one of the toughest we've faced yet and sooner or later they will run out. This site does a great job going through the various alternatives and explaining just why they are not up to the job of getting us away from our dependence on oil and gas. On the other hand, I do believe that, in the face of steep and prolonged price increases, we have the ability to deeply cut back our fuel consumption without having a severe impact on our lives. Furthermore, we can build more hydro and wind energy plants as well as building more nuclear plants, burning more coal, or processing more tar-sands fuel if that is all that stands between us and the collapse of our economy.

The two things I worry most about are a) the geopolitical impacts of nations squabbling over what remains of the world’s cheap fossil fuel inheritance and b) the economic impacts of fossil fuel price increases. Even though we can live with using less energy or produce more from other sources, our economy could still be destabilized by price increases, much like it was in the 1970’s. Fuel price inflation could cause central banks to raise interest rates even in a period of sluggish economic growth thus putting the squeeze on heavily indebted consumers whose debt as a percentage of their income is already at all-time highs. We’re (somewhat) less dependent on energy than we were in the 1970’s but more dependent on low-interest rates so it’s hard to know how this would play out.

Another worry is that, much in the same way that AIDS is a particularly nasty disease because it targets the immune system, an energy crisis is particularly nasty economic disease because any solution to our energy problems would be reliant on large amounts of fossil fuels to provide the resources to fund/power the development of the solution. The last oil crisis was caused by an artificial constraint on supply which lessened over time. The next oil crisis won't give us that alternative.

At any rate, the government is facing an energy issue from two sides: climate change and the Kyoto Accord on one front and ‘peak oil’ and rising oil and gas prices on the other. Luckily, both of these problems have a similar solution. The price of oil and gas needs to fully reflect the costs of depleting the world’s resources, the damage done to the environment and the transition costs which will be required as easily accessed supplies dwindle and prices rise. So for starters, the government should stop subsidizing fossil fuel generation and increase fuel taxes (yes, I know, political suicide).

Beyond that, the government should adjust its taxes/incentives/legislation (that means you – nuclear) to bring the market prices of various energy sources into line with their true long-term prices (including all the externalities). Also, the government needs to get (further) ahead of the curve in funding energy research to make Canada (more of a) world leader in the energy industries of the future. Finally, the government needs to turn its infrastructure spending from energy consumption to energy production, with the expansion of hydro power - the only proven source with reliable supply, no input price fluctuations, no risk of radiation damage and no greenhouse gas emissions – being a logical target.

Update: April 17 - Looking for more information on 'peak oil' related stuff? Try here for a *lot* of links.


1 I showed the picture to my girlfriend and she figured the flowering branch probably made the view look nicer than it really is, but you get the point.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Blog on Blog on Blog

Via Colby Cosh, this is an interesting piece on the Canadian blogging community which, you may be surprised to learn, consists almost entirely of moonlighting mainstream media journalists. That aside, a couple of comments:

1) The author (Samantha Israel), argues that the idea that blogs can be self-correcting is wrong because, as she says, "I've been corrected by a reader only once".

So let's make it twice - her comment (further down) that, "The [mainstream media] certainly bit back when it revealed that Markos Moulitsas Zúniga, who averages more than 350,000 visitors a day to his Daily Kos political blog, was paid US$12,000 to promote Howard Dean's campaign for the Democratic nomination." is in fact misleading, bordering on spreading a lie (IMO).

In fact this information was "revealed" by Markos himself as soon as it happened and prominently displayed on his blog, as some 'lazy' Internet research will tell you quite quickly.

2) There is a long discussion of editing and how it differs between the mainstream media and blogs. On a not-so unrelated note, here is the headline from today's Vancouver Sun: Lung cancer in women reaches epidemic level

I appreciate that newspapers have a duty to serve the public interest by taking minor issues and making them seem really scary and important through the use of large fonts in order to make money by selling papers, but some respect for the language would be nice. The steady increase of lung cancer rates isn't good but it isn't an epidemic (it's not even contagious). Perhaps they just meant it in the sense of "Widely prevalent" but, besides also being untrue, that would be a bit misleading given that we're talking about a medical condition here. And just what is the 'epidemic level' anyway?

Anyway, I'm criticizing because - well, that's what I do here - but the article on blogging by Israel was interesting and worth a read all the same.

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Monday, April 11, 2005

Next Blog

I always enjoy clicking the 'next blog' button that hangs out in the top right corner of the page on blogger blogs. Partly because I enjoy running across wacky stuff that I would never find in a million years except through some random process, and partly because it makes me feel better about my blog and my writing knowing that my blog is way better than at least half of all the blogger blogs out there (because half of all blogs are spam blogs).

But every now and then I run across a blog which has the opposite effect - that is, one which makes me realize how much better my writing could be. This site, is one of those. The first post I ran across by random chance was this one on the movie Rocky. Some other recent highlights include hate speech against skim milk, and admonishment for guys who encourage fat women to wear tight pants by lying to them.

I also liked his recent post on humour and political commentary - some highlights:

"Dennis Miller has to be at the top of the list of people I'm supposed to think are funny, but don't ... Miller is now something of a political analyst, which is perfect for one who fails as a football analyst ... The really interesting thing about Miller's new persona, is that he has positioned himself to be the "thinking man's" Sean Hannity. The problem is that "thinking men" have no use for Sean Hannity."

and later on,

"I voted for neither Bush, nor Kerry, and consider myself neither Democrat nor Republican, but there is no doubt in my mind, that George W. Bush is by far the funniest president of my lifetime. He did it again this week when he said of the Terri Schiavo case: "In cases like this one, where there are serious questions and substantial doubts, our society, our laws and our courts should have a presumption in favor of life". I'll bet there were more than a few recent military widows please to hear that."

I'm generalizing here about a nation of over 300 million people, but in a way Roger's Rants resonates with my mental image of the proto-typical American - opinionated, unapologetic and thoughtful, all wrapped up in some eloquent writing.

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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Sponsorship Scandal

I meant what I said earlier about this being a dull topic for me, but it's important enough in it's (potential) impact on Canadian politics that it's worth a post, so I'm going to take the easy way out here.

The best mainstream report on the 'explosive' testimony of Jean Brault at the Gomery Inquiry was the 4 part story in the Globe.

The best commentary on the web was from pogge, who has an interesting take with lots of good comments. I don't agree with his assessment that Martin should resign. I figure he called the inquiry so we could find out the truth, and it will be up to the voters to decide how much they want to punish the Liberals for their mafia-like antics which wasted a total of at least $5 of each taxpayers money over a 10 year stretch.

I agreed more with James Bow who posted his opinion at the e-group that, under the circumstances the Green Party looks like the best bet for the next election. Of course I voted Green last election, so it's not a big surprise that I agree with that assessment.

So that's enough about that.

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Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Back to the Grind

The Bad: My visit to Ontario happened to coincide with weather so poor that it was (justifiably) named JimBobby's Outrage of the Week.

The Good: There are few (political) topics I find less interesting than the whole Gomery affair so it was nice that I missed all of the latest round of silliness.

I was struck by a couple of things on my first day back in B.C. (but luckily not by any of the incompetent Vancouver drivers who really have to be the least skilled in all of Canada):

1) When I first moved here, I was puzzled that Vancouver appeared to have two major daily papers, The Sun and the Province - both owned by the same company. Now I don't read either paper regularly since their web presence is laughable and the few times I have come across a paper copy I was uninspired to say the least (maybe I'm a Toronto snob when it comes to papers but I really do think the Toronto papers are much better).

But based on my observation of the front covers of the Sun and Province I have come to the conclusion that only one of them (the Sun) is actually a newspaper, and the other one (the Province) is really just the work of single photographer who hangs out at the local police precinct and writes up each day's most sensational crime in a big headline along with some quote from the relevant cops (Today's headline: "Eastside gunfight kills man, wounds another").

2) The other thing is that on my way to work I was reminded of the 'Safe Streets Act' which was passed a little while ago here in B.C. (similar legislation passed in Ontario in 2000). Readers may recall that I tend to judge legislation based on how its name compares to its intention. So the worst laws are those where the title of the act is the opposite of what the law is intended to accomplish, Ontario's 'Tenant Protection Act' being a prime example. Not as bad, but still unpromising are laws which invoke the mantra of 'safety' to provide cover for something which is not really about safety at all.

In this case, what the B.C. Liberals were after was really a 'Less Annoying Streets' act. I'm somewhat ambivalent about the law myself. On the one hand, it just seems like one more way for society to harass it's most downtrodden, desperate members, but on the other hand, the streets of downtown Vancouver can get pretty annoying at times, and certainly the actions targetted by the bill (aggressive panhandling, panhandling a captive audience, say at a bus stop) annoy the heck out of me.

Which, at long last, brings me to my point, which is that the most annoying thing on the streets right now is not panhandlers, it's the gauntlet of people making hopeful motions in my direction, obstructing my path to the bus, and indeed soliciting a captive audience at the bus stop, all in the hopes of fobbing off a free 'newspaper' on me in an attempt to position yet more advertising in front of my eyeballs. I couldn't help thinking to myself as I walked to the bus that, 'there ought to be a law' and then I remembered, there is.

So what does it all mean? Not much really, other than perhaps that I tend to be cranky the day after a vacation, when I realize how much stuff I have to catch up on...

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