Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Against All Odds

"How can I just let you walk away
just let you leave without a trace?
take a look at your blog now
there's just an empty space
And you coming back to post is against the odds
But that's what I've got to face."1

I was digging around in my template the other day, and noticed the ever growing ranks of the 'Sporadic Blogs' category. So, apologizing in advance for any cases where people have good, serious reasons for abruptly ceasing posting with no word of explanation for their loyal readers, here are some open questions:

Skippy, your last post as The Amazing Wonderdog was on September 29, 2006. We all agree that it's great Travis Biehn won on appeal, and maybe that's a decent note to go out on, but come on, nothing in the last 4 months has provoked your characteristic bite? Did the rabies get you?

Moebius Stripper, last we heard - over half a year ago - you were explaining how you became a curmudgeon. But even a curmudgeon comes out to yell at the kids on their lawn every now and then. New job leaves no time to post? Too busy writing graphing calculator instructions for math textbooks? Listen, I didn't want to have to resort to this, but you've left me no choice. By continuing to not post, you are helping to prove Warren Kinsella right Great, now I feel dirty, thanks a lot.

Ian King - oh, you just got under the wire, very sneaky. "it’s been a while since I posted anything here"?? It's been 123 days. The only time I use 'a while' to indicate 123 days is when my boss asks when I'm going to have something done, and I say, "In a while." Here's a tip, if you're going to go months between posts, you might want to drop the counter on your posts which tells readers just how long it's been!

Jonathan, your blog title is "No More Shall I Roam", maybe you should change it to, "No More Shall I Post." We're approaching the one year anniversary of your last post, "I, for one, welcome our new Conservative overlords." Hey, if you want that to be your final word on the internets, to go down in history with, "I welcome our Conservative overlords" on your virtual tombstone, I can't stop you. Be my guest. See if I care. Whatever.

Finally, Skeeter. Your very last words, written 20 months ago, were - and I quote - "I'll stay in touch." Need I say more?

1From Phil Collins' 'Against All Odds'

Frasier Institute Gets Prebunked

Via Robert, Desmogblog has the goods on the Fraser2 Institute's objective1 assessment on the IPCC's next report, a week before they were planning to release it. Hilarious. Desmogblog has all the details but I can I give you my own short version of the Fraser report:

OK, sure, all the world's leading scientists got together and spent years hammering out their best efforts at at a clear comprehensive summary of the status of the issue, but never mind all that, the objective analysts assembled by the Fraser Institute will re-interpret it for you in order to make it more biasedclear. For example, while the IPCC authors may state that they have compelling evidence that dangerous and/or unprecedented changes are underway, the Institute helpfully summarizes the IPCC report by stating that, "There is no compelling evidence that dangerous or unprecedented changes are underway."

Actually, they should use the Fraser report in 'critical reading' classes, it's a great example of propaganda. Clever enough to be worthwhile for a lesson but not so clever that students who look closely won't pick up most of the tricks at work.

1Probability that the Fraser Institute thinks that the IPCC is understating the risks of global warming: 0% Correlation between this probability and the contents of the IPCC report: 0%

2For some reason I always want to write "Frasier" institute, instead of "Fraser" institute, perhaps that's because Frasier Crane was a comedian who nobody took seriously, I don't know.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Re: Attack Ads

A couple more thoughts on the genesis of the Conservatives non-election period attack ads. I'm guessing that, much like many stupid corporate acquisitions over the years, this was mainly a case of money sitting in a bank account driving action to spend a big chunk of that money. The Conservatives have made some smug comments about their superior fundraising in a few of the articles on the ads, and the easiest, most conventional way for politicians to spend a lot of money in one go is on television ads, and the Conservatives don't have much in the way of their own accomplishments to brag about, and given that they are taking strategic advice from Republican Party strategist Frank Luntz, I almost feel like a failure for not predicting these ads in advance.

Personally I'd be annoyed if I'd contributed to a party and they used that money for TV ads attacking their opponent, but I'm not one of the Conservatives donors, so it's not my opinion that counts on this one.

Simple Charts and Complex Food

1. Via Andrew Sullivan, Gapminder, a cool visual tool for comparing the progress (and regress) of countries over time on various measures such as life exectancy and number of doctors per 1000 people.

2. Via John from Dymaxion World, here's an interesting article on how to eat healthy from Michael Pollan in the New York Times.

Basically, the argument is that the mechanism in which food sustains human health is too complicated to be fruitfully simplified into concerns about this vitamin, or that saturated fat or whatever. What this means in practice would be that as foods are simplified (and processed foods have typically been simplified) and as our diet focusses more on obtaining specific individual nutrients, we are likely losing out in ways we don't yet, and might never fully understand.

I've often heard people argue that unprocessed foods are healthier than processed ones, but this is the most convincing argument I've seen as to why we might suspect this to be true.

Certainly, if my math degree taught me anything, it was the limitations of our ability to understand complex systems by reducing them to simplified component parts, and it seems logical that the relationship between the human body and food would easily be complex enough to take on those characteristics. It also offers an explanation for why science seems to flail about on this topic so much, with foods that were advocated one year being condemned the next and vice-versa. Still, it would be easier to eat more unprocessed foods and a more diverse array of food if vegetables didn't (almost) all taste so bad.

Is That Desperation I Smell?

I've not a big fan of television commercials in general. Out of all television commercials, the most offensive are probably political commercials. Out of all political commercials, the most offensive are American-style attack ads, which say nothing about the party airing them, and instead just say mean and generally misleading things about their opponents. I guess the only thing worse than an attack ad, would be attack ads that are aired when there isn't even an election going on.

So, I see that the Conservatives are airing a bunch of ads attacking Stéphane Dion and his record on the environment. I am optimistic that Canadians are smart enough to reject this kind of dirty, empty, soundbite politics, just as they reacted negatively to fear-mongering ads aired by the Liberals in the last campaign. Politics in the U.S. often boils down to politicians spending all their time fundraising to pay for attack ads against their opponents and I know the Conservative want to make Canada like the U.S. in every way, but this is one road I'd rather not go down. I hope these ads blow up in the face of the Conservatives. That way, nobody will try to do the same thing again.

Oh, one more thing. Do the Conservatives really want to compete on the basis of who cares more about the environment? Do they think Canadians have such short memories that they don't remember where the spots are on this particular leopard?

Giving Credit

I am pretty critical of the federal Conservative party most days, but I do give them credit for apologizing to and compensating Maher Arar, and pursuing U.S. intransigence on the case with enough vigour to cause the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, David Wilkins, to have a hissy fit in the media.

Yes, the Cons opposed even the half steps the Liberals took while in power and assumed Arar to be guilty while they were in opposition, and yes, they are taking some cheap partisan political shots in the midst of compensating Arar and apologizing to him, and yes, their supposedly improved relationship with the U.S. was shown to be the sham we all figured it was all along, but the important thing is that, as much as can be done after the fact, justice is done to Maher Arar, and on that front, the Conservatives came through, so I give them credit for that.

Two More Items on Climate Change

First, The Straight has a good article on how the media has often been played for fools by the climate change 'skeptics'. It's one-sided, as Darren notes, but still worth a read.

Second, Calgary Grit asks if climate change is a ballot-box issue. I can't speak for others, but if the B.C. Liberal government continues (as seems likely) with plans to introduce new coal power plants in B.C., that will pretty much rule out voting for them. As my posts prior to the last B.C. election show, I've always considered the Liberals as a possible option - while they are a bit right-wing for my liking, they are mostly willing to put pragmatism ahead of ideology in a way that their right-wing Federal Government counterparts (so far) have been unwilling to.

But new coal plants? In a province with as many alternatives for generating power as B.C. has? It's very tough to vote for any party that supports that.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Rules for Carbon Trading

Via Greg, here's an interesting article in the National Post on carbon trading.

Basically, the argument tracks the evolution of the thinking of Aldyen Donnelly, a Canadian who has been advising corporations on emissions reductions for years. Where once Donnelly believed that governments should set up carbon trading markets or exchanges, now Donnelly believes that it would be more effective for government simply to impose emission standards and let the companies set up the exchange themselves if they feel it would help them meet the targets.

Seems like a perfectly reasonable plan to me. Government processes tend to move slowly, so it might be quicker for government to just set the basic ground rules and stay as hands off as possible. It certainly fits with Jane Jacobs ideas in her book Systems of Survival that, as much as possible, government should simply set objectives and allow industry to figure out how best to meet those objectives. But I haven't really thought it through and the article doesn't offer any dissenting opinion. Any objections out there in the audience?

Tide Coming In?

Credit to the Globe for a big section on climate change in today's paper. And good to see that in their poll, 73% of respondents said that they think Global Warming is the result of human activity. I am skeptical that the level of attention climate change has received recently will last, but I am encouraged that there seems to be slow progress towards the kind of public desire for action that will force the politicians to stop stalling.

The most amusing part of the Globe's coverage had to be Margaret Wente's frantic rearguard action. The Globe obviously feels that writing about the same topic over and over again and always being wrong means that you should get a 4-page column to write even more on the topic. Or maybe the Globe editors just realize that the best way to convince those left on the fence to get moving is to give them Wente and have them realize that this is the voice of doing nothing.

Anyway, much like any person who gets involved in a tug-of-war with reality, Wente is losing ground.

Consider her position on climate change scientists in her column giving a platform for climate change skeptic Steve McIntyre (written less than one year ago):

"Unlike almost everyone else in the highly charged climate-change debate, Mr. McIntyre has nothing personal at stake. He doesn't need to advance his career or get research grants."


"But wait. Don't most scientists still believe in the perils of man-made global warming? "Sure," says Mr. McIntyre. "And most stockbrokers believed in Enron."


"He [McIntyre] says that most scientists haven't analyzed the data, and that scientists, like everyone else, are subject to peer pressure and groupthink. "Just because everybody thinks something's true doesn't make it true."

So basically, Wente's position one year ago was that all the world's climatologists were lying about global warming because they were just tyring to get more money for grants or were victims of groupthink.

But now see what Wente2.0 writes in today's globe,
"Because I'm skeptical by nature [ed: yeah, you were real skeptical in your column with McIntyre], I've always discounted the environmental catastrophists. Their message is religious, not rational. But I've also spoken to enough brainy scientists to conclude that human activity is affecting the climate and that global warming is for real."


"To try to get a grip, I checked in with eight leading climate scientists, climate economists and climate-policy analysts. All believe that man-made climate change is a serious issue that demands action."

Now it's possible that in the ten months between Wente columns, there was a revolution in science I happened to miss, a revolution where all the scientists who used to make up results just to get more funding or because they blinded by groupthink were tossed out and replaced with intelligent rational scientists (who came to the same conclusions), but that seems unlikely.

What seems more likely is that Wente, in her status-quo fortified city, has now conceded that the orcs (aka environmentalists, aka reality) have overrun the outer walls which insisted that the science was all wrong, and has now called her rhetorical troops to fall back to the inner walls, where she has to accept what the scientists are saying, but can still deride the dirty hippie environmentalists (extremists!! and alarmists!!, every last one of them), and try to cling to the edge of the scientifc debate which corresponds to the lowest levels of personal guilt or any need to take any action (I believe that all of Wente's columns on global warming are motivated at root by her desire to drive an SUV and not feel guilty about it).

Anyway, I have to admire her chutzpah. If I had spent the last few years writing column after column for a national audience about how climate change was no big deal and we should do nothing, and now I had to write a column basically saying the opposite, I might feel embarrassed, or feel a need to apologize to my readers for my error, or to the planet for the costs of any inaction I helped cause or to all the people I'd mocked along the way who turned out to be right all along, but not Wente. Wente goes right on mocking and attacking all the same people, smoothly transitioning from arguing that we shouldn't do anything, to arguing that we might do too much or take action too soon, from arguing that the people calling for action are wrong to arguing that, OK, they were right, but they are way too shrill about it.

I also like the way Wente titles her column "A Questionable Truth", says at the end that much of what Gore says is "dubious or just plain wrong", and says in the middle of her article that "all these experts are highly critical of An Inconvenient Truth" but somehow, in a 2500 word article, seems not to have hardly made mention of any specific things in Gore's film that are factually inaccurate. Surely if the whole film was questionable, dubious and/or wrong and she talked to all these experts who were highly critical of it, there must be loads of things they could mention that Gore was wrong about - no? But all we get is one measly paragraph,
"Prof. Wunsch, the ocean-currents expert, says that despite what Mr. Gore asserts, there is no chance whatsoever that the Gulf Stream will slow down or stop. Nor did Hurricane Katrina have any link with global warming, nor do this winter's storms and other strange weather."

One person dissents on a couple of points, that's it?

The final, perhaps saddest piece of the article is this:
"At this point, most people say: Well, obviously we've got to start cutting greenhouse-gas emissions as fast as possible. Surely that's the way to make a difference.

This is one of the most common misunderstandings in the global-warming debate. ... Carbon cuts will have an impact — but not for many, many years, because they represent only a tiny fraction of the total CO{-2} that's already in the atmosphere."

One guesses that there aren't many oak trees on the Wente estate. After all, they grow so slowly, what's the point?

Anyway, a year ago Wente's article might have made me angry, but today it just made me laugh. Wente is not quite like King Canute trying to command the tide not to come in. She is more like someone who stood trying to command the tide not to come in, and then when she felt the water coming up over her knees, retreated a few feet towards shore, and stood pretending she had never been standing anywhere else, and resumed her efforts. At some point, you'd think that just giving up on the SUV would be easier than writing all these silly columns.

It's fun to make fun of Wente, but this is a serious issue, and it's good to see it starting to get some serious attention, and it's also good to see that most Canadians have seen through the smokescreen of 'skepticism' that the media has created. Next up, serious government action.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Bits and Pieces

Two years ago I wrote,
"a friend mentioned the other day that there was an article in the (Vancouver) North Shore News on the dangers of tobogganing (prompted by a local boy who got a concussion) and that the article was recommending laws to make helmets mandatory while sliding. There is no word yet on whether this was just a big left-wing plot to get Andrew Coyne so upset that he stops writing altogether."

But I guess I was getting ahead of myself, because it wasn't until this week that Coyne wrote his column, "Panic on the Snowbanks"

(in which he writes, "Until this month, or certainly until about the last decade, it would not have occurred to anyone that tobogganing was such a peril-strewn venture as to require special protective equipment" - Typical easterners, ignoring tragic problems in our society until it starts to affect them....


Meanwhile, Andrew Potter just noticed that Canadian movies get classified as foreign films sometimes in our local video stores, after I blogged about this a year and a half ago.

New Slogan: "CAtO: Just Slightly (18-24 months) ahead of it's time"


On a more serious note, Andrew is mobilizing blogs for a good cause. Check it out.


Finally, want to reduce your impact on the planet? - drink tapwater instead of bottled water.
Via David Swann's blog, a good article in 'The Independent' on the craziness of the whole bottled water craze and it's impact on the planet.

One of the reasons I am somewhat optimistic (less pessimistic, perhaps) about peak oil and global warming is that I always see evidence like this of just how wasteful we are with regard to energy and resource use. I am confident we could make massive cutbacks in our energy consumption with only minor impacts on our quality of life - if we had to.

That is all.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Maher Arar Being Kept on No-Fly List by U.S.

Adding insult to injury, in the most unpleasant possible interpretation of that phrase.

Naturally, the U.S. can't say why they want to keep Arar on the list, which may be for the best because of they did they'd probably explain that they see him as a threat because he is likely to be so pissed off about sent to Syria to be tortured for no reason that he might do something crazy. These are the kinds of things I hold a grudge about.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Measuring Spending

(With a post title like that, I know this will draw a crowd)

A while back Andrew Coyne wrote the following:
"The chart above (click to enlarge) traces the history of federal program spending over the last four-and-a-half decades. The numbers shown have been adjusted to take account of inflation (ie they are in constant 2006 dollars) and population growth (ie these are per capita figures). In other words, they show the number of real dollars the government spent on each citizen, the best comparative indicator of the size of government over the years."

and then in the comments he elaborated:

"I reject utterly the notion that, unless government spending grows as fast as the economy, it has somehow fallen: ie measuring spending as a proportion of GDP (or income). The implication, as I've said many times before, is that spending should always increase, not because it needs to, but just because it can."

I think it is pretty easy to agree that in order to 'stay steady', government spending should keep pace with inflation. That's just basic finance.

As for keeping pace with population, the answer is that government spending pretty much keeps pace, but not quite. There are certain economies of scale. For example, if the population of Canada doubles, we don't have to build a second House of Commons. That's why, as I mentioned in this old post, all else being equal, smaller countries will have slightly larger government sectors.

Finally, the question of income. As incomes rise, should government spending keep pace or, should there be a trend of government spending as a percent of GDP always shrinking over time (since incomes usually grow faster than inflation + population growth outside of recessions).

This is where Coyne and I differ. He says, "I reject utterly the notion that, unless government spending grows as fast as the economy, it has somehow fallen: ie measuring spending as a proportion of GDP (or income)."

But does this make any sense? Consider your own personal budget. Say this year you had a budget like this:

Income: $50,000
Taxes (Health, Education, Roads, Transit, Other Infrastructure, Police, Fire, Military, Garbage Pickup, Foreign Embassies, Legal System, Jails, Management of Official Documents, Interest on Accumulated Debt, Research, Public Pensions, Welfare, Employment Insurance, Accessibility for the Disabled, etc.): $15,000
Rent $10,000
Food $5,000
Car Related (Insurance, Gas, Parking, Repairs, Depreciation) $5,000
Travel $3,000
Electronics $3,000
Clothing/Household Stuff $3,000
Miscellaneous/Leftover Stuff $6,000

And then say that next year your (inflation adjusted) after-tax income went up to $60,000. Well first of all, if you work for the government, this won't happen. In Coyne's world, government workers never see their incomes rise as incomes rise in the rest of the economy. Public sector workers just fall further and further behind because their wages are a government expense and these only go up with inflation, not with incomes in general.

But say you aren't a government worker, so you can get a raise to $60,000. What would happen? In Coyne's world, your additional $10,000 income would be spent only on the items that government doesn't account for. You wouldn't spend any of that extra amount on better health care, or better education, or better roads, a better legal system, a better military, more public parks, more care for the old or the young, or the disabled or any of that. No matter how high your income went, your spending on those items that government covers would stay exactly the same, while you spent more and more on everything else.

You can imagine where this would lead if it were implemented in practice: parks which don't keep up with increasing standards for maintenance and facilities, a health care system that can't keep up with new technological developments and expanding demands for new treatments and procedures, roads that are overcrowded with private vehicles, overcrowded schools with students stuck in 'portables', and so on. Odds are, like me you've lived through the last couple of decades and you know the drill of what happens when people fall for the idiotic logic of folks like Coyne, who draw some magical distinction between the type of spending government is involved in, which supposedly doesn't go up with incomes, and spending on every other thing in the economy, which does.

John Kenneth Galbraith wrote 'The Affluent Society' back in 1958. In some ways not much has changed since then.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Is Offshoring Always Good for the Economy?

OK, the previous post talked a bit about The Economist's issue on how globalization was driving CEO pay so high that there was a risk non-CEO's might take action to lower it a little. In this post I want to talk a bit about the economics of offshoring. Here's a quote from, "Hard truths about helping the losers from globalisation":

"In the neat world of economics text-books the downside of globalisation looks much like Galax. Low-skilled workers in a rich country, such as America, suffer when trade expands with a poorer country with plenty of much cheaper low-skilled workers, such as China.

If labour markets are efficient in the rich country the displaced workers should find new jobs, but their wages will probably fall. Although the country overall gains handsomely, these people are often worse off."

My question is, is the (unstated as such) assumption that 'the country overall gains handsomely' justified?

Consider an example. Let's say that in Scotland, 100 workers produce all the Glenfiddich Whiskey for the whole world, and this Whiskey production generates profits (not including wages) of $1 Billion (annually).

Furthermore, let's say that the owner of the distillery, Mr. Glen Fiddich, takes $500 million of the profits and his 100 workers get the remaining $500 million.

Now, let's say that Mr. Fiddich has an opportunity to move the operation to China. Mr. Fiddich can make the whiskey with 100 workers in China and only pay them $5 million. Assume that the hundred workers are currently in jobs in China where they produce $1 million of value-added. Further assume that the laid off workers in Scotland will get new jobs which add $10 million in value. Finally, assume that because the operation in China is not as high-quality as the one in Scotland, and there are higher shipping costs and so on, it only generates total before wage profits of $800 million, not $1 billion.

To summarize, the initial situation:
Annual value added in Scotland: $1 billion
Annual value added in China: $1 million
Profit to Mr. Fiddich: $500 million

Annual value added in Scotland: $805 million (Mr. Fiddich's profits and the workers $10 million of value added at their new jobs)
Annual Value added in China: $5 million
Profit to Mr. Fiddich: $795 million

Leaving aside the specific dollar amounts, this seems like a pretty plausible scenario to me. The owners can move production offshore, make an inferior product with a higher cost structure, but still come out ahead due to the huge savings on labour. The workers who used to have very high value added jobs and received some of that value in wages get jobs which pay much less. The economy of Scotland seems worse off to me in this scenario, which seems a very common one. Am I missing something. Why is there this assumption that having high value added jobs sent overseas would be good for an economy?

I'm only partly being snarky here, mainly I'm just curious. It is such an article of faith in economics that the country as a whole benefits from offshoring that there must be some reasoning behind it, but it's not clear to me what this reasoning is.

Editors of 'The Economist' are Deeply Concerned About Inequality - Can You Guess Why?

I see that the Economist had a recent cover story entitled: "Rich Man, Poor Man: The Winners and Losers from globalisation." And it does seem that The Economist is worried about inequality. More specifically, the Economist seems to be concerned that, given fast-growing inequality, given millions of middle-class workers making no progress, given millions and millions more stuck in poverty while a few at the top make massive gains there is a very real risk that there could be a backlash which attempts to limit the exorbitant pay of CEO's.

To that end, the Economist has a full article, "Executives have enjoyed an astonishing pay bonanza. Edward Carr explains why most of them deserved it," with reasoning so weak it is laughable, including the assertion that only CEO's paid hundreds of millions will go through with downsizing, merely paying millions leaves companies unable to attract someone willing to make cutbacks.

But they don't stop there. The article, "A poisonous mix of inequality and sluggish wages threatens globalisation," is even more on point. First it lays out the problem:

"GLUERS and sawyers from the furniture factories in Galax near the mountains of Virginia lost their jobs last year when American retailers decided they could find a better supplier in China. At the other end of the furniture industry Robert Nardelli lost his job this month when Home Depot decided it could find a better chief executive in his deputy. But any likeness ends there. Mr Nardelli's exit was as extravagantly rewarded as his occupation of the corner office had been. Next to his $210m severance pay, the redundant woodworkers' packages were mean to the point of provocation.

That's the way it goes all over the rich world. Since 2001 the pay of the typical worker in the United States has been stuck, with real wages growing less than half as fast as productivity. By contrast, the executive types gathering for the World Economic Forum in Davos in Switzerland next week have enjoyed a Beckhamesque bonanza. If you look back 20 years, the total pay of the typical top American manager has increased from roughly 40 times the average—the level for four decades—to 110 times the average now."

Then it gets closer to the *real* problem:

"Signs of a backlash abound. Stephen Roach, the chief economist at Morgan Stanley, has counted 27 pieces of anti-China legislation in Congress since early 2005. The German Marshall Fund found last year that, although most people still say they favour trade, more than half of Americans want to protect companies from foreign competition even if that slows growth. In a hint of labour's possible resurgence, the House of Representatives has just voted to raise the federal minimum wage for the first time in a decade. Even Japan is alarmed about inequality, stagnant wages and jobs going to China. Europe has tied itself in knots trying to “manage” trade in Chinese textiles. The Doha round of trade talks is dying.

What is to be done about this poisonous mix? If globalisation depends upon voters who, as workers, no longer think they gain from it, how long before democracies start to put up barriers to trade? If all the riches go to the summit of society and that summit seems beyond everybody else's reach, are the wealth-creators under threat?"

Did you catch that last line? Unless I misread it, in the course of a single sentence, the people at the summit of society were magically transformed into 'the wealth creators' (I guess anyone making less than 10 mil' just sits on their ass all day.)

And then we get to the *real* problem:

"The first rule is to avoid harming the very miracle that generates so much wealth. Take for instance the arguments about high executive pay. ... The abuses of companies such as Home Depot obscure how most high pay has been caused not by powerful bosses fixing their own wages, but by the changing job of the chief executive, the growth of large companies and the competitive market for talent. Executive-pay restrictions would not put that horse back in its box, but they would harm companies.

If the winners are difficult to curb without doing damage to your economy,..."

So there you have it. The whole point is not that people are suffering or falling behind, or even that there might be a backlash - the point is that there is a risk that people might get so upset that they may invoke executive pay restrictions. Paying CEO's less would 'harm the very miracle that generates so much wealth.'

Luckily the Economist is here to employ every pitifully feeble argument they can muster to help keep the barbarians away from the gates - from the same article, "High pay is, by and large, the price needed to attract and motivate gifted managers, as our special report argues in this issue." Sure, because there are hundreds of millions of people around the world so desperate that they will work for a couple dollars a day, but offering $5 million/year instead of $10 million leads to a shortage of applicants who will be motivated!

There were a couple more articles in the Economist's survey, "Does economics need a new theory of offshoring?" which I found incoherent, and "Hard truths about helping the losers from globalisation" which was actually pretty worthwhile. A bit more on that article in the next post (or previous post depending on the order you see them in, I suppose).

Thursday, January 18, 2007


A good article by Konrad Yakabuski(subscriber only) in the Globe today. It's a well-balanced piece on Hydro-Québec's Eastmain-1A project.

He makes note of the laudable progress that the Ontario and Quebec Liberals are making on building up the connections between their historically poorly connected power grids:

"In November, Hydro-Québec and Hydro One broke ground on a new $800-million, 1,250 MW transmission interconnection between the two provinces. It heralds a new era in interprovincial energy trading and will be a major link in a long-recommended east-west transmission grid.

Currently, very little electricity actually flows from Quebec to power-starved Ontario, and what does is sold on an ad hoc basis. But Premier Jean Charest has indicated that will change with the completion of Eastmain-1A and the new interprovincial connection.

The new long-term electricity sales agreement the two provinces are expected to sign soon would be a first. It would also be a piece of the puzzle Ontario needs to put together to end its reliance on coal-based power. Not a big piece; but it's better than no piece at all."

For some perspective on the 1,250MW link, Ontario consumes over 25,000MW of power on the busiest days (typically during a summer heat wave).

Yakabuski correctly (in my opinion) captures the nature of hydro developments these days: not ideal, but better than the alternatives:

"No one -- probably not even those Hydro-Québec engineers who live to build dams -- wants to see the majestic Rupert River reduced to a trickle in some places or pristine forests drowned in others.

But no single hydro development in the history of Canada has been as scrutinized, environmentally evaluated, or adjusted to accommodate the concerns of natives and ecologists as the Rupert project. Federal and provincial environmental review boards, both of which included Cree representatives, strongly recommended that their respective governments approve the project. Hydro-Québec, once decried as a bully, has been a model of corporate flexibility.

The Crees are understandably divided. Who wouldn't be? Their lives will be irreversibly changed; their health (from temporarily higher mercury levels in fish) potentially compromised. But the vast majority of the 15,000-strong Cree nation of northern Quebec and its leaders support the project. They will share fairly in the economic benefits."

While there is more media attention on the Federal government, and there is certainly a role for the federal government to play, Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are tightly linked to our electricity generation system, which is largely in the hands of the Premiers. Personally, I think the way forward needs to include development of the remaining suitable large hydro sites in Canada, with increased transmission linkages between provinces, especially from Manitoba across to Labrador. Here is an interesting article by Toby Heaps, writing in Corporate Knights, which makes the case for such a plan in more detail.

Anyway, it's good to see that, away from the federal politics spotlight, progress is being made.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Buying Consent

I'm no fan of Norman Spector, but if I had to choose (shudder), I'd take him over a paid shill like Bourque anyday. Still, you're better off finding your own news rather than having it filtered through someone else's agenda - it's not really that hard, what with the internet and all.

I guess most people still use newspapers as their primary filter, although you can never be sure who's setting their agenda either. Witness this movie industry propaganda piece which showed up in the Globe, conveniently timed ahead of the introduction of a bill on intellectual property law here in Canada. Good to see the Globe's commenters taking them to task for their embarassingly one-sided article.

I always wonder how these things come about. Does the industry (or the government, representing industry) have a meeting with the editors where they explain their point of view, while casually remarking that a little favourable coverage wouldn't be amiss? Is it just a personal connection of some sort? I guess it could just be coincidence, but I am doubtful - I've seen this sort of thing too many times. I'm not cynical enough to think that the Globe would be explicitly trading stories for something tangible in return, but it does seem as though there is influence being exerted behind the scenes sometimes.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Freedom is a Gift, People Too.

Commercials. I try to tune them out, but I can't - not entirely anyway.

Am I the only one offended/irritated by the Super 7 Lotto commercial which says that you should play because if you win you can buy slaves?

Also, I earlier noted that Langara College was asserting in its ads that 'Knowledge is a Gift.' Now Langara is back with a new slogan: "In today's complex world, knowledge is freedom"

So assuming that they still stand by their earlier slogan we have:
Gift = Knowledge = Freedom, implying that Freedom is a Gift too!

Now, my knowledge of history is feeble, but I think that while freedom may be a gift on occasion, it wouldn't be wise to rely on it. But perhaps I should go to Langara to learn more on the topic. In fact, the last laugh is on me, since I will be taking a course at Langara. They certainly aren't offering it to me as a gift, but maybe taking it will increase my freedom a little bit, so perhaps their slogans are actually improving in accuracy as time goes by (must be all that accumulating knowledge - perhaps next year's slogan will be 'knowledge is progress'.)

Building on Sand

So I got a free copy of Maclean's in my mail the other day, presumably as an enticement to have me sign up as a subscriber. The edition in question had a cover story entitled, "Why do we dress our daughters like skanks?" Another way of putting the title, I figure, would have been to ask, "Why is childhood disappearing (for girls)?"

So I read the article, curious to see what it had to say regarding Neil Postman's 1982 classic "The Disappearance of Childhood" (note the quote from the book at Amazon, "As I write, twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls are among the highest-paid models in America...") and his theory that the ever decreasing age at which we treat children as adults is being driven primarily by changes in technology - especially the switch from reading to television as the primary mass communication medium. But there was not a word on Postman to be found. Reading the article, you'd never guess that someone had written a widely read and respected book on the topic - predicting exactly what the cover story was complaining about - some 20+ years ago.

If a mainstream newsmagazine can't even reference or remember the most obvious sources for it's cover stories, that doesn't bode well. How can we possibly build up our store of knowledge, when we have no memory?

Anyway, I'm not planning to subscribe to Maclean's.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


Going back at least to the run-up to the U.S. war against Iraq, and in particular since Iran was included in 'the Axis of Evil', I have occasionally encountered discussions about whether the U.S. would invade, or at least attack, Iran.

Over the years I've pretty consistently taken the 'no' side of this argument, figuring that while the Bush administration might be crazy, they at least weren't so crazy as to attack Iran. And, normally, you'd think that the disaster of the Iraq war would mean that attacking Iran was even less likely than ever. But while I still would bet against the U.S. attacking Iran, my certainty is weakening with each passing day.

Some points, regarding my increased worries:

1) Ian says, "America is damn near the most opaque nation in the world. I can predict what will happen in Africa, in Canada, in most Asian countries, far better than I can in the US, despite having grown up immersed in American culture."

And the same is true for me. For instance, I never thought that *more* people would vote for George Bush the second time around.

2) While this article is a bit too cynical even for me, it does raise the possibility that things in Iraq are actually going according to plan - at least if you are part of the Bush clan. If Bush, Cheney and co. truly have separated their ability to personally profit from war, mayhem, and the seizing of oil resources from all the human and financial damage being caused to the U.S. by the war(s) (I assume they don't care about what is happening to the people in the Middle East) then maybe attacking Iran could be seen as a plan with a positive return on investment.

3) This post by Glenn Greenwald is pretty worrying. Consider this exchange between journalist Chris Matthews and White House Press Secretary, Tony Snow:

MATTHEWS: Tony, will the president ask Congress‘ approval before any attack on Iran?

TONY SNOW, WHITE PRESS SECRETARY: You‘re getting way ahead of yourself, Chris. Nobody here is talking about attacks on Iran. . . .

MATTHEWS: Well, he did say we‘re going to disrupt the attacks on our forces, we will interrupt the flow of support from Iran. Does that mean stopping at the Iranian border or going into Iran?

SNOW: Well, again, I think what the president is talking about is the war in Iraq, Chris.

MATTHEWS: So he will seek congressional approval before any action against Iran?

SNOW: You are talking about something we‘re not even discussing...

MATTHEWS: Well, you are, Tony, because—look at this.

I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region.”

Isn‘t that about Iran?

SNOW: It‘s about—yes, it is, in part. And what it is, is it‘s saying, “Look, we are going to make sure that anybody who tries to take aggressive action. But when Bill Clinton sent a carrier task force into the South China Sea after the North Koreans fired a missile over Japan, that was not as a prelude to war against North Korea. You know how it works. . . .

MATTHEWS: My concern is we‘re going to see a ginning-up situation whereby we follow in hot pursuit any efforts by the Iranians to interfere with Iraq. We take a couple shots at them, they react. Then we bomb the hell out of them and hit their nuclear installations without any action by Congress. That‘s the scenario I fear, an extra-constitutional war is what I‘m worried about.

SNOW: Well, you‘ve been watching too, too many old movies featuring your old friend Slim Pickens is what you‘re doing now, come on.

MATTHEWS: No, I‘ve been watching the war in Iraq is what I‘ve been watching. As long as you say to me before we leave tonight that the president has to get approval from Congress before making war on Iran.

SNOW: Let me put it this way. The president understands you‘ve got to have public support for whatever you do. The reason we‘re talking to the American public about the high stakes in Iraq and why it is absolutely vital to succeed is you‘ve got to have public support. And the president certainly, whenever he has taken major actions, he has gone before Congress.

Not very reassuring, is it?

4) Finally, the U.S. seems to be stepping up not just the rhetoric, but also taking action against Iranian interests. For now, just within Iraq, but raiding a consulate is still a pretty provocative action to take. It makes one wonder what is next, or what is going on that we don't know about.

I guess we'll see what happens.

Breaking News: Media Punditry is not a Meritocracy

Radar compares the fate / career progress of 4 U.S. pundits who supported the U.S. starting a war in Iraq, and 4 who were opposed.

You can guess the rest, I'm sure.

via Eschaton.

Friday, January 12, 2007

President Harper?

As a follow up to my post below on how the ideal Canada that Conservatives envision is in fact the U.S., I see (via a BCer in Toronto) that high ranking Conservatives refer to Stephen Harper's wife as 'Canada's First Lady'. Ugh.

Update: More First Lady nonsense, this time from John Baird from a few days back...

Is there a new 'first lady' talking point coming from the Oval OfficePMO?

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Rule of Thumb

Before I get started on 2007, I thought I should clear the last remnants of 2006 out of the draft folder cupboards so here is a post which was mostly written a few months ago...

In a post a while back, I asserted that, "The simplest summary of our current Conservative government's agenda is that they want Canada to be more like the U.S."

In response, Andrew commented that my assertion was, "not grounded in reality" and a "silly meme".

But I'd thought about it for a while before making that assertion and I think that is pretty well grounded in reality. What I was trying to get at was, what is the best way to concisely summarize the Conservatives likely position or action on any given issue. i.e. What rule of thumb could we use to predict their behavior.

For example, if someone was a Christian, you might try and predict their behavior based on the rule of thumb, 'what would Jesus do', and for genuine Christians, this rule would work fairly well. Jesus spoke of compassion for the poor, and the church is a leader in fundraising for the poor and in calling for debt relief for poor nations. Jesus spoke against violently attacking your enemies, and the Pope was a strong opponent to the war in Iraq.

For an environmentalist, the rule of thumb might be 'what is best for the planet?'; For a socialist, it might be, 'how can government action solve this problem?', for a libertarian it might be, 'how can we minimize the role/power of government?' - you get the idea.

So let's take the rule of thumb, 'What is the U.S. like?' and see how it does at predicting the Conservative government's stance on the issues.

There is a whole separate point about whether the Conservatives are adopting U.S. style (and in particular Republican-style) politics, but I'm not going to get into that stuff in this post. Instead, let's look at the issues where it should be possible to tell with reasonable objetivity (at least for most issues) whether the Conservative position is to make Canada more or less like the United States. And so you don't think I'm just cherry-picking the issues which make my case, I'll use the list of issues I generated (in a completely different context) prior to the last Federal election.

The list is long so I'm only going to comment on a few of them, but if there are any calls you disagree with (as I'm sure there will be), that's what the comments are for. In many cases where I didn't have sufficient knowledge to make a proper decision, I just stated 'not enough information.' Some points are a little tricky. For example, if Conservative bilateral policy is favourable to the U.S. at the expense of domestic interests and U.S. bilateral policy is favourable to the U.S. at the expense of foreign (Canadian) interests, does that make Conservative policy more or less like U.S. policy? Anyway.

Fiscal management - Fiscal Balance / Debt Reduction
More American
"The days of these big surprise surplus budgets which the Liberals were creating for over 13 years here are over, and we're budgeting much closer to what budgeting is about -- that is closer to the line."

Global Issues - Peak Oil
More American - admittedly evidence is thin here, but the only relevant action so far has been to (marginally) reduce the tax on gas so that seems more American to me.

Environment - Global Warming / Climate Change
More American - certainly the Conservative rhetoric and action so far has been anti-Kyoto and downplaying the seriouness of global warming to date. We'll see what ends up happening in terms of policy.

Global Issues - Debt Relief
Not enough information

Global Issues - Use of Military
More American

- Less emphasis on peacekeeping, more focus on aggression.
- Less emphasis on multi-lateral action, working with the UN.
- One sided appraoch favouring Israel vs. more balanced approach
- Increased military spending, especially spending on military hardware
- Increased emphasis on preserving territorial sovereignty

Social Issues - Health Care (enforcement of Canada Health Act, Size of
Health Transfer)
More American
It seems reasonable to think that the Conservative government would prefer a
system more similar to the U.S. then what we have currently

Domestic Security (War on Terror)
More American

Global Issues - Aids
Not enough information


Economic Issues - Inequality (poverty, gini coefficient, social
mobility, etc.)
More American

More American

Crime - War on Drugs vs. Harm Reduction
More American

Global Issues - Amount/Nature of Foreign Aid
Less American

Aboriginal Affairs - Social Issues
More American

Fiscal management - Taxation Policy (not how much taxation, what kinds
of taxation)
More American
(higher percentage of taxes paid by poor, middle class, lower sales tax, proliferation of deductions)

Bilateral Issues - Trade: NAFTA, Chapter 11, Softwood Lumber Dispute,
Border Crossing Infrastructure, etc.


Aboriginal Affairs - Governance Issues
Not Enough Information

Environment - Air/Water Pollution
More American (good, in this case)

Environment - Other (sustainability, genetically modified food, dumping
of oil in shipping lanes, etc.)

Not enough information

Aboriginal Affairs - Spending Issues

More American

Bilateral Issues - Security (Coordination, Rendition, Passport
Requirements, etc.)

More American

Democratic Reform - Electoral Reform
No Change (Our electoral system is already quite similar to the U.S. one)

Crime - White Collar (national securities regulator, money laundering,
tax shelters etc.)

Not enough information

Social Issues - Child Care
Mixed - On the one hand, the introduction of more funding for children makes Canada less like the U.S. On the other hand, a number of Conservatives support raising Canada's birth rate to be more like the American one, so a baby bonus like the one the Conservatives brought in could be seen as a way to help make that happen. Many also consider this a grudging action which went against what the Conservatives really wanted to do, which was nothing.

Democratic Reform - General (anti-corruption policies, whistleblower
legislation etc.)

Less American - at least at first. There's seems to be much less emphasis on accountability by the Conservatives now that they are in power.

Intergovernmental Relations - Equalization
Not Enough Information

Social Issues - Gay marriage
More American

Environment - Toxic Site Cleanup
Not enough information

Global Issues - International Organization(s)
More American

Spending Programs - Granting Councils
More American

Global Issues - Trade Agreements
More American

Spending Programs - EI
More American

Crime - Violent (mandatory sentences, etc.)
More American`(if only 'crime' didn't rhyme with 'time')

Cultural Issues - Communication (CRTC, media concentration, etc.)
More American

Spending Programs - Infrastructure
More American

Economic Issues - Size of Government
More American

Environment - Health Issues (trans-fats, recreation, food supply
safety, etc.)

Not enough information

National Unity
Not Enough Information - Not really an issue in the U.S.

Intergovernmental Relations - Division of Powers, Federal vs.

Less American - Not sure about this one, because I'm not sure how powerful individual states are, but my impression is that provinces are already stronger than states vis-a-vis the federal government, so it seems like the Conservative plan to make the federal government weaker and the provinces stronger would make us less American.

Spending Programs - OAS
Not Enough Information. I don't even know if the U.S. has a comparable program.

Spending Programs - CPP/Social Security
No Change - while there are parts of the right wing in both countries that want to do away with public pension plans, policy change seems unlikely at the moment.

Intergovernmental Issues - Municipal Affairs
Not Enough Information

Economic Issues - Corporate Subsidies
No Change - Both Canada and the U.S. give out a significant amount of corporate subsidies. The Conservatives don't seem keen to change this.

Cultural Issues - CBC
More American - Based on their rhetoric, it appears that the Conservatives would prefer a weaker public broadcaster which receives less public funding, as in the U.S.

Education - Postsecondary
Not Enough Information

Social Issues - Animal Rights / Cruelty to Animals
Not Enough Information

Economic Issues - Intellectual Property
More American - I'd be surprised if copyright-industry funded Minister of Heritage Bev Oda wasn't intending to make Canada's intellectual property laws more favourable to large corporations, as they are in the States.

Social Issues - Abortion
More American - Not that they are likely to act on it, but I think most Conservatives would prefer that it be more difficult to get an abortion in Canada, as in much of the U.S.

Spending Programs - Regional Development Programs
Not enough information

Economic Issues - Housing Policy (affordable housing, role of CMHC,

Not enough information

Economic Issues - Fisheries
Mixed - So far the biggest Conservative action on fisheries has been to oppose a ban on bottom trawling in international waters, a ban which the U.S. supported.

Economic Issues - Productivity
Not enough information

Economic Issues - Labour Relations
More American - haven't seen any policy evidence on this, but I've never seen or heard anything to make me think the Conservatives are any friend of labour or unions. The attempted dismantling of the Wheat Board probably speaks to this point somewhat.

Democratic Reform - Senate
More American. The U.S. Senate is equal, elected and effective. The Conservatives want to change the Canadian Senate to be equal, elected and effective.

Education - Elementary and Secondary
Not enough information

So out of (by my rough count) 56 issues, there are 29 where the Conservatives want to change Canada to be more like the U.S., 24 with not enough information for me to judge or a mixed record, and 3 where they want Canada to be less like the U.S. The assessment that making Canada more like the U.S. is a main goal of the Conservatives seems pretty solid to me. Can anyone suggest a better rule of thumb we could use?

'Make government smaller' would do OK, but then what about the military, the courts, gay marriage, the war on drugs, the tax laws, etc?

Perhaps we could use, 'In cases where government is inflicting physical punishment or passing (Christian) moral judgement, make government larger and in cases where government is trying to help people, make government smaller' but that's a bit long for a campaign slogan. Besides, doesn't 'make Canada more like the U.S.' pretty much mean the same thing?

As a post-script, here's a great post by Ian Welsh which may answer anyone whose reaction to this post is 'So? Why not make Canada more like the U.S.?'.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Not really back to blogging yet, still have to move on the weekend, but in the meantime, here's a New Year's Resolution for politicians: I resolve to keep in mind that the only thing worse than breaking a stupid promise is keeping one. Income trusts and the vote on same sex marriage come to mind as recent examples.

Personally, I'm resolving to get more sleep this year, among a couple of other things I can't share on the blog.