Crawl Across the Ocean

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Stephen Harper and the Conservatives hate Ontario

It's nice when someone else (in this case Paul Wells) writes out what I'm thinking and saves me the trouble.

A quote...

"The Senate, the CBC, assorted arms-length commissioners and regulators having exhausted their amusements for our impatient leader, he has now turned his distracted, essentially random fury on the voters of Ontario. This is because they voted wrong.

They had their instructions. Nearly two years ago Harper went to a John Tory fundraiser and called Tory "the next premier of Ontario." But just because Tory can beat Jim Flaherty doesn't mean he can beat a pro, and Ontarians stubbornly decided to elect somebody else."

...but it's all worth reading.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Garth Turner on the housing market

I'm somewhat indifferent to former Conservative, now Liberal, MP Garth Turner, but I have to admire his candour and bluntness in assessing the current state of the Canadian housing market in the Globe and Mail online chat.

Best quote:

"Sue W: We might never be able to sell, except to a greater fool? Never Sell? Please Mr. Turner, could you please provide a few examples of some properties which have NEVER sold.

Garth Turner: Did I say that? Think not. As with stocks and mutual funds, there's always a buyer for real estate, at a current market value. For example, a share of Bear Stearns was worth $170 last year and $30 last week. On Sunday it sold for $2. If you think real estate is different from every other asset, and that this boom is never-ending, you must be from Vancouver."

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Two Dollars

I see that JP Morgan is buying up famed U.S. investment bank Bear Stearns for $2/share. To put that into perspective, it's not too long ago that Bear Stearns was trading around $150/share. Basically, they are bankrupt and JP Morgan gets control of the carcass. To put it into perspective another way, the deal values Bear Stearns, up until last week a large powerful investment bank which made around $2 billion in profit in 2006, at around $240 million. In Vancouver, $240 million might get you roughly three hundred decent houses, or a third of a convention centre, but in New York you can buy an investment bank with thousands of employees and a headquarters building in Manhattan that's probably valued in the billions just by itself. Of course, if you factor in some of the support that the U.S. federal reserve provided to JP Morgan as part of the deal, they are basically being paid to take over Bear Stearns and try to keep the financial crisis from spreading further.

The U.S. (and by extension, the global) financial system, has real problems.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Getting to Work

Statscan had some data on how people got to work in Vancouver in 2006 vs. 2001 the other day.

Here are the raw numbers, number of commuters by mode of transport:

In 2006:
TRANSIT 165,435
WALK/BIKE 80,000
CAR 746,065

In 2001:
TRANSIT 104,020
WALK/BIKE 75,555
CAR 717,705

It's easier to see what is going on with a couple of charts.

First, here is a chart of the distrubtion of modes of transit in 2001.

Second, here is a chart of the additions (i.e. the increase) between 2001 and 2006.

Finally, a third chart showing the 2006 distribution by mode of transit:

Some media reaction. CTV kind of misses the point with their headline, "Car still king for commuters in Vancouver: census" while the free daily Metro does better with, "Trend toward transit: But cars still rule roads as drivers outnumber transit riders 4 to 1"

Overall, things are moving in what I consider the right direction (fewer cars, more use of transit). The completion of the Canada line should help, while I'd expect the Gateway project to have a negative effect. Will be interesting to see what the next census tells us in 2011. Would also be interesting to see comparable numbers from other cities around the world if anyone knows a good source for this.

For A More Efficient Media

Note: This post is part of my spring cleaning project and was initially started around the time of the B.C. transit plan announcement.

Hello dear media member. I have heard your concerns, growing more desperate with each passing year. Things are moving so quickly these days, tight deadlines, staff cutbacks and an accelerating hyper-media culture have left you without enough time to do the deep, insightful reporting that you are really capable of, and instead your media outlet is meeting its content requirements with bare bones wire copy and the latest celebrity shenanigans.

What you need is a way to improve your efficiency! Here's a thought: one of the biggest topics the media covers is government and what is government always doing? It is always raising money and spending money. So if you could make your stories on the topic of governments raising and spending money more efficient - if you could automate them somehow - think of the time savings!

Well, I've been conducting a thorough review of media stories on governments and money and I've noticed something remarkable. At first glance, every story looks different: A panel recommends government institute a carbon tax at the federal level, someone wants to increase spending on transit at the provincial level, the Conference Board of Canada suggests allowing municipalities to levy sales taxes, another province is spending money on film projects - how can we bring automation to this bewildering array of diverse topics?

Here's what I noticed, every story on government finances, whatever the topic, whatever the level of government, whatever the media outlet, always includes one block which looks the same. Let me demonstrate with a few examples culled from a quick google news search. You could do the same search yourself any day and get plenty more where these came from:

"The Canadian Taxpayers Federation wants the province to reconsider nearly $20 million in annual subsidies for the commission, which operates bus, freight, passenger rail and high-speed Internet services in northern Ontario."


"Reaction to the proposed carbon tax is mixed. While the Vancouver Board of Trade has described it as a "smart" policy that will be "neutral to the pocketbook of the individual consumer and business," Retail BC predicted that the tax will disproportionately add to the cost burden of retailers. In a similar vein, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation described the tax as "anything but neutral for individuals, businesses and industries," and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business suggested that the carbon tax would effectively cancel out other tax relief measures included in the 2008 Budget."


"The provincial government is offering paid leave for thousands of public service employees it believes want to volunteer for the 2010 Olympic Games. ...
The plan was attacked by Maureen Bader, B.C. director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, who said the province's Olympic spending is already out of control.

"It's not necessary. There are already a number of people voluntarily giving up their time."


"The government's promise of spending prudence, however, was greeted with skepticism by the head of a tax watchdog group.

"Under the Conservatives, spending has increased by 14 per cent," said Canadian Taxpayers Federation federal director John Williamson, noting that program expenditures have increased from $175 billion a year in the final year of Liberal rule to what this year will likely be more than $200 billion for the first time ever.

"If Mr. Flaherty's pledge to be fiscally 'responsible' is to mean anything, he must . . . match his tax-relief freeze with a corresponding spending freeze," Williamson said. "Increasing spending while shunning tax cuts will mean the Conservative government has put the interests of the bureaucracy ahead of ordinary taxpayers."

So now let your imagination run wild - let's say you program two shortcut keys into your word processor: The first one, say CTRL-C-T-P-Up Arrow is used for stories where governments are raising taxes (or considering raising taxes, or offering new taxes, etc.) or spending money on any item, whether it be improving the environment, public libraries, emergency preparation, or whatever. This keyboard shortcut will insert the following text into your story.
"Mr/Mrx X [program macro to randomly select a name from a list of CTP spokespeople, there is no difference between any of them, so this is not a problem] criticized the move saying that this move could only lead to a heavier soul-destroying, life-crushing burden of taxes applied to ordinary, everyday, hardworking Canadian Taxpayers."

In cases where taxes or spending are being cut, you simply hit CTRL-C-T-P-Down Arrow and get the following text:
"Mr/Mrs X said the move was a step in the right direction but far more needed to be done to lighten the crushing, family threatening, puppy stomping, tax load being borne by ordinary, everyday, hardworking Canadian taxpayers."

So c'mon media, think about how many stories about Britney you could write up if you followed this easy method of saving time on stories about government programs and services.

It's true, if you wanted to really be radical, you could leave the Taxpayer Federation references out altogether. After all, I think everyone in the country can predict what they are going to say with regard to any story (Tax up: boo, Tax down, yay, No change in tax: who cares) so it's not exactly news is it.

Let's face it, you're just needlessly padding your stories with empty content that doesn't say anything new to anybody and wouldn't be missed by a soul if it didn't appear. But I don't want to rock the boat, so if you just want to maintain the current feeble status quo, but be more efficient about it CTRL-C-T-F-Up Arrow and CTRL-C-T-F-Down Arrow is the way to go.

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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Busy Week

Not for me, I took Monday off and did absolutely nothing, which was quite nice. No, I meant our intrepid Federal government which found itself defending against serious allegations of trying to bribe a dying MP, decided it could insert itself as a moral censor at the tail end of the process for providing federal support to the Arts, had it's Finance minister repeatedly tell a lie so obvious that you can only wonder what they think to gain by it1, and even managed to find time to gratuitously piss off the current favourite to be the next leader of our closest neighbour and most powerful country in the world.

One fears to imagine what they'll pull off next week.

1Compare this recent news story where Flaherty says,
"We knew that there would be an economic slowdown in the United States eventually, it is now happening, and we took the steps in terms of reducing taxes and paying down debt, making sure we in Canada were prepared for this economic slowdown,"

with this story put out at the time where Flaherty says,
"Quite frankly, revenues are good so this is an opportunity (to reduce taxes),"

"It's possible to take some tax measures in the fall update, but I'm not anticipating that right now because we're not far from the budget, fairly early in the new year."

I guess Flaherty was either lying or wrong in that old story as well, since they did put tax cuts in the fall update, but I digress - I was talking about his recent lying, not what he was saying last year.

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Belabouring the Obvious

Tim Lambert writes a post entitled, "Don't Trust Anything You Read in the National Post" To be fair, Tim has an international audience and perhaps this is news in foreign countries, but for us Canadians, he's not exactly breaking new ground here, is he.

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Gwyn Morgan

I find it somewhat disturbing that someone who is either this dumb or this dishonest is considered one of our great national businessmen.

My favourite bit of lunacy (among many) from the column:
"Both history and logic about consumer behaviour tells us that when the price of something has already reached expensive levels, adding a little to that price has no real impact on consumption."

Seriously, wtf? Never mind the tortured grammar ('logic about'?), how do we define 'expensive levels', how do we define 'adding a little', how do we define 'real impact' If history is so clear, perhaps a historical example would help, if the logic is so clear, spell it out for me, because I'm not following. Is he saying it would work if the price wasn't at 'expensive levels', or that adding 'a lot' to the price would make a 'real difference', but adding half of 'a lot' makes no difference?

Ah screw it, why am I responding to this dishonest clown as if he puts any thought into or even means his words. You know what, forget it, don't even follow the link I put in above. Do something more constructive. Read this. Or go for a walk.

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