Wednesday, December 8, 2010

"I live in a van down by the river"

The new mayor of Toronto, Rob Ford, was officially installed today. Is it just me, or does this man have more than slight resemblance to Chris Farley?

Yeah, I think it is pretty close. I think Rob Ford would be a perfect Chris Farley persona too. Too bad this is the real world and not some movie.

Perhaps more amusing is Don Cherry's rambling rant made at the inauguration. Some great person uploaded it to Youtube:

The Globe and Mail predicted something like this would happen. As one of the "pinkos" that rides a bicycle, I have to wonder what has caused Cherry to become so bitter, because he used to just keep the subject on hockey.

Certainly, Rob Ford don't realize the realities of commuting in Toronto. I have never driven to the heart of Toronto, but even in the suburban areas and the 401 are a nightmare with traffic stoppages, even on Sundays. Transit and bicycle lanes are ways to encourage people to not drive, and thus make driving in Toronto less of a nightmare. Toronto is a city that is getting larger every year, and something needs to be done to ease gridlock. Having no real knowledge of prior attempts to revitalize the transit system in Toronto, I can't say how well their plans were going. Having been on the light rail systems in San Francisco and Calgary, it is an effective way to bridge sprawled cities. Ford's plan to cancel light rail in favour of subways (and incurring millions in cancellation fees that the city will have to pay itself) doesn't really make sense, as I cannot see how digging tunnels is supposed to cost less than creating an above ground rail system.

At any rate, Toronto reaps what it has sown. They wanted a man with "clever" sound bytes rather than someone who actually knows something about city planning. However, some blame also has to go to those who supported David Miller, who caved into the garbage collectors union when most people were insupportable of their cause.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Chain Letters and The Baby Boomers

Over the past few days, the following post was made by many people on my Facebook account:

Change your FB profile picture to a cartoon
from your childhood. The goal? To not see a human face on FB till
Monday, December 6th. Join the fight against child abuse, copy &
paste to your status and invite your friends todo the same.

Over the past few days, I would estimate about 70% of people who regularly make posts and are on my friends list have done this. I sort of mocked this by putting up a picture of the stoner aliens from Heavy Metal, shortly after they snorted up some "plutonium nyborg".

Today, people started taking their cartoon avatars down, with another post of the vein:

ATTENTION: the group asking everyone to change their profile picture to a cartoon character is actually a group of pedophiles. There doing it because kids will accept their friend request faster if they see a cartoon picture. It has nothing to do with any Child charities. IT'S ON TONIGHTS NEWS. ...Copy & Paste this on to your status - Let everyone know
It is amazing that in this day an age, with people being more net savvy, that chain letters still get passed along so easily. It is no wonder malware is common on Facebook. People seem all to willing to spread these chain letters and "funny and shocking videos" around, not realizing that there are consequences to this. There are people out there trying to take advantage of the naivety of the common Facebook user. If only people realized. You have to wonder how people can logically come to the conclusion that changing their profile picture will raise awareness for child abuse. You also have to wonder how these same people will come to the conclusion that a bunch of pedophiles are behind getting adults changing their profile pictures.

Onto other things.

Relevant Link

Every few months, I read articles about how the impending retirement of baby boomers en mass is going to invoke some sort of economic catastrophe. Can't say I completely disagree with this. I think we are headed for a major generational shift, probably unlike anything seen since World War II ended. We may indeed see the standard of living in first world nations drop for the first time since the Great Depression as massive budgets hang around our necks like a lead weight.

Is this really something that my generation should worry too much about? I'm not entirely convinced. I think that people will continue to live their lives comfortably, though they may not be able to afford the luxuries of the past. Home ownership is not going to be in everyone's future, or if it is, it won't be until later in life. People in their 20s and 30s have a lot of debt due to things like student loans, but by the same token those same people delay having families until their 30s. I think that the looming health care crunch will force young people to take care of their parents, like they did two generations ago, and by that same token those parents will have to look after their grandchildren as their children work. Taxes will rise out of necessity, and the retirement age will rise to reflect the fact that life expectancy is far higher than when the retirement age was set at 65.

Personally, I probably reflect the typical "post-boomer". I am nearing 30, and have never held any type of long lasting job, and I have spent most of my adult life in university. I have never stayed in any one location for very long time, never had any long term commitments or relationships. I have few assets, though I don't have any major debts (which might put me ahead of the game compared to many of my peers).

I have no illusions about the future. I know that there aren't going to be any free rides, and in all likelihood the costs of my health and living are going to be completely up to my own ingenuity. I have picked a career path that I believe will be able to sustain me until I reach retirement age, which I expect will be in my 80s. I think a large problem will happen once those who are forced into low paying jobs that are hard on the body reach their 60s. Without adequate health care or pensions, I would not be surprised if old aged homelessness becomes a significant issue in the future.

I read through all of the comments in the MacLean's Magazine article. Though many people share concern about the inevitable rise in costs in the social safety net, there were a bunch of idiots comment along the lines that "the young feel entitled and are lazy" and how they "worked hard for their pensions, health care and jobs that they are entitled to". I wonder if they will say the same things when the gap in skill level in professional jobs increases to the point that the knowledge economy suffers. For instance, in exploration geophysics, the SEG publishes demographics in the profession every year, and there a huge gap in experience in the fields, with the average age of geophysicists pushing into the baby boomer age group. I imagine such statistics would follow in other professional fields. Without having an even distribution in experience level of employees in professional employment, the economy will eventually suffer. And having been through this before, it is the people on the low end of the experience ladder that get laid off first. A sustainable economy depends on balancing the workforce to include people of varying experience levels.

C'est tout pour cette nuit.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


It has been a long time since I made a post in my blog. I guess the whole "Wikileaks dump" has led me to want to restart it. The reaction to the current leak of US diplomatic cables has been more telling than the actual contents of the documents, most of which are mundane opinions that most people assumed anyways. Where was this level of outrage earlier this year when the Iraq War documents showed damning evidence of civilian death and indiscriminate slaughter? Now, we see Wikileaks figurehead, Julian Assange being dragged into a well orchestrated smear campaign, most notably the supposed "rape" charge. I'm thinking there must be some really juicy leaks coming in the future that is causing governments to react so loudly this time, because the diplomatic cables releases are no Watergate.

Here in Australia, Assange has pretty much been left out to dry by the government. I was watching the news the other day, and the "news" commentators on the station I was watching were basically falling in line with the government line, and basically spewing off about the rape charges. I will probably post more about the sensationalism in the news media here in Australia (keep in mind that Rupert Murdock still owns a lot of the newspapers here).

As for the leaks themselves, the sheer volume of documents kind of overstates the significance of the release. While I don't really agree that these should have got out into the public, the blame for this leak falls squarely on the bureaucratic structure that allowed a lowly private in the US Army to gain access and download all the documents. With the ease of access, imagine the likelihood that these documents have already been leaked to spy services of competing nations. If there are two million people with access to the cables, the chances of some covert operative gaining access is incredibly high. The only difference with Wikileaks getting it is that the documents are out there for everyone to see. Though with the things that have come out so far, I doubt there is much intelligence to be had from diplomatic cables.

I am interested in hearing about this "near environmental disaster regarding a rogue shipment of enriched uranium", though.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Net Neutrality and the Stimulus

Relevant link

So, the opposition parties are calling for the government to improve regulations and enforce net neutrality.  That is wonderful.  Where were they five or six years ago when efforts to improve network infrastructure effectively ended?  It is good though they are speaking out, because the CRTC is unlikely to do their job.  For the past two or three years, the CRTC has acted in a way that makes it seem as though they are in the pockets of the major ISPs.  For example, they refused to strike the hammer down on Bell for throttling the connections of third party ISPs that use their lines, as required by law.  The ISPs would have you believe that everything is hunky dorry, of course I would rather believe this report by Harvard University stating we are 22nd place out of 30 major nations.

It shocks me how silent the Conservatives are on this issue.  I understand their hesitation on regulating, but it is clear that free market is failing in this case, primarily because a handful of companies own all of the methods of getting high speed Internet.  For example, Rogers has cable and cellular wireless capabilities and Bell and Telus have DSL and wireless capabilities.  The only other competition are largely regional ISPs such as MTS, SaskTel and Eastlink.  MTS has been leading the charge for regulated net neutrality, as they intend to become more national in their business networking service.  Right now, Bell is throttling their networks, which is costing MTS a pile of money.  Additionally, Canada has one of the worst broadband wireless systems in the civilized world.  As of yet, there is no proper 3G network, meaning your Iphone or Blackberry is not being used to its potential.

The CRTC decision on net neutrality is coming this week.  I fully expect the CRTC to not enforce it, and will lead to continuing stranglehold on networks by the major ISPs, all at the disadvantage of the consumer.

Relevant link

This silly story shows the Liberals claiming the Conservatives are saying that paying for "doorknobs" is stimulus.  Now, this is a pretty silly claim, as it is clear that this particular project is to upgrade and repair the Charlottetown RCMP building.  Upgrading infrastructure is exactly what the stimulus money should be used for, considering the age of a lot of buildings.

No, the big deal is how the Conservatives are branding the novelty cheques used to announce spending.  This is a novel way to promote MPs and the governing party in ridings.  The only problem is that it completely violates political party advertising on publicly funded projects.  The news website comments by Conservative trolls basically make claims along the lines of "well the Liberals did this while they were in power".  If that is the best defense that the Conservative supporters can get, it truly has got to the point where there is not much difference between the two parties.  The lack of accountability shows what a sham the campaign by the Conservatives in 2006 really was (it did a good job to spend government money!).  With the Liberal party continuing to be very inept, and the NDP not gaining any traction, I see this sort of governing continuing in perpetuity.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Starting it back up

Well, I sort of fell out of the whole blogging thing since January, particularly due to the end of the major conflict in the government (ie the coalition), and because I felt disheartened.  I suppose I feel that writing something on the Internet requires a certain need for attention, and when no one is visiting, you kind of give up.  I guess I need to do more reading of other people's blogs, and they will come here in response.

At any rate, I feel there are many things going on in this world, and I feel the need to write about it.  The depression I felt that compelled many of my previous posts has largely subsided, due to my move to another part of the country.  I don't think it will always be gone, but for the moment I feel pretty good.

Canada is a lovely country with many places that are must visits.  Recently, I moved to the Calgary area after living in Sudbury, On for the better part of a year.  After seeing much of the country, I would have to say my favourite drives of Canada for scenery are (in no particular order):

1) Icefields Parkway - this drive takes you from Lake Louise in Banff National Park to Jasper.  You need a park pass to get through, but it is totally worth it.  The sheer beauty of the mountains and glaciers is unlike anything else in Canada.

2) Lake Superior, highway 17 - this drive takes you from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste Marie.  It is sparsely populated, and the terrain is rugged.  It is in the Canadian Shield, but it is one of the younger parts of it.  Lake Superior formed during a failed rifting phase in the early Proterozoic, and the rocks, especially in the Thunder Bay to Wawa section remain relatively undeformed.  The red sedimentary rock cliffs are amazing and beautiful.

3) Ontario, Highway 41 -  This highway stretches from Pembroke to Napanee, but the truly beautiful part is the middle section of this road.  For the most part, it is relatively unpopulated.  The terrain is hilly, and covered in an assortment of deciduous trees.  I went during the summer, but I could just imagine how amazing it would be during the autumn with the coloured leaves.

4) Highway 20 (Trans Canada Highway) in Quebec, east of Quebec City - This is a great drive.  The highway hugs along the St Lawrence River, as it gradually widens on its way to the Atlantic Ocean.  There are mountains of moderate height all along both sides of the river, and a variety of farms.

5) Highway 1/5 from Chilliwack to Merrit - Of the mountains in BC, I think the neatest portion is the Coast Range.  These mountains are heavily glaciated, full of jagged arretes.

6) Winnipeg to Portage La Prairie, highway 1 - no list of favourite drives could exclude a prairie drive.  The thing about this particular drive is that it is one of the flattest places on Earth.  Though everyone claims Saskatchewan is pretty flat, it is downright hilly compared to the area around Winnipeg.  The Winnipeg to Portage drive is largely devoid of trees, and is pure cash crop farmland.

I'll probably get back to the political stuff in my next post.  The drives thing was on my mind at the moment.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Parliament back in session

Relevant Link

Well, the government is back in the house, and a brief throne speech (only 4 pages long) is intentionally vague after the messiness last month.  Why make a broad based plan for the next session if it might only last a few days?  Harper looked quite grim during the speech, and knows that his days in power might be limited.  Many had doubted Ignatieff after his lack of speaking out after proroguing, but in the past week he has really begun to hang the noose around Harper's head.  And the Conservatives are responding by putting in a deficit.  In fact, I would not be surprised in the least if there aren't any broad-based tax cuts, like most Conservatives want.  The Bloc and Liberals are playing it safe by not shooting down the budget right now, while I think that the NDP are merely satisfied with playing to their base by announcing they would vote it down right now.  I don't think the average voter cares for such posturing.  It will be an interesting time the next two days.  Of course, since much of the budget has already been leaked, I can't see there being much more to be said to change an opinion.

Relevant Link

The other big news today is the appointment of a bunch of new senators.  I made a commentary about this before, so I don't think I need to elaborate more.  I don't think the new senators will really strive to make big changes, but I will hedge my bets for now.  A method for senate elections can't happen soon enough.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Here comes the deficit

Relevant Link and here

Now that Obama is president, the focus returns to Canada. The projected deficit in the next budget has been leaked out, and it is $34 billion. Perhaps the most interesting quote from the CTV article is by the parliamentary budget officer, Kevin Page:

Meanwhile, a report released Wednesday by parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page warned that deficit spending could become "status quo" for Ottawa.

In fact, Page's report blamed the coming deficits on permanent tax cuts and spending programs implemented by the Tories since 2006.

In particular, the two per cent GST cut brought in by the Conservatives costs national coffers about $12 billion a year.
It is interesting reading the comments of these news articles, and despite the fact the Conservatives are running a very large deficit, that it is somehow the Liberals' fault. If the Conservatives were so against deficit spending late last year, why have they abandoned their principles and started doing them? If the Conservatives are so fiscally responsible, why do they not intend to roll back irresponsible tax cuts done in 2007's fiscal update statement? Also, why do they think that tax cuts will be an effective form of stimulus? As someone in the so called "middle class", I doubt a $100-$200 tax cut is going to really affect any of my financial decisions, but it would devastate the coffers of the federal government. The same goes with the GST cut. The GST, though it is a poorly implemented tax (a lot of it comes back to you in quarterly payments), was essential to getting us out of debt back in the early 1990s. Even Mulroney commented that he did not like the fact that Harper was cutting it.

Relevant Link

Meanwhile, the Bank of Canada expects economic recovery to start by the end of the year. Now, I'm not denying this is not going to happen, but really they completely dropped the ball on predicting the recession in the first place. On the whole, I think that most of the financial experts try to make the best case scenario so as to keep people positive. However, when you look at the reality of low commodity prices, I just can't see things rebounding quickly. It took nearly a decade for oil prices to rise from its mid-90s low to a price that more reflected the true price of oil, and I think that the US will try its best to keep it low now. The oil sands project will be frozen until prices are above $80, and I just don't see that happening for several years. Then you hear things like how Vale Inco might shut down their mines in Sudbury for a few months (the mines represent about 10% of the world's nickel production), and you get a sense on how bad things are in the resource sector. The Canadian government (and provincial governments) foolishly squandered the surpluses generated during boom times and did not invest in parts of the economy that would generate more stable jobs. Without high resource prices, Canada's return to prosperity will be long and hard.

It doesn't surprise me in the least that Canada's productivity levels are among the worst in the civilized world. We need to invest in new technology and stop relying on the cozy world of non-renewable resources. Productivity will also decrease as our population ages. All of this paints a pretty bleak picture.