Sunday, February 28, 2010

Saturday, February 27, 2010

An IPCC prediction gone awry

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the very name does not make me feel warm and fuzzy all over. Any belief I may have once nurtured that the United Nations is the solution to the ills of the world has long gone, along with the belief that the government is my friend and is there to protect my rights. So you can imagine my bias towards the IPCC. Their publications and predictions form the foundation of Climate Change activism around the world. The pearls of wisdom shed by the IPCC are examined like chicken entrails by a voodoo medicine man to discern what calamities may befall us if we don’t defer to their predictive powers. So when a prediction of the IPCC doesn’t jive with reality it should give us all reason to be skeptical.
Certainly climate change has been occurring, those of us in Southern Ontario are acutely aware that this entire region was covered by kilometre thick ice sheets several times throughout history, the last time was roughly 13 000 years ago. I live within short driving distance of the moraine ridges and drumlins left by the glacial retreat. The Great Lakes themselves are stark reminders as glacial puddles left by the continent sized glacier. The glaciers have retreated to the far north where they still exist in alpine regions but now vast areas of Tundra are all that remain in Canada.

This is true in Europe and Asia as well and this fact has meant great changes for the indigenous peoples of the north. In Canada the Inuit have experienced such rapid change that community elders still talk of the good old days. The indigenous peoples of Northern Europe will tell similar stories.

In the IPCC predictions of human catastrophe the greatest impact it says will be climate migration due to coastal flooding as sea-levels rise around the world. They predict that upwards of 200 million people will move as a result, overwhelming cities and creating massive upheavals to those countries involved.

Wait a minute, maybe not, maybe some of these impoverished indigenous peoples will adapt (humans are crazy like that) as they did to the ice ages millennia ago. Remarkable is it not, how a species (Homo sapiens), whose origins were in the savannah of central Africa can adapt to living in the High Arctic? Anyway, I digress, a recent study of the Sami the Inuit analogues of Finland shows that maybe the IPCC predictions are a bit overblown.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ayn Rand is back!

Some of us know she never really left, but lately her life and ideas have been resurrected, dusted off and presented as new and improved.

In the mid 1960’s in my impressionable late teens it was suggested to me that I read Atlas Shrugged. By the end of this very long novel, I was presented with a consistent, coherent, all encompassing philosophy of life that I still adhere to, but with some very important modifications. Back then and to this day I can’t think of a more acceptable philosophy that includes my deep distrust of mysticism and religion with the belief in individual liberty and rational self-interest. Rand had it all in her philosophy of Objectivism which was roughly presented in Atlas but later refined through other books and a monthly magazine called The Objectivist to which I subscribed.

Rand has had a rebirth in social networking groups like Facebook, and many of her ideas have been accepted among American Conservative groups even though many contain Evangelical Christians. Apparently they are prepared to ignore Rand’s atheism. This rebirth seems to be associated with the deep recession in the United States and the almost prophetic plot of Atlas Shrugged. This has resulted in increased sales of Atlas Shrugged which the American Library of Congress has called the second most influential book ever published next to the bible. Rand has had an impact, no doubt.

One thing I hate is that people who accept some or all of Rand’s ideas are often termed “acolytes” and in groups they are referred to as a “cult” especially by the media. This is distasteful because both terms have derogatory religious connotations besides being contradictory for a philosophy that advocates atheism, individualism and rational self-interest. The media would never refer to Christianity, Islamism or Buddhism and the like as cults – but of course they really are.

Rand came across to many as being cold, tough, and uncharitable with a sprinkling of other less flattering terms. While she was married, it was a childless marriage and a strange marriage (at least to me). Maybe that’s why her view of family life and charity seemed so out of touch with so many as it does to me, so that’s where we differ. But I choose to ignore that aspect of her life much the way the Christian Conservatives now ignore her atheism. She gave us so much more.

Friday, February 19, 2010

I'm rethinking my support of Charter Schools

My last post insinuated that the public school system in the US or Canada is structured more for the employment of teachers than the education of students.
One way to increase the choices of parents and give them more control over the schooling of their children is the use of Charter Schools. Basically the parent's tax dollars would be redirected to the school of their choice and if it were a private school then that school would get public dollars.
An article (We Don't Need No State Education) by Sheldon Richman posted today at the Freeman-Online points out that maybe the state should not be involved with education at all.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Do more teachers improve education or is it just a make work program?

According to the Cato Institute it’s a make work program. You might think that increasing the number of teachers per 100 students would have a positive impact on math and reading scores. Not according to this graph which shows data going back over 30 years. Cato concludes that keeping teaching jobs and adding teaching jobs is not about the kids at all, but rather the adults employed in education that also are able to vote for their own jobs.

In Canada the statistics aren’t as clear as the US graph shows, but the Fraser Institute does a pretty good job examining and comparing Canadian Education policies. Their conclusions are not substantially different from the Cato conclusions.

An excerpt from a September 2006 policy study titled Why Canadian Education Isn’t Improving (by Merrifield, Dare and Hepburn) shows how the unions and government are partners for the benefit of teachers rather than students.

Now that some provincial governments negotiate teacher contracts, their teacher unions have even greater political power.

The special interest groups, especially the teachers’ unions, have a great deal of money at their disposal. Each year, every public school teacher has hundreds of dollars deducted from his paycheck at the source, money that the school boards send directly to the unions, providing them with a guaranteed revenue stream of millions of dollars every year. The unions’ financial power, combined with their ability to mobilize thousands of teachers, makes them very influential in the political arena.

Teachers’ unions participate in school board elections, often providing financial and logistical support, as well as urging their members to vote for certain candidates. Since voter turnout is low for school board elections and a disproportionate number of educators vote, the unions are frequently successful in electing a number of union sympathizers to the school boards (Moe, 2006). When contract negotiation time comes around, pro-union trustees sometimes represent management at the bargaining table, thus allowing the teachers’ unions to have representatives on both sides of the table (Moe, 2006).
Democracy in action!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

We are PIIGS too

That’s not a misspelling; the PIIGS are Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain. These European democracies are verging on bankruptcy and if we add Iceland, which depending on whom you believe has already defaulted the spelling becomes PIIIGS!

We in Canada should not gloat, things while better, are bad enough that problems will inevitably start showing up soon if drastic measures aren’t taken.

In today’s Globe and Mail Neil Reynolds has an excellent article which holds a mirror up to the Western democracies and the reflection is ugly. It’s absolutely worth your time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Winter Games – why I’m watching.

I’ve always taken an interest in the Olympics and more so this time because the games are on home soil. Sure the games are contrived, elitist, corrupt, generally meaningless and don’t get me started on the IOC, but I still watch.

I’m no athlete, I have never skied, I don’t skate very well, haven’t played hockey in forty years (at least) but I’m still fascinated by the Olympic Games, Winter and Summer.

Getting the games, preparing for the games and presenting the games are all hugely expensive; often leaving communities with debt that lasts for generations. Look at Montreal, the Games of Montreal were in the summer of 1976, the debt was finally paid off late in 2006 (they think), Vancouver could be worse.

So why bother, is it the legacy? Well Montreal got the “Big O”, (or owe) underused, expensive to maintain and it never worked as advertised. There were other facilities yes, but most cater to a small portion of the population just as the Vancouver games facilities will. The Vancouver facilities are sure to be underused because they are less than an hour flight time to Calgary, the site of the 1988 winter games. These are world class training facilities very close together, a recipe for underuse.

These games produced infrastructural legacies like the Sea-to-Sky highway improvements, transit improvements, and others, but all likely would have happened eventually because that’s how governments here work. The games just diverted huge sums of money to different parts of the economy now and away from other parts, created distorted housing prices (more than they already are) and when the games are done the inevitable let down will feel deeper because the Canadian economy as a whole is already in a precarious state due to the Great Recession. Yet I still will watch even though I know this is a government boondoggle, but why?

No matter what you think, the fact is the Olympic Games are a cultural event followed by millions, even billions of people around the planet. The shared experience of the games demonstrates to all those watching the power of individual effort, the single human man or woman overcoming the nerve racking fear of the stage and focusing entirely on the task at hand with one objective. This demonstration of individual heroics is rare in daily life. That’s why we watch sports, go to movies, the theater, the opera and the concert, we need the affirmation that individuals can do great things whether it’s real or contrived. The Olympic Games brings these heroics up a notch because these are the best of the best and they compete for trinkets (medals) on behalf of the tribe (country). That’s why I watch, Go Canada Go!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Inflation so that even children can understand it

This video directs viewers to and while it looks like its for American children, it is definitely worth your time because the lesson is universal.

Broken Transit II

A few weeks ago (Jan. 21) I wrote about the troubles at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) and how its leaders are looking for ways to improve service and reduce complaints. Of course if this service had real competition, riders would by their choices quickly reduce TTC revenues and change would have to happen or the business would fold. But in Toronto, “the better way” as it is often referred to, is for most riders the only way; there are no other real options. (Are there such places where people have options? Check this out.)

Some riders have taken to photographing TTC employees on the job and shown them to be napping or taking extended coffee/bathroom breaks. Needless to say riders are not pleased because TTC employees are unionized and relatively well paid. Yesterday at a news conference the employee’s union leader implored the public to stop harassing TTC employees and treat them respectfully (I was becoming misty eyed). Can you imagine this happening in a real business situation? It’s a head shaker and can only happen in a government-union monopoly.

Things got even worse this week when the young TTC Chairman was accused of having sex in his City Hall office with a 19 year old university co-ed. This same young Chairman was making a run for the mayor’s office in Toronto in the November municipal elections. Today after just a 10 day campaign he apologized and withdrew from the mayoralty race after admitting other sexual dalliances while living with his longtime girlfriend (maybe not too much longer). Obviously he now doesn’t think he is worthy of the mayor’s job. The question should be is he worthy of any public office?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The US Stimulus worked, so why not another one?

Actually the first stimulus, $787 billion US didn't work. Don't take my word, check out what Dan Mitchell a Senior Fellow at CATO has to say. Then check out his blog which links to more videos from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Perspective on Debt

The video below is a repost from a fellow Canadian libertarian blogger who deserves a wider audience. I think the videos are excellent and in fact its worth going to the source and bookmarking it: WPG420's Libertarian Blog.
There really is no need to say more about this video - pretty self explanatory. Enjoy, and check out the others.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The return of critical thinking?

I can only hope. A poll today published by the BBC shows that the Brits have become a little more skeptical about the causes of climate change. Perhaps the cold winter, perhaps the recent bad press (climategate), whatever, people are taking a more critical approach to the hype brought on by the priesthood of Global Warming.
Naturally there was concern raised by British government officials and university types, but I think this is a healthy turn of events.
People may now step back and view this issue in proper perspective and compare it to other problems that may be more important, immediate and more easily remedied. 

My Friend Sarah

This video is the winner of the 2009 Fraser Institute Video Contest. Please read below for a quick synopsis.

"My Friend Sarah" is about a young girl who was the president of her school's "Progressive" club, and then took an economics class...

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Ground Hog Day

Just six more weeks of winter folks, that’s what the keepers of the furry rodents of Eastern North American are saying. My horoscope told me otherwise, but I won't bore you with that.

In other silly news it seems that even respected scientific journals can learn to eat crow and peer-reviewed science can be discredited! Go figure! Of course this should be no surprise to anyone that knows science is a process of theories proposed and data collected. Even the most cherished theories tremble at the mercy of verifiable contradictory data. Such was the case this week when the Lancet, a highly respected British medical journal, completely discredited a peer-reviewed study it had published in 1998 claiming that the Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine (MMR) is somehow linked to autism. This resulted is a significant drop in the vaccination rate and a subsequent measles outbreak in Britain and other places.

The original article supported parents whose autistic children had been given MMR vaccine and a cause-effect relationship was presented in the Lancet. Science is self-correcting……eventually.

By the way, up here in the Great White North, six more weeks of winter would be miraculous.