Thursday, March 31, 2011

Election Day minus 32 The beauty of competition...almost

Day 6: Yesterday I mentioned that Elizabeth May (Greens) has been shut out of the leaders debate by a consortium of TV networks. This morning Channel Zero (formerly CHCH TV) offered a full debate with May on their SuperStation. That's the beauty of competition, options and alternatives, I thought. So far no one is biting, May has filed a court challenge so we'll see.
Meanwhile the CBC is getting flak over their Compass questions (see earlier this week). Many are saying its skewed to favour Liberals, no kidding. What about libertarians, we're not even on the chart, as I pointed out on Monday (Day 3).
I keep saying its still cold out, well, this morning there was a dusting of snow around here, so much for global warming. We are one day before opening day for the Blue Jays. On the first opening day 34 years ago it snowed before and during the game, see below. Really not unusual for these parts, but we have a Dome now so it will be shirtsleeves no matter what.

The graph above is from ThreeHundredEight, a blog devoted to tracking polls. Notice the interesting upturn for the redline, the Liberals. Must mean their promises are better. Is Harper in trouble early? We can only hope.
Play ball! :-)

Sensible Political Debate

Who says politics is incomprehensible?
The two below are getting at the naked truth in a one-on-one kitchen debate, and each one is claiming that the other one's diapers is full of you know what.
Keep them away from the cutlery!

<a href=";from=sp&amp;vid=74df78bc-a25f-4ae3-a59b-c1a4b128d6e2" target="_new" title="Twin Baby Boys Have In-Depth Discussion">Video: Twin Baby Boys Have In-Depth Discussion</a>

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Election Day minus 33- Good to Go!

Day 5 - A consortium of TV networks has decided Green Party leader Elizabeth May will not take part in the leaders debate next month. Reason? She has no members in the House even though she has candidates running in every riding across the country and got about 7% of the popular vote last time. Of course the leader of the Block Quebecois will be at the debate even though he is running in just ONE province, Quebec. He also wants to split the country up, details, details. Personally, I would let the Green leader debate and disallow the Quebecer, but thats just me.

I have my nominations papers printed and a cheque and papers ready for the local Returning Officer. Now all I need is 100 signatures and I'm good to go. I've spent much of the last two days working on a trifold brochure, the first page is posted, now I just need to print it.
It was warmer today, spring is coming, the Blue Jays opener is Friday and its sold out.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Election Day minus 34 - Apathy and Choice

Day 4 - Still cold out, and the promises are flying thick and fast. So I recalled a line from William Gairdner's new book The Trouble with Canada.......Still : "No government can confer a benefit upon one person or group without penalizing another."

I must be watching the CBC too much, yesterday I thought they actually asked the right question but came up with the wrong answer. The question: What causes voter apathy? They did street interviews and got good answers, like: "I'd vote if I thought it would make a difference."
Exactly right, I thought while watching. People do vote if they think there is an issue, as happened in 1988 - the "free trade" election.
Voter Turnout Rates*


In 2008 the turnout was just 59.1%, the lowest EVER.  You don't need to be a statistician to see the steady decline since 1988. Why bother voting if you don't think it will make a difference? By that I mean, does it matter to you if the guy that beats on you is wearing a blue hat, a red hat, an orange hat or a green hat? You are still being beaten! They are ALL the same, no wonder people are apathetic, I would be too, if I wasn't running.
Unfortunately the reporter doing the piece did not say that, he came up with some other poor excuse, but good try.
Here is a more complete list of voter turnout - as government got bigger turnout got smaller, in general.
• March 31, 1958: 79.4%
• June 18, 1962: 79%
• April 8, 1963: 79.2%
• Nov. 8 1965: 74.8%
• June 25, 1968: 75.7%
• Oct. 30, 1972: 76.7%
• July 8, 1974: 71%
• May 22, 1979: 75.7%
• Feb. 18, 1980: 69.3%
• Sept. 4, 1984: 75.3%
• Nov. 21, 1988: 75.3%
• Oct. 26, 1993: 69.64%
• June 2, 1997: 67%
• Nov. 27, 2000: 61.25%
• June 28, 2004: 60.9%
• Jan. 23, 2006: 64.7%
• Oct. 14, 2008: 59.1%
(Source: Elections Canada) 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Election Day minus 35 - Broken compass

Day 3 - Still too cold to get out and knock on doors, saw the first lawn signs (all Conservative - do you think they knew?), and I'm getting sick of the word "coalition" used by the media.

Do you ever feel as though no political party represents you? Our government funded People's Network - CBC TV, can now help you prove it. They have this interactive Q & A thing called Compass on their website. It looks and feels like a version of the Nolan Chart except they leave out libertarians and totalitarians. So when I tried it, it did not exactly give me a definitive answer except that I seem to be conservative with socially liberal tendencies. The box below is a pictorial view of my score - the circle with the check mark is me, doesn't really work for people like me, but the Nolan Chart as calculated on The world's smallest political quiz suits me fine. You should try both, if you are a Canadian taxpayer, hey you helped pay for the CBC thing whether you wanted to or not. Thats how coercion works.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Election Day minus 36 - Breaking through

Day 2
It's still freezing cold outside, a bit too early for door knocking, but that will be necessary shortly.
The mainline parties have made it difficult to topple them any time soon. Using their legislative clout over the years, the main parties that are already comfortably seated in the House of Commons Ottawa, have created several roadblocks to prevent a proliferation of frivolous contenders.
In each riding across the country, every prospective candidate or his/her representative must put up $1000.00 in order to run for office. That's not a problem for the larger parties, flush with donations from expectant supporters. But for the smaller parties like us, it is a roadblock. The money is refundable however, if each candidate or representative completes the required paperwork and follows the rules, but few libertarians like those kinds of rules.
That's not all, each candidate or his/her representative must obtain the signatures of 100 eligible citizens within the riding in order to stand for election. Again, for the main parties not a problem, they do it at their nomination meeting by passing around the form. For the little guys, well, we have some door knocking and a bit of cajoling coming up, I hope some warm weather arrives this week.
Meanwhile a friend to the west has produced (with a bit of help from me) a promo YouTube video that tries to differentiate Libertarians from the Statist parties (the rest of them). Here it is, I love it:


What if China suffers an economic collapse?

A Facebook friend posted a link to an Australian website the other day that carried a story called "China's Ghost cities." It's the kind of story that would make anyone who knows anything about Austrian economics cringe. I know a bit, so I cringed when I saw it, but it wasn't a surprise to me, I knew the story already.
I have written about China before, here and again more recently here. An excellent article in Canadian Business Magazine (issue cover is pictured) by Jason Kirby (who has some Austrian economics credentials) called China's Coming Collapse, outlines what he believes will be the eventual demise of the economic miracle that seems to be happening in China.
This is a perfect example of how central planning in an economy creates massive distortions that eventually need to be rectified. The distortions cannot continue for long, and the scary part is, what will happen to countries like Canada that supply commodities to places like China? When, not if this collapse happens is the only thing I think that is questionable. Have a look at the video link on ghost cities above, its quite stunning.  

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Election Day minus 37 - Lies from the Conservative elite

May 2, just 37 days from today has been set as election day in Canada, the fourth election in just seven years.
Aside from the government defeat for contempt of Parliament yesterday, the most interesting line for me, came from the leader of the separatist party when he pointed out in French: "The Minister of State for Science and Technology (Gary Goodyear) is a creationist and believes that dinosaurs walked the earth with humans. He thinks that The Flintstones was a documentary and Dino was the star." Thats right "science," the guy is a chiropractor, so that should tell you something about the Harper Conservatives. Science and Technology is a department that to my way of thinking a Libertarian government would eliminate completely even though I'm not sure what they do. What I do know is that they likely contribute to overspending, and that private interests would do a better job.
Speaking about overspending, I almost choked on my morning coffee reading David Frum's column in the National Post (the Conservative newspaper). David Frum was once a speech writer for the POTUS George W. Bush, and is alleged to have authored the famous phrase "axis of evil" in a Bush speech. Today Mr. Frum suggests that the question in this election is "Who should be trusted to manage the economic recovery - the people who want government to spend more or the people who want government to tax less?" The implication being that Conservatives spend less, which is not quite true.
Last week that same newspaper showed that Conservatives have actually spent more historically, and increased our debt-load more, than did the Liberals.
The graph from that Post article shows Conservative governments in blue and Liberals in pink. During the Mulroney government from the 1984 to 1993, debt rose dramatically in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars or as a percent of GDP. The Chretien-Martin years (1993-2006) at first showed an increase then a dramatic decrease as government actually shrank. The Harper Conservatives at first benefitted from the Liberal surplus, then began spending recklessly themselves so that they are now in worse shape than when they took office.   
Mr. Frum points out that we have had a bit of a financial crisis world-wide, as if the Harper Economic Action Plan made a difference to our recovery. Mostly it just increased our debt, as you can see on the graph. Mr. Frum also asks voters to give Harper a majority, because as he states "minority governments are vulnerable to blackmail." If that was true then what was Mulroney's excuse in 1984 with the largest ever majority in Canadian history? Look at the jump in debt on the graph. Who was blackmailing Mulroney to spend? Lies are lies.  

Forget Earth Hour, its Human Achievement Hour! HAH2011

Annoyed with the TV/radio media people encouraging you to sit in a dark room for one hour tonight? I am.
I have twice written about Earth Hour, 2009, 2010. But this year I am encouraged that the green revolution is losing support. I hope people are starting to get it, electricity is not evil, and using it is not evil, and in fact if you live where I live, in the Great White North, it was minus 10 Celsius this morning with a windchill around minus 17C. For those of the US persuasion, that is about 12 degrees F but feeling like zero. Electricity is survival, it's not a luxury, just ask those poor people in quake ravaged northeastern Japan today.
If you want to spend some time celebrating human achievement rather than darkness tonight, fire up your computer and join the party by visiting visit this website at 8:30 pm local time (actually starts at 8pm EST).
If you need some more convincing, then read this eloquent "Dissent" from one of our local economics professors, Ross McKitrick who "likes visiting nature," but doesn't want to live there.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

To American readers, we have a spring election in Canada!

I know most Americans don't pay much attention to their cousins north of the border, but our federal government has just been accused of contempt of parliament (first time ever - and about time too), and it has been defeated on a confidence vote and forced to call an election (probably by May 2). One of the blessings of the Westminster System (Canada) is short election campaigns, or ones that go on forever depending on your point-of-view. We have had a minority government here for years, a bit unstable you might think, but this is Canada after all, land of peace, order and good government (I dispute the last bit), so not unstable at all. In fact markets are calm, not much changes really except that printers will have lots more revenue, as lawn signs sprout like dandelions and propaganda pamphlets flutter in the breeze.
As a result, I'll be taking a bit of a break from my usual rants for the next five weeks or so, possibly focussing less on the world and being a little more partisan and inward looking in my posts than I have been. I'm planning to run for parliament in my riding (electoral district) like I did in 2008.
I'll miss the rest of the world. Things are still bad in Japan, Fukushima Number 3 has likely had a core breach, but not-to-worry it won't be worse than Chernobyl, at least according to the pundits and they have been right all along so far ;-).
The Arab Spring has been spreading, now to Syria and Jordan, and who knows where that is going to lead. NATO has taken over in Libya - more Canadian content there.
Tomorrow is earth hour (again), a celebration of darkness and stupidity. But I will be busy, the lights will be on.
I might keep a daily record of my drive to certain defeat during this campaign, I will keep you posted. The bad news is I plan to run in a Provincial(State) election in October. That one is planned, which is a bit strange for Canadian elections because they tend to be spontaneous. I'll be back. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How capitalism will save the world from climate change.

In the picture are watermelons, green on the outside, but red on the inside. That serves as a clumsy metaphor for many environmentalists today: socialists with a superficial cover. If you expected me to blurt out the explanation behind that headline title, alas I'm not that smart, but George Reisman is. So I will yield to his wisdom. The excerpt below is from the conclusion of an article that does supply a brilliant explanation for my headline.
"Marxian “scientific socialism” was collectivism in its boisterous, arrogant youth. Environmentalism is collectivism in its demented old age. It will be much easier to overcome than was Marxism. Marxism, however falsely and dishonestly, at least promised major positives: the unlocking of human potential and the achievement of future material prosperity. Environmentalism is reduced to trying to find terrified people with less than the mentality of children, to whom it can offer the prospect of avoiding wind and rain. It is the intellectual death rattle of collectivism. When it has been overcome, a world-embracing capitalist economy will be able to come into existence and be capable in fact of achieving unprecedented economic progress and prosperity across the entire globe."

If you want to read the full explanation, go here, you will not regret that you did.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nuclear Power - Seen and Unseen - Part 2

Smoke rising from Reactor 3 Fukushima

The massive clean-up in North-Eastern Japan is just beginning. It is one thing to have a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that are both natural and unpredictable events, but that disaster was compounded by a man-made event, that might have been preventable; the nuclear disaster at Fukushima. There is lots of blame to go around, but it is too early to start.

The after quake clean-up is literally happening under a (radioactive) cloud. No one is liable for the natural events, they come with the territory, with Japan, but who is responsible for the nuclear mess? Is it TEPCO, are they responsible? Of course they are. But they already have huge debt, minimal insurance coverage, and they may be responsible for paying off farmers in the area around the plant. They may also default and not meet any of their obligations. Ultimately like in every other country that has nuclear power plants, the government (taxpayers) hold the greatest liability.

Thus it is the nature of nuclear power that makes it very unlikely to exist in totally free markets. Who would insure a nuclear power station? How long would the contract last? What happens to nuclear reactors when their useful lifespan is over, still insured? Who would be liable for the waste generated by the plants, waste products that have half-lives of tens-of-thousands-of-years? These are real problems that would make contracts, voluntary agreements among free-trading individuals and corporations, unrealistic. 
If you think nuclear power is a good idea, safe and economical, then you are deluded. You must believe governments have the right to force people and their children and their children's children and so on, to accept the liability for these things forever, or tens-of-thousands of years, whichever comes first. What choice do those future generations have? None! Don't believe me? If you are Canadian go look at the "Nuclear Liability Act," which limits power plants to $75 million of liability for any one incident (see Section 31 of the Act). Imagine a class-action suit on behalf of 5 million people exposed to radiation, that would bring a whopping $15 each! Who pays for the rest? Taxpayers do. Of course that is the unseen and unseemly part of nuclear power, there were no voluntary agreements entered in to, it is simple coercion. In whose interests has this law been written? Does it protect the rights of Canadians like laws are supposed to?
If you are American, check out the Price-Anderson Act, same idea different country. In fact such laws exist in all countries where nuclear liability is a concern.
Think about this next time you switch on the lights, and realize that there are other options that may not be acceptable by the standards of present day green environmentalists, but the other options are better than freezing in the dark.

Below is a video where Stefan Molyneux brings you True News about nuclear power.

Nuclear Power - Seen and Unseen - Part 1

Each red dot above represents a nuclear power station usually with several reactors.
If I were a believer in conspiracy theories (I'm not), I might suggest that the entire global warming crisis was concocted to revive a moribund nuclear industry. Why would I say that? The nuclear power industry received body blows a generation ago after Three-Mile-Island and Chernobyl. The fear associated with those events justifiably curtailed the building of nuclear power stations worldwide. That fear has since been replaced by the fear of global warming consequences, and of course nuclear power stations don't produce greenhouse gases. Unfortunately we have been reminded that nuclear power stations do produce something besides electricity.
 As I write this, a radiation cloud is still wafting over Fukushima Prefecture and surrounding regions in Japan and out to sea. The population of Northeastern Japan has endured a magnitude 9.0 earthquake followed by a very destructive Tsunami, followed by a nuclear accident. "Accident" does not seem adequate, this was an accident that was waiting to happen, it was just a matter of time. The event was almost as predictable as earthquakes in Japan; they happen, they happen often, and in a country that has 55 commercial nuclear reactors (third largest number on earth) an earthquake related nuclear disaster was almost predestined - Murphy's Law.
In the radiation cloud are radioisotopes like Xenon and Iodine each with a relatively short half-life, and Caesium, with a half-life of just over 30 years. The dispersion of this cloud may be visualized on this website.

For those of us who live in Eastern North America, where there are many, many nuclear reactors (see the map above), you may feel safe that magnitude 9.0 earthquakes and tsunamis are very unlikely. The simple truth about the Fukushima disaster is that the partial core-meltdowns (or worse, it's not over yet) were caused by an interruption in the cooling of these reactors. The cooling pumps stopped because of a power outage and an inability to restart the pumps due to the tsunami etc. The back-up systems had failed, first the generators then the batteries, the power station was in a blackout, which continues on 4 of the 6 reactors at this writing.

Can blackouts happen here? Absolutely! On the afternoon of Aug. 14th, 2003 a major blackout caused the automatic rapid shutdown of 9 US reactors and 7 reactors in Ontario (see Chapter 8, pg. 111 in that report), all of them operating at high power levels because of the heatwave in the region on that day. Fortunately for us, the cooling systems of these reactors were maintained, but the reactors in the Toronto area were offline until sometime between Aug. 22 and 25, more than a week later. This had significant economic consequences to Ontario and the region. Tragically the situation in Japan is offering us a glimpse, a lesson, at possible futures.
My purpose here, is not to scare anyone, the levels of radiation in Japan are relatively low, and you may do your own assessment of that using this radiation dose chart online from this blogpost. My purpose is to continue a discussion on the use of nuclear energy. There are at least 104 commercial nuclear reactors on 64 sites in the United States, with an additional 34 research reactors at Universities across the US, and an estimated 272 military reactors. In Canada there are at least 23 commercial reactors (plus two are planned), and 19 research reactors at research centres and Universities across Canada. 

Since 1952, when the first nuclear reactor came online, their have been at least 100 significant nuclear accidents around the world. While fatalities have been low, that real number is difficult to calculate given the slow rate at which radiation-related health problems occur. Look at the map of nuclear power stations above again. Do you live near one of those red dots? Probably, even if you don't, a radiation cloud from an accident can be carried quite a distance. If you live in Ontario where prevailing winds from the west and southwest are common, well, you can see what I mean? So what kind of pollution would you prefer, the radioactive kind, or just plain old air pollution and carbon dioxide (which is not a pollutant really)? I know what I prefer.
See part 2 soon.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Global warming and energy production

Anyone who has read this blog knows that I am a global warming skeptic. Not so much that I don't believe warming is happening, I just don't believe efforts in Canada, the United States or Europe will make any difference to mitigating warming (and why would we want too?). I don't believe that forcing people to alter their lifestyles by having them pay huge price penalties for carbon dioxide production is moral, regardless of the supposed noble cause (saving the planet!?). I also don't believe that the models presented by the United Nations or any other group could possibly be accurate (given what we don't know) or that there is any risk in just doing nothing (my preference).
Lately I have been involved in researching electric power generation because of its implications for the next election in Ontario. Our current provincial government has already set Ontario on a course that is supposed to reduce our "carbon footprint" but at great expense to  the population, and to Ontario's competitive position among its neighbours. Two-thirds of Ontario's future electricity production is forecast to be nuclear or non-conventional (wind, solar).
Well, nuclear power has been in the news of late, and I will have much more to say about it soon, but I found it refreshing to watch the video below from a global warming believer who is actually trying to get the science right. Richard A. Muller, a retired physics teacher from UC.Berkeley speaks about:

> why our efforts to reduce our CO2 emissions may be futile because of developing nations 
> the exaggerated rhetoric used by the IPCC and other warmists
> the exaggerated data about ice cap melting, glacier melting, sea level rising, hurricanes etc.
> the "Climategate" scandal and the facts about the fraud committed by scientists

Prof. Muller injects a degree of uncertainty about the warmists' data that has been sadly lacking. He admits that there is uncertainty, unlike the Gores and Suzukis of the world that claim the science is settled. I disagree with Prof. Muller on the moral issue of coercing joint global effort to reduce warming, and I also disagree with him on China. He assumes that China will continue to grow into the future as it has in the past 20 years (10% per year). I find that difficult to believe as I've indicated before. A recent article in Canadian Business Magazine titled China's Coming Collapse (by Jason Kirby) details why China's apparent success may be just a mirage, much the same as the Japanese bubble of the 1980's that resulted in Japan's lost decade. Mr. Kirby can be heard on a podcast discussing this article if you prefer.
So here is Richard A. Muller, from UC.Berkeley speaking about Global Warming -- The Current Status: The Science, the Scandal etc:


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unbearable bullying

Amidst all the gloom in the news, more bad news, Knut the polar bear is dead, and he died young, aged only four. That is young for a polar bear, 20 to 50 years is typical in the wild. But zoos often don't agree with animals, as much as they try to mimic habitat, they frequently fail. Even animals prefer complete liberty, something quite rare now for humans in our society.
Fortunately Knut was not as cute at death, as he was when he first made news being rejected by his mother at the Berlin Zoological Garden.
While the cause of death is not yet known, PETA is speculating that his death could have been avoided and"that Knut was being “terrorized” by three female polar bears — including his own mother!" Bullying in bears too! Must be a sign of the times.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Suzuki's misguided war on fish farms

The West coast of Canada like the East coast, is dotted with fishing outports that provide Canadian and world markets with seafood. Despite strict government regulation and oversight by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Canada, the entire Northern Cod fishing industry collapsed in 1992, creating unemployment and more economic hardship in the Canadian Maritimes (see graph).

The collapse of an entire population because of overfishing or overhunting is not new or unusual. The Plains First Nations culture that depended on the North American Bison was destroyed when overhunting decimated Bison populations in the mid-to-late 1800's. Many readers might think that this collapse was because of lack of regulation by government in the territories where the bison herds roamed. But you should ask yourself what might have happened if those bison herds were owned by ranchers? The bison story is more complex than that; as one libertarian blogger suggests in this, his first "Avatar post". Today, surviving bison herds are protected or managed and cultivated in farms.  My point is, that a food source fit for human consumption is often best managed if it was cultivated, and owned by a farmer.
Fish farming, the most common form of aquaculture, eliminates many of the risks posed by commercial fishing, namely overfishing, as in the cod example above, the risks to the fishermen themselves, and catching and killing the wrong fish, called by-catch. You would think environmentalists like David Suzuki would support fish farming, and you would be wrong. Over the years through petitions and other forms of activism the Suzuki Foundation has attempted to undermine this industry on the basis of flawed scientific evidence and fraud.
An excellent article in the Financial Post by Vivian Krause called Suzuki's fish story, is an attempt to set the record straight. The article points out that a scientific study in a prestigious journal in 2004 triggered a world-wide scare about toxic (cancer-causing) contaminants (PCBs) in farmed salmon. The study suggested that farmed Atlantic salmon had almost 8 times more PCB's than did wild Pacific salmon, the difference was between 0.0366 ppm and 0.0048 ppm. While that is an 8 times difference, the acceptable range is around 2 ppm, or 55 times more, well within acceptable limits for consumption. When the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) reported to the media that farmed salmon was 8 times more toxic than wild salmon and a co-author of the "study told the media that 'women should avoid eating farmed salmon at all, from the day they are born through menopause,' and that 'one should avoid farmed salmon like the plague. Our results indicate elevated cancer risk from one meal (of farmed salmon) or even less per month'." Well, that was a bad day for farmed salmon.
It turns out that the fears were all groundless and misleading, but much worse the entire story which involves influential people within the AAAS and the prestigious journal Science and their use of those outlets "to sway market share towards wild fish and away from the competition: imported, farmed fish." Millions of dollars were involved and the Suzuki Foundation is at the centre helping promulgate the lie and receiving funds while doing it. (read Ms. Krause' article)
Ms. Krause points out that this misinformation put out by the Suzuki Foundation may be negatively impacting newborns of "educated" mothers in the Vancouver area, who are not giving their fetuses sufficient omega-3 fatty acids because "Canada's most trusted environmentalist has been giving pregnant women faulty advice to avoid farmed salmon." 
Maybe Suzuki is getting the message, "....the Packard foundation paid the David Suzuki Foundation US$762,600 for Pacific Salmon Forests, a project that produced a brochure titled, Why You Shouldn't Eat Farmed Salmon." I did an online search for this brochure which I located in several libraries on the BC coast and this is what came up: "Not Found" (see below)
Again, if you are at all interested in David Suzuki and his work, you owe it to yourself to read Ms. Krause' article. Suzuki can and has made mistakes, are there others? I think so, just before I close let me point you to an interesting event that happened last fall in BC.
Much credence was given to Suzuki's war on farmed salmon because wild salmon harvests were falling along the West coast each year. Somehow this was blamed on farming (although I would have thought that to be counterintuitive), disease caused by farming, and global warming. Low and behold huge numbers of salmon returned in 2010. Why? That is not yet understood, but it's interesting.
For those interested in fish farming, here is a quick look.


Friday, March 18, 2011

David Suzuki at 75

Among the soldiers of the Green-Gestapo, Canadian David Suzuki holds the rank of Generalfeldmarschall at least. He will be turning 75 in a few days, and he is enjoying iconic status among many Canadians, with a movie, a foundation and unrivalled popularity amongst the green and wanna-be-green-gliterati. Personally I think its way-way overdone, but I'm sure Suzuki thinks he is doing the right thing, and yet I totally disagree with him on so many issues. So how could he and I have such a different perspective on things? We're both good people, I am, anyway.
The answer is that we have different world-views, different first premises and as a result a different moral structure.
My view is that humanity is a part of the biota of this planet, and each person on the planet is entitled by virtue of their existence to certain rights. The chief among these rights, is to their own life, each person is in charge, and is the owner, of their own life once they are old enough to leave the caring umbrella of their parents. When are they old enough? They are old enough when they can use their own reason and their own abilities to fend for themselves, and reason is the primary tool that separates us from the other creatures on Earth. As free individuals, people are also free to form associations with others in order to achieve common goals. So far many of you might agree with me. Where we might part is here: individuals or groups may come into conflict when the rights of an individual are infringed upon by another, or by a group. Even if that offending group calls itself the lawful government of the land, by coercing individuals to do things that are essentially contrary to the rights of an individual or individuals, then that is immoral, not justifiable and should be resisted. I believe the government's proper primary purpose is to defend the rights of individuals and settle disputes between them. From a look at the Suzuki's website, my last two statements is where we disagree.

The Suzuki Foundation (DSF) is a lobby group, freely formed and entitled to exist within the laws of the land (although they are not registered lobbyists). I'm fine with that, I even agree with some of their causes. Part of their stated purpose is to " with government, business and individuals to conserve our environment by providing science-based education, advocacy and policy work, and acting as a catalyst for the social change that today's situation demands." Not a problem, generally, but I believe DSF has too much sway on government, and government should not be doing some of the things it does in its policy planning and enactments.
On their website, DSF has a page titled Declaration of Interdependence. I have excerpted a section below:
I'm fairly certain Suzuki would agree with the Declaration and with the part excerpted above. The first sentence spells out that humans are a blight on the Earth, the second sentence claims that the our wealth (in Canada etc.) comes at the expense of the "suffering of millions." The rest is a demand for reparations to pay for the "full ecological and social cost ..... of development." In essence, this document of interdependence  actually separates us from the other creatures on the planet rather than connecting us. How dare we reproduce and become the dominant species of Earth. How dare we presume to alter the planet to bring ourselves comfort at the expense of  "fellow creatures." How dare we succeed! That's my problem with Suzuki!
Don't get me wrong here, I understand how important it is to do the right thing for the environment, and I agree that protecting and preserving all aspects of nature where possible is virtuous. I love to see and be a part of nature in all its glory, that is a value to me and my family. But given the extent of pollution and destruction that has occurred already, do our current rules really work? Even where there is massive government regulation, pollution occurs, oil spills occur, species are lost because of shrinking habitat, and on and on. Will doing more of the same, more regulation by government work? I doubt it.
The problem might simply boil down to ownership. Property that is owned by individuals is property that is protected by individuals. I know it might sound counterintuitive, but private property is always better protected than public property. The legal issues are complex, but the argument that free markets better protect the environment than governments is out there, here for example.
So maybe Suzuki is barking up (or hugging) the wrong tree. I only disagree with him on fundamentals, and the means to arrive at the proper ends. I don't disagree for the most part on the ends, but I do disagree that the means justify the ends. I'm sure his birthday will be well attended anyway.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Removing safe and reliable electricity generation in Ontario

In Ontario the Provincial government has demonized coal-fired-thermal-power-generation. Lets put aside for the moment the obvious question that asks why is government is involved in supplying electric power to homeowners. I think competitive free enterprise would do a better job, but I will deal with that issue later. In the meantime an Ontario election is looming and citizens will have an opportunity to pass judgment on the policies and practices of Dalton McGuinty's Liberals soon.
One of those policies is McGuinty's plan to remove the option of coal and reduce natural gas usage for power generation, replacing them with solar panels and wind mills. This ideologically driven policy may lead to some serious unintended consequences for Ontario's future. It's "ideologically driven policy," because McGuinty is convinced that the waste gas carbon dioxide is a significant cause of the evil global warming. Why global warming is a problem for Ontario, I'm still not certain?
In a widely distributed pamphlet McGuinty's Liberals claim the reason for removing coal power is because it pollutes the air, even though there are ways of mitigating that problem that are less expensive and less risky for the future. If air pollution is a primary effect of coal-fired-thermal-power-generation, then the closure of these plants should reduce air pollution. Does it? Have a look at my answer in this video: 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Confronting the inevitable in Wisconsin

Here you see part of the 85,000 demonstrators that showed up in Madison Wisconsin (March 12/11) to protest first term Gov. Scott Walker's legislation to remove the collective bargaining rights of Wisconsin State employees.
I have avoided this issue because I feel very sympathetic to to the workers, especially the teachers. I don't condone there behaviour of late, which was appalling, but I understand their protest.
Speaking for myself, I became a teacher because I loved the subject matter (science) and I thought I could share that love and enthusiasm with others. The idea of teaching sounded good to me as an undergrad, because some of my previous teachers seemed to enjoy what they were doing. Who would not want a job that they enjoyed? That was my primary motivation. In order to earn the best salary and benefits I was attracted to the public school system simply out of rational self-interest. This meant I had to join a union (we called it a Federation - OSSTF) and I will admit I felt uncomfortable about the whole thing except the teaching. Most of the time I was able to dismiss the fact that I had a government job, and I was able put aside my philosophical and political beliefs. The worst times were when contract bargaining occurred, or the union supported some group/party that I did not support. There was strike action and work-to-rule action that I did not support, and that I actively undermined. I always knew that my union was in cahoots with the municipal and Provincial(State) governments, and that we teachers enjoyed job security, salary and benefits that did not exist in the private sector. It is for that reason that I think Gov. Walker is doing the right thing. Although he may not be doing the right thing for the right reason, this could be a political tactic.
Wisconsin like most of the states in America and Provinces in Canada, is teetering on default. They differ only in degree of urgency. Over the years legislators in all those jurisdictions, have conspired (and recruited to get re-elected) with public sector employee unions to create contracts and entitlements that cannot possibly be fulfilled, and are far in excess of what the free market private sector would provide. Everyone knows that, Wisconsin is the tip of the very large iceberg that will collide with the good-ship Liberal-Democracy, soon enough. Other states are bound to follow, New Jersey and Gov. Chris Christie comes to mind, the poop is hitting the propellor!
Below Stefan Molyneux has some interesting observations on Wisconsin.    


Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ban Conservatives!

Take a moment and Google "conservatives ban." When I did there were 2,570,000 results. Many of the first few pages dealt with conservatives banning burkas, booze, abortion, gay marriage, smoking, Harry Potter!, various books and words, trans fats, song lyrics, topless sunbathing etc., I think you get the picture. Conservatives like banning things they don't like or supporting the banning of things they don't like, and the list is long.
Now try that again but this time Google "libertarians ban." There are results, but they are phrased differently, more like: should libertarians be banned? Also very common is "libertarians against the banning of....." a whole range of things, a list almost as big as the conservative ban list. It's an interesting distinction, unfortunately libertarians are often lumped together with conservatives and thought of as being similar when in fact the difference is huge.
A posting by George Bragues on the new Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada website called Conservatism vs. Libertarianism points to one thing the two share: ".......conservatism and libertarianism share a deep suspicion of collectivism. Conservatism does so because it prefers changes that are continuous with, and organically flow, from the status quo, whereas collectivism typically entails a top-down engineered break with custom and tradition. Libertarianism, by contrast, has no special attachment to the prevailing order. It opposes collectivism simply because it violates the principle of individual liberty." That's why the two sides are lumped together, but conservatives are not averse to using collective action on many things.
The chief difference is "......the libertarian is willing to tolerate behaviour that he or she does not approve, whereas the conservative finds it difficult to do the same. If the conservative cannot approve it, he or she is inclined to want the state to ban, or if that’s too onerous, restrain it." So the fact is I'm willing to tolerate conservatives - not ban them, but that does not mean I like them.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Gimme your money or else! Its tax time

Did I ever mention how much I hated doing income tax? I believe I did, last year. Nothing has changed. It might not be so bad if I felt I was getting something for the money (I'm kidding). The fact is, I suspect much of my tax money goes to transfer payments, either to another province or directly to some other people. I have no idea where all the money goes, and I think I pay attention to things like that. Imagine the plight of most of my countrymen who generally don't give a damn, they are being robbed blind. I wish someone who knows where the money goes would itemize it for me, not that it makes a difference, I know it isn't being spent well.
My municipal-regional real-estate tax gets me garbage collection, road maintenance, sewage and snow removal, police, schools, transit and other tangible services. I get all of those services for about one-fifth of my family's income tax payout. While I have little choice in who or how delivers these services, they are generally adequate, but with lots of room for improvement.
Lets see, my federal-provincial income tax gets me health care (it must be a big chunk of that money), a smallish armed forces (its wonderful to live next to America), a judiciary, a border control and an enormous bureaucracy to dole out the transfers etcetera.
To further irritate me, I spend hours trying to dodge and finagle my way out of paying too much tax by filling out tax forms each year on my computer. Last year I mentioned the idea of a flat tax, its still a great idea, and William Hanley in the Financial Post thinks so too. He suggests 25%, I'd start lower and dump some of the gravy, a term that has become popular in these parts.
Of course an income tax is punitive, and always brings to mind the chant "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."  Yes, that phrase popularized by that guy, should make everyone think about the morality of income tax. Its immoral, legalized theft, and it penalizes effort, never a good idea.
Consumer taxes are better, and less punitive. We had a provincial and a federal sales tax, PST and GST, now we have the harmonized sales tax HST. I don't really like it either, but at least it is avoidable in some ways.
A big problem with those taxes are that businesses become government tax collectors. One of my colleagues, who runs a business, actually snubs his nose at government, and refuses to collect sales tax. Watch and listen to this interview of a very brave gentleman.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Khan Academy: The self-paced lecture

In my entire career as a high school teacher there were just a few times when I could walk out of a classroom after delivering a lecture and think to myself "That was good, I did a good job of explaining those concepts and I think I covered all the bases." On those days, I would think: "wouldn't it be great if I could have filmed that lecture or discussion and repeat it again for my other classes or in future years?" More often after class I was self-critical, I knew I had failed to mention this thing or that, but I also knew I would see them again and bring it up then, if they were all there.
A much worse feeling was knowing that some of the students did not understand my talk even though I thought I had done such a fine job. That can be the worst, most frustrating part of teaching. Even if you ask a group whether they understand, few in the group will have the courage to say no and waste everyones time. That is one problem with one-size-fits-all teaching.
Salman Khan wants to use video to reinvent education. He might already have done that. Years ago in my former school board, there was a concept kicked around called "mastery learning." Basically students don't proceed until they have mastered a particular objective. So imagine a student airline pilot who only gets 75% of his/her landings correct. Though thats not bad, you would not want that person to become a pilot, not yet anyway. The problem with mastery learning is that it does not fit the model on which most school systems function, and since there is little competition among school systems because they are largely government institutions, well, you see what I mean. Students are left with gaps in their education, not able to master some things because of time or some other constraint. Salman Khan has helped flip the eduction system around. Using hundreds (2100 so far) of YouTube videos to teach basic concepts, Khan has allowed students to master by repetition (YouTube is very patient) particular lessons so that they may proceed to the next level fully prepared. Teachers can then use one-to-one contact to help the stragglers. Does it work? Well, have a look the TED video below and he will explain it, then visit the KhanAcademy here.    


Monday, March 7, 2011

Revolution, democracy, education and gas pains

Ed meets Fidel
About a month ago I posted a comment on the Egyptian Revolution. It was about democracy and the possibility that the Muslim Brotherhood would be involved in a future Egyptian government. Well, that revolution, or should I say coup d'état, seems to have subsided, Mubarak is out, and the Army is still in control as it always had been, no need to worry about the Brotherhood there, not yet anyway. George Jonas commented on that last week in a column Intoxicated by Revolution, where he gets closer to the truth of what is going on in the current Middle Eastern unrest. Jonas points out that Americans in particular are in love with revolution because their own country was born that way. The American and Canadian media got very excited about the Egyptian "peoples revolt" and their demand for freedom and democracy even though those terms have a different meaning for the Egyptians.
I'm old enough to remember a revolution that got North Americans excited more than half a century ago. The picture shows Ed Sullivan, lord of Sunday night television back when I was a kid (in 1959), speaking to a 32-year-old Fidel Castro about his "liberation of Cuba." Some liberation, opinions on that revolution changed soon after that interview was aired.

Mr. Jonas' column discusses democracy as being a goal of the Mid-East unrest. He points out that democracy is really just a "method of succession or power-transfer." In North America we view democracy as a synonym "for individual liberty, fundamental human rights, private enterprise, separation of church and state, an independent judiciary, freedom of expression - in short, for the sum of the best ideals of Western-style societies." That is just our bias and it has never been true. Jonas continues that: "'Democracy' denotes a system in which governments succeed each other by being elected, usually for a fixed term, by a majority of qualified voters. That's all. Rule by majority mandate says nothing, in itself, about the kind of society such an impeccable mandate is going to rule." Jonas also adds that it is very unlikely for democracy to come from this current unrest "it's more likely for wealth, justice and liberty to bring people democracy," like has occurred in the West. In other words there is virtually no chance that we can expect democratic states, as we think of them in North America, to arise in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, or Libya. So what is going on there?

Two things are happening and both are related to the way government distorts the marketplace.
In both Tunisia and Egypt a post-secondary education is "free," even though the market for graduates is extremely limited. Tunisia particularly has 57% of its young people entering the labour market with a college degree, compared to the US situation with less than one-third of its young people in that situation. An education bubble fuelled by government policy has created unemployment and underemployment in both Tunisia and Egypt. The value of an education to an individual can only be determined by the price that an employer would pay to employ that individual. If the educated individual is unemployable, than of what value was the education received? That is the distortion created by these governments. Countries with groups of educated unemployables, subjugated by dictators like Gaddafi in Libya,  together with power of the internet, has created a volatile mixture. 
For us in the West the unrest across North Africa has distorted the oil market in southern Europe and as a result everywhere oil is used, "a pain in the gas." A prolonged civil war in Libya threatens to involve the armed forces of NATO and beyond, because it endangers Libyan civilians (no fly zone) and the oil infrastructure of Libya. We are all paying more for gasoline today because the market demands it. Interesting how one government distortion far away can lead to your wallet.