Saturday, May 18, 2024

Expect Poilievre to come out fighting - again

There have been a couple of critical articles in the Globe and Mail recently, calling out Pierre Poilievre on his duplicity, so you have to know that some serious push-back is on its way. The man hates to be criticized, and is highly adept at turning any criticism against its perpetrator. Indeed, you could call it gaslighting, but it is nevertheless highly effective.

A couple of days ago, an article by Robyn Urback called out Poilievre's hypocrisy about all the "useless and overpaid lobbyists" that should be fired and permanently done away with, because all they do is bend the ear of the Prime Minister in their direction.

Well, yes, that's exactly what lobbyists do, and I'm all actually all for doing away with them myself. But as Ms. Urback points out, Poilievre himself is a frequent recipient of lobbyists, seeing two within just a couple of days of his National Post op-ed, and many more in recent months. So, is he saying that lobbyists should not have access to Prime Ministers but Leaders of the Opposition are fair game?

And then today, an opinion piece by Sharon Proudfoot points out the extent to which Poilievre has a habit (straight out of Donald Trump's playbook, let it be said) of insisting that the Canadian press is totally corrupt and hostile to him, and deliberately supportive of Justin Trudeau's "woke agenda" (his favourite phrase, not mine).

Ms. Proudfoot recounts a whole litany of examples of where Poilievre uses his rhetorical gift to destroy a journalist's entirely reasonable line of questioning, or, even more commonly, to play the victim and portray the question as an unfair partisan gibe and a sop to Trudeau, turning the question around and scoring cheap political points of his own (and generating the social media-ready sound bites his supporters love so much). See the Trump connection here?

I'm not sure how Poilievre can argue that the Canadian press is biased against him. Have you read some of the sycophantic pro-Poilievre panegyrics in the National Post and The Sun recently, not to mention the local newspapers on the Prairies? What he means is: there are people out there who actually disagree with him, and they need to be cut down to size and ridiculed, by any means necessary, because his followers expect no less of him.

So, expect a press release sometime soon. Probably something with the words "woke" and "Trudeau" in it. Poilievre is nothing if not predictable. Depressingly predictable.

Saturday, May 11, 2024

No evidence pro-Palestine protests are being run by outsiders

You hear a lot about the pro-Palestine protests at US and Canadian universities being infiltrated and even instigated by outside actors, agitators and all-round ne'er-do-wells. It's a convenient way to try to de-legitimize the protests, and it comes up at almost all such protests

Frankly, I'd be very surprised if there weren't some of those. Protests and demonstration of every kind attract this kind of professional agitator/anarchist/white supremacist types - look at the Freedom Convoy and the Occupy movement, for example, and further back, the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations. But to what extent is this happening with this particular batch of protests?

The right-wing press and some Jewish outlets would have us think that the protests are not being organized and funded by concerned students and a few faculty members at all, but by some shadowy secret organizations with direct links to Hamas (or worse!). Others seem to be believe that George Soros and his Open Society Foundation are behind it all (despite Soros being Jewish and a Holocaust survivor!). The truth, however, as a CBC fact-checking mission concludes, appears to be much more banal.

Food and supplies have been donated in the main by other students, parents and local community members, although some crowdfunding campaigns have also, understandably, been hastily set up by the students. 

One media commentator pointed out that, wait, all those tents look suspiciously similar, and they probably cost $400 each, so some outside organization somewhere must be bankrolling all of this. (That is the level of debate and logic we are talking about here.) In fact, those tents that were bought and not donated probably came from WalMart, which sells that same type of cheap poor-quality tent for $48 each. 

In fact, there is no credible evidence of any outside funding or infiltration of the encampments, in Canada at any rate, and police have not brought any charges to that effect thus far. And the protesters themselves do in fact seem to be, well, students, in the main. That's not to say there are NO outsiders involved, but to say that the encampments are being instigated and directed by outside agitators, as a very pro-Israel friend of mine contends, is firmly in the realm of conspiracy theory.

Similar exaggerated and unfounded allegations are being levelled at the university protests in the USA, mainly as an excuse to bring in police to break them up, as in New York amd LA. And, there too, it seems like the truth is that very few "outsiders" are involved, and there is no real evidence of major outside funding or core organization by non-students.

Friday, May 10, 2024

Violence against Canadian politicians is a Conservative development

I've lamented many times the new "nasty" style of politics being brought to Canada by Pierre Poilievre and many of the current crop of Conservatives. But I hadn't appreciated quite how nasty it was getting until reading an article by long-time NDP MP Charlie Angus.

Angus has always been a feisty and outspoken politician, but recently he has been particularly outspoken about Poilievre, whom he sees as going beyond the pale of traditional Canadian politics, and even undermining our whole democratic system. 

Well, he has been receiving some substantial push-back for his pains. Photos of his daughters were posted online, with details of where they work, and many threats have been levelled at him, all through the anonymity of social media (no actual violence ... yet). And they call HIM a coward!

Poilievre has been vocal about encouraging his supporters to take their protests directly to Liberal and NDP politicians, and they have been doing just that. Angus recounts examples of where MPs have been called on to engage in physical fights over their support for the carbon tax, where constituency office windows have been smashed with an axe in an "axe the tax" protest, where an MPs tires were slashed and his garage set of fire, and where a young female MP was followed down the street by a man screaming obscenities about her carbon tax stance.

Liberal MP Pam Damoff has vowed to quit politics completely, and won't run in the next federal election, due to the misogyny, disrespectful dialogue and threats to her life she has received of late. Certainly, the general tone of discourse has deteriorated drastically and, as Damoff says, the level of misinformation and just plain lying has resulted in a loss of trust in our institutions among the electorate. Why would you want to stay in such a toxic worm environment?

Going back a little further, this nastiness was perhaps presaged by the physical violence against Justin Trudea on the campaign trail in 2021 (still just a few short years ago).

It seems to me that none of this would have happened just a few short years ago. This kind of extreme anger has been deliberately stoked, and today's Conservatives are, unequivocably, to blame. I'm not just being partisan here; it seems incontrovertible to me. Maybe you could blame Donald Trump, if we go one step further back. But the Tories/Republicans are the instigators, and the Liberals/Democrats are being inexorably drawn in to respond in kind, in a depressing race to the bottom.

Thursday, May 09, 2024

Like it or not, the keffiyeh has become a political symbol

Maybe it seems like a bit of a storm in a teacup (or a storm in a teakettle, as North Americans would have it, which I confess has never made any sense to me), but the fracas over the wearing of keffiyehs in the Ontario Legislature is still going on.

House Speaker Ted Arnott banned the wearing of the traditional checkered scarf, which is commonly worn in Arabic countries, but which has come to more specifically represent Palestine and its independence struggle in recent years. Just yesterday, Arnott partially walked back the ban, ruling that it could be worn into the legislature buildings, but still not in the legislative chamber itself.

Apparently, the Speaker of the House does have the authority to enact such a ban, and have the Sargeant-at-Arms enforce it, even if, as in this case, the Premier disagrees. The rules prohibit "the display of signs, banners, buttons, clothing with partisan/political messages" within the legislature (which, when you think about it, is kind of bizarre in a place that exists solely to argue politics). It is up to the Speaker to interpret that rule, and Mr. Arnott has ruled that the wearing of the keffiyeh has crossed that line.

MPP Sarah Jama started wearing one about a month ago to express her solidarity with Palestine, and was removed from the NDP caucus and asked to leave the chamber several times. Jama is actually of Somali heritage and, although a practising Muslim, is not actually Arabic. So, any claim that she is wearing it as a cultural symbol is pretty disingenuous. She certainly didn't wear it before the Israeli war in Palestine started.

More recently, left-wingers Kristyn Wong-Tam and Joel Harden have taken to wearing it, and they definitely can't claim any cultural connection. It's hard to argue anything other than that the keffiyeh is being wilfully and knowingly used as a political symbol or prop. 

That said, Mr. Arnott could have just left the whole issue alone. He has the descretion to be able to do that, as evidenced by his later decision to allow it in the outer parts of the building. And Doug Ford clearly wishes he had done, calling the move unnecessarily divisive, one of the few times I find myself agreeing with the Premier.

But, make no mistake, whatever the keffiyeh used to be, or may still be to some people, in this context the keffiyeh is most definitely a political, not a cultural, statement. And if the Speaker chooses to ban it for that reason, you kind of have to go along with that. Don't try and argue that it's just an innocent piece of cloth, or a cultural symbol of deep personal significance.

Sunday, May 05, 2024

Meet the hammer-headed bat

Couldn't help but share a picture of a hammer-headed bat, the largest of all African bats.

These so-ugly-they're cute animals glory in the Latin name Hipsignathus monstrosus, and their similarity to medieval gargoyles has not been lost on researchers. 

They live in the lowland forests of west and central Africa, and eat fruit like figs, guavas, bananas and mangoes, as well as flies and other insects, and even scraps of bird meat and chicken blood. Their wingspan is an impressive one metre, and they wrap their wings around their huge noses to sleep. The boxy elongated heads of the male bats contain a large resonating chamber that amplifies their calls and honks. In fact, their voice box or larynx takes up fully half or hie body cavity, and other major organs are pushed way back by it.

They make particular use of this prodigious voice box during their lek courtship pageants, where up to 150 animals gather together twice a year to honk and flap and generally try to impress the females. The females are picky, though, and only a very small percentage of males are chosen for mating.

Very cool animals.

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Toronto's huge World Cup bill (partly) due to FIFA's overreach

The World Cup is coming to Toronto. This is not news, having been known since the USA/Mexico/Canada joint bid was accepted back in 2018, and the host cities were announced in 2022. Most people were probably agreeably disposed to it at that point although, even then, a sizeable minority were against it. Much as I like soccer, I was one of them.

Fast forward six years, and the bill for our tiny share of the huge 2026 extravaganza has ballooned. Did no-one else see that coming?

And when I say "ballooned", I mean ballooned. Like at least 10-fold. The original bid envisaged costs of $30-45 million for the five games then envisaged, an obvious under-estimate even then. We are now looking at $380 million for six games in Toronto, with plenty of time for that sum to increase still further. I recently drove past the Toronto stadium with friend and avid soccer fan, and he merely said "is that it?" (the stadium will need many improvements and extensions).

Mayor Olivia Chow, who is upfront in admitting that she would not have allowed the bid had she been Mayor at the time, has been desperately scrambling to obtain promises of funding from other levels of government, and she has managed to wrangle $97 million from the Ontario provincial government and now another $104 million from the federal government. However, that still leaves Toronto on the hook for nearly half of the total sum, and even recent hefty property tax increases are not going to make much of a dent in that kind of bill.

Part of the huge cost increase has arisen from FIFA's ever-changing demands. The city insists that it did not just write a blank cheque, but there seems to be a lot of FIFA requirements that were not spelled out in the initial negotiations - or were kept secret from its taxpayers - requirements that the host cities are just expected to cover. 

In addition to the stadium rebuild, FIFA mandates: free transit tickets for game attendees and media, and extended transit hours on game days; free office space and equipment "of the highest quality" for FIFA officials; the covering of any municipal taxes FIFA may incur; extensive city beautification measures (including covering up construction projects in progress); a huge FIFA Fan Fest event; late night opening for bars, restaurants and stores on game days; the removal of commercial signage and advertising in the area around the stadium on game days; the list goes on. They also tried to force Toronto not to host any other "substantial cultural events" while the games are on, but the city pushed back against that one.

*Sigh* I suppose we should be grateful we are not Vancouver. They are on the hook for $581 million for the seven games they are to host.

Thursday, May 02, 2024

Why Hertz is selling off its electric vehicle fleet

Car rental giant Hertz made a big splash a couple of years ago when it announced it was investing heavily in electric vehicles (EVs), manly Teslas and Polestars. When I travel to the UK (about once a year), I always rent a Polestar these days, and I have had nothing but good experiences. Plus, Hertz still seems to have a special offer going on its EVs, making them among the cheapest rental cars.

Then, earlier this year, Hertz announced out of the blue that it was selling off most of its fleet of EVs, at least in the US, quoting high repair costs and poor resudual values as the main reasons. So much for the moral high-ground it tried to take in its publicity. It seems it's really about the money.

But wait, high repair costs? What gives? Regular maintenance costs for EVS are a fraction of those for ICE cars, but what they are talking about here are repairs to damage caused by renters. A big proportion of their EV customers, apparently, are rideshare drivers (e.g. Uber, Lyft, etc) who have a tendency to drive their cars into the ground and not take very good care of them. Who knew rideshare drivers rented their vehicles? Sounds like an expensive option, no? And, yes, the research shows that repairs of collision damage to Teslas in particular can be a bit more expensive, partly because of all the connected technology, cameras, etc.

But, hold on? Does Hertz not insure its cars? And do they not rake in money from their customers for the various insurance coverages they try to insist drivers pay for? If a customer, even a rideshare driver, bangs up a rented Tesla, do they not have to pay for those repairs (or at least a hefty insurance premium up-front to cover it)? So, why then is Hertz out of pocket?

And low resale costs? Sure, I can see that. Tesla, in particular, has been slashing its prices over the last year to try and address the soft demand for its cars, especially in the USA, so resale values have also taken a hit. But is the best solution to that to sell everything off as soon as possible, especially given the current poor resale prices? Maybe it would have been better to wait and see how things pan out? A large part of that problem seems to be Tesla-specific, rather than EVs in general.

It just seems a very strange policy to me to go all in on something, and then all out after such a short time. Their much-vaunted commitment to the environment has taken a battering over this. I will take advantage of their EV fleet whenever I can (especially given the good prices), but I will know that they are not doing it out of concern for the fate of the earth.

Was Pierre Poilievre's ejection staged?

The Canadian chattering classes - which I guess includes me, surprisingly enough - are all a-twitter over yesterday's ejection of Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre from the House of Commons after his name-calling of Prime Minister Trudeau and his unrepentant mockery of the Speaker of the House Greg Fergus.

"Wacko" is not exactly the most offensive epithet that has ever been used in the House of Commons, but the rules are clear. It is one thing to call a policy "wacko", and entirely another to call a person "wacko". When politicians resort to kindergarten name-calling during an official sitting of the House, it's time to clamp down and re-establish some modicum of order and civility.

Most of the responses I have heard or read since express incredulity and despair that the level of civility in the House of Commons has sunk so low. It's not just this particular incident, but the whole tenor of political discourse has deteriorated, possibly irretrievably, since Poilievre achieved a position of power. He may not be the only one responsible for all the fractiousness, but his extreme partisanship and divisiveness, and his - there's no other word for it - nastiness, seems to have infected the whole of parliament.

Whether you think the Speaker acted in an uneven and partisan fashion (the partisan Conservative viewpoint), or that Poilievre had it coming to him (pretty much everyone else), it seems undeniable that this level of polarization and divisiveness is unprecedented. Question Time in particular is "broken" (to use one of Poilievre's favourite words). It was never particularly edifying, but now it is downright embarrassing.

However, what I hadn't understood until earlier today, after it was pointed out in a radio talk show, is that there is a good chance that this whole thing - the nasty exchange, the ejection, the recriminations that followed - may have been pre-planned and deliberately engineered by Poilievre and his spin doctors. 

Granted, this may still be in the realm of speculation, and maybe I shouldn't be engaging in it, but apparently a Conservative Party fundraiser email was sent out within minutes ("within seconds", according to some) of the ejection. It was heavy on its use of the word "wacko". The Liberals too sent out a fundraising mailout, but that was much later that evening.

Now, maybe the Tory fundraising machine is really that efficient and fast, or maybe this was pre-planned to coincide with the shenanigans in the House of Commons. It's a good indication of the depths of cynicism the Conservatives have sunk to under Poilievre that so many people believe that the whole thing may well have been deliberately staged specifically for the fundraising mailout.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Who programmed AI to create child pornography?

Ah, dear God, who knew? Generative AI is being used to generate ... child pornography. 

Apparently, so much is being churned out that reporting systems for online child sexual abuse material, like CyberTipline, are just being completely overwhelmed. I don't even want to think about how it is all achieved. I'm more concerned with why?

You have to wonder who is responsible for this stuff. Presumably, it's not actual consumers of child pornography, who probably want the real thing, not just some digital facsimile. So, is it down to some anarchistic misanthropic hacker type, who just likes to "stick it to The Man", and see the status quo challenged in any way possible? 

It really does make you despair for the human race, though, that people get their kicks either from child pornography or from creating and disseminating ersatz AI-generated child pornography. Can they not just take up DIY or pickleball or something?

Toronto v Boston? Put it down to fate

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the Boston Bruins last night in game 4 of the NHL playoffs. It was an ugly game, and it leaves the Leafs looking down the barrel of yet another first round knockout at the hands of their arch-nemesis.

As in the last couple of seasons, Toronto is one of the best teams in the whole league, but they just seem incapable of beating Boston, not in the regular season and certainly not in the playoffs. And they ALWAYS end up playing each other in the playoffs, usually in the first round. (Actually, they don't - it just SEEMS that way

Amusingly, depending on your sense of humour, someone had spent many idle hours analyzing what the playoffs would look like if there were no conferences or divisions, just one winner-take-all league. And guess what Toronto STILL ends up playing Boston! Fate, I guess. In which case Toronto are fated never to win the Stanley Cup ever again.


Well, they took it to Game 7, they took it to 0-0 after regulation time, and then Boston won it with a more-or-less random goal during sudden-death overtime. Not a nice way to go, but maybe, like I said, fate.

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Why consumers are inclined (or not) to buy an EV

An illuminating survey, done by Electric Mobility Canada, and published in September 2023, shows that, if people are only given proper factual information on the potential cost savings, driving range, charging infrastructure, etc, of electric vehicles, they are much more likely to buy one.

Maybe that's obvious, but the difference a bit of education makes is startling. The percentage of people inclined to buy a zero emissions vehicle jumped from 43% to 63% after being presented with a few facts. I don't mean a full-blown marketing campaign; I literally mean the presentation of a few facts about lifetime costs, range, etc, from a reputable source. That's huge.

Other findings in the survey: 88% of current EV owners expect to choose an EV for their next purchase; motivating factors are cost savings (41%), environmental benefits (39%), and the cool advanced technology (32%); 91% were unaware that 40 EV models are now priced below the average new vehicle cost (including available rebates); only 10% believe that an EV's battery will last the lifetime of the car, with most expecting to have to replace it within 7-10 years; and only a small percentage of people can correctly guess the number of public chargers available in Canada, the range of most modern EVs, or the costs of recharging.

All of this is important information for governments and car manufacturers alike, as we reach what marketers call the "early majority stage" (after the "innovators" and "early adopters), and as EV sales start to slow. Both governments and car manufacturers should be working hard to rectify some of the misinformation consumers have been inundated with.

Friday, April 26, 2024

Appeal of Weinstein case on a technicality is unfortunate

New York's appeals court just threw out the landmark 2020 rape conviction of Harvey Weinstein. No-one is publicly saying that Weinstein was actually innocent, and Weinstein remains in prison anyway due to a separate Los Angeles conviction in 2022 (which might also be appealed now). 

The case put before the appeals court, and accepted by it, is a technical one, that the judge in the original case unfairly allowed testimony against Weinstein based on allegations of prior sexual acts and behaviour not directly relevant to the case in question. This was called "highly prejudicial" and may have unfairly set the jury against the man. Although, frankly, how this differs from a general portrayal of Weinstein's character is beyond me.

At any rate, the New York case will have to be retried, and the witnesses and traumatized victims will need to testify in public all over again. I hope the lawyers who brought this appeal are feeling good about themselves. 

The Weinstein case was a crucial turning point in the MeToo movement and, as the dissenting appeal judges noted, this kind of decision, based as it is on legal technicalities, risks endangering years of progress in sexual violence cases. Even if the Weinstein case is retried, and even if he is re-convicted, this represents a set-back for the MeToo movement (although MeToo founder Tamara Burke insists otherwise), and a foot in the door for traditional patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes in the courts.

Canada's also granted "exemption" from Russian titanium sanctions

Hard on the heels of reports that Airbus' production in Canada was granted an "exemption" from sanctions against imports of Russian titanium (apparently after lobbying from the French government, which partially owns Airbus), comes the news that Canada airplane producer Bombardier has been granted just such an exemption too.

The only justification offered for either exemption is that, well, titanium is needed for airplane building (engines, landing gear), and Russia's VSMPO-AVISMA Corp. is one of the world's largest producers of titanium, i.e. no justification at all.

There's not much point in imposing sanctions if you're just going to cave in when it gets awkward. 

Even stranger, though, a look at the major producers of titanium shows China way ahead (and to be fair, for other reasons, we don't really want to buy from them if at all possible), followed by Mozambique, South Africa, Australia and ... Canada. Russia does not even appear in the top 15 of global titanium producers. So, exactly why are we buying titanium from Russia?

Bombardier CEO Eric Martel deadpans, "We did work with the government and we did work also with our supplier base to make sure we were doing the right thing. But at the same time we needed to ensure, you know, that we keep running our factories." Ah, well, that explains it then.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Jolie explains, "We will always make sure to put maximum pressure on the Russian regime and meanwhile protect out jobs here at home. We can do that together." Well, no you can't; that's not how sanctions work. 

Such fecklessness! Ukraine is livid, understandably. You can just imagine the wry smile on Vladimir Putin's ugly mug as we speak.

Thursday, April 25, 2024

Why does Loblaws get all the hate?

There's a Reddit group out there called r/loblawsisoutofcontrol which does a good line in outrage, and is proposing that we all boycott Loblaws supermarkets during the month of May. They seem to think that this will force Loblaws to reduce their prices by 15% overnight, which seems like a rather optimistic goal. Buy, hey, power to them. Nothing wrong with a bit of idealism and consumer pressure.

What I don't quite understand,  though, is that there are lots of supermarket chains out there, some owned by Loblaws, some by Metro or Sobeys, some are standalone giants like Costco and Walmart, and some are smaller chains or independent stores. You can choose to shop wherever works for you, right?

So, if you don't like Loblaws stores, go to No Frills (also owned by Loblaws, but much cheaper) or Price Chopper or wherever. Some people like Loblaws for its wide aisles, cleanliness, freshness, selection, etc, and are willing to pay for that. Some people are not and go elsewhere. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

There are many indignant and impassioned social media posts of people making comparisons between Loblaws prices and those of No Frills or Food Basics or Walmart, and - surprise! - Loblaws is more expensive. They could have done a comparison of Loblaws with Pusateri's and concluded that Loblaws was cheaper. Should we be boycotting Pusateri's then? And a recent multi-university study concluded that Loblaws stores are still far and away Canada's preferred location for discounted food products, followed by Walmart, Costco and Metro.

Shopping at Loblaws is not a human rights issue. It's just a supermarket chain, one of many (although the largest in Canada, so it attracts much more attention and vitriol). More to the point, it's a business, not a charity, and it charges what it thinks its market will pay. Sure, boycott it if it makes you feel better, but there are probably better uses for your energy, anger and outrage.

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Figures of authority just assumed Zameer was guilty - he wasn't

When humble Brampton accountant Umar Zameer finally received a verdict of not guilty a couple of days ago, he was looking pretty drawn and exhausted after three years of stress and uncertainty. But the court and jury were unequivocal in ruling that Zameer did not deliberately run down Detective-Constable Jeffrey Northrup in a parking lot back in July 2021, as all the evidence - with the notable exception of the rather suspect deputations of various police officers - suggest.

Zameer and his family and his lawyers, not to mention various legal experts and civil rights campaigners, celebrated in a very restrained style. "They just felt a real sense of relief, but they're not celebrating", as Zameer's lawyer Nader Hasan put it. But the first comment they heard from Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw was, "I share the feelings of our members, who were hoping for a different outcome".

Say, what? So, he was hoping for a miscarriage of justice in favour of a guy - the unfortunate victim of a gruesome accident, to be sure - who happened to be wearing the same uniform? Demkiw has since walked back his emotional comments, but the damage is done. The police are notorious for "looking after their own", but this was beyond the pale.

It wasn't the only off-colour comment this case has attracted. Immediately after the incident, and when Zameer was subsequently released on bail, several highly-ranked civic leaders weighed in. Then Police Chief James Ramer, speaking on the initial sparse information, called the incident an "intentional and deliberate act", not bothering to wait and see if his opinions might actually be right or reasonable. Ontario Premier Doug Ford called it "completely unacceptable that the person charged for [originally "responsible for"] this heinous crime is now out on bail", even though the usual bail procedures were followed to the letter. Former Toronto Mayor John Tory and former Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown added similar sentiments.

None of these supposedly responsible civic leaders allowed Mr. Zameer the presumption of innocence he was due. Some of them have grudgingly walked back their comments since the official acquittal; no-one has really apologized in so many words. But these kinds of unguarded comments from influential public figures can create a false narrative and affect the public's (and the jury's) view of the individual under suspicion. At worst, you could see it as a deliberate politicization of the issue, or even an openly racist response.

As Mr. Zameer and his family try to pick up the pieces of their lives, you can't help but think that they must be feeling somewhat jaundiced about the responses of these figures of authority.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Gas price increase NOT due to the carbon tax

I don't use gasoline personally, but people are outraged at the recent increase in gas prices at Canadian pumps. Prices increased by about 10c a litre overnight (more in some provinces, less in others).

Of course, many people are conveniently blaming the Liberal government and the latest increase in the carbon tax. But, in fact, that increase happened on April 1st, and amounted to a measly additional 3c on a litre, as the price on carbon was increased from $65 a tonne to $80. Moreover, the carbon tax rebate received by Canadians will increase proportionately.

The most recent price hike is solely down to the oil industry. In spring, oil companies switch to a "summer blend" of gasoline for the "summer driving season". Summer gas has a smaller proportion of butane and, given that butane is relatively inexpensive, that jacks up the cost, and therefore the price to the consumer. This change in the manufacturing process also costs money, and that too is passed on to the consumer. Go figure.

The quoted reason for this annual spring changeover is that gasoline evaporates faster in warmer temperatures, causing smog and "other environmental harms". Which wouldn't normally worry the oil industry unduly, but there are environmental laws in place requiring refineries to make this change. So, they can pollute more in winter and less in summer, it seems.

It kind of puts all the furore over the carbon tax increase into perspective, doesn't it? And you won't be getting a government rebate for this increase, either.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Why is the USA sending tens of billions to an already rich country?

The dysfunctional US Congress has finally managed to agree something. It is sending $26.4 billion to Israel because it is running out of drones and missiles with which to pound little Gaza.

Wait, isn't Israel actually quite a rich country? Can't it buy its own missiles if it wants to prosecute a war? Why is the USA bankrolling it?

Good questions, all. I can at least answer the first of them. Yes, Israel is a rich country. In fact, it is the 20th richest country in the world per capita. Not as rich as the USA (No.6) admittedly, but richer per capita than the UK, France, Italy, and the European Union in general.

So, why is the USA sending it tens of billions of dollars? No idea. The very pro-Israel Joe Biden has chosen to continue publicly calling on Israel to stop bombing Palestine, while at the same time giving it the wherewithal to continue the bombing. Not a very logical or consistent stance.

Now, Palestine, there's a poor country, No. 130 in the world, just below Venezuela, Honduras and Bhutan.

Saturday, April 20, 2024

Complaints about capital gains change coming from the "ultra-rich"

Well, I go away for a few days and I get back to a chorus of disgruntled Canadian investors and business owners. The reason? The Liberals' 2024 budget had the audacity to touch the sacrosanct capital gains inclusion tax loophole

Previously only 50% of capital gains (from selling property, stocks and shares, etc) were taxable in Canada, which always seemed like an unfair boon to the wealthiest 1%, who are doing just fine and really don't need protecting from anything. I should know: I'm one of them. 

The new rule is that 67% of capital gains should be taxed - actually back to how things were in 1999 - although only for capital gains over $250,000 (that bar does not apply to corporations and trusts, only to individuals). Selling a primary residence remains exempted from capital gains tax, as before. 

There are also some further carve-outs regarding lifetime capital gains limits for small businesses, farms, fishing property, and for entrepreneurs selling shares in some circumstances. So, a small business owner can still sell their business and not pay any tax on the first $1.25 million (increased from $1 million) in capital gains, and company founders in some industries now pay less tax on up to $2 million in capital gains over their lifetimes. It's complicated, but these carve-outs are designed to keep at least some of the business community (relatively) happy.

As the government points out, 28.5 million Canadians will not be declaring any capital gains at all next year, and a further 3 million will be protected by the $250,000 annual threshold. So, in the end, a paltry 40,000 ultra-wealthy individuals (about 0.13% of Canadians) are likely to be affected by the change, and maybe 12% of corporations.

So, not really that big a deal, right? Well, you wouldn't think that reading the financial pages of the Globe and Mail for example. Most people there, from tech entrepreneurs to regular rich investors, are outraged - outraged, I tell you! - that the government should interfere with their wealth-making in this way. There are headlines like "Higher capital gains won't work as claimed, but will harm the economy", and "Industries upset at being left out of new tax break for small business". 

They say that the change will discourage entrepreneurs and chill venture capital investment, although the government has poo-poo'd these arguments, and it seems very unlikely to me that people are setting up businesses specifically to take advantage of the capital gains tax breaks. 

There's also a certain amount of disinformation flying around from people who should know better. Just as an example, an article in the Globe and Mail Business section no less, which states that "the change amounts to a 33-per-cent tax increase on investment activity" (no, it's a 33% increase in the inclusion rate for capital gains, i.e. of the amount that is taxable, not the actual tax paid - an article from accounting and consulting firm Grant Thornton says, "an individual subject to the top marginal tax rate can anticipate about an 8% - 9% increase in taxes on capital.gains in excess of $250,000".

Doctors and the medical profession in particular are complaining, with the Canadian Medical Association warning that it may push some doctors and surgeons (who often incorporate to take advantage of the tax breaks) out of the profession completely. This seems like real sky-is-falling hyperbole to me. How many doctors go into the profession because of the capital gains tax system? Doctors can still make a good living and be taxed (as a corporation) lower than many other lower-earning Canadians. If they also want to make additional money on the stock exchanges or property markets, that's on them, and they should be taxed appropriately on this unearned income. Right?

There are those, and I would count myself among them, who believe that the CMA's press release is a disingenuous marketing campaign. Capital gains tax is not the reason that Canada has a shortage of doctors (there are many other reasons for that). Capital gains still get preferential tax treatment compared to the employer pension plans that the CMA bemoans that doctors are not able to have (because they chose to incorporate for the tax breaks!) It's pretzel logic in the extreme.

Well, there are always going to be some complainers, whatever you do. In this case, it's the "ultra-rich" (a convenient shorthand for that 0.13%). So be it. 

But are Canadian taxpayers really that badly done by? It's hard to compare the Canadian capital gains tax with the American one, partly because the American system is so complicated, but if anything Canadian tax seems to be slightly less onerous at first glance. And the government is quick to assure us that Canada's marginal tax rate is much lower than the OECD and the G7 average, and certainly lower than the USA's and UK's.

And anyway, having a low tax rate is only really good for rich people (although those rich people will tell you that they are the real engine of the country's economy). Take, for example, the fact that the happiest countries in the world are those with the highest tax rates. Maybe it's not all about the money after all.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Conscription of ultra-orthodox Jews threatens Netanyahu's grip on power

Benjamin Netanyahu is a very unpopular guy, both outside of Israel, where most of the world is dismayed by his intransigence and his scorched-earth (bordering on genocidal) tactics in Gaza, but also within Israel, where many Jews blame him personally (for some reason) for allowing Hamas to kill, maim and kidnap Israeli citizens in the first place, but also for failing to recover said kidnap victims over the last six months.

Netanyahu had been clinging to power with the aid of a very unsavoury bunch of right-wing ultra-nationalists, including the ultra-orthodox Sephardic Haredi party. Now, though, Netanyahu risks losing the support of these traditional Jewish hard-liners as he looks to end the decades-long exemption from mandatory military service for ultra-orthodox Jews

The exemption was begun back in 1948 when the newly-established Jewish state allowed 400 Haredi scholars to avoid mandatory military service, in an attempt to keep alive sacred Jewish knowledge. But the community has grown exponentially since then, and now makes up 13% of the entire population. They have become accustomed to many privileges and special treatments, which brings with it a whole heap of problems, not least the issue of national service and conscription for the army.

A 2017 decision by Israel's Supreme Court ruled that the exemption is discriminatory and unconstitutional, and that even ultra-orthodox Haredis should be subject to the usual 32+ months of national service required of all Israeli men over 18 (and a lesser period for women). The initial end-of-March deadline has been extended to the end of April, but that is fast approaching.

If Netanyahi is to make the Supreme Court's ruling a reality, he will have to do so over the protests (and dead bodies, they say) of Haredis, protests that have already begun in some parts of Jerusalem. In March, he announced the suspension of the handsome subsidies paid to ultra-orthodox Jews studying in yeshivas (institutions for the study of Jewish religious texts), and a draft for all ultra-orthodox Jewish men to do their mandatory military service, whether studying in yeshivas or not.

Three-quarters of Israelis support such a move, but Mr. Netanyahu stands to lose the support of the ultra-orthodox parties propping up his precarious coalition government. What's a self-respecting despot to do?

Thursday, April 11, 2024

Foreign interefence in Canadian elections - maybe the sky is not falling

To hear Pierre Poilievre tell it, Justin Trudeau was quite aware of Chinese interference in Canada's electoral process, and even deliberately covered up the extent of it in order to benefit the Liberals' electoral chances.

This was, though, some weeks ago. Poilievre has been much more circumspect since then. Surprisingly circumspect, you might say, given his usual penchant for ad hominem attacks on Trudeau and for disingenuous misleading soundbites.

In particular, he has been suspiciously quiet since the public inquiry into foreign interference has shone some light onto some of the nuances of government and intelligence services' practices. After days of testimony from CSIS leadership and high-level politicians, including from Trudeau himself, the situation is looking far from black-and-white. The CSIS reports look much more like hearsay and uncorroborated suspicions, and the actions (or lack of actions) of government ministers and the staff of the Prime Minster's Office look much more reasonable and measured. 

Poilievre's claims, and the repeated doomy warnings of the opposition Conservatives and NDP that the very structure of Canadian democracy is teetering, are starting to look like so much hyperbole and overreaction. I'm not saying that the Liberals come off squeaky clean, but certainly not as grimy and sullied as Mr. Poilievre would have us think.

Vietnam is perhaps not a great substitute for China

Canada, like the EU, USA and many other countries, has been assiduously courting Vietnam as a trade partner, mainly in order to reduce reliance on an increasingly belligerent, rights-abusing and unpredictable China. Just a week or two ago, a high-profile Canadian delegation concluded what it sees as a very successful trade mission to Vietnam.

But, if Vietnam is not as bad as China in some respects, it is by no means a paragon of virtue, and we should have our eyes wide open as we dive in. Vietnam is still a Communist state, and arrests, surveillance and censorship of dissidents is rife.

Vietnam is expected to be among the fastest-growing economies in the world this year - everyone is trying to distance themselves from China - and its cheap workforce is a tempting attraction. It has even talked about opening up politically. But the global Democracy Index still shows Vietnam third from the bottom, with only Laos and Myanmar scoring lower. What's more, it's democratic freedom ranking of 136th is actually worse than its 128th showing back in 2015. It also ranks 178th out of 180 in media freedom according to Reporters Without Borders. It continues to maintain close, even upgraded, relations with Russia and China.

So, while Vietnam may talk a good game in trade talks, it's actions at home are far from open and free. But so toxic is China currently that most Western countries are trying their best to ignore Vietnam's more outrageous practices and policies. And Vietnam knows that full well, and so carries on more or less with impunity.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Biggest individual contributors to global warming

A new and comprehensive report by international non-profit organization InfluenceMap points an uncompromising finger at the biggest individual contributors to global warming, whether they be nation states, state-owned companies or investor-owned companies. It comes to the striking conclusion that 80% of global carbon dioxide emissions are produced by just 57 entities.

And just for the hell of it, let's list them here:

1 China (Coal) 276,458 14.01%
2 Former Soviet Union 135,113 6.82%
3 Saudi Aramco 68,832 3.63%
4 Chevron 57,898 2.98%
5 ExxonMobil 55,105 2.79%
6 Gazprom 50,687 2.31%
7 National Iranian Oil Co. 43,112 2.22%
8 BP 42,530 2.19%
9 Shell 40,674 2.06%
10 Coal India 29,391 1.49%
11 Poland 28,750 1.46%
12 Pemex 25,497 1.32%
13 Russian Federation 23,412 1.19%
14 China (Cement) 23,161 1.31%
15 ConocoPhillips 20,222 1.01%
16 British Coal Corporation 19,745 1.00%
17 CNPC (PetroChina) 18,951 0.97%
18 Peabody Coal Group 17,735 0.90%
19 TotalEnergies 17,584 0.90%
20 Abu Dhabi National Oil Company 17,383 0.90%
21 Petroleos de Venezuela 16,901 0.88%
22 Kuwait Petroleum Corp. 15,922 0.84%
23 Iraq National Oil Company 15,188 0.81%
24 Sonatrach 14,955 0.735
25 Rosneft 14,295 0.75%
26 Occidental Petroleum 12,907 0.65%
27 BHP 11,042 0.56%
28 Petrobras 10,799 0.56%
29 CONSOL Energy 10,490 0.53%
30 Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. 10,243 0.53%
31 Czechoslovakia 9,618 0.49%
32 Petronas 9,130 0.45%
33 Eni 9,075 0.45%
34 QatarEnergy 8,405 0.42%
35 Pertamina 8,270 0.42%
36 Anglo American 8,163 0.41%
37 Libya National Oil Corp. 8,146 0.43%
38 Arch Resources 7,969 0.40%
39 Lukoil 7,835 0.41%
40 Kazakhstan 7,769 0.39%
41 Equinor 7,739 0.39%
42 RWE 7,585 0.38%
43 Rio Tinto 6,767 0.34%
44 Glencore 6,329 0.32%
45 Alpha Metallurgical Resources 6,127 0.31%
46 ONGC India 5,917 0.30%
47 Sasol 4,992 0.25%
48 Ukraine 4,969 0.25%
49 Surgutneftegas 4,735 0.25%
50 Repsol 4,584 0.23%
51 Petroleum Development Oman 4,387 0.22%
52 Sinopec 4,374 0.23%
53 Egyptian General Petroleum 4,318 0.22%
54 TurkmenGaz 4,223 0.19%
55 Petoro 4,174 0.21%
56 CNOOC 4,147 0.22%
57 North Korea 4,104 0.21%

There is a whole host of other interesting data in the report, like graphs of the annual progression since 1854 (including the continued rise since the 2016 Paris Agreement), a breakdown of contributions by entity type (which shows the emissions from investor-controlled companies starting to decrease since about 2010, while those from states and state-owned companies continue to inexorably rise), an analysis of emissions by main commodity type (coal, oil, gas and cement all rising, but coal rising much more than the others), etc.

It's rather alarming and depressing reading, but essentially reading nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

Cechnya bans fast music (and slow music)

Gotta love this. Muslim-majority Russian republic Chechnya has announced a ban on music that is either too fast or too slow

More specifically, the Chechen Minister of Culture Musa Dadeyev announced that, henceforth, Chechen musical, vocal and choreographic compositions can only have tempos between 80 and 116 beats per minute, a tempo which is considered to align with "Chechen mentality and musical rhythm", and with "the cultural heritage of the Chechen people". Notably, this would exclude most rock, pop and techno songs.

This was not an April Fools gag, and the culture minister delivered it with a straight face. But you have to think that the average Chechen yokel is going to be a bit peeved, and a bit embarrassed, at the announcement. Or maybe not. Maybe Chechens are just really into that traditional folk groove?

Monday, April 08, 2024

If the moon is moving away from the earth, will we stop getting eclipses?

I already knew that the moon is gradually moving away from the earth, and that eventually it will be far enough away that a total eclipse of the sun will no longer be possible. Only as North America experiences mass hysteria over the total eclipse later today did it occur to me to question just when that might happen.

Total eclipses occur when the moon moves directly between the earth and the sun so as to block out the sun completely. By sheer coincidence - a quirk of the age we happen to live in - the moon is currently just the right distance away from the Earth that its shadow blocks out the entire sun almost exactly, which is why, within the "path of totality" of an eclipse event, we can only see the corona surrounding the sun, and not the sun itself.

However, that was not always the case. Back in prehistory, the moon was much closer to the earth and, by the same token, in the future it will be further away. In fact, the moon is moving away from the earth at a rate of about 3.8cm (1½ inches) a year. The Moon exerts a tidal or gravitational force on the earth (you could think of it as a kind of friction), which has the effect of gradually slowing the earth's spin (a day on earth used to be much shorter than the 24 hours we have today). Due to the law of conservation of angular momentum, this slowed spin also has the effect of making the moon spiral further away from the earth.

So, at some point in the future, the moon will be far enough away that it's shadow won't block the whole of the sun, and eclipses will be "annular" rather than full, with the moon's shadow blocking just the centre of the sun, as we see it, leaving a ring of sun around a black shadow.  In fact, we already get annular eclipses now: because the moon's orbit around the earth is elliptical not circular, sometimes it is further away than other times. About half of the eclipses we see are currently annular, because only about half of the time is the moon close enough to the earth to block out the sun completely. Today is one of those times.

But as the moon moves away from the earth, there will come a time when, even at its closest, the moon will not appear big enough to completely block the sun. There will be still be eclipses when the three bodies line up, but they will all be annular. No more full eclipses. But, don't worry, best calculations suggest that it will be about 650 million years before that point is reached. In the meantime, enjoy!

Friday, April 05, 2024

Alberta's electricity system is failing because of thermal generation, not renewables

Alberta has experienced more rolling blackouts, after an "unexpected outage of thermal generation led to tight conditions", according to the Alberta Energy System Operator (AESO). What this means in English is that the province's fossil fuel power generation - coal, oil and gas - failed (that's what the euphemism "thermal generation" actually means).

Predictably enough, just like last time, Danielle Smith's announcement gave a very different impression. She blamed it on the province's renewable energy generation. "We've built a structure that gives priority to wind and solar ... we've built the system completely backwards".

Wind and solar get priority because they are the cheapest and least polluting sources of energy. The fact that Alberta's system can't deal with that, like everyone else seems to, is on Alberta. Don't blame the sun, Danielle!

Apparently, micro-plastics are used extensively in agriculture

Plastic is ubiquitous. That said, I had no idea that plastic was widely used in agriculture until I read about it here.

For example, plastic is used in protective wraps for crops, and irrigation tubes for watering. But apparently, microplastics are also added to fertilizers to allow for the controlled release of the product, as well as to increase seed storage life and improve drainage in soil conditioners. Who knew? But then, who knows how commercial agriculture works these days? There are probably all sorts of practices routinely carried out that would make our toes curl.

It is well known now that macro-plastics break down over time and turn into micro-plastics and nano-plastics that find their way into our bodies, causing all manner of bad things to affect our health. They also block the gastrointestinal tracts of small birds and fish, and cause harmful changes in the feeding behaviour and fertility of invertebrates and seafood, among many other issues.

So, why we would be deliberately adding them to our soils and plant fertilizers, I have no idea. Oh, yes, I know - it makes farmers and food distributors more money. Farming, in the main, is not what it used to be. Forgot those childhood images of happy cows and hard-working farmers on old-fashioned tractors; farming is now an industrial process better labelled agri-business. And part of that business involves deliberately adding a substance with known health and environmental harms to our food supply. Go figure.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Be wary of Foreign Interference Inquiry claims

Canada's Foreign Interference Inquiry chugs along - yes, yet another public inquiry! - and now Canadian politicians are having their say about whether, and how, China (and other countries, but mainly China) interfered in Canadian elections, particularly those of 2019 and 2021.

Given that the Conservatives lost those two elections, it comes as no surprise that they are at pains to point out how they were negatively affected, even though Chinese interference has been an issue for many years, and has affected all parties to some extent. The narrative is that the Tories' platforms in those elections were much more anti-China, or at least they were perceived that way by the PRC and the Chinese Communist Party, and so they were specifically targeted by Chinese interference.

Erin O'Toole, one of the losing Conservative leaders in those elections, testified yesterday, and made the claim that two, three, five, maybe as many as nine, Conservative seats may have been lost as a result of Chinese interference, as "a lot of people did not vote because they were intimidated". O'Toole admits that even this many seats would not have swung the election results his way, but adds that it may have affected the party's decision to remove him as leader (which, you get the impression, is his real beef). 

In fact, the Inquiry thus far has found that eleven electoral campaigns were affected by Chinese money in the 2019 federal election, seven Liberal and four Conservative candidates. It turns out that Justin Trudeau was also targeted, as was Jenny Kwan of the NDP. So, it was not all one-way traffic, and not as simple as the early Conservative narrative would have us believe.

But it all seems so loosey-goosey. It is clear that some attempts at voter intimidation and suppression did take place, but just how many people "a lot of people" amounts to is far from clear. Claims that anywhere from two to nine seats were affected are so vague as to be meaningless, and there is no actual evidence that ANY seats were actually lost as a direct result of the foreign interference. It is all about "hunches" and "feelings", which really should have no place in an objective investigation.

So, sure, have a public inquiry: foreign interference in Canadian elections needs to be addressed and clamped down on (although we should be realistic enough to admit that it will never actually go away). But we should be wary of specific unsubstantiated claims of this kind. 

And you have to know that Pierre Poilievre will have no qualms about using this "evidence" to batter the government. Indeed, it would not surprise me at all if he went full Donald Trump and claims that the elections were stolen, or at least to hint at that (Poilievre, for all his bluster, is much more subtle and careful than Trump).

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

American owl cull - immoral or a necessary evil?

The US Fish and Wildlife Service plans to kill 470,000 owls, and conservation organizations are at each other's throats over it.

The department has reluctantly concluded that they need to cull nearly half a million barred owls from California, Oregon and Washington over a span of some three decades. This is because the native northern spotted owl is becoming increasingly endangered in the region, partly because of human-driven habitat destruction (mainly logging activities), but partly because the barred owls - originally native to the Eastern United States, and NOT endangered - are much more adaptable and are moving into traditional northern spotted territory in the West.

Critics of the proposal argue that the plan is impractical, reckless and ethically questionable. But without it, the northern spotted owl may well go extinct. So, what to do? Well we could maybe stop the logging of old growth forest for starters, no?

Tesla takes a dive, and Musk is at least partly to blame

The shine is off Tesla these days. Once the golden boy of the fight against climate change and the poster man-child of sustainable capitalism, Elon Musk has gone well and truly off the rails in recent months, and he has dragged Tesla with him. 

Tesla sales and deliveries have faltered recently, and it has started to offer deep discounts as inventory continues to pile up (we are mainly talking about America here). The company's stock price has also headed down the drain in recent months.

Tesla, of course, was the electric car that started it all. It revolutionized the auto industry, and forced other car manufacturers to develop their own electric models. You can't take that away from Tesla and Musk. But as the market for EVs in general starts to sputter somewhat, Tesla is starting to feel the heat from China's BYD and Korea's KIA and Hyundai. It doesn't help that the rollout of the long-awaited Tesla Cybertruck has been, well, spotty and underwhelming, but there is much more going on here.

Part of the problem is Tesla's insistence on completely redesigning the family saloon, with its minimalist interiors and its lack of familiar buttons and switches. The early adopters and techies, who actually like doing everything from a glorified tablet screen, now all have their Teslas, and the hoi polloi are much less gung ho about driving an iPad. (I'm one such - I deliberately gravitated towards a more traditional style interior, and ended up with a Hyundai Kona Electric, not a Tesla, some two years ago.)

The other problem, though, is Musk himself. Once an impish maverick and iconoclast, he has since turned hard right and become something of a running joke. He appears completely disengaged from Tesla's commercial woes, and fresh out of new ideas (once his stock-in-trade). He seems bogged down in his failing social media outlet X (a sorry, disembowelled Twitter), content to make disparaging lame jokes about anything he considers "woke", all while condoning hate speech in the interests of extreme free speech. (Musk was also a consideration when I was looking for an EV two years ago - I really did not want to line the pockets of such an unpleasant, hypocritical, sociopathic billionaire.)

Be that as it may, it remains a fact that Tesla's latest quarterly car deliveries fell for the first time in nearly four years, and the company's share price has taken a substantial hit recently. It's also a fact that some people are definitely blaming Musk personally (and his toxic behaviour in recent months) for Tesla's problems. Predictably, Musk reacts to such criticisms in a suitably toxic and childish manner.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Managed dog hunts of coyotes making a comeback

I had no idea that coyote hunting as a "sport" even existed, but apparently the government of Ontario (yes, them again!) has seen fit to expand a licensing regime that allows such things.

The so-called "train and trial" licenses are for dog hunting clubs where coyotes are caught in the wild and enclosed in a fenced area, and where hunting dogs are let loose on them, supposedly so they can learn to hunt such wild animals (why?) and to hone their hunting skills. Judges score the dogs on their hunting prowess, award points, and crown champions at meets. 

It sound to me like the next thing to dog-fighting and bear-baiting, but apparently it's legal, and the Ford Conservative government is even encouraging it, after previous administrations have played it down somewhat. 

The Ontario Sporting Dog Association insists that no animal is hurt in the sport - well, of course they do! - and the government obviously prefers this line. Others, though, beg to differ, claiming that coyotes have been hurt and killed by dogs, and that a coyote trade ring exists where coyotes are captured, kept in inhumane conditions, and then sold off to these train and trial clubs.

Doesn't seem like the kind of thing our elected representatives should be condoning or encouraging.

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

Is hydroelectricity contributing to climate change?

Hydroelectric power stations as a source of greenhouse gases (GHGs)? Really? Well, nothing about climate change is easy or straightforward, so it shouldn't really surprise us.

Methane is a potent GHG (an estimated 80 tonnes more potent than carbon dioxide, although much shorter-lived in the atmosphere). About 40% of it comes from oil and gas production, and 32% comes from agriculture (principally cow burps). But it turns out that a not insignificant amount of methane is created by hydroelectricity power generation - some 3 million tonnes of the 51 billion tonnes of GHGs emitted by people each year, or about 6%. So, a lot less than fossil fuels or even cows, but perhaps more than you might have thought.

The reason? There is a lot of carbon-rich organic matter captured in tropical swamps, peat bogs and waterlogged soils, but also in the sediment of (particularly tropical) freshwater. Waste-water treatment plants and rice paddies are other (man-made) water sources that store up potentially polluting organic matter. 

Whether naturally-occurring or man-made, this organic matter is decomposed by microbes, releasing methane. When it is agitated, this methane is released into the air, much like shaking up a soda bottle. So, when reservoir water is churned up in a hydroelectricity plant, this is exactly what happens.

Now, in the scheme of things, this is still a relatively minor source of GHGs, and hydro is still a good, relatively non-polluting source of power. But we should recognize that hardly anything we do is completely pollution-free. There are schemes afoot to capture and use the methane produced by hydroelectricity plants (methane is the primary component of natural gas, and a good power source in itself). These schemes are still in their infancy, but are showing promise. It certainly seems a lot more practical than capturing cow burps!

Monday, March 25, 2024

Israeli settlers move in on Gaza's "golden sands"

It's good to know that someone is finding a silver lining in Israel's invasion and decimation of Palestine's Gaza Strip.

Israeli settlers like Daniella Weiss (sometimes referred to as the "grandmother of Israel's settler movement"), and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has also lived in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank for years, have been very upfront about the prospect of Israelis moving "back" to settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli ultra-nationalists are already taking "bookings" for new settlements in Gaza, particularly on the "beautiful golden sand" of Gaza's beach area. The whole area is ripe for "re-settlement" according to some hawks, especially now, given that "the area is empty now" as one woman put it. The fact that Gaza is "the greatest open-air graveyard" in the world (this from a senior EU commentator), does not seem to faze these people in the least.

And Israelis wonder why they are not very popular people these days. "Cynical" doesn't even come close.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Why would ISIS be bombing Moscow?

The death toll in the gun attack on the Crocus City Hall concert venue in suburban Moscow has now risen to 133 and counting. It might seem improbable, but Islamic State (ISIS), or, more specifically, ISIS-K (aka ISKP), the Afghan offshoot of ISIS, has claimed responsibility for it.

Now, ISIS and al-Qaeda and other similar terrorist groups are not above claiming responsibility for heinous attacks that they actually had nothing to do with. We may not have heard much about them for quite a while, but they do like to be associated with anything that destabilizes the West and the "Christian" hegemony.

Ignore anything Putin says about the gunmen heading back to Ukraine, or ex-President Medvedev openly blaming Ukraine for the attack; obviously, they look for anything that might even slightly legitimize their illegal war in Ukraine. But it is possible that ISIS-K may have been responsible for this one (see the video about halfway down this page).

Partly, this kind of outrageous mass shooting is recognizably the modus operandi of ISIS. But there are other clues: this attack occurred on the anniversary of the 2016 Brussels attacks, also claimed by ISIS, that killed 32 people; Russia was a close ally of Syrian president Bashir al-Assad in the civil war there, and bombed ISIS regularly; there was another foiled attack on a Moscow synagogue just a few weeks ago, also claimed by ISIS; the USA had warned Russia that its intelligence had heard of plans by ISIS to attack Russia; and ISIS-K is currently at war with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Russia is one of the Taliban's few supporters.

So, it may seem like an unlikely scenario at first blush, but there are actually good reasons why ISIS (and ISIS-K in particular) might want to attack Russia, while its attention is elsewhere.

Why attack a concert by Russian rock band Picnic at Crocus City Hall deep in the suburbs of Moscow? Well, you've got me there. But then, why Bataclan in Paris in 2015? Why a random metro station Brussels? Why many of the other places ISIS and al-Qaeda have attacked over the years? Who can really understand the mind of a fundamentalist religious terrorist?

Doug Ford goes NITBY

Doug Ford has gone full NITBY (Not In Their Back Yard) on housing. The Ontario Premier, who never wastes an opportunity to remind us how focussed he is on increasing the province's housing supply, apparently doesn't like the idea of increasing it by allowing fourplexes (four apartments within a single house structure). That wouldn't be because it's a Liberal suggestion, would it?

In his usual slightly apoplectic outraged manner, Ford waxed scathing about builders who want to "throw a four-storey tower up", upping the ante by saying, "You don't put four-, six-, eight-storey buildings in the middle of a community of single dwelling homes. Don't build it in people's backyards, they will lose their minds."

Well, sorry, Dougie, but that's exactly what you do if you are serious about increasing the supply of housing (and especially affordable housing) without contributing to urban sprawl. And, hold on, nobody mentioned anything about "four-, six-, eight-storey buildings". Most fourplexes are actually in two- and two-and-a-half-storey houses. 

The government's own housing task force has concluded that it would be the quickest way to boost housing in existing neighbourhoods. But Mr. "Housing" Ford seems not to like the idea. I guess he doesn't want them popping up in his own neighbourhood. So, maybe NIMBY rather than NITBY.

Friday, March 22, 2024

Surely this is a good reason to leave the Royal Family alone

I'm no fan of the Royal Family but, as both Princess Kate and King Charles announce cancer diagnoses, can we not all agree to just leave the poor buggers alone?

Is the carbon tax really hurting us economically?

Confused by all the contradictory claims by proponents and opponents of Canada's federal price on carbon (or "carbon tax", depending on your political affiliation)? You're not alone.

The price on carbon was brought in by Justin Trudeau's Liberal government to incentivize Canadians to change their habits away from carbon-intensive activities and products in favour of more environmentally-friendly options like heat pumps, public transit and electric vehicles. The idea is to gradually ramp up that price over time so that its impact is increasingly felt. 

It is still widely agreed worldwide that a carbon tax is the most efficient and cheapest way of combatting greenhouse gas emissions, although it is by no means the only one. An independent analysis by the Canadian Climate Institute has highlighted the fact that other methods need to be employed alongside a carbon tax, particularly industrial carbon pricing, a cap on oil and gas emissions, and methane regulations (the consumer carbon tax is described as "fuel charge" in this analysis).

It has been badly promoted and explained but, in return for the carbon taxes they pay, Canadians receive a Climate Action Initiative Payment (recently renamed the Canada Carbon Rebate in an attempt at more clarity) through their income tax returns so as to make the initiative largely revenue neutral, and to ensure that, broadly, consumers are not actually out of pocket. In practice, this rebate works in a progressive fashion so that lower income Canadians are more likely to benefit overall, while higher income Canadians, leading a more polluting lifestyle with bigger homes and cars, are more likely to find themselves out of pocket. People in rural areas also get an additional top-up on the grounds that they probably use more energy and don't have so much access to public transit options. Sounds pretty reasonable to me.

In the last year or two, though, Conservative populist Pierre Poilievre had been on a crusade against the carbon tax during a time of high inflation and belt-tightening ("axe the tax", and all that). His fiery rhetoric (at least in comparison to Trudeau's rather tepid and lacklustre response) has been remarkably successful in turning large segments of the population away from the erstwhile broad support for the carbon tax to opposition. And the main way he has done that is by insisting that it makes everything more expensive, mainly by pretending that Canadians don't receive a rebate, but sometimes by arguing that the tax is not revenue neutral for most people.

There are two conflicting narratives at play here. The Liberals and NDP point to a Parliamentary Budget (PBO) report that concludes that 80% of Canadians are better off, in that their rebates are greater than the carbon tax they pay in day-to-day life. The breakdown of this by province and income level can be found in Figure 1 of the report.

Poilievre, on the other hand, focusses on Figure 2 of that same report, which attempts to include what it calls "economic impacts" (such as potential losses in employment and investment income) in addition to the direct "fiscal impact". (There are some serious questions about just why the PBO decided to add this additional, and very subjective, analysis.) This figure concludes that about 60% will pay slightly more in carbon taxes than they receive back in rebates. You can see why this is what Poilievre stresses in his parliamentary tirades and slick video advertising.

As so often, though, the devil is in the details. For one thing, the report looks at the fiscal and economic impact in 2030, when the carbon tax is planned to be at its highest level - $170 per tonne compared to $65 today - so any disparities are hugely magnified (although the rebate is planned to compensate proportionately). Plus, the 60% figure hides disparities between different provinces and income groups, with the lowest income groups still benefitting overall. Plus plus, the percentage increased cost to the average Canadian is actually pretty small, ranging from 1.2% to 1.9% (so pretty close to revenue-neutral, as advertised). And finally, it ignores completely the cost to Canadians of climate change if nothing is done (hard to assess, but palpable nonetheless).

Those are just a few points that occurred to me on a cursory look at the data (and I'm no analyst). But the bottom line, as I see it, is: nobody said this was going to be easy. People have been enjoying the benefits of heavily-subsidized oil and gas for decades, and now, when a government finally has the guts to make people pay for some of the externalities and pollution they have become so used to, there is a big fuss (well, to be fair almost entirely due to Poilievre power-hungry crusade and disingenuous arguments against it).

I get it that a lot of people are hurting financially at the moment, but the carbon tax is not the reason (it contributes 0.15% to the inflation rate, according to the Bank of Canada). This is just one individual politician's (and his coterie of hangers-on) campaign of disinformation and artful deceit. Poilievre sees this issue as his ticket to the top job, and he will pursue like a bulldog with a bone.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Paying taxes makes you happy: it's official

Once again, Scandinavian countries have swept the World Happiness Report's index of the world's happiest countries: Finland (1), Denmark (2), Iceland (3),Sweden (4), Netherlands (6), and Norway (7). Is it a coincidence that the highest-taxing, highest-spending countries are also the happiest? I think not.

But, wait, what's No. 5? Turns out it's Israel. No explanation there, sorry, but it's salutary that Palestine comes in at No. 103. 

Canada? Number 15. Not bad, although lower than in previous years. At least we beat out the UK (20) and USA (23), although we've got a lot of happy work to do to reach Australia and New Zealand (10 and 11), which we can reasonably consider our peers in the world.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Wind turbines don't really affect house prices after all

So, you know the well-known problem with wind turbines leading to reduced property prices? Well, it turns out it's not a problem after all. In fact, it is a complete red herring manufactured out of nowhere by opponents of wind power, like the oil and gas industry and the average red-neck conservative.

And now we have more proof. Building on smaller studies in 2013, 2015 and 2016 that all concluded that property value impacts are either too small or too infrequent to be statistically observable, a couple of much larger and more up-to-date studies have shown ... the same.

One study, by a research team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the USA, looked at 500,000 home sales within 5 miles of a wind farm in 34 states over a period of 10 years. Crucially, it looked at the impact on sale prices throughout the whole development cycle of wind projects from initial announcement to construction to final operation.

While sale prices did fall for some properties within one mile of new wind projects, this impact was only found in particularly densely-populated areas (typically, houses are not built that close to wind farms, and vice versa). Also, it was only temporary, while the projects were in their very early stages. Within 3 to 5 years of the wind projects' operation, home prices return to inflation-adjusted pre-announcement levels.

An even larger study of 300 million home sales from 1997 to 2020 in the USA, Germany and Italy found that house sales may be impacted by up to 1% for houses within 10km of a wind power development. Also, more recently-installed wind turbines are less likely to affect house prices, suggesting that people may be becoming more accepting of wind turbines as a familiar part of the rural landscape.

So, maybe the sky is not falling, except perhaps in wealthier, more upscale communities.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

Shock, horror - Putin wins election, again

Wow, Vlad Putin won the Russian election with nearly 88% of the vote! That's even better than in the last election in 2018. And a record voter turnout! He must be really popular!

He thanked the country for their support and trust, and praised Russia's voting system as "transparent and absolutely objective". Right. And all that stuff about ballot-stuffing and millions of dead people and removed oppositioncandidates? False news.

Good job, Vlad! We were wondering who would win.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Paying off the Two Michaels makes the whole incident look more suspicious

The Two Michaels were a cause célèbre in Canada for the best part of three years, since they were arrested and arbitrarily detailed by China in December 2018 in revenge for Canada's unwilling detention of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou. 

At least that was the language we used, and the language that Justin Trudeau is still using today as details start to emerge about a multimillion dollar compensation settlement the government has struck with Michael Spavor (and possibly also with Michael Kovrig, that part seems uncertain). 

Trudeau insists that the fact that the government is paying big money out to Mr. Spavor should not be interpreted as meaning that either Spavor or Kovrig were actually engaged in espionage, but it has certainly muddied what once seemed to be pretty clear waters.

All this comes as Spavor is threatening to sue both the Canadian government and Mr. Kovrig for the intelligence on North Korea and China that Kovrig "unwittingly" shared with Spavor. So, at least Kovrig (who worked for a controversial intelligence unit at Global Affairs Canada) DOES seem to have been spying after all, just like China was claiming all the way through. And Spavor? Who knows? And who knows what "unwitting" sharing of sensitive intelligence actually means?

All of a sudden, China's "arbitrary detention" doesn't look quite so arbitrary, and the outrage with which Canadians met the news of the Two Michaels' unfair and illegal imprisonment is starting to look somewhat creaky. Maybe they were not just "pawns in geopolitical games", as the government has characterized them, after all. The fact that China "arbitrarily" released the Two Michaels in September 2021, straight after Canada was allowed by the USA to release Meng Wanzhou, certainly made China's conduct look suspiciously petty and spiteful, but now we're not really sure.

At the bottom of it all, the question remains: why is the Canadian government willing to pay an unspecified large sum of money to Mr. Spavor to avoid a court case? The Michaels spent a long time languishing in horrible Chinese penal accommodation (compared to Ms. Wahzhou's comfortable house arrest conditions), but should the government - and the Canadian taxpaying public - be paying them off for this? 

A cause that Canadians once righteously rallied around now looks that bit more tarnished and sullied.

Wednesday, March 06, 2024

Biden is fighting against unrealistic memories of Trump

A recent CBS poll gives a good idea of just what Joe Biden is up against when he tees off against Donald Trump later this year.

65% of respondents remember the economy under Trump as being good, while only 38% consider it good now, under Biden. In the same way, 59% think the economy today is bad, compared to just 28% under Trump.

So, this is nothing to do with anything that Trump has actually done or said. This is all about people's faulty perceptions and memories. Of course, Trump had the advantage of not having to deal with a pandemic for most of his time, nor the rampant inflation due to global geopolitics (and the lingering after-effects of the pandemic), all of which Biden has had to deal with. Plus, Trump was riding on the coattails of Obama's strong economy, while Biden inherited Trump's weaker one.

One other thing the poll says is that many more people think that prices will miraculously go down under a Trump administration. Wake-up call, guys: prices will not go down under ANY administration, that's not the way inflation works. 

There's some other stuff in there, like 83% of people leaning towards Trump believe (or say they believe) that he tried to stay in power legally, and Trump supporters are much less critical of Trump than Biden supporters are of Biden. No real news there - Democrats are always going to be more critical and analytical, and less driven by sheer emotion and sentiment and wishful thinking, than Republicans.

But the perceptions of the economy under Trump are key. In actual fact, the US economy is showing surprising resilience under Joe Biden, considering the challenges it has been presented with, challenges that, for the most part were wholly outside of Biden's control. It is showing a stronger-than-expected GDP, low unemployment, and falling inflation. God only knows how it would have fared under Trump.

But the other element is: presidents actually have a pretty limited influence on the country's economy. They tend to get credit when the economy is good, and get blamed when it tanks, but the boom and bust cycles actually don't have much to do with who's actually in the White House at the time. 

For what it's worth, a Forbes analysis of historical stock markets shows that, since the Second World War, they do MUCH better under Democratic presidents than under Republican ones, with Clinton and Obama being particularly big winners, and G.W. Bush and Nixon being big losers. Trump comes middle of the pack.

As for what Nikki Haley is up against in the Republican primaries, you could do worse than to hear what this Trump supporter says out loud in an interview: "A woman is not going to be a good president. She don't have no balls to scratch. She's just gonna scratch her head. All a woman is good for in my book is having babies and taking care of the house ... Don't get me wrong: females know what they're doing, but they still got to have a little bit of guidance."


There's not much you can do against that kind of ignorance, is there? And this guy is probably a not untypical Trump supporter. I wonder what his wife is like?

Monday, March 04, 2024

The environment is in pretty bad shape, but it could be much worse

I've been a bit gloomy about our environmental and climate change progress recently - check out this doom-laden screed from a few days ago - but maybe I need to lighten up a bit. Not too much, because things really are quite dire, but let's see what happy things I can say about the situation.

Well, here's one. Although global energy-related carbon emissions continued to increase in 2023 (when we need it to be decreasing, and fast), it didn't rise by as much as it did in 2022. Which is something, right? 

And the reason the pace of the increase slowed was because of the continued expansion of solar and wind (and nuclear) power, and the steady adoption of electric vehicles. Without that trend, the increase in global emissions over the last 5 years would have been three times larger, according to this latest annual update by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

I have to say I'm not looking forward to next year's update. But we should celebrate small victories, right?