Thursday, August 28, 2014

Worth Reading - August 28, 2014

Keeping things short this week. Take a look at these articles.

The news coming out of the City of Brampton leads me to question the basic competence of the elected leaders and civil servants leading the community. The Toronto Star is reporting that Brampton Council did not fully understand one of the largest public expenditures in the city's history.

Andrew Leech tackles the question of the muzzling of government scientists. His position will be criticized by many, but it has a certain sense.

Martin Regg Cohn in the Toronto Star writes about the new rapprochement between Quebec and Ontario as the dual Liberal premiers begin to build common ground. The way Western Canadian premiers work together had me wondering if/when Central Canada would start working together in common interests now that its power has declined.

I like David Soknacki, who is running for Mayor of Toronto. Perhaps it's my appreciation of a fellow nerd trying to make a difference in political life, but Edward Keenan lays it out the Soknacki case quite nicely.

The NDP is in a tough position. Mr. Mulcair has to find away to not be outshone by Trudeau. I obviously have my preference, but that is't the case for all Canadians. The Globe is reporting how the NDP will try to win back the lead from the Liberals.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

How Harper Might Win in 2015

In the continuing strangeness in my life in Fort Smith I had the opportunity to meet Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday. As part of the Prime Minister’s annual “Northern Tour” he visited Fort Smith to make a funding announcement to support an agricultural program. Farming used to be more widespread in the Northwest Territories. I’m sure at one point every household had their own garden, much like they did in Newfoundland. However, I assume, the advent of more efficient transportation and cooling made groceries more accessible.

However, I am not particularly interested in speaking to the government’s announcement on northern agriculture. I cannot speak to anything I did in my capacity at work, the agreement, signed by my employer and I, forbids that, so I must curtail my comments about Mr. Harper’s visit.

In the evening I attended an event put on by the Conservative Party’s local riding association. For the record, not so long ago I was sitting on the riding association for the NDP, and I paid no money to the Conservative Party to attend. I was invited by friends and so I attended.

At the event the Prime Minister began to lay out his 2015 election plan. He trumpeted the work his party has done in government (however dubiously) and castigated the Liberals and NDP as poorer alternatives. In a crowd of people who probably reasonably represent the undecided/neutral voters and Conservative-leaning it suddenly became all the more apparent to me that it is possible that Mr. Harper may return his party to Ottawa with a majority after the next election.

I will not lay out the Prime Minister’s case for him because we will get enough of that in the weeks and months ahead. It is an argument built upon a few key pillars, but these pillars, I believe, will resonate with a significant number of Canadians.

The obvious first plank is the economy. Plenty of economists will say that the Government of Canada and the Conservatives oversell the health of the economy. More importantly than the truth of the matter and whether or not the benefits of the slow growth is reaching everyone, the Conservatives can sell easy to understand policies and a positive message; lower taxes, a balanced budget while providing new programs and funding. While the opposition tells a tale of doom and gloom the Conservatives get to champion the strongest middle class in the world. Justin Ling, a journalist at Loonie Politics, recently commented on this divide. Life for middle-class Canadians is fairly good, so criticism by the opposition could ring hollow.

The second pillar sort of fits under the title “Commonsense”. This one word accomplishes a lot. First, it suggests that the alternative approaches are somehow empty-headed, poorly conceived or theoretical. Second, it moves even the more radical policies of the Conservatives into the centre. Commonsense cannot be radical, it’s where rational people come to their conclusion. During his speech Mr. Harper alluded to several ways this might be employed. The deficit – certain, “commonsense” cuts were needed to get Canadians value for their money. Crime – a “commonsense” approach that puts the victim first. The opposition is marginalized for their “fringe” opinions, and Mr. Trudeau or Mr. Mulcair’s missteps fit this narrative, i.e. the budget will balance itself.

Finally, the Conservatives will offer a stick. “We live in a dangerous world”. We’ll probably hear that phrase a lot and it will encompass both the geopolitical instability that Canadians worry about and the Conservatives blunt foreign policy addresses, along with the continued economic instability. The risk of changing governments, for switching to either an untested party (NDP) or untested leader (Justin Trudeau) will give many Canadians pause, perhaps enough pause to return the Conservatives to power.

The election is about a year away, and there’s no way to predict the outcome. Friends of mine on the left hope that Stephen Harper will be retired from public life... but I am increasingly unsure of that possibility. Between a divided opposition and the arguments I made above enough Canadians may trust the devil they know. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Worth Reading - August 21, 2014

I really like this piece from David Frum about how our efforts to improve accountability has crippled government. I think it is something worth considering and thinking about moving forward. I believe I’ve written on this topic in the past.

If you haven’t been following the news about Ferguson my best advice is to watch this clip of John Oliver from This Week Tonight.  It would be funny if it didn’t make me so mad.

In university I took a course on North Atlantic history, which included extensive discussion of Norse Greenland and their exploration of North America. We debated how far the Norse explored and the extent of their contact with the indigenous people, but a recent discovery of a knarr on the Mississippi River shows they may have gotten further than we imagined. 

I am a fan of these types of stories because I think they reveal something not immediately obvious. This is Ferguson reported as if it were occurring in another country

Paul Wells of Maclean’s interviews Justin Trudeau (LPC – Papineau, QC). 

The Globe and Mail is reporting on the ongoing scandal in Brampton’s municipal finances. The author tries to explain how accountability has seemingly vanished from Council

Unless the Conservatives win a sweeping victory in 2015 it is likely that more Alberta seats will switch from the Conservatives (or no incumbent) to the Liberals and New Democrats. Both parties are working hard to make that so. The new more urban ridings in Calgary and Edmonton are more likely to be friendly to the Opposition.  

CGP Grey, by far my favourite YouTube channel on the internet, posted an interesting video this week about the growth of automation and the impact it will have on human beings. His conclusions are rather harsh, but I have trouble disagreeing with him, we’re all horses.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Arming the Law, War on Patrol

I feel ill-equipped and far too ill-informed to discuss the crisis that has descended upon Ferguson, Missouri when any pithy insight. There are far better places than this to learn of the events taking place there and the abuse of the state towards its citizens. There is an underlying thread; that the militarization of police forces have had a severe impact on the ability of police forces to deliver services effectively.

The disproportionate force and dehumanizing qualities of advanced military hardware should be a chilling lesson not just to citizens but to governments and police services themselves. Body armour, polymer shields, assault weapons, and armoured vehicles may serve to protect the bodies of law enforcement but it also has the negative impact of distancing themselves from the public. I am (generally-speaking) a law-abiding citizen. I am male, and come from a middle-class background and while I have Indian Status most people who see me would assume that I am white and I have been treated as such my whole life. I say this by way of saying that with all my innate privileges and the fact that for so many centuries power structures have worked in favour of people just like me, I am intimidated to speak to a police officer in uniform.

Law enforcement officers are naturally intimidating. Even in their regular uniforms and vest, with a well concealed sidearm they naturally project a sense of authority, or power, and fear or hesitation is a natural response. This was never made clearer for me than when I met people I had known for many years in uniform on patrol and my feelings were suddenly very conflicted about them.

The addition of drawn heavy weapons, helmets, and all the other ephemera of a modern military strapped onto a police force makes them instantly antagonistic. Even removed from the racial/class conflict of the United States, the G20 protests in Toronto not so many years ago are a symbol of similar problem.

Uniforms obscure the human being beneath them. As a result common citizens feel removed from, and vaguely intimidated, by police. This is a healthy and normal response, but when mixed with intergenerational problems these symbols can become toxic.

There is a serious question over whether or not police forces are bloated, and funding is misallocated. No politician ever lost an election promising more men and women in uniform or increasing their funding, but the fundamental use of that funding and how policing is carried out seems relatively stagnant. Not every police department should be ready to respond to riots and urban warfare, being prepared for it almost seems to doom it into being.

Oddly enough I wish to end on a quote I saw on social media from a science fiction program. “There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.”

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Worth Reading - August 14, 2014

After only a few days back in my home base I have not exactly had much chance to read the news. I had a pile of articles put aside but I lost them when my computer crashed. Such is life. Here is a collect of articles, some from before my vacation and some from after. I hope they all prove interesting.

Why do infrastructure projects cost so much? City Lab shares the example of a tunnel built in Los Angeles in 1925 and contrasts for 2014. 

The Toronto Star published a poll stating that most Bramptonians want Mayor Susan Fennell to resign. Harsh.

Related, a Toronto Star editor defends the reporting on the spending “irregularities” of Mayor Susan Fennell. Fennell has been criticizing the Star and claiming the reporting to be inaccurate.

From Eric Grenier of 308 Blog, the federal Conservatives are in a slump and evidence is mounting it might be a more permanent shift. 

If I’m not mistaken David Soknacki has proposed doing something similar in Toronto, but Singapore has introduced free transit at certain times to cut down on rush hour commuters. 

Steve Paikin writes about the lack of transparency for the provincial debates.  Even more remarkable given that he was the moderator.

Justin Ling in the National Post finds it odd that Canada is often so happy to regulate and monitor social problems, except prostitution

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Operation Alda, or, The Great Korean Adventure

Between July 17th and August 10th I have been travelling around the world. It would be challenging, I suppose, to find two more different regions to explore than Canada’s Northwest Territories and Seoul, South Korea, but those were the two main points of my journeys.

Yellowknife from "The Rock" in Old Town
Phase one of my travels was me meeting my family in Yellowknife. My parents decided to visit the Northwest Territories given that I am living up here for the moment and without me here they would likely never find a reason to head this far north.

Alexandra Falls near Enterprise, NT

I was happy to play tour guide to my family, but it also gave me an excuse to travel through the territory myself. We spent a few days in Yellowknife before driving down Highway 3 towards Hay River. The trip was marred by the incredible fire season that the region has been enduring. The highway in and out of Yellowknife has been frequently closed between Behchoko and Fort Providence. We arrived to a blockade and thick smoke, but got lucky and snuck through on to Hay River and later Fort Smith. The scale of the Northwest Territories is really difficult to fathom. Whipping along the highway between the few towns on the route gives a pale impression of its size. I was pleased to cross the legendary Mackenzie River, see the road from Yellowknife and pass through an active forest fire. The bison even cooperated and posed for pictures.

Highway 3 between Behchoko and Fort Providence, NT

After showing my parents around the South Slave and Fort Smith, the community I currently call home, I returned to work for one day and then flew from Fort Smith to Edmonton to Vancouver, and the next day I crossed the Pacific Ocean and met with my dear friends in Seoul, South Korea.

Korea is the first country I have visited outside of North America. My globetrotting experience is decidedly limited. I would probably never have visited the country without the kind hospitality and guidance of my friends.

Side-streets in Seoul

Some general observations, if I may: Korea is a beautiful country. It has a landscape like nothing I have ever seen before. Unlike the Rockies or Appalachians the mountains bend and slop erratically with no discernible pattern. The fields and meadows glow a vibrant green. Seoul is an incredible city. I remarked on a few occasions that it was like stepping into the future. I expected crowded, noisy and dense. While the city was dense in was relatively peaceful and it was rare to be inundated with people. Ironically the big thoroughfares and avenues were often scarcely peopled, but the side streets where businesses or markets sat thronged with humanity. English is fairly ubiquitous in the city. Though I was almost never without my friends I managed well enough in English and the tiny amount of Korean I picked up during the trip. The food and the markets and businesses were some of my favourite things.

Largest Palace in Seoul, typhoon clouds mask the mountains.
I did visit the DMZ during my trip with one of my friends and technically stepped into North Korean territory. It is vaguely horrifying the contrasts between the nightmare-state of the North and the South. It was unsettling to be carefully observed by a North Korean guard with binoculars and see a gaunt labourer take a smoke break. The whole northern region of the Republic of Korea is militarized and prepared to respond in the event of North Korean aggression. It is a sword of Damocles that hangs over the country.
North Korean guard eyes tourists through binoculars.

Visiting a foreign country definitely shines light on to your preconceived notions of how life “naturally” should be structured. How Koreans work, live and play offered a somewhat stunning alternative. Unfortunately there were dark sides to the country, though those rarely affected me directly.

The best part of my trip was spending time with my three friends from university and getting insight into their lives in that foreign land. I gained an appreciation for what has kept them there for three years. The trip was made all the better through insider context from people with a similar worldview and experience to my own. I highly recommend visiting the country, though perhaps not in the peak of summer, sweet mother of God was it hot...