Sunday, July 26, 2015

Homelessness, and a Can of Soup. [EBP8]

Cans of soup produced to celebrate the anniversary of Warhol's painting.  Source.


I was walking home this evening, and as one often does when walking the 1 St SW underpass, I passed a homeless man sitting with his back against the concrete walls.  Unlike most encounters though, there was no request for money, no witty remark, no blessings bestowed as I passed.  This man was looking helplessly at a can of soup.  It struck me that this would be an easy fix, save for the fact that nobody actually carries a can opener.  Well, perhaps people do, but they're likely not very much fun at parties.  Or, recalling a personal anecdote about a man who ate canned food for weeks on end to prove to his girlfriend that refrigerators were luxuries and not necessities, the most fun at parties.  It also struck me that there is a certain irony in that canned food would be of the utmost utility to the homeless, but in most cases they would be helpless to open said can.  Unless they're the sort of person that is either the most or least fun at parties.

In any case, I went home.  I ate the food I had brought home for myself.  And then I remembered the man without a can opener.  I grabbed the can opener from the kitchen as well as a disposable spoon.  They went into my pocket and I headed back to the man with the can.  As it turned out, the tab to open the can had broken off.  I did what I could, and despite thinking early on that it might have turned into a fruitless endeavour, the can was opened.  Near the end, I handed the man the spoon, saying that it might be of use if I actually succeeded.  He responded with a question:

"Oh man, a spoon too?  How are you doing so good?"

"I've been lucky." I replied without thinking.

And it's true.  I've been extremely lucky.  I was born to parents that did, and still do, love and care for me.  I've also come to know many people who have helped me, and continue to help me to this day.  I've also been spared the burden of mental illness, which so often factors into homelessness.  I am a citizen to whom a great many opportunities have been afforded.  And were it not for the kind and caring people in my life, I too could be sitting under the rail bridge at 1 St SW, completely stymied by the lack of a pull tab on a single serving can of soup.

It's due to this matter of luck that I am so excited about things like the Calgary Homeless Foundation, which offers homes to the homeless.  As it turns out, people don't generally like being homeless, and it's extremely difficult to keep a job when you have no place to keep your clothes or bathe on a day-to-day basis.  If you afford people these opportunities, they often find a job and move to a nicer place in fairly short order, if the literature is any indication.

Since my finding out about Calgary's program, the city of Medicine Hat has announced that they are the first Canadian municipality to end homelessness.  This follows data which suggested that housing someone for a year costs roughly $20,000, whereas they cost the system about $100,000 otherwise.  Everything I've heard on the matter suggests that the preliminary results are good, and as my fellows over at Future Chat agree, it seems only logical to offer programs like this if a) you'll save money in the long run, b) you could reap the benefits of economically active citizens in the future.  This ignores the whole humanitarian argument, which is hard to accomplish when people are concerned about budgets.

In the end, the evening left me thoughtful enough that I thought I would write about it, as much to sort out my own thoughts as to share them.  I wonder if such a program could come to my home town of Belleville, a home to a disproportionate number of Christian fundamentalists, and [not-necessarily related] big-C conservative sentiments (fiscal conservatism and small government being popular ideas).  I'm specifically thinking of a quotation from a statue in Ottawa that has always stuck with me, from Matthew 25:40 "That which you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me."  I'm also left with how I felt when leaving the man.  Despite his gratitude, I only felt terrible for having waited so long to offer such an easy fix.


P.S.  I have not blogged in a while.  A variety of factors, ennui playing a large factor I feel, have kept me from feeling passionately enough to write.  I subscribe to Matthew Inman's idea that one should not create without feeling inspired to do so, because the work will suffer as a result.  Hopefully the writing will continue, but even if it doesn't, we'll still have Future Chat.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Election 2015: Trudeau, the New Guy

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, who, in a shocking twist for this series, is not looking up and to the right.  Source.

The final installment of the "Election 2015" series will be on Justin Trudeau, because I honestly do not believe that Elizabeth May will be our next Prime Minister.  I will not be talking about his father and legendary Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, because it is irrelevant to this conversation.  The man is not his father.  Shocking, I know.

My Summary:

First and foremost, I would like to publicly declare that I was disappointed when Trudeau won the Liberal leadership race.  I understand the decision for reasons I will outline later but Marc Garneau:

1) Had more political experience and is arguably more ready to be the leader of a country, and more importantly



My impressions of Trudeau are largely limited, perhaps by design, and possibly because he really hasn't been on the scene in an official capacity for that long.  His reign as head of the Liberal Party of Canada, in its smallest incarnation in the history of the party, has been even shorter.  That said, there are a couple things worth noting.

First off, I started by saying that our impressions may be limited by design.  Since the Grits rehauled their image after what I will call the "death spiral" under Ignatieff, Dion, and Martin, the Party hasn't really come out with many policy stances.  Although, somewhat hilariously, this rehaul included the stance that the next Liberal leader would seek to have marijuana legalized.  This was boldly stated on the website, I remember checking because I couldn't believe a party would actually do such a thing.  They have now somewhat backpedaled and declared themselves "Smart on Cannabis."  But, as always, I digress.  It could be that they are holding back on policy so that the other two [much stronger] parties won't steal policy ideas pre-election and claim them under their own platform.  It has happened before, and it would be clever to wait to hear from the opposition before carving one's own path.  If the Grits actually have ideas.  Which we don't know for sure.

However, when Justin makes a decision, by God is it as sudden as it is swift and decisive.  One day in 2014, seemingly out of the blue, Trudeau announces that those people seeking to run as Liberal nominees must not oppose abortion and "a woman's right to choose."  In a similar event, after the Senate expense scandal, he suddenly announced that "there are no Liberal senators," and that they would no longer have any official affiliation with the Grits.  It's almost Harperian in that nobody really seemed to be thinking or talking about the issue at hand, and then sweeping, decisive declarations were made.  If anything is for certain, he isn't being accused of waffling.  Unless he has to go back on the senator affiliations, which he may have to for political leverage in the future.  But that's for the future.

And now, to break up a large block of text, this happened:

I've heard ample criticism of Trudeau in my social circles.  From speculation that he will make the West subservient to the East (because I live in Alberta now, I hear these things), to speculation that almost everything he has said to this point is blatant pandering to students. I don't agree with these points, frankly.  However, I am concerned that he acts impulsively.  I have previously argued that, while he made the right decision in the suspension of his MPs which were accused of sexual harassment, he acted much too quickly.  There's this thing we have called "presumption of innocence," and unless he had very compelling evidence, his actions should have been much more limited.

Finally, Trudeau plays the game well.  The Tory attack-ad machine successfully destroyed three Grit leaders with taglines such as "The Liberal Party is not corrupt" [pictured: hard-working Canadians shaking their heads in disbelief], "Stephane Dion is not a leader," and Ignatieff's "He didn't come back for you."  The machine started up for Trudeau, with an ad saying "He's in way over his head."  Trudeau responded by first showing the attack ad, turning to the camera, and saying that this was ridiculous and Canadians deserved better.  The attack ad machine, which has been operating successfully for almost a decade was halted, and hasn't shown up since.  It'll be interesting to see how this goes.

My Verdict:

One could argue that Trudeau may yet prove to be either a young gun or loose cannon.  I, however, have more pressing issues to address.  Trudeau has been seen sporting long curly locks and facial hair.  Then he comes on the political scene talking about evidence-based practices.  WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT TO STEAL FROM ME, JUSTIN!?  DO YOU WANT TO MAKE UNIVERSAL PUBLIC TRANSIT A POLICY, TOO!?

Justin Trudeau: Avid Reader of Vodka and Equations, Thief.

My Prediction:

Shortly after Trudeau was named leader of the Grits, I was having breakfast with my cousin in the sunny window of Belleville's Cozy Grill.  I said that although we had missed out on an Astronaut Prime Minister (or is that PM Astronaut?), Trudeau was exactly what the Grits needed to crawl out of third party status.  They didn't and, I'd argue, don't need an intellectual heavyweight or an experienced diplomat.  They need a young, charismatic leader to stir up excitement.  He may yet prove to be the heavyweight or the diplomat, but for now he is someone to draw people back to the Grits.

It is for that reason that I think Trudeau will win a minority.  If he doesn't, I imagine Harper will be held to a minority.


Other posts in this series:
Harper, the Proroguer
Mulcair, the Reasonable One

P.S. Four hours and 2440 words later.  Apparently I had things to say about the leaders!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Election 2015: Mulcair, the Reasonable One.

The Right Honourable Thomas Mulcair, remembering that time he was lambasted for saying Canada had Dutch disease, immediately before a report came out saying Canada had Dutch disease.  Source.

I'm continuing on in my "Election 2015" series in [hopefully] one marathon writing session, with articles being released once every day or so.  The posts on the opposition opponents will probably be shorter, because they haven't been granted the opportunity to infuriate me nor drive me to angry blogging.  Yet.  Today's installment: Mulcair, the most reasonable guy in the room.  Also, Liberal until 2007.  Crazy, eh?

My Summary:

Mulcair has impressed me since taking the reigns from Smilin' Jack Layton after his untimely passing.  He's frequently featured on The House with Evan Solomon, and is often eloquent and measured.  That said, I'm most impressed by his work in Parliament, and the stories coming out of the House of Commons.  To wit:

Honestly, take the time to watch that video, he handles the situation brilliantly.  Further, this ultimately ended with a tearful apology from Paul Calandra and probably the death of his political career.  Also note that the second time Calandra deflected, he was given a standing ovation from his fellow Tories.  You'll also note a serious mis-step just after the four minute mark from Mulcair, he questions the neutrality of the Speaker of the House.  As it turns out, the Speaker does not necessarily have the power to compel Members of Parliament to answer questions, but it has led to a discussion of the role of the Speaker, and I would be glad to see more powers granted so that parliamentary discussion can be, y'know, useful.

With the exception of the last exchange, this is typical Mulcair.  After a marathon session of Parliament (I wish I had found an article which covered this, but I didn't), full of petty bickering and little progress, Mulcair ended the evening by essentially calling the lot of them a bunch of children, and adding that he hoped they would have a more productive day to follow.  I think his attitude will speak to a lot of Canadians who are fed up with the current pettiness of politics, and I think his is a good voice to have in Parliament.

Mulcair has also embraced his role as Leader of the Official Opposition.  Unlike his predecessors (except perhaps Ignatieff, who took a similar tack), he has been measured, not getting spiteful, but has also been persistent.  He makes an effort to hold Harper to account whenever he feels attention is warranted.  Though he has no political leverage in the House, his work frequently finds the ears of Canadians and can lead to change from public pressure, because it seems the only way to sway Harper is if his polling numbers are significantly threatened.

Most recently, I seem to recall Mulcair being concerned at the prospect of mission creep in Canada's role in the air strikes against ISIS targets.  I could be wrong, but I [think I] specifically remember them because I thought it was an unreasonable concern.  We would be involved in air strikes and potentially training, and there would be a six month review.  However, Canadian Forces now find themselves on the front lines of battle.  Mulcair is active in demanding an explanation of the governing party, though we are roundly assured that Canada is not in a combat mission, it's just that they're training from the front lines, and they have to defend themselves if fired upon, don't they?

Something to think about.

My Verdict: 

Mulcair is, quite possibly, the only [or perhaps, most] sane person in the House of Commons.

My Prediction:

Mulcair should probably win this election, but he won't.


Other posts in this series:
Harper, the Proroguer
Trudeau, the New Kid

Monday, March 2, 2015

Election 2015: Harper, the Proroguer.

Prime Minister Harper, remembering the days of high oil prices.  Source.

After almost four whole years after the Tories took power, we are once again in an election year.  I'll admit that I'm pretty excited at this prospect as a fan of evidence-based practices and a proud Canadian that has been repeatedly exasperated by the elected representatives of my countrymen.  Particularly that second one, under "exasperated."  It touches on the most mind-bending of Harper's offenses, though my writing is excessively verbose.

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to record my thoughts on the candidates going into this election, including what I think of each candidate, and where I think they'll end up after election night.  That way I can look back at what my exact thoughts were (as can all of you, my be-monocled, top-hatted readers), and reflect on how truly wrong and misguided I was.

My Summary:

So, Harper the Proroguer.  I've been thinking a lot about it this week, and I cannot decide whether he is willfully blind to evidence, an excellent politician, a fool, or all of the above.  In all seriousness, I believe he must be doing what he thinks is right, I don't think he's doing anything with deliberate malice, but he just keeps doing such goofy things.

Take for example the census.  Canada was a world leader in excellent census data, particularly because it was mandatory.  Prison sentences actually awaited those who refused to fill out the long-form census.  Harper publicly decried these penalties and removed them in one of his first acts as the leader of a majority government.

What's my problem with that?  Well, I'll say first and foremost that it wasn't an issue.  It's almost like his movement to change the lyrics of 'O Canada' to be more gender-inclusive.  It just wasn't being discussed.  It wasn't on anyone's radar.  It's like he saw a peaceful beehive and decided to stick his finger in there to see what would happen.  It's like he's the Joker of political action, just an agent of chaotic destruction.  Anyway, it didn't matter to him that nobody in the history of the Canadian census had ever gone to prison for not filling out the census, because no reasonable person would ever choose prison over taking ten minutes to half-ass the long-form census.  So now we have a voluntary survey.  That's great.  How does the government now make decisions on how to best deliver public services?  Probably based on questionable data.  Or purely political motivations, knowing Harper.

After the Tories fought tooth and nail for these things, it turns out they don't even work in the Arctic.  But they are, and will always be, Scandalicious. Source.

However, this could also have been a brilliant calculation.  The economic situation hasn't been great since the Great Recession of 2008, and who is least likely to fill out the voluntary survey?  According to Ivan Fellegi, former Chief Statistician of Canada, it's the poor, new immigrants, and aboriginals.  Those who, in general, could benefit most from public services, and those who are most likely to deflate Canada's economic picture.  This is pure, baseless speculation, but it would be a brilliant political move.

So that's a thing that happened.  Harper also came to power promising more government accountability, appointed a Parliamentary Budget Officer to fulfill said promise, and then dismissed the unfortunate Kevin Page when, y'know, he tried to hold government to account.  Which was his job description.  And the job was created for that purpose by Harper.  Harper wanted to reform the Senate and make it more democratic, and then a bunch of his senate appointees were unceremoniously ousted for their unethical behaviour.  He referred to a non-confidence motion to defeat his government as a "parliamentary trick" when that's how he himself came to power (or that's how I remember it anyway).

He's an interesting character.  Bewildering, but certainly entertaining.

My Verdict:

Petulant politician, perpetually pining for power.

My Prediction:

... Isn't really much of a prediction.  Those who have been paying attention for his tenure are mostly sick of his antics, but most electors either 1) haven't been paying attention, or 2) vote Tory out of principle, and are probably over the age of 55.  He's got a solid support base.  Further, if Mike Duffy's allegations that Harper ordered him to pay back his expenses because, quote, "it is inexplicable to our base," he certainly does a lot of his maneuvering with his supporters in mind.  I think Harper has it in him to win again with two "unproven" rivals.  If he wins it'll probably be a minority, and if he loses he will almost certainly limit the winner to minority status.


Other posts in this series:
Mulcair, the Reasonable One
Trudeau, the New Guy

P.S.  In the lead up to this, I watched a bunch of old Rick's Rants.  You might enjoy them too, so they're posted below.  Also following is a link from the hilarious Scott Feschuk on Stephen Harper from 2013 conversing with his 2005 self.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Pipelines. [EBP7]

The Alaskan Pipeline.  Source Ryan McFarland.

I tried to fiddle with my blog layout, so hopefully you'll see more photos in their original size.  As it turns out, the average computer monitor isn't quite so restricted as it was when Awesome, Inc. designed this template, and it's nice to be able to show pictures in their original size and splendour.

But yes, to the point.  The Keystone XL pipeline has been approved by the United States' Congress and President Obama has vowed to use his veto.  I'm also hearing a lot about the Energy East pipeline, which is currently slated to ship Alberta and Saskatchewan oil as far east as Cornwall, Ontario.  Specifically, it will deliver crude oil to refineries in the East.  Tom Mulcair has actually been a vocal proponent of upgrading our raw natural resources before exporting them, because it means more Canadian jobs and increases the value of our exports.  It seems much better than exporting our oil to be refined in other countries, so that we may buy it back at a higher price, anyway.

But still I digress.  Pipelines are all over the news, and there is a lot of resistance.  Tonnes of it, even.  In fact, there exists a pipeline known as "Line 9" that runs from Sarnia to Montreal.  In 1976, it carried oil eastward, I am assuming in the wake of the OPEC oil crisis.  In 1998, the flow was reversed to ship the cheap oil from across the Atlantic inward.  And now, again, the flow has been reversed to supply Western crude to the East.  The amount of resistance and complaints this faced was astounding given that the pipeline was already in place.

So pipelines are so unpopular that even those which exist are subject to intense scrutiny for simply reversing flow direction.  Pipelines which are to be constructed face even more intense criticism.  And I will grant that this is at least partially warranted.  Pipelines are subject to failures which can release non-trivial amounts of crude oil into potentially sensitive environmental areas.

But here's the thing: Canada is addicted to oil.  The world is addicted to oil.  Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been burning and using fossil fuels, and it has shaped our lives in ways most people don't realise.  All your plastics are petroleum products.  Polar fleece sweaters are made from petroleum.  Drugs and the solvents used to develop them are often based on petroleum products.  But the biggest use of oil is for energy, and energy is the biggest industry there is.  If liquid fuels are included, it is the biggest industry by several factors.  To quote Rick Mercer, that's alotta poutine.

So we're addicted, and it's big money.  Money so big that Canada's dollar is under 80 cents USD, down about twenty cents since the price of oil dropped precipitously.  Money so big that the oil will be shipped, regardless the approval of the pipelines people protest.  And what happens when pipelines get blocked?  Well, Lac-M├ęgantic happens because the oil needs to be shipped and, shockingly, CN and CP are more than happy to make money transporting things to port.

Intermodal Safety in the Transport of Oil, from the Fraser Institute.
So it seems pretty obvious that the money at stake ensures the extraction and transport of available oil.  Now consider the above figure.  Pipelines are at most half as risky as transportation by rail (when adjusted for the amount transported), and these numbers are from before the crop of recent derailments.  So if one truly wishes to stop pipelines, one must get humanity off of oil.  Stopping pipeline construction won't alleviate climate change, because the oil will get shipped by more dangerous means, only putting more lives and environmental areas at risk.

I don't think oil is in the far future for humanity, oil being an unsustainable resource, unlike nuclear and hydro.  But we are addicted.  When OPEC cut off the supply of oil to North America, things got really bad really quickly.  We need to find alternative sources of transportation fuel (or batteries), but it won't change overnight.  So as long as we need oil, we should ship it by pipeline.  It's cheaper and safer than the alternatives.  Well, except maybe for filling water bombers with oil.