Metroblog

A one-time school project gone terribly, terribly wrong.

29 February 2008

Wow ... Just Wow. Or Rather, Unjust Wow.

A new report says that the US has managed to incarcerate fully one percent of its adult population, or 2.3 million people. And there are some interesting findings.

From the article:
Although studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect may be less influential than changes in the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents and the proportion of young people in the population, report co-author Adam Gelb said.

[...]

For instance, Florida, which has almost doubled its prison population over the past 15 years, has experienced a smaller drop in crime than New York, which, after a brief increase, has reduced its number of inmates to below the 1993 level.


Go read the report.

Why should Canadians pay attention?
The Conservative government's crime bill narrowly passed in the Liberal-dominated Senate on Wednesday, avoiding an election showdown over the issue.

[...]

The crime bill, among other things, calls for:

Tougher mandatory prison terms for serious gun crimes.
Stiffer penalties for impaired driving.
Tougher bail laws.
Tougher rules for repeat offenders.
Increasing the age of sexual consent to 16 from 14 in certain cases.
I never thought we needed a new crime bill, particularly because I don't think it actually does anything that wasn't already covered by law. But I am very concerned about the apparent move toward things like mandatory minimum sentences, which are big contributors to burgeoning prison populations.

The gun crime provision is interesting. Especially since this government is known to favour deregulating firearms. I don't feel that a longer sentence will dissuade the run-into-the-mall-and-kill-a-bunch-of-people types, and I don't think it figures highly in the mental calculations of your average drug dealer/gas station robber/guy who just lost his mortgage in a poker game. So if the intent is to reduce crime, I don't feel this will have the effect they seek. But it'll be interesting to watch.

I would also like to know whether the government is going to follow through on its comittment to funding more police officers nationwide. Boots on the ground will definitely reduce crime--one of the few proven solutions. I saw some funding in the budget, so that's good.

Yes, I believe that if you can't do the time, you shouldn't do the time. But I believe justice must be tempered with reason and mercy. There are good reasons not to treat someone convicted of pot possesion the same way we treat someone convicted of manslaughter, which seems to me to be the direction we're moving in.







28 February 2008

On "Carbon Footprint"

I'm really not getting a great deal of work done, but I saw this post over at "A Bit Part in Your Life, and felt inspired.
There are a lot of lovely words and phrases out there. Like Valentine, birthday cake, payday and happy hour. But there are also a lot of really terrible words and phrases. Too many to name, but here's a sampling of some of my (least) favourites.
[...]
Carbon Footprint.
Okay, my problem with this one isn't that it is a pretentious, overused buzzword, my problem is that it sounds nice. Carbon Footprint. It's lovely, gentle, poetic even. It makes me think of footprints in the sand on a beach on a lame Hallmark sympathy card. I think if people want to get their environmental point across, they should use a more disgusting phrase than Carbon Footprint. Something like "Carbon Shit Streak" perhaps."
Well "$#17 streak" is a bit strong for a sensitive character like myself, but I agree. It's time for a change. From now on, I am resolved to trying to reduce my
carbon skid mark, or CSM.

It's short, has a three-letter abbreviation that rolls off the tongue (which, in relation to skid marks, is really something that doesn't bear thinking about), and best of all, it's disgusting. So much so that you can buy the "Skidmark Safe" to keep your valuables safe from thieves.

My old Company Sergeant-Major, or CSM, might have had a problem with the abbreviation. But he too was short and disgusting (Whether he rolled off the tongue was something I never chose to investigate and also does not bear thinking about).

So let's all try to lower our environmental impact, sure. And let's try to cut down on our fossil fuel consumption. But most of all, let's try and wash out our pesky carbon skid marks. Yay!







A Quick Thought About Hillary, Barack, and NAFTA

Hillary and Barack have both been making war-talk on NAFTA. Both, campaigning in the job-drought-stricken rust belt of Ohio, home of shuttered auto plants and smokeless factory chimneys, intimated that they would "re-visit" NAFTA, the North American Free Trade agreement.

Unfortunately, I believe the rhetoric the candidates are employing is actually empty. But if it isn't, it's an opportunity to pause for thought.

Myself, I say go ahead. I personally think NAFTA wasn't a bad deal for Canada. Most importantly, we got an actual grievance mechanism to settle trade disputes with, rather than the old method of sending it up the pipeline through higher courts and levels of government until everyone gave up in disgust.

However, I don't feel the US has played particularly fairly in trade generally, especially the softwood lumber sector (which was, I hasten to point out, specifically excluded from NAFTA). There have been instances in steel and beef as well.

Canada ships out raw materials and ships some of them back as value-added goods. With the economic downturn in the US (and I'm guessing it'll take at least three years for the US economy to recover, if it ever does--$11 trillion is a big debt hole, and that's even before you add the US-China trade imbalance), we need to expand our trading beyond our traditional market, the US, and our other big partner (regrettably, China).

If NAFTA went in the crapper, US energy prices would skyrocket. We have agreements to sell hydro, gas, and oil, water and other resources in place, many under the NAFTA framework. Say "buh-bye".

Canada, faced with a patchwork of tariffs and duties, and slapping reciprocal duties on imports of manufactured goods, would have to rebuild a manufacturing sector for all those goods we haven't yet sourced from China and India.

Instead of shipping raw lumber and logs south, maybe we could rebuild our furniture industry; re-open some of the mills that have shut down and re-tool them for manufacturing. Our auto sector won't change because most of our car "manufacturing" actually consists of screwing on the bumpers and antennae of vehicles shipped in from Korea (including a number of famous "Japanese" cars as well. Japan has "outsourcing" too). It'll drop though, because the US will start importing cars directly--possibly building a bigger auto assembly industry of its own. Instead of shipping iron and steel to China, where it gets made into Wal-Mart lawn furniture, shipped to the US and thence to Canada, we could make it here.

Sure, prices would climb, but maybe it'd slow down the relentless, breathless cycle of consumer debt and irresponsible consumption.

As to staple goods, well Canada has proven quite capable of producing its own food in the past. Yes, you'd no longer be able to buy three litres of orange juice for five bucks, but I feel it distorts the hell out of agriculture, economics, and trade when a country that can't grow oranges at all imports quadrillions of litres of the stuff even in the depths of winter. The environmental costs? Don't get me started; I used to drive trucks for a living.

All these value-added vineyards I see out my window would probably be half-replaced with apple orchards. Apple juice--it's what's for breakfast.

But we wouldn't starve. And we'd be able to start growing a larger variety of crops again becuase a tariff regimen would make domestically produced food more competitive.

So if the candidates really mean what they've been saying on this, okay. And if not, well that's okay too.

The biggest losers would probably be the industries of Mexico. The steel producers, the maquiladora factories, the farms raising food for export.

One thing that abrogating NAFTA would do for certain is establish once and for all whether derestricting trade actually brings any real benefits. Let me be clear, I believe that for the most part it does. But I'd love to see the principle really get tested in a place where we eagerly adopted free trade.







Just Stopping In Because it's Been a While

Things are pleasantly busy in Metroland. Nothing out of the ordinary. However, I was recently described as "a delight to see" onstage and so I have been unable to get through the door to acess my keyboard until my head reached a more manageable size.

From the news:
Stephen Harper and the New! Green! Fiscally Responsible! Government of Canada (Did we mention Green?) presented the budget. Yawn.

Finance minister Jim Flaherty read the budget in (wait for it) re-soled shoes, which is supposed to be symbolic of his government's comittment to thrift. Tradition holds that budgets are traditionally delivered in new shoes as a symbol of change.

My first thought is that re-soling was probably more expensive that any two pairs of shoes I've bought for the past couple of years. My second is that the symbol as used by the Conservatives would appear to mean "no change."

And there wasn't much. Social programs got nothing extra from the $10-billion surplus. Income taxes weren't cut. No nationwide carbon tax plan (Hahhahahaha! I know, but I wanted to mention it anyway).

There was an investment in carbon-sequestration technologies. Since carbon sequestration is still in the realm of science fiction, I'd have preferred something a little more concrete in terms of encouraging people to reduce their "carbon footprint" (of the which more in the next entry or so).

The big difference is that in 2009 we're getting a tax-free savings account. No word on what the poor are supposed to fill it with.

Oh, and "tax-free" only applies to the interest, not to the income you use for contributions. However, it isn't taxed when you take it out, either. Which is presumably why it's limited to $5,000.

All in all, tepid, timid, designed to avoid an election. I'm pretty much okay with that.


Meanwhile, Flaherty's crapping on the Ontario government for refusing to lower its business taxes. Well, lowering business taxes won't keep a company here if they determine they can still make bigger profits by relocating to, say, the US. And yes, it's happened. High Canadian dollars make relocating your industry south a bargain. And by its very nature, much of the Canadian manufacturing industry is located so close to the border that where the company is located is really a question of whether you walk into the south or north entrance of the plant.







22 February 2008

Harper and Co. Get Failing Grade in Science

The science journal Nature has just put up an editorial excoriating the Harper government for its lousy attitude to science.
Concerns can only be enhanced by the government's manifest disregard for science. Since prime minister Stephen Harper came to power, his government has been sceptical of the science on climate change and has backed away from Canada's Kyoto commitment. In January, it muzzled Environment Canada's scientists, ordering them to route all media enquires through Ottawa to control the agency's media message. Last week, the prime minister and members of the cabinet failed to attend a ceremony to honour the Canadian scientists who contributed to the international climate-change report that won a share of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize.
Mr. "It-may-be-a-belching-plume-of-filthy-smoke-right-now-but-just-you-wait-forty-years" turns out to have a lot to answer for.

The editorial concludes with a question: "What can be done?" Well, just lately, a Strategic Counsel poll claimed that the Conservatives looked poised to secure a majority government.

Given that other polls tend to show the Conservatives roughly neck-and-neck with the Liberal Party or even a bit behind, there is clearly an anomaly.

I suggest a scientific test of the data.

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20 February 2008

Speaking of Taxes on Stuff. How About on Music?

The Songwriter's Association of Canada is proposing a $5-per-month fee to be charged on people's cable bills, in return for which all music would be freely available for download.

I kind of like this idea. I think $5 is too high, but I'd probably pony up $2 a month without too much complaint.

Good luck convincing Sony and the RIAA that this is a good idea, though. And I'm not at all willing to do this unless the music industry's catalogues are made open and unrestricted for access before I break loose the first red cent.

Besides, the music industry will never go for it: it's an idea that comes from actual content creators and might put the money into their hands, rather than the grubby mitts of music industry execs.

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Carbon Tax? Do We Need a Steenking Carbon Tax?

Well why not?

Our provincial government yesterday announced a budget that included a carbon tax. The tax comes in the form of a 2.5¢ tax on fuels. This includes gasoline, other motor fuels and home heating oil.

FSM help me, I think this government finally made a move I can support! They imposed a tax on fuel and lowered personal income taxes for those earning less than $70,000 per year. Which is in fact most of us.

Yet most of the reaction I've heard has been whingeing about the increase in the cost of fuel.

This is silly. Whether or not you believe that global warming is an issue, a consumption tax on the number-one source of airborne pollution in this country is a good idea.

First, I support consumption taxes. Our pandering, poll-sniffing, pols in the federal government recently whorishly dropped the Goods and Services Tax (GST) to encourage people to spend more.

The average Canadian family is $23,000 or so in the hole. It would be one thing if this were for needful items, but most of it is consumer debt, that is, money spent on acquiring crap that they mostly don't need. We didn't need a sales tax reduction, but an income tax reduction wouldn't line the pockets of the conservatives' moneyed interests, or the feds' coffers.

Consumption simply for the sake of consumption has bad effects the world over, and most of those effects don't figure into the cost of consumer goods. In the case of fuel, until now, there has been no accounting for the environmental effects.

When consumption becomes an expensive choice, though, many people will choose to save money. Yes, the rich can afford to continue to consume, but nothing was going to change that anyway.

Second: The tax cut for someone earning the poverty-line $23,000 per year (anywhere in BC but Vancouver, where it's about $50k) is 5 percent off the current rate. The current rate is around 30 percent (probably less, but it's hard to pin down).

So this year you'll get about $400 back. Obviously, the more you earn, the bigger the rebate. At 2.5¢ per litre, you'd have to burn 16,000 litres of fuel to match that $400.

If your car gets 10 km/l (and most get much better mileage) you'd have to drive 160,000 km in a year to burn that rebate. I've owned my car for four years and I've put just over that many kilometres on it.

Now I don't feel this is a perfect plan. I'd rather have seen the income taxes drop a bit less, and have the money stuffed into subsidizing transit. It's hard to argue that someone should ride the bus when the bus simply doesn't get you where you're going, won't get you there in time, or, as in the case of Vancouver, costs five dollars each way to cross the three poorly-laid-out "fare zones". Most Canadians drive to work. Some are driving because they have no choice. We need to make more choices available.

I don't mind the heating fuel rise. Mme Metro and I have managed to argue our way to keeping the heat around 64 Farenheit (about 17 Celsius). My choice would be about 62, but the lady doth protest too much. So we have an automated thermostat that keeps the daytime temperature at 60-62 when we're out of the house or asleep, and at 64 when we're home in the evenings. And hey, it wasn't as though our rates were going down anyway.

In the 1970s, with the spectre of oil shortages and (FSM help us!) gas at 45¢ a litre, the nation adopted stringent measures:
If you're cold, put on a sweater, reduce unneccesary trips in the car, be wise in your use of things like dishwashers and washing machines, etc.

It's time for us to revisit these ideas.

Why? Well:
1)It keeps money in consumers' pockets
2) It reduces waste and extravagance at a time when everyone's $#17ting a brick about $100-a-barrel oil
3) It reduces our environmental footprint
4) It lowers pollution

This carbon tax is only a baby step. But it is, at least, in the right direction.

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19 February 2008

A New Addition to the Metroblog Roll

It's like someone took my best thoughts and wrote them in a blog, only better, funnier, and rather more coherent.

I stumbled across Vlad the Impala while researching at work. I was not researching for work, unless one can link the companions of Doctor Who to workplace safety ... Oh, I don't know, though ...

Anyway, I was looking for this illustration, when I stumbled across his blog. He'll be on the blogroll next time I mess with the template.

I'm a bit concerned that in posting a link to Northern Planets, I'm risking the total desertion of my Avid Fans.

But you won't leave me, will you?

Hello?

Anybody?

There's something damn weird about the time/date stamps there. One post is three days in my future, yet the most current post on Northern Planets Uncensored is a year in my past. Still, this is to be expected when dealing with people who are acquainted with TARDISes (TARDii?).







18 February 2008

Well, I've Been Called Similar Names

I found this quiz languishing over at Raincoaster's, so I brought it home with me. I thought my result was sufficiently entertaining to be its own post.




You Are a Colon



You are very orderly and fact driven.

You aren't concerned much with theories or dreams... only what's true or untrue.

You are brilliant and incredibly learned. Anything you know is well researched.

You like to make lists and sort through things step by step. You aren't subject to whim or emotions.

Your friends see you as a constant source of knowledge and advice.

(But they are a little sick of you being right all of the time!)


You excel in: Leadership positions

You get along best with: The Semi-Colon

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14 February 2008

Graduation Speech Form for Graduates of Northern Illinois University, Columbine High School, Virginia Tech et Al

Ladies and Gentlemen, it's such an honour to stand here and present this speech on behalf of the graduating class of 2___. I'd particularly like to thank those of you who supported us as we made our journey through the hallowed halls of acadamia. Particularly those of you on the security team.

But I'd especially like to single out a certain group today: The National Rifle Association. Thanks to their efforts, the odds of us getting good jobs has increased a fraction, due to their incessant work at allowing people with mental deficits to own large-capacity automatic weapons.

Yes, because of the National Rifle Association's conviction that anyone who can sign their name on the third try should automatically qualify to own a handgun, shotgun or 110-mm howitzer for home defence, there will be several blank files in the workforce of tomorrow. Who will rise to the challenge of filling those spots? Why, we will of course, the class of 2___. Of course, that statement isn't intended to exclude those among us who, thanks again to the great work of the NRA, are confined to wheelchairs.

We will share a common vision of the future--those of us who weren't blinded by shotgun pellets. And we will seize that future with both hands, or in the case of some, with both hooks. And we will stand shoulder to prosthetic, ready to place our noses, whether original or rebuilt by plastic surgery, to the grindstone.

We will remember our fallen comrades, some of us whenever the temperature changes, or the colostomy bag. But we will carry on. And we will thank the NRA for protecting our God-given right to hunt deer with cop-killer ammuntion in a large assault weapon, and to carry a weapon hidden away where no-one can see it until we bring it forth in public to do what it was created to do.

On my own behalf I'd like to thank the late Professer Toomey, formerly Dean of Law here, and I'd like to thank the gentleman who hired me to lobby politicians for the right of toddlers to carry guns in kindergarten to defend themselves against unfortunate incidents like the one that reduced our grad class to the seven people here today.

I want you all to know that I'll be working very hard for my six figures in Washington, trying to persuade this disgustingly liberal congress to pass amendments so that the sacred right guaranteed in the Constitution continues to outweigh bureaucratic petty concerns like keeping students "safe" instead of well-armed, or keeping guns out of the hands of people who have as yet comitted nothing more serious than a domestic assault or two.

God bless the NRA!

God bless them.


Metro sets his timer, twiddles his thumbs, and waits for the first croak of "Guns don't kill people, people kill people!"

There have been six goddammned school shootings in February this year in the US. Special warning: concern trolls and apologists had better come with a better-than-usual range of arguments.

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From "Canadian Bacon"

Just for Raincoaster, to express my vague admiration for the fact that if you Google "YouTube Canadian Bacon Garbage Truck", her blog comes up in about third place, just behind the discussion board for people who want to sort out Toronto's solid waste problems. Which itself also seems appropriate.



One of John Candy's last films, and one of the best films about Canada-US relations ever made. Directed by a very good filmmaker who perhaps should have stuck to comedy.







12 February 2008

Internet "Service" Strikes Again

This time, it's Cara Operations (sounds so much classier than "Cara Restaurants" I guess). Whatever they may be, they are not operators. And certainly not smooth operators.

I sought to purchase, for the belated birthday gift to my paternal unit, a gift card for Milestones Restaurant, a national, possibly international chain.

One might think that the proprietors of such a (doubtless profitable) enterprise would be fully up on the business of e-commerce. After all, it only makes sense to enable your customers to, oh, I dunno, buy $#17 from you online, no?

But ...

I first attempted to make a purchase at the website. Unfortunately, for some reason clearly unknown to anyone who doesn't also know the secret stupid-ass-marketing-ploy handshake, the minimum order for gift cards at the site is $250.

Two hundred and fifty £µ©λing dollars. Mme and I could buy roughly five meals for that price. I mean, I love my dad and all, and it's a milestone birthday (hence the gift), but FSM on a crutch!

Since I wanted about $50 worth, I phoned the card sales number at the website, as the site itself encourages one to do between the hours of 8 am and 4 pm, Toronto time.

The initial call to 1-800-something-something is answered by a human being, who directs you to a machine that says, approximately, "unfortunately we cannot answer your call at this time."

"This time," being, as I understand it following repeated calls, any time between 8 am and 4 pm, Toronto time.

So I decided to phone the local Milestones that Metro Pére would have to visit to use such a card:

"The mailbox beloning to ...{new voice} Milestones Restaurant {old voice} ... is full," intoned the telco answering system.

Determined to reach these people, I went to the specific location page, hoping for a direct line of communication:

"Closed for renovations," read the label next to the little red house indicating the theoretical location of Milestones on the map.

Clearly, Cara has brought to terrestrial dining all the delights of the airplane cuisine for which they are so justly un-famous.

It makes me wish there was a Swiss Chalet, Milestones, Kelsey's, or Harvey's restaurant in Hometown, so I could avoid eating at it.

UPDATE:
I was oh-so-hopeful when the lady from Cara Customer service actually called me back (I'd left a message with them, there's still such a thing as the "faint-hope clause" for customers).

After rehashing the above, she said they could certainly send a gift card out from their offices.

"One thing I need to let you know," she said "There IS a $25 courier service charge."

On a $50 gift card ...

I didn't ask if they could send it by regular mail. Just thanked her and hung up.

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10 February 2008

Malls of the Dead

A recent issue of the Economist magazine pointed out that George A. Romero's "Day of the Dead" was, among other things, a commentary on the shopping mall. It's in a mall that the last survivors take refuge.

The original, first shopping mall ever, Southdale Center, was opened in 1956 in Edina, Minnesota, near Minneapolis. The Wikipedia article claims the designer was a "socialist". But I don't think that's clear. Designing a hub of capitalism seems a funny way for such a person to spend his time.

Truly, the mall has been one of the big success stories of the last sixty years or so. They get bigger, they offer more shops, they host walking groups ...

Like these, but livelier...



("They came, they saw, they did a little shopping ...

"Sales! Saaaaales! Hruuughn! Saaales!")

But nature, red in tooth and claw, plays her part in the evolution of the mall as well. And in accordance with Darwin's theory, more or less, the fittest tend to survive.



Hence, the internet sites called DeadMalls dot com, and Labelscar.com. A site celebrating the rotting hulks of a dozen dozen commercial-sized dreams with ample parking, day or night.

[By the way, my picture quest took me to the blog of the nicely disturbed cakeyvoice. Of course "nicely disturbed". What else can one say about a person who has knitted Michael Meyers (not the nicely disturbed Canadian one), a buncha zombies, and Kraftwerk?]







04 February 2008

O Please, O God Pleeeeze!

Hey God--Look, are you still pissed about that atheism thing? Well, like many atheists do (usually in fox holes, apparently, but I digress), I've come crawling back to ask a wee favour.

I want you to make sure John McCain is the Republican presidential nominee. OpleaseOpleaseOplease God, hear me, an 'umble atheist.

Because Crazy Annie Coulter, the foaming mad tranny hack of the so-far-right-they-couldn't-see-reason-through-a-telescope, has made her own little campaign promise. And I'm betting that even You can't make her follow through on it.

If McCain gets the Republican nomination, Crazy Annie has promised to campaign for Hilary Clinton!

And O sweet Jaysus, I want to watch her head explode when she tries.







02 February 2008

I Can Haz Raincoaster

Because I've been saying lots of nasty things about her in her comments, as well as to the police.



Creatively acquired from that repository of lulz, I Can Has Cheezburger

Oh, isn't that cute? We shop at the same store!







01 February 2008

TGIF Video, NSFW



Contrary to what Mme Metro thinks, the music IS in fact that used in the Pink Panther cartoon series. Not as the main theme, but as a background track.

You WERE paying attention to the music, weren't you?

Ursula Martinez has let it all hang out (and in this case we mean that precisely) on stages all over the world.

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