Archive for October, 2011

Useless USSWORD

One of the more unfortunate synergies related to the #OccupyWallStreet inanities here in Saskatoon was the emergence of the University of Saskatchewan Senators Working to Revive Democracy, or USSWORD. This group of narcissistic nincompoops, which includes Marxist professors, militant hippies, anti-nuke demonstrators, and underworked anthropology grad students, “occupied” a recent meeting of the University Senate in protest of alleged conflicts between the university, government and industry.

USSWORD protest in the Senate (artist's rendering)

The Senate, incidentally, is a public-relations exercise ostensibly created to provide a voice to various stakeholders of the university. It is a reasonable sounding board for ideas or issues for members of the community, but it really has no power or influence. These anti-everything activists make up a small but tiresome fraction of the Senate body.

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

Benefit vs. Bribe

With the Saskatchewan election in full swing, the leading contenders for government have finally unveiled their election platforms. These generally consist of a collection of promises to be paid by you, the taxpayer, if the given party wins the high office.

Political promises can be divided into two categories: benefits are realistic, achievable, and would likely provide a valuable service to society; the rest are, in varying degrees, either attempts to bribe the electorate with their own money, or simply needless, foolish or detrimental ideas.

your local candidate

For this exercise, I’ll first assess the NDP platform and then move on to the Sask Party. Note that I’m not going to discuss the overall affordability of these platforms in the aggregate (hint: we can’t afford either platform, but the NDP stretch their credibilty with their $3.1 billion in promises). I just want to look at each promise individually and see if they are a good idea on their own merit.

So, is each plank of the platform a BENEFIT, or a BRIBE?

Read the rest of this entry »

Leave a comment

“The blank template protest”

Christopher Taylor:

And that’s the problem. This is the blank template protest: people are writing what they want it to be about and believe it should be about from the outside, just like they did when they voted for Barack Obama. Most of the people at the movement don’t really know what this is about, and the ones who think they do conflict with each other. This is about getting Jews out of Israel, no its about redistributing wealth, no its about equality, no its about how evil banks are, no its about jobs, no… well you get the idea. There’s no coherent, focused idea here.

Leave a comment

Ignorantly hypocritical or hypocritically ignorant? You decide

In a stunningly ignorant editorial, The StarPhoenix swallows the tripe that the Occupy movement of the past month is somehow more legitimate than the Tea Party movement has been since 2009.

Their message is neither focused nor clear and their tactics may be somewhat unorthodox, but it has become clear that the Occupy Wall Street protest and its various offshoots have caught the attention of the world’s leaders.

Their tactics are asinine, but as Jim Treacher put it, their message is very clear: “We’re losers, and it’s your fault.”

But if it is to have lasting impact, the movement will have to achieve the one quality it claims to have but has no evidence to support: It must become truly democratic.

The movement leaders don’t have a clue what democracy is. For example, they strive for “consensus”, which is not equivalent to the democratic formula of 50%+1. Consensus is having everyone agree with each other on every important issue – an impossibility – while democracy is having enough people agree on an issue to give it legitimacy.

They are also learning that their contrived form of decision-making doesn’t work. I doubt, however, that they will ever realize that democratic institutions exist precisely because they both provide a forum for a say on an issue and a method to achieve the desired outcome.

It’s one thing to claim that one speaks for 99 per cent of the population, but it’s quite another to actually demonstrate the power that would come with that kind of backing.

Saddam Hussein used to have 99% support of his population, and he enjoyed demonstrating this power. Likewise, Kim Jong Il.

And yet, I would have rather trusted those two in running a government than these bozos.

It’s not irrelevant that these demonstrators are camping out, including in Saskatoon’s Friendship Park, in an effort to get their mixed message across at a time when voter turnout and political participation rates are at a modern day nadir. That is too bad, because some of what these demonstrators want to convey has clearly resonated even with the most powerful among world leaders.

Why is it relevant that they are camping out?

In Canada, no less a personage than Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney said this weekend that he not only understands the demonstrators’ frustration but believes the movement is an “entirely constructive” expression of frustration about income inequality.

If the Occupiers were truly frustrated by income inequality, they would give the vast majority of their own income to the billions of poor around the globe instead of demanding more from others.

Media around the world have helped give voice to the demonstrators, and it’s clear that politicians have been listening. Even European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told French paper, Le Parisien, that rogue bankers must face legal consequences.

Translation: “Media around the world are projecting their own ideological desires in lieu of coherent demands by the demonstrators, and it’s clear that politicians are trying to capitalize on the situation.”

Considering the weekend saw hundreds of demonstrations in more than 80 countries, it’s evident that politicians realize something is afoot that can’t be ignored easily. But converting this energy into action will be much harder than occupying downtown parks and public spaces.

Especially when discussion among the protesters is reduced to shouting back insipid phrases to the speaker and utilizing hand signals a toddler would find unsophisticated.

Consider, for example, that a month after the New York version of the Occupy Wall Street movement was born, it had less than $300,000 in the bank. Compare that with the millions the Tea Party demonstrators had last year – most of it coming from a small group of wealthy elite – to effectively change the course of the midterm elections in the United States.

Considering the Tea Party began in 2009, I would hope they would have been able to raise more money in 18 months than the Occupy movement has in only one.

When the Tea Party began in 2009, it was a classic grassroots organization initially viewed with contempt and derision as a mob of yokels; a year later, they were a wealthy political juggernaut controlled by the corporate elite. Which is it?

The truth is, initially they had no resources – not even “less than $300,000” (wherever that money came from) – but the belief that government had grown too large to manage effectively. They became a political force not because of the amount money they were able to raise, but because they were able to organize themselves quickly, develop effective strategies, and put the money they raised to good use.

That money bought the Tea Party enough votes to extract pledges from conservative Republicans that they would not raise taxes even for the super rich, even if it means the collapse of the American economy.

The editorial fails to explain exactly how money “buys votes”. Did the Tea Party pay people to show up to the voting station? Did they corrupt electoral officials? I’m stunned at the ignorance of this ascertation.

Even more stunning is how the editorial assumes that extracting even more taxes from “the super rich” – in effect, taking money out of the American economy – would “collapse” that very economy.

The Tea Partiers, some of whom showed up at Democratic Party events armed and ready to protect their Second Amendment right to bear arms, sprang particularly from President Barack Obama’s health-care initiative. The Occupy Wall Street protesters claim, among other things, to being frustrated at Mr. Obama’s willingness to take on debt in order to bail out bankers to prevent economic collapse.

Another pathetic attempt at the old “Tea Party threatening violence” trope. Yeah, there’s no violence being advocated at the Occupy events.

The president, while expressing sympathy for the movement, has put in place the most extensive fund raising infrastructure – and spending millions on social media and information technology, and hiring thousands of organizers all across the U.S. – to make up for his extremely low popularity. But in democracies such as Canada and the U.S., money doesn’t guarantee power.

First off, the president did more than “express sympathy” for the movement; he started it. His rhetoric since 2010 has been about the “millionaires and billionaires” and “jet planes” and the like. Obama’s own former “Green Jobs Czar” – and 9/11 Truther – Van Jones is part of the Occupy leadership. This Occupy movement is precisely his administration’s attempt to “make up for extremely low poularity.”

Notice also how “money doesn’t guarantee power”, but two paragraphs above, “money bought the Tea Party enough votes to extract pledge from conservative Republicans”?

Should the demonstrators begin working within the political system, joining parties, participating in policy debates, running for office and – perhaps most critically – voting in elections, this ragtag movement could evolve into a force for change.

Again, the editorial contradicts itself. It writes off the Tea Party as being controlled by “the wealthy elite”. Yet it then suggests that the Occupy movement follow the same path to political power taken by the very Tea Party so despised by the author.

You have to wonder whether the author of this piece even reads over what he’s writing. Or, if he has, whether he actually believes his own bullshit.

UPDATE: Some Occupiers are taking the concept of redistributing wealth to its logical conclusion.

Leave a comment

Moneyball is Money

I freaking loved Moneyball. Brad Pitt’s latest offering had everything I like seeing in movies. Except boobies. It had great writing,  subtle performances, and was well directed. It was intelligent but explained the issues creatively, it was funny without slapstick, and I always appreciate an ostensibly non-fiction story with no real bad guys. It also didn’t preach.

For those of you don’t know, the movie was based on the Michael Lewis bestseller on how Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane was forced, by his team’s small-market circumstance, to build a contending baseball team while spending at the league minimum. With the help of a Yale-trained economist, Beane utilized statistical analysis to assess the game to a degree no other GM had ever attempted. The theory was to break down the sport to its barest essence — such as on-base percentages and whatnot — and then recruit undervalued players who outperformed their peers in those specific metrics.

The story, then, is not one of baseball,but economics. In fact, it’s one of the best films ever produced on the subject. Fredrich Hayek might have something to say about relying too heavily on numbers, and Aaron Sorkin’s script certainly doesn’t hesitate to make it seem that the numbers Beane and team picked worked perfectly well — baseball, being a game, certainly doesn’t lack for chance or blind luck — however, what the sort of analysis portrayed in the story does is limit the amount of uncertainty based on meticulous records, consistent sampling, and rigourous formulae. It is far from perfect, but it’s that sort of creative thinking that made Beane famous and changed America’s pastime (or the professionaly version thereof) forever.

Also inspiring was Beane’s character, a man driven by circumstances and a will to win to dare to think both differently and intelligently. Not only did he recognize the value of economic analysis to build his team, but he also picked the right guy to do it.  You see, anyone can think differently (e.g. these idiots) but it’s combining that with a bit of intelligence and a whole schwack of hard work that’s actually makes the difference. It’s difficult to have the courage of your convictions, especially if it isn’t been done before,  or at least to that extent. But Beane shows it can be done.

It got me thinking during the show how to apply these principles to our own situation. Major League Baseball is hardly the real world. There are definite winners and losers, and only one champion. All performers are elite athletes who understand the well-defined rules and traditions of the game, which itself is a very exclusive club. Under those circumstances, given the proper information, the highly controlled environment actually held very few variables. Therefore, given the extent of variables samples, and given the right algorithms,  the likelihood of predicting winners and losers is actually kind of high.

In the real world, of course, things aren’t that simple. As I noted earlier, technocrats in our civil service tend to view statistical data as the almighty word of God without considering the likelihood that they might be missing some information. After watching Moneyball, my interest moved toward how that statistical data gleaned from the masses is actually being used. For example, we’re asked to provide information on the physical condition of our home. The reason, of course, is to provide info to the feds on the condition of socialized housing in the country, such as those found on Indian reservations. However, when was the last time you heard that this information led to successful completion of a significant goal? In other words, Billy Beane eventually discovered which team won the World Series that year; how many people successfully and permanently left the welfare payrolls and became productive, self-sufficient members of society?

This is not to say that we should cut welfare funding to everybody all at once, but one has to imagine that the reason we don’t hear about these success stories is that they aren’t happening in great numbers. Billy Beane didn’t use his information with the goal of fielding a mediocre team, and neither should we as a nation be content with gathering information with the intent of merely keeping people alive.

We got to build a championship in this country, and if Big Government devotees want to advocate for mandatory census to obtain their data, we should expect that they develop a clear, championship-worthy goal such as taking X people off the welfare list per annum. Otherwise, they should just piss off and let the issue drop already.

And maybe go see Moneyball a few times until that point sinks in.

Leave a comment

Saskatoon’s about to have a big, stinking movement

Oh yay. Saskatoon’s gonna get occupied.

To be brought to you by the geniuses who gave you this. And this. And this. And this. And this. And this.

And thus, I give you Jim Treacher:

I will say this in the Occupiers’ defense, though: It’s not fair to accuse them of having a muddled message. Their messageis very clear: “We’re losers and it’s all your fault.”

Leave a comment

Meatheads

Sign the petition!

Leave a comment