Archive for October, 2013

Perpetuating Grievances

Did you know that disagreeing on government royalty policy constitutes “racism”?

Now you know:

Current and former First Nations chiefs are imploring the Saskatchewan Party to stop running a “racist” television advertisement which claims revenue-sharing with First Nations will cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Bellegarde and elder Ted Quewezance, who also addressed the crowd of approximately 400 delegates and guests at the assembly, both called the ad “racist,” saying it perpetuates negative stereotypes.

Do you know what really perpetuates negative stereotypes? Aboriginal leaders accusing anyone who disagrees with them as being “racist.”

Thankfully, the Sask Party isn’t taking the bait:

Patrick Bundrock, executive director of the Saskatchewan Party, said in an email Wednesday that the “ad accurately reflect(s) the NDP position and statements by NDP leader Cam Broten on First Nations revenue sharing and we stand by the ad.”

Truth is no defense to perpetual grievance-mongers.

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The Projecting Finger

Unwilling to merely be wrong about civic issues in Saskatoon, Gerry “The Finger” Klein fails to find the pulse of the city of Calgary as well.

His latest column is a terrific exercise in the art of projecting one’s own biases:

Our western neighbour held its municipal elections Monday while councillors in Saskatoon debated how to get more cabs on the streets, whether it was possible to extricate the city from the taxi industry or whether we wouldn’t be better served with a taxi commission or outside body.

It is a dance I have witnessed regularly since the 1980s, when I first started to cover council. The issue seemed fresh and alive then, but no longer so.

Because when you think of the terms “fresh” and “alive,” your mind goes immediately toward municipal policy discussions.

Many people — including me — have advocated for city hall to free the taxi industry from its control by allowing market forces to dictate how many cars are allowed on the streets and restricting council’s control to monitoring safe cars, trained drivers and compliance with standard rules. However, civic officials who have followed this for as long as I have insist that the free market strategy hasn’t worked anywhere it’s been tried. Too often it leaves drivers and passengers exposed to criminal activity or inadequate service.

And as one wise official reminded me this week, taxis actually form an integral part of Saskatoon’s public transportation system. It can’t be allowed to fail, yet there is a string of unhappy players any time councillors get involved.

It is the lobbying from those players that kicks off the seemingly inescapable and awkward dance, which typically makes for a long night at council. I even recall a meeting where a representative of a taxi company started to snore loudly when the debate went past midnight, making it difficult for me to hear what was being said.

Those damned, dull Saskatonians clinging to their outdated taxi regulations. I’m bored! Why don’t we have elections when I’m bored?!

While Saskatoon again was undergoing the ritual on Monday night, Alberta’s two largest cities were overturning the latest political theory about the conservative nature of suburbia. Calgary handily sent Naheed Nenshi back to the mayor’s office in spite of a well funded campaign to oppose his urban agenda. He first caught the country’s attention when he came from behind to claim the highest office in a city well known for its conservative traditions.

Indeed. Naheed Nenshi has the distinction of being only the eighth liberal/progressive mayor ever elected in Calgary. A remarkable achievement, really, especially when you consider his opposition in the race:

Despite this imposing ensemble, Nenshi received about 74% of the overall vote, no thanks to a “well-funded campaign” by his opponents, who likely didn’t even spend one-tenth of what was spent by the Nenshi campaign.

While his agenda clearly upset some Calgary developers who were encouraged to contribute $100,000 each to help ward candidates who could slow its implementation, there was little surprise that Calgary’s hyper-popular mayor was returned to office – especially after his tireless effort to deal with the unprecedented flooding that befell Alberta’s largest city this spring.

Yes. The nefarious efforts by those nasty developers, of whom the Nenshi campaign said were acting “illegally,” only knocked off two of Nenshi’s five main supporters on city council — John Mar and Gael MacLeod — and nearly a third, the erstwhile Druh Farrell.

On the other hand, of the 14 ward candidates supposedly supported by this sinister cabal (as seen in this joint Global TV-Nenshi expose), only eight were able to win their seats on council.

Wait a second. I guess this means that Nenshi’s efforts to raise taxes and levies on suburban developers will be thwarted by council.

Some revolution.

Oh, and The Finger might as well know, that boring, old notion of taxi regulation? Nenshi’s dancing the taxi commission dance too.

Facts can be a bitch when you’re projecting.

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Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is sophistry gone berserk

Capitalism was slavery gone berserk.

Only a Harvard-tenured professor could say anything so stupid and unmoored by reality and get his own documentary series on PBS.

For many of us, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was the guy who over-reacted to a police officer responding to a call at his door and ended up having a beer with the president for some bizarre reason.

"Down that beer like you down the chains of social injustice."

“Down that beer like you down the chains of social injustice.”

For the cultural and academic elite, Skip Gates is a distinguished scholar and social critic with impeccable credentials in blaming Whitey for everything.

His documentary follows this tack:

Slavery in the United States was once a roaring success whose wounds still afflict the country today.

So says Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who examines both its success and shame in The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, his new PBS documentary series that traces 500 years of black history. “Slavery is a perfect example of why we need limits on the more unfortunate aspects of human nature,” he says. “Slavery was capitalism gone berserk.”

Here is Gates’s reasoning: capitalism is bad, slavery was bad. Ergo, capitalism = slavery.

He is a lot more nuanced than that, of course. He sees that one group makes a lot of money during slavery, therefore capitalism was involved in some way. QED.

One could just as easily say that “slavery was socialism gone berserk.” You see, on a small scale, a plantation was like a place where everyone worked for a higher purpose, and everyone (save for the minority elite) was treated exactly the same. It’s a specious analogy, yes, but so was Gates’s.

Or, you could say that “slavery was communism gone berserk.” No one, save the elite minority, had rights and everyone worked “from each of his abilities” to the “needs” decided by the central authority. This analogy holds more true than the previous one, because where ever it was implemented, communism was essentially slavery.

Slavery – “the supreme hypocrisy” – was always an essential ingredient of the U.S. experiment. White Americans always drew heavily on the labour, culture and traditions of blacks while denying them due credit in exchange, not to mention their human rights. The father of the United States, George Washington, was one of its largest slave owners, even as one of his slaves, Harry Washington, understandably fled to join a British regiment and fight against the patriots.

Gates lives in a world without objectivity. Otherwise, how else could he redefine “capitalism” to mean work without wages, where parties don’t freely exchange goods, services or resources?

“Because of the profound disconnect between principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and the simultaneous practice of slavery, we’ve had historical amnesia about slavery,” Gates said in a recent interview. “We still see the effects, and feel them.”

Even the site for the U.S. capital city – Washington, D.C. – was chosen to accommodate the mighty bloc of Southern slave owners.

The African Americans doesn’t fall prey to white scapegoating. For instance, Africans practised slavery long before white Europeans cashed in, and Gates journeys to Sierra Leone, where he visits with Africans whose forebears profited from it.

And therein lies the weakness of Gates’s argument. There were Africans who profited from slavery, then as well as now. Yet places like Sierra Leone never flourished economically, either during the slave trade or after. Slavery never brought prosperity in Africa.

Likewise, slavery wasn’t a product of capitalism in the United States (nor was it socialism or communism). The institution was a part of the agrarian, mercantilist, neo-feudal South. Slaves played the part of indentured servants, plantation owners the minor feudal lords.

Wealth came about via ownership of fertile property, and despite slavery, not because of it. Initially, the prime agricultural areas of the South created plenty of valuable products and fostered a fast-growing population.

However, the Industrial Revolution coincided with the American, which led to the North’s economy booming past that of the South. Slavery kept the South from succeeding. Not only was the institution abhorrent in both nature and practice, but it was counter-productive to the ends of its proponents.

The fact that the abolitionist North far outpaced the slave-owning South eludes Gates. He simply doesn’t see his contradiction, nor does he consider how true “capitalism gone berserk” in the North during the latter half of the nineteenth century created wealth and opportunity for everyone, including those blacks escaping the Jim Crow South.

Speaking of Jim Crow, does Gate even realize that those laws were passed by government because legislators sought to restrict berserking capitalists from hiring or serving the upstart black population?

Sorry, that was a stupid question. Of course he doesn’t realize this, because to realize this would up-end his grand narrative, not to mention his plan to indoctrinate every schoolchild in America with this historicistic tripe.

Gates should stick to drinking beer.

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Ration Your Passion

This video of Charles Murray has made the rounds on the interweb over the last few days, mostly because of his admission that he was “fooled” by the rhetoric of Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign.

It’s worth listening to in whole, but check out what he says in the last few minutes (starting at about 3:30):

That used to be a central American tenet, that all you needed to do to be equal of every other American was to take care of your family and work hard, and what you worked at and how much money you made was irrelevant…

People were respected for holding a job, a menial job, and taking care of their family, and people who didn’t do that were stigmatized like crazy.

That used to be the basis of American equality, and it no longer is.

The person holding down a menial job can be taunted and teased…

This is not an inner-city phenomenon. This is one of those things that’s in the white working class. You know, “It’s beneath your dignity to be working at McDonald’s,” like that…

That is stripping from a large number of Americans what should be their birthright, and that birthright is, “I’m as good as anybody in this country if I do a few simple things.”

Evidence for the increasing disconnect between those who control the “big” ideas and those who implement them, as well as the ramifications of this divide, can be found in Murray’s Coming Apart.

Very much related is Mike “Dirty Jobs” Rowe’s acclaimed “TED Talk” (actually, the related “Entertainment Gathering”) from 2008:

What would happen if we challenged some of these sacred cows?

“Follow your passion.” We’ve been talking about this for the last 36 hours. Follow your passion. What could possibly be wrong with that?

It’s probably the worst advice I ever got. “Follow your dreams and go broke,” right?

That’s all I heard growing up. I didn’t know what to do with my life, but I was told if you follow your passion, it’s going to work out.

I could give you 30 examples right now. Bob Combs, the pig farmer in Las Vegas, who collects the uneaten scraps of food from the casinos and feeds them to his swine. Why? Because there is so much protein in the stuff we don’t eat, his pigs grow twice the normal speed, and he is one rich pig farmer, and he is good for the environment, and he smells like Hell, but God bless him! He’s making a great living. You ask him, “Did you follow your passion?” He’d laugh at you. The guy’s worth–he just got offered, like, sixty million dollars for his farm and he turned it down, outside of Vegas. He didn’t follow his passion. He stepped back, watched where everybody was going, and he went the other way.

I hear that story over and over and over.

We’ve declared War on Work. As a society. All of us.

It’s a civil war. It’s a cold war, really. We didn’t set out to do it. We didn’t twist our mustache in some Machiavellian way, but we’ve done it.

And we have waged this war on at least four fronts.

Certainly in Hollywood. The way we portray working people on TV? It’s laughable. If he’s a plumber, he’s 300 pounds and he’s got a butt crack. Admit it. You’ve seen it all the time. That’s what plumbers look like, right? We turn them into heroes, or we turn them into punch lines. That’s what TV does…

We’ve waged this war on Madison Avenue. So many commercials come out there, in way of a message, what’s really being said? “Your life will be better if you work a little less, if you didn’t have to work so hard, if you can come home a little earlier, if you could retire a little faster, or if you could punch out a little sooner.” It’s all in there, over and over, again and again.

Washington? I can’t even begin to talk about the deals and policies in place that affect the bottom-line reality of the available jobs, because I don’t really know. I just know that’s a front in this war.

And right here, guys, in Silicon Valley. How many people have an iPhone on them right now? How many people have their Blackberrys? We’re plugged in, we’re connected. I would never suggest for a second that something bad has come out of the tech revolution…but I would suggest that innovation without imitation is a complete waste of time. Nobody celebrates imitation the way “Dirty Jobs” guys know it has to be done: your iPhone without those people making the same interface, the same circuitry, the same board, over and over. That’s what makes it equally as possible as the genius that goes inside of it. We’ve got this new toolbox. Our tools today don’t look like shovels and picks. They look like the stuff we walk around with.

So the collective effect of all of that has been the marginalization of lots and lots of jobs.

And I realized, probably too late in this game…the most important thing to know, and to come face-to-face with, is the fact that I got it wrong about a lot of things…I got a lot wrong…

The thing to do is talk about a PR campaign for “work.” Manual labor. Skilled labor. Somebody needs to be out there talking about the forgotten benefits…

The jobs we hope to make, the jobs we hope to create, aren’t going to stick unless they’re jobs people want.

(Rowe’s background on the talk is found here.)

Related to these both is the terrific Scott Adams op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. It’s worth reading in full, but this is the best bit:

But the most dangerous case of all is when successful people directly give advice. For example, you often hear them say that you should “follow your passion.” That sounds perfectly reasonable the first time you hear it. Passion will presumably give you high energy, high resistance to rejection and high determination. Passionate people are more persuasive, too. Those are all good things, right?

Here’s the counterargument: When I was a commercial loan officer for a large bank, my boss taught us that you should never make a loan to someone who is following his passion. For example, you don’t want to give money to a sports enthusiast who is starting a sports store to pursue his passion for all things sporty. That guy is a bad bet, passion and all. He’s in business for the wrong reason.

My boss, who had been a commercial lender for over 30 years, said that the best loan customer is someone who has no passion whatsoever, just a desire to work hard at something that looks good on a spreadsheet. Maybe the loan customer wants to start a dry-cleaning store or invest in a fast-food franchise—boring stuff. That’s the person you bet on. You want the grinder, not the guy who loves his job.

For most people, it’s easy to be passionate about things that are working out, and that distorts our impression of the importance of passion. I’ve been involved in several dozen business ventures over the course of my life, and each one made me excited at the start. You might even call it passion.

The ones that didn’t work out—and that would be most of them—slowly drained my passion as they failed. The few that worked became more exciting as they succeeded. For example, when I invested in a restaurant with an operating partner, my passion was sky high. And on day one, when there was a line of customers down the block, I was even more passionate. In later years, as the business got pummeled, my passion evolved into frustration and annoyance.

On the other hand, Dilbert started out as just one of many get-rich schemes I was willing to try. When it started to look as if it might be a success, my passion for cartooning increased because I realized it could be my golden ticket. In hindsight, it looks as if the projects that I was most passionate about were also the ones that worked. But objectively, my passion level moved with my success. Success caused passion more than passion caused success.

So forget about passion. And while you’re at it, forget about goals, too.

Amen, brothers.

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Would U?

Pandora’s Promise is a documentary from the very talented film maker, Robert Stone, which posits that the future of baseload energy production should come from nuclear energy. Stone and the five prominent environmentalists featured in the film are converts to the nuclear energy cause. They see the overwhelming environmental benefit in the use of uranium metal as an energy source.

Cube o' U

Who, me?

The doc was shown at the local Roxy Theatre last week, and my company* was able to purchase a block of tickets for those of us wanting to go.

So, go I did.

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