Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Canvassing: There's an App for that

Canvassing gets with modernity courtesy of the Obama campaign: "Obama Campaign Releases iPhone App for Canvassing."
The app, which is available on Tuesday, will allow supporters of Mr. Obama’s to download a list of names in their neighborhood from the campaign’s central database.
No longer will they have to stop by the local campaign headquarters to get started. And once they knock on a door, the response — positive, negative, on-the-fence — can be wirelessly slung back to the campaign’s computer system instantly.
Volunteers can add notes and e-mail addresses. When they click a button, the app says the finished information will be sent to “VoteBuilder,” the Obama campaign’s central database of supporters.

In the old days, volunteers would pick up paper lists at a local office, returning them to the office at the end of the day. Other volunteers would enter the information collected into a computer. Now, that process will be largely automated.
"In the old days," aka known as present day Canada. I've heard of some iPad/iPhone canvassing being done in one riding in Toronto but it's not widespread.

What a totally common sense next step and great innovation.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Ranked ballot system a possibility in Toronto's future

A significant democratic reform initiative could be on its way in Canada's biggest city: "Ranked ballots for 2018? Toronto city council may vote on changing its election system." This would have a few advantages, some cited in the report:
At present, a widely disliked councillor can be re-elected with the support of even a quarter of the vote because several lesser-known challengers split the opposition vote. The ranked ballot, Meslin said, would ensure that the victor is truly the pick of the people while also weakening the powerful advantage enjoyed by municipal incumbents.
With vote-splitting a non-concern, underdog fresh faces would face less backroom pressure to drop out of the running to make way for a like-minded candidate perceived as stronger, Meslin said. Voters would no longer feel compelled to vote strategically, to prevent a certain candidate from winning, rather than for the candidate they truly prefer most.
Votes would no longer be “wasted,” Meslin said. And because candidates would vie to become the second choice of their opponents’ supporters, said Ainslie, there would be far less “mudslinging” and a new focus on substantive issues.
Even reluctant councillors might consider supporting this given that it looks like the time frame is 2018 and therefore might be beyond their time in office. There could be a vote on it in the fall.

What Toronto does might focus some national attention on the issue and add to its legitimacy as an option for national democratic reform. A very intriguing development.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Koch funded climate change study making news in a good way

Big climate change news that is making a splash, this New York Times op-ed by Richard Muller that gives an overview of a Berkeley study which he led: "The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic." It is garnering attention because the study was funded by the Koch brothers and, well, see the title of the op-ed. Joe Romm at Climate Progress has the details on that aspect of this study. The lead excerpt from the op-ed:
CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.
My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.
These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming. In its 2007 report, the I.P.C.C. concluded only that most of the warming of the prior 50 years could be attributed to humans.
That latter point is also of note, that the findings of this Berkeley study are even stronger in attributing warming to human activity than have been the findings of the IPCC. More:
How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does.
Still more, a troubling suggestion regarding China and its impact in coming years:
What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.
Muller's conclusion:
I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.
Speaking of the political, here in Canada the latest reporting indicates the feds are working on an update on Canada's progress toward meeting our 2020 emissions targets. They are set to report that we're almost 50% of the way toward them but the factors they are relying upon - and their own continued inaction - will raise questions. Our government seems preoccupied with gaming our stats when they should be more concerned with doing as much as possible, taking into account studies like the above.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Quote of the day

From Dimitri Soudas on the PMO staffer who is taking a leave of absence from the PMO in order to be the official photographer for Canada's Olympic team:
"Jason before joining the prime minister's office was an award-winning photo journalist, so we're extremely lucky to have him," Soudas said Thursday at a reception in London.
"He actually got this cleared by the ethics commissioner. People take a leave of absence from the PMO all the time, to do something called the partisan election campaign every few years. So joining to support that one unifying factor that Canada has, which is our Olympic athletes, it's a badge of honour for all of those who have taken a leave of absence and joined our teams. We're really happy to have all of them."
Look forward to the photos.


Friday night

Let's go with the new Crystal Castles song, Plague, by popular demand! 280,000 plus listens in 3 days and a free download too, how can you not like that? They're from Toronto, highly acclaimed. More on the band.

Other recs from the week, some new some old: Hot Mouth, Cubic Zirconia and Bingo Players.

Have a good night!

Olympic inspiration

This is not political in content, just a bit of inspiration as the Olympics gets underway. From a piece on Clara Hughes and her preparations for these games, this blog excerpt of hers from April:
On quitting
The race began and I wanted to quit. Less than 50 km into the race I wanted to quit. I could have quit and everyone would have understood. The team was fine without me and the race situation we set was more than ideal. I could pull out and stop the bone-chilling rain from settling into my core and it would be okay.
But it would not be okay with me. There’s something about quitting that just does not sit well. I always think about what I would say to a kid at the finish area if they asked, “Why did you stop?” There are no words to justify this other than broken bones or a catastrophic situation that has myriad forms in bike racing. Cold rain does not qualify. Fatigue does not qualify.
My teeth still hurt from the chattering. But I finished that race.
You go, Clara!

P.S. In the #cdnpoli world, the major thing going seems to be that health deal the Premiers have come up with which looks good at first glance but leaves many questions in its wake...another day.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The PMO designer boys and their plane

Update (Friday a.m.) below.

This is kind of a fun read in so many ways: "Stephen Harper's Plane: PM's Staff Fussed Over New Design With Few Results." Scroll to the bottom to see the many iterations of design that the boys considered before settling on the final choices.

My fave part, the consideration of the maple leaf from the Conservative campaign bus as a possibility for a Government of Canada plane. Also, the prioritization of how the photo-ops would look for the big cahuna as he disembarks from the plane. Should they sprinkle the door exit with pretty maple leaves in order to create some kind of effect, for example. Yet those didn't make the cut.

It's all so...presidential. Or something like that. And yet another mark of how Canadian politics is being changed, symbolically, under Mr. Harper.

Update (Friday a.m.): Boris' perspective on Air Harper.

Housing market at tipping point?

Sleeper report: "Canadian home prices could fall 25 per cent." More on this prediction by economist David Madani at Capital Economics in the Globe:
“Overall, the willingness of buyers to pay these historically high house prices now looks to be proving fragile against the increasingly disappointing macroeconomic backdrop. The housing bubble in Vancouver already appears to be deflating, with only Toronto defying the inevitable. Accordingly, we expect substantial declines in house prices over the next year or two,” Mr. Madani says.
Ouch. That's a much bigger drop than the recently predicted 10 to 15% overvaluation by TD's Craig Alexander. While other stories are occupying the news cycle, this could be a big development on the horizon for Canadians.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Harper calls on the courts

Harper yesterday in Toronto skated over the line in one of his remarks on the shootings in Toronto and his plug for his government's mandatory minimum sentences:
One is of course much tougher penalties for gun offences. As you know, we’ve passed a number of things through the federal Parliament. Some of those things are before the courts. Some courts have been attempting to strike down some of the tough sentences we’ve imposed. I think these events in Toronto underscore why these penalties are essential, why it is essential to have tough and certain penalties for gun crime. I’m pleased that all three levels of government have supported those kinds of initiatives, and I certainly call on the courts to take these penalties seriously. This is not a theoretical problem. That’s one of the things we’re doing.
The part that is questionable is his calling on the courts "to take these penalties seriously." It's not for a Prime Minister to call on the courts to do anything. He said it in his earnest, understated manner in order to sound perfectly reasonable. But his attempt to influence the courts is there.

The notion that the courts aren't taking the penalties seriously, even if we indulge him, is silly. The fact that judges are disagreeing with his government's proposed sentences doesn't mean that judges aren't acting seriously or considering these mandatory minimums seriously. Justice Molloy took the penalty proposed by the Harper government and carefully analyzed it in a thorough 50 page judgment. She included this statement which underscores how seriously she took the issue of the mandatory minimum sentence presented to her as an all or nothing sentencing option: “As a trial judge in Toronto,” she said, “I am painfully aware, and am reminded almost daily, of the deadly scourge represented by handguns in our community.” Reads like a judge taking the issue quite seriously to me.

That case, Smickle, is under appeal, so it is also inappropriate for Harper to have made his comment for that reason as well.

This excerpt from a speech captures well why the PM's comment should have been more carefully worded:
Unlike the other two branches, the judiciary is not accountable to any electorate or government for its decisions. Instead, the primary obligation of judges is to the law which is designed to protect all citizens. It is for this reason that judges occupy a uniquely protected place within our system of government, one which is designed to guarantee their independence from political or other influences. Indeed, judicial independence from both government influence and from other sources, including public opinion, is a constitutional right of every individual in Canada. It is the right to know that all legal questions which are brought before the courts will be resolved impartially and according to the law, without extraneous influence and intervention.
Without the politics of the day interfering. I'm sure the judges will be carrying on regardless of the PM's comments in any event.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday night

Think escapist music is a good tonic for the end of this crazy week. I go with R3hab remixing the goddess. Yep.

Have a good night.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Robocalls lawsuits will proceed

Late news out of the Federal Court: "Federal Court rejects Tory effort to prevent overturning of election results."
The Federal Court has rejected a bid by the Conservatives to prevent federal election results in a handful of tightly contested ridings from being overturned. The Tories argued in court last month that an application by the Council of Canadians to review the May 2011 election results in seven ridings is baseless and too late.
The court said the application raises serious issues about the integrity of Canada's electoral process.
The Conservatives have the right to argue that lawsuits should be tossed, under court rules, but I am glad to see that their tactic has been turfed here and the issues and evidence raised will get their hearing.

From the decision (h/t) (click to enlarge):

Just had a quick scan, reads as if the judge is acting out of caution so as to let the allegations be fully tried on their merits, in this novel proceeding, rather than putting a halt to the analysis at this stage.

The judge mentions the need to assess the admissibility of the evidence that has been presented (the statistical evidence that the Conservatives are challenging, for e.g.) in a full hearing (paras. 14, 41). The question of whether the applications were commenced "out of time" or not (paras. 15, 28) is also one best left to a full evidentiary record, said the judge.

Good news for now.

Dear Health Canada - part II

From a long time friend of the blog who has written to Health Canada in the wake of news of their study on wind turbines, this letter below. He advises he has "absolutely no financial or corporate involvement in any wind project. My interest social, economic and environmental."

These are the kind of concerns I'm sure Health Canada will be hearing much more about. For submissions to Health Canada, comments are open until September 7th and you can find more information at this link.
18 July 2012

To: David S. Michaud
Consumer and Clinical Radiation Protection Bureau
Health Canada

Comment on Health Canada’s Wind Turbine Noise and Health Study Design

It is commendable that Health Canada is undertaking a study on wind turbine noise and health It is appropriate that Statistics Canada is involved to assist in providing balanced information. As the study guidelines appear superficial, these comments are made to improve the quality and acceptance of study results. My experience with wind turbines comes from examination of wind farms across Canada, Europe, Caribbean and Central America. I have no financial or corporate interest in any wind farm.

1. Misleading study title: For most residents living near wind turbines the whooshing sound is quite pleasant and is comparable to rustling leaves in a breeze or waves on a beach. The use of ‘noise’ in the study title prejudices the methodology and results.

2. Ontario Disease - As most of the health aspects of Wind Turbine Noise relate to complaints from Ontario residents, there is concern that situation is mainly an ‘ Ontario disease’ and that the study design could concentrate only on Ontario communities. There many operating wind farms across Canada operating for several years that should be included. Also, it would be helpful to evaluate the wind turbine experience in other countries producing 20% or more of the electrical needs.

3. Non-impacted Residents - For statistical validity residents in communities far away from any wind turbines should be included to provide a comparative base for study results and to eliminate social opinions and common ailments across Canada whether there are wind turbines or not. An identical questionnaire should be presented to those near a wind farm as well as those living far away.

4. Not a study of opinions - The evaluation of any health concerns due to wind turbines should be based on medical evidence with a physicians certificate in order to filter out the psychosomatic nocebo effects from an existing illness occurring without the presence of wind turbines.

5. Other continuous residential sounds - Measurements for wind turbine noise in a residence should be compared and evaluated with other continuous sound producing units such as refrigerators, air conditioners, fans, ticking clocks, TV and radios.

6. Type of Wind Turbine - As the sound effect of individual wind turbines varies greatly, the Health Study design should include both older and recent turbines, tall and short turbines and number of blades. Wind direction relative to a turbine and a residence is a significant factor.

7. Sound Modification: Where distant sounds are perceived to cause health problems, the study should evaluate simple corrections such as ear plugs, shutting windows and economical sound canceling devices.

8. Compare with other energy sources - The health effects of other electricity sources should be considered such as nuclear, coal, oil sands, natural gas and hydro.

9. Compare with other health problems - Compare with other health problems arising from alcohol, tobacco, air pollution and water pollution.

10. Population Balance - The age, sex and general health condition of the study respondents should be statistically balanced.

11. Legal Jurisdiction - As medical matters and energy production are a provincial responsibility, the study should provide justification for federal involvement.
Related: Dear Health Canada.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Quebec ridings lose Liberal Prime Minister's names

James Morton notes today that in the proposed new Quebec ridings, the names of two former Liberal Prime Ministers have been dropped: Laurier and Louis Saint-Laurent.

Here is the list of proposed new boundaries and riding names. There is not an easy cross-referencing of the old and new ridings, it appears you just have to scroll through the lists. But if you look at the proposed list and then back at the existing list, you can easily see that Laurier-Sainte Marie and Louis Saint-Laurent are indeed gone as named ridings.

New riding names that are apparently warranted according to the persons in charge of name picking: Gilles Villeneuve and Maurice-Richard.

There are public hearings in the fall on these proposals. Perhaps there might be some historical sense injected into them?

It is worth asking, what exactly are the criteria that are being applied here when it comes to the name choices? And do such choices signify that other choices are being affected by perhaps political considerations?

More at the Gazette.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bad environmental choices, bad economics too

David Suzuki's column today on the government's choice to close the Experimental Lakes Area magnifies the tremendous cost to taxpayers:
The world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area in Southern Ontario has served as an outdoor laboratory for this purpose since 1968. By manipulating and studying conditions in 58 small lakes and their watersheds, scientists there have made many discoveries about the effects of human and natural activity on freshwater ecosystems and fish. Over the past 45 years they've taught us about the impacts of acid rain, mercury pollution, nanoparticles, nitrogen overload, climate change, fish farming and many other issues.
That's about to end. The federal government announced it will close the unique facility in 2013. It's an odd decision, especially considering that it costs just $2-million a year to operate -- one-tenth the cost of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's security detail and about the same amount the government spent during the 2010 G20 Summit in Toronto to build a tourism pavilion with a fake lake. To make matters worse, it will cost taxpayers $50 million to shut the ELA down!
Maybe I haven't been following this one closely enough but that $50 million cost to shut down this widely valued research space deserves some attention.

If they're intent on closing it, why they would not invest some time to work out a deal to hand it over to someone or some institution in order to stave off such a wasted sunk cost is baffling.

Competent economic managers? In their own minds and in the carefully constructed myth but here's yet another example that shows it's not the case in practice.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Sunday round-up

Clearing out the dashboard right here and now with this quick list of things that caught the eye this week...

1. Great column by Tom Friedman, "The Rise of Popularism." Nudged on me by a pal and I totally agree with its worthiness as a read. An excerpt:
When you have technologies that promote quick short-term responses and judgments, and when you have a generation that has grown used to short-term gratification -- but you have problems whose solutions require long, hard journeys, like today's global credit crisis or jobs shortage or the need to rebuild Arab countries from the ground up -- you have a real mismatch and leadership challenge. Virtually all leaders today have to ask their people to share burdens, not just benefits, and to both study harder and work smarter just to keep up. That requires extraordinary leadership that has to start with telling people the truth.
2. Matthew Coon Come, Grand Chief, Grand Council of the Crees, responds to Andrew Coyne's recent column on Quebec which contained a rather inflammatory line about the Cree but was otherwise a good reminder about the madness and complexity of negotiating secession.

3. This Guardian article, "British democracy in terminal decline," is being discussed at Canadian Progress today.

4. Loved this Rolling Stone piece on Rachel Maddow. Very nuanced look at what she's trying to do with her show and her struggle to do a good one. Heroic girl!

5. "Dean Del Mastro agrees to meet with Elections Canada over donation allegations." Of course he has finally agreed to do so because he really has no choice. Saying you can't meet with Elections Canada because you've been told you can only do so under a legal caution was a ludicrous public position for an MP to take.

6. Have you seen the over the top War of 1812 ad by our Harper government? It has all the hallmarks of trying to militarize our founding by emphasizing 1812 over 1867 Confederation. Harper on Canada Day: "the military struggle that made Canada possible," "It was during the War of 1812 – the battle for Canada – that the very foundations of this great country of ours were laid."

7. "Ontario judge strikes down mandatory minimum sentence for first-offence gun trafficking." Part of a pattern in the courts of late, worth paying attention to how the Charter and the courts are moderating this government's designs - constitutionally.

8. Noticed this: Uniting Calgary Progressives: An Interactive Workshop with Nathan Cullen. An event this week in anticipation of the Calgary-Centre by-election due to Conservative MP Lee Richardson's retirement. Not sure how much traction there is for Cullen's meeting and whatever that effort will be. Elizabeth May is saying her party is serious about the Calgary by-election and the Liberals have two nominees thus far who are expressing interest in the nomination.

9. Yup: "Flanagan credits central management of voter and donor ID for party's continued fundraising success."

10. There is no 10! Can't have a list of 9. Have a good night.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Friday night

I go with more Metric tonight. For the first song here, Artificial Nocturne, in particular, although you can take your pick!

Have a great night!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Higgs boson and #cdnpoli

A reminder from Ted Hsu, Liberal MP and physics Ph.D., on the occasion of the Higgs boson scientific news, of the importance of research funding for such endeavours: "Decades of research pays off big with Higgs boson discovery."
While research into high energy physics certainly does not come cheaply, and we don’t always know immediately what practical uses the results of that research will have, understanding the universe we live in is an important activity that has never failed to give us tools by which we might move humanity forward and improve the lives of billions.
Canada has a tremendous history of contributing to basic research that has revolutionized the world. The most famous example is perhaps the discovery of insulin by Dr. Frederick Banting and his research assistant Charles Best working at the University of Toronto.
Sadly under Stephen Harper the Government of Canada is steadily walking away from funding basic research. For instance, the National Research Council has been ordered to turn away from early stage research and focus instead on direct commercial applications.
Granting councils like the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) have increasingly lost funding for basic research. Since 2006 funding for Discovery grants has fallen from $420 million to $360 million.
I’m sure that today we will all see and read many stories about the years of effort it has taken to find the Higgs boson. As we reflect on the significance of this accomplishment, I hope we take a moment to consider the thousands of basic research groups across this country. It is the curiosity and dedication of these researchers, along with funding to test their ideas, and heeding their expert advice and warnings that will help us build a healthier, more prosperous civilization for everyone.
That is a good message on this day of discovery but also a good encapsulation of a central difference between the priorities of conservatives and those of us who disagree. Basic support for such science is part of our infrastructure, like the roads and hospitals we build. Private industry ultimately benefits from the fruits of that research, it's not just about funding the end product commercial applications.