Thursday, June 28, 2012

Apples to Apples, Dust to Dust

There's been a lot of noise on my twitter feed about dairy price fixing in Canada lately, mainly by economists. I have always found the dairy boards' practices to be heavy handed and protectionist. And anyone who lives in a border town can tell you that milk is clearly more expensive in Canada than the U.S., no matter what the DFO F.A.Q. says. But two things sharing the same name does not necessarily mean they are the same thing. So is there any difference in milk between Canada and the U.S.? I wrote the dairy board to ask and this is what they replied:

Growth hormones are illegal for dairy cows in Canada. No antibiotics in feed either. Antibiotics are used when a cow is sick and her milk is discarded at the farm– not sold – until there is no more residue from the antibiotic in her body.All milk is tested for antibiotic residues. A sample is taken at the farm, so if ever milk is “contaminated” with antibiotics, it is discarded, the milk is traced back to the farm that is culprit and severe penalties apply. 
Growth hormones are illegal and all milk is tested for antibiotics.

The same is not true in the U.S. where testing milk was only even suggested a little over a year ago and where growth hormone injections are legal. In Canada (and the E.U.), those hormones are illegal not because they make the milk unsafe for human consumption but because they endanger the animal's health and result in antibiotic usage. Read: rBGH promotes antibiotic resistent super bugs (not to mention the animal cruelty implications).

The point I am trying to make is this: in dismantling Canada's dairy cartels, it's important that we recognize the regulatory functions they currently serve and make sure that those functions are not dismantled along with the boards. Let's not throw the baby out with the "contaminated" milk.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


I have a proposal: Set the salary of an MP, MPP or municipal councillor equal to the median earnings of the population which she represents. The Prime Minister would get the median of Canada, a Premier the median of his province, a mayor the median of her municipality. The median should be calculated using ALL voting age constituents, including students, the unemployed, prison inmates, everyone.  I'm not really sure what would happen, but I think it would help politicians understand how their policies affect their constituents in a pretty clear way, instead of simply selectively choosing which rich pals they want to listen to.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Is anyone buying this?

Peter Kent says Canada is being maligned by ecologists who like to point out that Canada clearly couldn't give a rat's ass about contributing to the protection of the natural environment. I think evidence suggests that, since Stephen Harper became our tin-pot dictator, Canada's position is that we're all for helping out with the environment, as long as it means we don't have to do anything. We'll sign any agreement that binds any country but us. That's how being committed works, right? But apparently pointing out the obvious is now considered "misinformation."

Kent goes on to say that the environment is important, only in so far as it can be used to create jobs. So I was curious. How many jobs do the tar sands create? Turns out that less than 2% of Canada's workers were employed in "Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas" in 2011.  Admittedly, if every single one of those jobs was lost, that would be a disaster for the Canadian economy. But the idea that slipping laws which eliminated any kind of environmental oversight on tar sands projects into the Federal Budget is going to magically put Canada into full-employment scenario, well, I think that's what I might call "misinformation."

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Move over the Onion

Apparently the Star is trying to take the Onion's place as the world's source of hilarious headlines:

Training, Colleges and Universities

I have spent a lot of time in school. Like, a lot. Something that has always seemed bizarre to me is the idea that university is supposed to be some kind of job training program. Anyway, some guy has written a book about it. He gave an interview to IEEE Spectrum and gave this brilliant analogy:
They keep hoping that the engineering schools will turn out what they want, but it’s kind of bizarre if you think about it: if you were, say, a computer company, and you had a product that was all based on this particular chip. You didn’t build the chip yourself. You were expecting to buy it on the outside, and your expectation was just that you’ll be able, as soon as you’re ready, to buy this chip on the outside in the quantity you want at the price you want to pay. 
The point is: go to university because you want to learn and you want to surround yourself with other people who want to learn, not because you want a job.  You will, hopefully, come out of it a better person, probably with some debt,  but with a good head on your shoulders. Find a job that has nothing to do with your 4th year thesis. Because there probably isn't one. Good companies will still hire people who are going to be good workers, even if they're not the exact right fit.

And frankly, do you even want to work for the kind of company who thinks it's reasonable to build and entire product around the assumption that someone else will build the key component exactly to spec and for free?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

You're either wish us, or you're expendable

According to Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, asking for budget details when you're the Parliamentary Budget Officer is somehow overstepping your mandate.  Well, at least Baird hasn't called him a pedophile. Yet.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Canada: The Best of Both Words

Title refers to the 2nd point.
If the lesser mind could measure the greater as a foot-rule can measure a pyramid, there would be finality in universal suffrage. As it is, the political problem remains unsolved. 
Democracy substitutes election by the incompetent many for appointment by the corrupt few. 
Democratic republics can no more dispense with national idols than monarchies with public functionaries. 
Government presents only one problem: the discovery of a trustworthy anthropometric method.
From George Bernard Shaw's Maxims for Revolutionists

Monday, June 11, 2012

What could possibly go wrong?

The Globe and Mail has apparently decided that I should no longer be able to find the one column I read with any regularity, I must now search for David Eddie's latest column on the Relationships page and then guess which headline is his (got it in one today!).

While I was there, another headline about rating your ex online got my attention:
“You wouldn’t go to a restaurant that hasn’t been reviewed. Especially in the era of Internet dating, why would you go on a date with a person who hasn’t been reviewed?”

Not to say that I wasn't momentarily tempted, but this just screams Bad Idea. I think this kind of feedback info integrated into an online dating service you have already voluntarily signed up for might work, but without that kind of context it seems almost inevitable that it will just turn into Air Your Dirty Laundry Online. As if Facebox wasn't already there for that purpose. 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Two Favourite Scienticians

Maggie Koerth-Baker is probably the best science writer I've ever encountered.  I have not yet read her new book, but it's pretty high on my reading list.

Quirks and Quarks is CBC's weekly science program.  It is one of my regular podcasts. Every week, host Bob McDonald does a fantastic job of finding neat new science and getting scientists to talk about their work in a way that is both accessible and interesting.  When you talk to as many scientists as I do, you realize what a feat that is. He gave great a seminar at U of T while I was there and showed us how much of that is simple editing by playing a solid minute of "um"s he'd edited out of the most recent show. But a lot of it is his ability to quickly grasp the key concepts and ask the right questions in the right order.

I'm a bit behind on my podcasts so I didn't know that Maggie KB was going to be on Quirks until Bob tweeted about it afterwards. Just the interview is available (below), or you can listen to the full episode – it's got whales!
As long as good choices are tough to remember to do, and as long as
good choices are tough in that they are actually detrimental to you,
we're not going to get the kind of wide-scale changes we actually need
to have happening.
Maggie Koerth-Baker on Quirks and Quarks

Monday, June 4, 2012

Say what?

Here's a tip: when a little voice in your head says, "you're probably too tired to ride your motorcycle," just listen to it. Fortunately, I wasn't going all that fast, I was wearing all my gear, and no other vehicles were involved. Broke my arm and leg. In a bit of pain but mostly wounded my pride.  Also, being very well cared for.

Guess I'm going to be reading and watching the immernets a lot for the next little while. Found this on TED.  Enjoy!