I'm posting on a new blog

All tech and media posts will be to Kindred Crowd, including one today on "saving the music album."

RCMP officer escapes charge for drunk driving death

I'm troubled by this story. Occasionally, police organizations take the view that a work-related punishment -- such as a suspension, demotion, or firing -- is to be equated with a civil or criminal punishment, such as a fine or prison sentence, etc.

This is not the same thing. Police departments that have human resources functions cannot view those functions as part of the criminal or civil justice system. It is an abuse of position for the justice system (in this case, the Attorney General's office) to argue that an officer has suffered enough by his or her diminished career prospects (that is not made explicit in the case linked to above)

Certainly, a drunk driver who kills an innocent person would always argue against prison time and in favour of being demoted at their non-police job as, e.g., a sales clerk, a movie-ticket taker, a lawyer, a senior executive of a company ... a Captain in the military. But that option is never available, of course, to drunk drivers whose actions cause death and who are not police officers; and it should not be for police officers either.

Vulcans are New Growth theorists

I saw the 2009 Star Trek last night. There's a scene where young Vulcans are having knowledge fed into their brains at high speed; a montage, if you will. Some math formulas flash by, but then (as I recall), the words "Non-rival" and "excludable" flash on the screen.

If you look closely at Paul Romer, you will note the almost imperceptible pointy ears.

EDIT -- I deliberately wrote that without Googling whether what I saw was right, but Salon covered it as well.

Capitalism: applied discovery

Eight years ago, Paul Romer was quoted:
The Soviet Union had very strong science in some fields, but it wasn't coupled with strong institutions in the market. The upshot was that the benefits of discovery were very limited for people living there. The wonder of the United States is that we've created institutions of science and institutions of the market [emphasis mine]. They're very different, but together they've generated fantastic benefits.
The Centre for Innovation Studies is an economic think tank in Western Canada that appears to operate in the gap between operational business issues and Romer's theories.

As a teenager and an economics undergraduate, I always had an uneasy feeling about the right-wing nature of economics and business. We would study how the growth of a cookie company could create jobs and make the GDP larger, but it seemed so pointless to me; can't people just bake cookies, or buy dates? If, instead of a cookie company, we were analyzing a company that threw computers off a cliff because there was a paying audience for such an activity, would this be an example of economic growth?

I think it's simplistic to equate all profitable business activity with economic growth; or to equate non-business activity with the opposite (economic cost). Health care is a good example; in Canada, depending on your ideology, you could view health care as a cost to society, and cookies as an example of society's productive output. But this framing is illusory; healthcare is a major fraction of Canada's GDP (10% -- retrieved today).

But much more valuable than either the cost frame or the GDP frame is to analyze the innovation within the healthcare system. How much science takes place? How much learning-by-doing? How much of this is distributed across the system, making the entire system more efficient? This is quite apart from both the utility of healthcare -- that of maintaining an able workforce -- and even further removed from the moral essence of a healthcare system.

But consider a GDP-specific examination of the computer sector that ignores any change in transistor speeds: factories are built to make computers; engineers are employed to design computers; logistics and marketing/merchandising professionals are engaged to bring the computers to market, etc. Clearly, all of this misses the point that a single, $200 computer today is more productive by a factor of millions than its 1980s counterpart; that virtually all other economic activity on Earth can exploit this improvement to become itself more productive.

Look at the centre for innovation studies; they link Moore's Law, so-named by the technology sector, with "creep capacity", so named by the chemical sector. Are the underlying mechanics of these phenomena the same or similar? Consider their "Sailing Ship" anecdote; after the invention of steam-powered ships, sailing innovation radically accelerated.

Studying innovation is kind of meta-meta. But I remember that Arthur Lydiard didn't actually earn much of a living from turning kids from his block in New Zealand into Olympic champions; he earned a living by teaching coaches.

Liberals have themselves to blame

The Globe and Mail headline describes a "surge in popularity" for Harper's Conservatives. It's true; the chess master of politics has managed once again to turn adversity -- recession and an initially dismal record thereof; standing to the right of everyone -- to achievement.

Or has he? In fact, two factors have brought our nation within reach of a "Reform" majority, and both were engineered by the loyal opposition itself.

Back in 2004, the Martin Liberals painted Harper as a scary neo-con -- which he may in fact be. Martin won that election, and lost the next playing the same card. And Ignatieff Dion lost the next playing the same card, all the while Harper governed almost like a Liberal. I believe the 1993 Tory ads poking fun at Jean Chretien's facial disfigurement -- and Chretien's historic speech following -- defined Chretien through three mandates. It reinforced his "little guy" image and endeared at least enough Canadians to the "untested" future Prime Minister. In a similar vein, while not many people feel endeared to Harper, the smart people that make up this country know when they've been told a story; and they hate being fooled twice, three times or even a fourth time?

This feeds directly into what happened this late summer and early fall, when Ignatieff decided Canadians would go the polls (and then decided not). In simple terms, Ignatieff had nothing to sell. Again, the smart people that make up this country know that we've had an easier recession than countries we care about, like the U.S. and those in Western Europe. So what was the election to be fought over -- a technical matter concerning employment insurance reform.

In fact, the Conservatives had succeeded brilliantly in striking at Ignatieff's weakness -- his presumed ugly ambition; his desire to be Prime Minister as a personal feather in the cap, not as a continuation of a lifelong pursuit of ... some policy goal.

Ignatieff was not sincere. Sure, he's new on the national stage, but he's also an experienced TV broadcaster, and, like Reagan or our most recent two Governors General, his charisma should be dancing on the television screens. It does not.

For Ignatieff to have a hope, he must follow this approach:

  1. though you came late to the party, recognize that last-fall's near two-for-one election campaign taught Canadians to seek a resolution to the string of minority governments. the reasons for not choosing Harper have diminished since 2004, and amendments to EI reform are not going to overturn everything since. be a real policy alternative.
  2. stop thinking you're smart. you are in close quarters and on typewriters, but -- perhaps unlike the U.S. -- Canadians en masse tend to act more intelligently than their average IQ. We can smell a lie, so tell it to us straight.
  3. attack Harper on his systemic failures. Most critically, you should take credit for Canada's relatively light recession, given Harper's abysmal blindness and inaction on the issue just 12 months ago. He had to be led to the policy he now takes credit for. Exploit that.
  4. take a charisma pill; we'll excuse you for being smooth. We won't excuse you for handing the charisma crown to Stephen Harper.

Taglocity -- making MSOutlook more like Gmail

I prefer Gmail because it's quicker and less bloated. But Outlook will definitely be with us for some time, and while it is, Taglocity offers a product that closes the gap a little.

I'm running Taglocity 3.0 professional edition (free trial; soon to revert to standard edition), after using the 2.0 for about eight months.

In a nutshell, Taglocity radically enhances an existing Outlook feature called "Categories." (Categories = tags). For some time, Outlook has allowed you to categorize emails, but it was clunky.

Here's how I set up and use Taglocity, after installing it:
  1. Assuming you currently store your Outlook email in folders, open a folder and select all emails. Now, use the Taglocity Pane (atop your main Outlook page) to assign a tag to all items in this folder. You can just use the name of the folder, but I believe in following these conventions:

    a) don't pluralize ("report" not "reports") or capitalize, except
    b) capitalize acronyms ("PR", not "pr"), and
    c) add a hypen after tags that would otherwise form words or parts of words; e.g., "PR-" and "Toronto-". This will pay off later if you run a search for "professional". [Granted, it will fail if your email includes something like, "Toronto-based accountant"].

  2. Go through all your folders and repeat this
  3. Open your Tag Bar window (click "Tag Bar") clean up your tags. Through right-clicking you can consolidate similar tags.
  4. Now, within your Tag Bar window, move the tags around into groups and then assign a colour to each group (e.g., industries are blue; administration is green; personal is yellow)
  5. Still within the Tag Bar window, add a half dozen of your most popular tags to the actual Tag Bar. This bar sits atop Outlook's main page, and makes it easier to assign tags to emails.
  6. Now, go back and see where you can assign more than one existing tag to an email. E.g., you have an email about a flight on Air Canada and another about consulting services to Air Canada. Tag both "air-canada" but tag one "flight" and another "consulting" or something.
  7. When you've done all this, put all of your email in an "archive" folder and delete your other folders. One caveat, for repetitive projects, I prefer to use folders to tags. E.g., I write a monthly newsletter and I store material for it throughout each month; I will tag this material with the name of the newsletter, but I also store it in a folder called "May 2009" or whatever.
Yes, all of this takes some time. You may not follow all these steps for the email you received in the past. But the process demonstrates how to use Taglocity for email as you receive it. When an email arrives, once it's dealt with as a work task, you can click twice and deal with it as clutter.

Finding anything is simply about narrowing down the options -- triangulating. If, in six months, you need details about that Air Canada flight, you can use Outlook's search box to run a keyword search "category:air-canada, category:flight". Even if this produces 100 emails, you can easily scroll to the rough period of the flight. And you can combine the search with "from:dave"-type commands.

If the size of your company permits it, you can benefit from a network effect by making all of your tags public; i.e., the tags you assign to an email will travel with the email when an email is forwarded or replied to. If you invest the time to create a taxonomy for your firm, email conversations will only have to be tagged once, rather than by each recipient.

Sounds complicated, but in fact the top benefits I've experienced from using this are:
  1. if you equate a tag to a folder, you can put one email in two or more "folders" at the same time, so it's easier to find regardless of how your brain is working when you need the email. E.g., you might spend a year storing email first by industry (or client) and then by service performed, and then decide you want to store by service performed first and then by industry/client within those folders. With tags, you just do both.
  2. it's ridiculously quick to tag and drag emails to a single folder than to drag up and down Outlook and through nested folders.
  3. though command-line searches are not popular, in fact we have all become used to them through Google; they're quite quick when you get used to them. have you ever watched someone painfully spend two or three minutes trying to find a simple email? if you can narrow the problem down by two or three tags (and perhaps a rough date), it shouldn't take more than ten or fifteen seconds to find a needle in a 10,000 email haystack.
In time, people will no doubt have personal taxonomies. You'll add 100 tags to Gmail and you'll use them for all work documents, personal documents, calendar items, emails, photos and videos, and basically any discrete piece of content you store.

On wine

I find wine absurd. That's not to say I don't like drinking it. I'd drink it at work if I could! But how do you choose one? Seriously ... by what criteria does one purchase wine?

This was well summed up by a friend of mine who, at 19, entered a liquor store in our hometown of North York and suggested, "we're looking for a good bottle of wine." Following this, we went to a hardware store and asked for "a good thing."

Fifteen years later, I have added a bit to my knowledge of wine, but I'm not sure if any of the knowledge is useful; I know that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are grapes, that Napa Vally and Bordeaux are regions (and that you could probably spend weeks in Bordeaux and come away describing it as an indecipherable taxonomy of applied geography). But still, is it useful? Useful means that I can predict pretty well what tastes good.

Well, a few nights ago I drank a bottle of Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz 2007. And it tasted very good. I think it was the best wine I can remember drinking, and I remember at least the first two thirds of it.

I think it was $15 at the LCBO; not a big price. I took a different approach to finding it; I think, a logical approach. I had come across the name Robert Parker Jr.; an American wine reviewer who is both an anti-elite in his bucolic homestead and unrefined upbringing, and, relative to folks like Billy Munnelly, confidently snobbish about really good wine. Unlike many anti-snobs, Parker doesn't balk at drinking a $60 wine or calling it as better than a lot of $12 wine.

There's some backlash against Parker: who is this nobody from nowhere-USA? Even if he is somebody, he's destroying wine by favouring certain rich, heavy types and forcing small and large vintners to comply.

Perhaps, but I don't care. Like I said, I want to drink wine that tastes good. And Jip Jip Rocks Shiraz 2007, bought on Parker's recommendation, tasted great.

So, my approach was simple. I discovered that some of Parker's ratings can be accessed at Wine.com -- specifically, with a click from the homepage, they lay out the wines that are highly rated and that cost under $20. The rating system is a bit odd, but it's enough to know that a rating of 80 is good, 90 is excellent and 95+ is very excellent. So, I just cross-referenced what RP (as Robert Parker's ratings are symbolized with) rated highly with what the LCBO sells (it turns out, correlation is poor).

Now, I learned very little about earth or limestone or breezes or rivers or Chateaus or grafting or anything to find a nice wine. I just learned Robert Parker's name and did what he said. He seems to correlate with my taste.

My point is not that people should be sheeple. Rather, it's that I cannot access wine with the approach commonly presented by the greater wine industry. Even Billy Munnelly's 3-type breakdown failed me; they all tasted not that great.

In my view, drinking wine should be a journey (I cannot but hear Adam Clayton's "A musical journey!"). I mean, if you go to Ireland, you don't go first to the geography and then to the people and then to the food. You do it all at once; you mash it all up, and how you make sense of it is through experience (sensuous). A hamburger in Doolin while chatting with young hitchhikers and listening to traditional Irish music is sensuous; it's a discrete moment and memory. As a moment, it can be used to understand other things; is this music like that music? Is a hamburger considered Irish food or foreign food? What's common and what's different between the generations?

I'd love to find a book, perhaps an annual book, written as a wine journey for the uninitiated. Why not! You start with something bold, then learn one thing about it and why it's bold. Then you go to an Ontario Merlot, and try to understand what's different about them. And so on.

I think I could understand one or two bottles a week; but I cannot understand 75 of anything, at least not all at once. I need to work my way through them, experientially, creating context using useful, common criteria.

So, wine! Get your act together. Write something useful, you stained, fruity lallygag.

PS -- next up:
MAIPE MALBEC 2008 Argentina | Proviva
VINTAGES 93823 | 750 mL | $ 12.95

Diversity, discovery, and economic growth

Paul Romer is an economist who is at the vanguard of the most exciting school in the science today: New Growth Theory. Some history: until the 1960s, economists believed that economic growth resulted from two things:
  1. investing today's surplus (mostly profits) in more equipment, like factories and/or more civil infrastructure, like highways and canals
  2. adding more workers through social policy -- immigration, the baby bonus, etc. -- to accomplish more economic activity at lower cost
In the 1950s, Robert Solow amended that formula by adding technology to the mix. In Solow's view, most economic growth results from technological change -- discovery -- while some still results from the things mentioned above. As an economist, Solow didn't seek to understand why technological change occurred, but he could measure it and this came to be called the Solow Residual. The Solow Residual measures the pace of discovery: things like more viscous motor oils, more durable highway pavement, more efficient light bulbs. Imagine for a moment that in World War II you were asked by your government to build a computer with eight billion vacuum tubes; in fact, winning the war would be easier than building such a device, though today you can buy 8.56 billion transistors at Wal Mart for $10 in a 2 gig flash key.

In Solow's view, this technological change occurs exogenously -- outside of the economic system. Perhaps discoveries happen in universities, or in government labs.

Romer's contribution in the 1980s, as a young economist moving between Chicago, MIT and, for a year, Queen's University in Kingston, was to place technological change within the economy. For Romer, transistors don't become smaller because the government makes this a priority, but because every man woman and child in North America may have bought 1000 transistors in 1985 annually, via their TV remote controls, Walkmans and home computers. Today, we perhaps buy 25 billion transistors annually -- all the while directing investment to transistor development and research, while innocently playing X-box or using a remote control or answering a cell phone.

In fact, the Soviets developed the system of centralized discovery; that regime was an impressive force in science and technology, but this was never linked to the market system and so advances never went beyond the moon -- which in fact is not a good thing. The Soviet model could not benefit from compounding returns from discovery, from the X-box market funding the development of faster computers that design better transistors to make faster computers. Romer boldly projects increasing returns for humanity in perpetuity.

Richard Florida and Jane Jacobs comprise the Yin and Yang of urban theory. Jacobs prized diversity and density as necessities for a thriving city; Florida looks for thriving cities to find pools spawning the ideas that are changing the world. Famously, Florida uses a "gay index" to rate cities; though predominance of overt homosexuality in a city is unlikely to cause genius, it tends to be correlated with tolerance and openness to new ideas; while Pride Week doesn't spawn transistor development in any direct way, Florida believes that a city that can handle Pride Week is more likely to discover new things. To Florida, this diversity is exogenous; Jacobs situates it in an urban planning policy that, thankfully, Toronto has to a large degree adopted. So has New York and many other leading cities.

So, to this point in my post you have Jane Jacobs telling us how to arrange cities, Richard Florida telling us how good cities produce discovery, and Paul Romer telling us that discovery matters more than anything else when describing economic growth.

But take this interesting article by a U.S. academic, Vivek Wadhwa. Titled, America's Perilous Anti-Immigrant Protectionism, Wadhwa delves into recession-fueled Xenophobia in America -- blaming foreigners for taking "American jobs"; Wadhwa claims he himself is not excepted, receiving hate mail and threats for pointing out roughly what I have just written -- that America's immigrants are not taking "commodity jobs"; rather, they are growing the U.S. economy through discovery linked with the uniquely pervasive American market system. In simple terms, non-white people are inventing things and then employing lots of white people, all the while keeping America at the leading edge of economic growth and technology.

Wadhwa astutely notes that these immigrants, facing hate and anti-immigrant policies, may be taking their ideas elsewhere; just as many smart Jewish Germans did in the mid to late 1930s, in large part enabling the U.S. and not German to invent the atom bomb.

Much has been written about global neoliberalism and the "race to the bottom" of corporate tax rates -- certainly, states like Ireland have benefited by agreeing to charge multinationals much less tax. Horrible poverty has been wiped out in a generation by this.

But what about the race to attract the next Sergey Brin, the next Vivek Wadhwa, the next Albert Einstein? A cleavage is occurring in employment between the highly skilled and those who can only sell their labour as a commodity; the market is global for both, creating horrible pain for the unskilled and incredible opportunity for the skilled.

Growth in the global economy is from knowledge. People who are smart enough to contribute to that are smart enough, open enough to migrate globally. India and China must produce smart kids at the same rate as the U.S., or Britain -- just look at the competition in our universities at a point when the majority of people in these countries do not have access to proper education or opportunities to showcase their inheritance. In time, the cities with the right planning -- structural change -- and the states with the right policies to attract these people will quickly become better than the other ones.

[Note: this post was called Xenophobia, discovery, and economic growth; Richard Florida linked to it under the current title, which I thought was a good one, so I changed it.]

The snowball

Until last week, I was taking a night course in political science -- pre-graduate type of thing. I handed in my final essay at the last class last Thursday. It was a cool essay, looking into issues of law and democracy; whether it is democratic for the judiciary to overrule the majority (parliament) in Canada.

Metaphorically for me, the content was pretty interesting but the process sucked -- I crammed it out in little more than a week of late nights, staying up till 4:00 am the night before I submitted it. But after I handed it in, I didn't actually feel exhausted. I felt refreshed; in the wake of a week of little sleep and long hours reading dense legal theory, (on top of a day job and parenthood), I felt as relaxed as I might after a week of vacation. Creative new ideas are popping into my head that have nothing to do with legal theory. I slept 6 hours last night so I could watch a move and don't feel the least tired.

This got me thinking. I saw Reservation Road last night -- ho hum. But a plot premise is that a bored, under-employed suburban father about my age believes to some degree that he could find his true calling in life by spending six months or more unemployed and promenading or journaling in Paris (family in tow). I used to do this very thing (sans famille) for this very reason.

So which is it? If you really wanted a sense of "otherness" -- a separation from monotony -- a new, vital clarity, creativity and sureness about yourself, should you do a lot of nothing or a lot of something? Should you bake, or break, your brain?

Let me be clear, forgetting my exhaustion Thursday night (and subsequent debilitating neck spasm ;-), I felt about as good from Friday till now as I would after resting totally on a dock by a lake for five days. Normal life feels easy after hard thinking.

Of course, I worked really hard on this essay, and learned a lot of new things; I was passionate about the subject and about getting the argument right. Work is rarely like that. So then the issue becomes: is it more "living" to -- take an easy job that permits you to travel or write or play sports or do whatever feels like real life to you; or, to find a passionate vocation and work exceptionally hard with brief breaks.

I remember the economic theory I read years ago describing the trade-off between work and leisure; economics made a moral assumption that all people prefer unpaid leisure to paid work, and that they trade some leisure for some income; economics assumes "work to live." Common Sense today talks about not working too hard and smelling the roses. But maybe it's more tangled than that.

I called this post The Snowball because I think that's a nice label for the effect of working hard; you don't get tired, you get bigger. You know a little more, have a little more experience, and have a little less to do -- everything else should be a bit easier, and so on. A snowball rolling along gets bigger.

The psychology of capitalism

What motivates a personal trainer? Some people love the culture of gyms. But I think personal trainers are often motivated by helping people. For 30 or 60 minutes at a time, they're physically close to a person who, in many cases, wants to feel better about themselves; trainers have the ability to help them get there. You could say that there's no irony between them -- the trainer isn't using a bait-and-switch technique, or attending sessions on how to "sucker in" more clients.

Usually, they're not just acting like, but are being a real person. Pretty simple, really.

Notwithstanding all that, training is normally capitalistic. My friend trains in her clients' homes and drums up work herself. She's an independent business person -- she uses her own capital to buy equipment and promote her company.

The free market is competitive. Though Adam Smith anticipates many features of capitalism -- the minute division of labour chief among them -- the pitting of opponents against one another to produce the best offer (product, price or marketing/placement) for consumers is central to how we view the positive side of the system today.

But within this system is a central irony -- that companies want to profit from their relationship with customers -- certainly from the consumer relationship (the B2B relationship is a bit harder to fudge). Most of the ads I take in make me feel like I'm being lied to; in fact, I think most people of my generation automatically handicap anything they receive via mass distribution, or that doesn't carry a label of authenticity with it.

What is the larger effect of this? I try not to consume media much anymore; just radio and Internet mainly, but few movies or magazines and no TV. But if I, like many people, took in hours of media daily, and if it was all funded by explicit and implicit (embedded) advertising messages, would that not affect how I see the world? The level of trust I generally have.

And would that carry over to my trust of political leaders, or in fact of policies that were genuinely developed in an objective and fair way -- the governance of our nation. Or of personal relationships, or of how I might relate socially in public places, like malls or sidewalks, or while driving in traffic.

I think there's something big about closeness -- I think physical trainers are more likely to develop friendships with clients than to lie to them and use them. What about mid-sized private companies? Are they more authentic than multinationals? And, if so, what is it about multi-nationals that makes then inauthentic? Can a multinational consumer chain be built that cultivates genuine and honest relationships in all points of business (relationships with suppliers and other vendors, creditors, employees/owners, and customers)? What if a group of local, authentic businesses formed a federation -- would it change things? What if that federation adopted a form of central authority -- what then?

I've written before that authenticity is big -- in PR and in business as well as of course in life. But for people who don't perform personal training or public school teaching etc. as a career, it can be difficult to not creep over that line. But that line really, in the long run, is vital personally and in society.

Should the birther movement die?

I get a kick out of watching stupid people get angry. Is that wrong?

The U.S."Birther" movement believes that Obama was born in Kenya because of a mis-translation in a single phone interview between a street preacher, a translator with a poor grasp of English, and Obama's Kenyan grandfather's second wife. Or, more specifically, it is because they hate black people, or Kenyans, and have a loose view of facts.

The Birther movement has the power to ensure Obama wins four more years. It's clearly insane, and supported by a small minority who would never vote for Obama anyway. On the other hand, this insane racist minority is now frothing at the mouth and one hopes they don't froth too much.

Hopefully, websites like this will pour some water on them.

Huxley vs Orwell

Interesting comic comparing the two: http://img40.imageshack.us/img40/1736/200905amusingourselvest.png

But why is it always, "they are trying to control us;" if the comic correctly shows Huxley's nightmare as our reality, it's not a result of a mid-century plan to control the population. This media universe arose within a free market system where mid-managers were incented to make slightly more appealing content, ads and media to capture market share. The net net after 50 years may very well be Huxley, but as a side effect, not an end.

Are you moving to the front of the train?

I like France's TGV trains because you can cross the country in a few hours and, if you're travelling between city centres, it often takes less time to travel from a train seat to your destination building than it would from a plane's touchdown to arrive at baggage collection. While these trains cross the French countryside at close to 200 kph, passengers are able to roam the length of them reasonably freely, and can have a hot lunch or sit in a bar stool and read a newspaper. Though many are driven by the desire to arrive quickly at their destination, few are so obsessed that they move to the front of the train to achieve this. In fact, almost anyone on a TGV train would find it irrational for a passenger to deem forward motion within the train as progress toward their destination.

If anything, on a train moving to Lyon from Paris, it may be beneficial to walk toward Paris while being hurtled toward Lyon, because the train station exits may be close to the back of the train in Lyon. It's not really necessary to point this out; most people get it.

But I wonder if in other contexts progress is measured more in terms of moving up and down a train that is otherwise hurtling toward something else at an immeasurably higher vitesse.

General Motors is bankrupt and shedding decades-old brand icons -- not to mention 1/3 of managers -- as it tries to recover from something terrible that happened.

But what exactly happened? Did cars end? How could such a terrible outcome affect an otherwise blessed corporation?

Perhaps the answer can be seen in how progress was measured at GM. Manufactured Obsolescence is one business strategy aimed at stimulating demand by deliberately making your products worse. Stimulated demand could give the appearance of progress, while in fact, anyone who thinks clearly and independently could see that deliberately making your products worse for 40 years would probably not make your company better.

The finance industry -- capital for capital's sake -- similarly engineered highly complex new products that created an illusion of progress. Much of the mortgage industry stepped onto a train clearly marked "Going over a Cliff" and then began to, not just walk but run along the length of this train in a direction marked progress. Funnily enough, this blind march did not stop the train from going over the cliff.

I've written many times about Jane Jacobs. I think the lesson of her life is that an intelligent person who is exceptionally independent of mind or contrarian will find it easy to see that trains marked "Going over a Cliff" will in fact go over a cliff. But, as Warren Buffet says, the elite management class spends much more time looking left and right to see what they should do than thinking for themselves.

The science of traffic jams

Neat video: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2009/traffic-0609.html

No doubt they form passively and no individual in them has an incentive to take action to un-form them, but I think this article misses a key factor. Driver training would have a huge effect on preventing traffic jams.

Though drivers usually seek to undertake trips in the least time possible, a driver can take many kinds of action; I'd group these as: irrational; short-sighted; far-sighted; and, altruistic.

An irrational act would be tailgating to prevent a driver on an on-ramp from merging in front of one's car. Short-sighted would be driving to the very end of an on-ramp to obtain a slightly better position in the lane of traffic. Far-sighted would be changing lanes well in advance of an on-ramp because one can foresee congestion. Altruistic would be allowing a large gap to form in front of one's car when traffic is merging into one's lane.

If most drivers acted with more foresight or altruism, highways would go faster and all drivers would benefit. However, people are irrational and, perhaps, when a small number of drivers are altruistic, a number at least equal to that can take advantage of them and believe they are benefiting personally, while also causing the entire system to be less efficient.

For this reason, I think a culture shift would have a large effect on the entire system's efficiency.

Pedestrians rarely walk with pure selfishness; they commonly smile and engage others as people, make room on the sidewalk, hold the door, stand on the right side of the escalator, let people of the subway before entering, etc. Not everyone does this, but the majority do and it's part of the culture to do these things. People have been pedestrians for millennia, and it seems obvious that norms would exist governing something as common as walking in public.

Such norms were never brought about formally for drivers.

I think a more intensive driver training focused on shifting drivers to have more foresight and to adopt some of the norms of pedestrian life (seeing others as people not vehicles) would achieve a lot. Perhaps it begins with new drivers and the benefits would gradually take hold.

Agglomeration or explosion?

"In finance, 'there is a huge network and agglomeration effect,'" Richard Florida quotes former assistant U.S. Treasury secretary Edwin Truman in Florida's recent Atlantic article "How the crash will re-shape America.

The network effect concept -- best illustrated by how much more useful fax machines become when you're not the only person in the world who owns one -- is closely related to positive feedback loops, an idea I have written about before. Agglomeration is studied in geography, and is the essence of both cities and Richard Florida's take on their vital role in society.

Like Jane Jacobs, Florida is passionate about urban diversity. Jacobs would view a diverse neighbourhood as one with several uses, so that it has foot traffic at almost all hours: commuters in the early morning, stroller-moms during the day, yuppie diners in the evening and clubbers in the late night -- all of them, agglomerated, provide themselves and the neighbourhood with security, reducing crime and making it more livable.

But can Florida reasonable extend this idea to the agglomeration of financial centres, as his Atlantic article does? Certainly the historic role of financial centres -- that of connected custodians of capital working in close quarter to distribute society's surplus toward what is hoped to be the most productive purpose -- demanded a Manhattan or Amsterdam or "The City" in London.

Today, however, these distributions are made with computers and telephones, so why New York? Why anything? Why cannot the agglomerated financial core of the world be geographically distributed, linked with electronic access at a premium.

Perhaps people still do deals in restaurants and golf courses. Perhaps, also, the people who do this business will generally only live in a few places on Earth -- London and New York being among them. This is Florida's thesis from earlier writings.

Urban theory is interesting, but far more powerful than either urban theory or even the core of capitalism itself is the destabilization effect of digital communication technologies, which are wiping out entire industries as knowledge and content become instant and free.

New York has a big harbour, so it's not all about red suspenders. But will it still be a city of red suspenders, or are the dock hands waiting to rule?

3-second film review -- The Secret of the Grain

A mule needs and is loved by his broad, lively mediterranian family. Long scences. French. 

Hafsia Herzi is amazing.

The worst phonetic alphabet

When you spell something in the army or as a pilot, it's common to use words like: yankee, zulu and foxtrot. Some people make up their own, like december, empire, november, november, insidious, summer.

Very few people use these:
  • Asterisk
  • Back-slash
  • Colon
  • Dot
  • Eight
  • Four
  • Gene
  • Hyphen
  • Illicit
  • Jean
  • Knows
  • Louder
  • Minus
  • Nine
  • One
  • Period
  • Quorn
  • Repeat
  • Seven
  • Three
  • Underscore
  • Vowels
  • Won
  • X-mas
  • Yiddish
  • Zero
(Bonus points: I dare you to come up with a more worse one.)

3-second film review -- Boy A

The boys who killed James Bulger were released years ago. 

Fictional projection of one who was rehabilitated. Are ten year olds innately evil? Or is the blame broader?

Warm warm up with inevitable third act.

How to apologize

We're presently in an uproar over comments made on a late-night Fox TV program disparaging Canada's military and indirectly slagging our war on terror. Beside the argument that Canada has done a lot of good by staying focused on the ball after 9/11, these 2-am, middle-aged frat boys need to apologize.

So, how did they say sorry for hating on a military that has lost 120 soldiers in some of the fiercest Taliban fights over seven years?  Their corporate PR department issued a press release in the name of Greg Gutfeld, one of several people implicated:
I realize that my words may have been misunderstood. It was not my intent to disrespect the brave men, women and families of the Canadian military, and for that I apologize. [The TV show] is a satirical take on the news, in which all topics are addressed in a lighthearted, humorous and ridiculous manner.
Clearly, this is not a heartfelt or spontaneous reply, but a statement that dodges responsibility for what cannot be denied, and then calls it satire. Satire, by the way, is when you tell a lie while winking; there was nothing satirical in the five minute episode.

Contrast this with what Peter MacKay's PR spokesperson Dan Dugas counselled Gutfeld to say:
I think that so-called comedian should stare in the camera at his first opportunity and apologize to all of the families of people he's hurt with these despicable comments. And he's got to say, 'I was misinformed. I was ignorant of the truth and the contribution of the Canadian Forces to the war on terror, and I want to take it back. I know as a comedian that I can fail sometimes; I failed miserably at this so-called comedy.' And his panellists should say the same.
This imagined statement, coming not from Gutfeld but from those he disparaged, would have been much more honest than Gutfeld's own clinical wording. Fox's PR people could learn a few lessons in projecting honesty and sincerity from the spokesman of Canada's Defence Minister:
  1. Make your apology personally and directly.
  2. Actually apologize; don't say you were misunderstood when you were not.
  3. Take responsibility.

3-second film review -- Happy-Go-Lucky

Raw, effortless and affirming scenes of a good person who adds to a world inhabited by several people who do not.

A serious world perhaps needs grounded lightness.

(London accents of some kind; no English subtitles.)

What is terrorism?

For nearly a decade, I've been very clear about how I define this word: terrorism is the use of violence against civilians for political leverage.

Examples: bombs in mailboxes blowing up innocent men and women in London and Montreal to bring international media and political attention to the IRA and FLQ, respectively. If you care not about innocent human life, these methods were actually efficient in the short run. Of course, they are evil, perpetrated by evil men, and I believe in the long run they fail because it is hard to gather friends and supporters when your heart is pus and bile and your mind is cracked with hatred.

The PLO has engaged in terror. By my definition, the Oct. 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole was not a terror attack -- I would term that a guerrilla attack. While suicide bombings of a Tel Aviv restaurant is terror.

This definition I feel is important, much more so than in the USS Cole case. The definition should not be molested or forgotten. On Jan. 30, 1972, British Para's in Ulster shot 27 civil rights protesters, killing thirteen, including two teenagers and a priest. All who were shot were unarmed; five were hit in the back. No one has been charged.

My definition has two tests: that the act is against civilians and it is for political leverage. Clearly, Bloody Sunday meets the first test; on the second, it is unclear whether it was murder or terrorism. 

But the result of Bloody Sunday is key: a two-decade long, bloody and unnecessary terror campaign by the IRA. If we call it terror only when fighters are not uniformed, we leave an ethical vacuum that is filled with death.

I think my definition gels with a more general sense of justice; while Brits sick of IRA terrorism may have irrationally supported their Paras in 1972, an emotionally sober, disinterested party could only find it disgusting. Irrationally supporting terrorism carried out by men with uniforms and very long, clear chains of command is extending the evil into the population. It cannot stand long. A civilian population that accepts this is bending the bar too far and it must return to centre or snap. I believe that large civilian populations are usually good.

Justice is a difficult, difficult subject -- always being trampled on by heated emotions, inflamed by propaganda. Rational thought -- as Pierre Trudeau might say -- must trump emotional nationalism and the cult of victimhood.

What is intellectualsm?

I think that women will probably soon be competing head to head with men in the marathon and in Ironman Triathlons. It's about as complicated and unscientific to explain as "the right way to catch fish," but the trends seem to show this, and Brits Paula Radcliff in the 26 miler and Chrissie Wellington in the 140.6 miler are both breaking through the glass pack (sorry).

Radcliff was a bit of an idol to me -- a guy -- when I got into running in 2002. Female athletics is interesting because the Michael-Jordan esq success is more definite. We don't  know how fast the men's marathoner could potentially run, or at the time we didn't know the limit of MJ's brilliance, but we can measure exactly the fewer and fewer men who are better than Radcliff and Wellington.

This has nothing to do with the following. 

I got into the summer Olympics sometime in the late 1990s or so and I noticed there was an area of sport called "athletics." This seemed odd, because the entire Olympic movement seems to have a lot to do with athleticism, and all of the competitors are called athletes. Why call some sports athletics and not call others athletics?

Well, English is weird. But this term "athletics" is reserved for a more narrow definition of Olympic sport: track, field and marathon. It's arbitrary, but I think it works.

Athletics is a weird term. And so is "intellectual."

What exactly is an intellectual. Are corporate CEOs not very smart? And doctors and lawyers? What about world class musicians, or engineers? Or very smart high school teachers. All of these professions attract mostly smart people; why not call these people intellectuals?

Well, the word appears to be reserved for one of two things. Broadly, you could call anythone who thinks creatively and expresses this verbally or in writing as an intellectual; certainly a world-class architect or say Albert Einstein would fit this. More narrowly, an intellectual (or, perhaps a social-sciences or public intellectual) may be someone who speaks or writes intelligently about important public issues. David Frum or Christopher Hitchens -- who don't appear to do anything but engage in a life-long dialectic -- may be under this narrow definition. They undertake no experiments and produce virtually zero original evidence. This isn't physics. They simply talk or write about society. 

So, I wondered for a long time why have a word to describe these people who don't do anything but write or talk to each other? Why not call them writers?

Here's my point. One day -- I think it was the summer of 2004 -- I thought of an idea I called the Simple Moral Imperative. If I wrote down a definition, I cannot find it, but as I recall it goes like this: when tackling an issue, focus only on the indisputable moral issues and achieve understanding and agreement there. Avoid unending debate by converting the unresolvable argument into one of certainties. So, if you're arguing a political issue, start with asking if genocide is occurring. If it is, you don't really need to argue any more. (Maybe you need to send guys with guns.)

So, what are David Frum and Christopher Hitchens? Perhaps they undertake a version of this. Perhaps theirs is a large, public, contribution to a centuries-old conversation in which difficult and "messy" issues are attacked by first identifying the Simple Moral Imperatives associated with each, thus converting a social science debate into a scientific one; converting messy issues of opinion into ones of unambiguous and universal morality. At least in this way they would be advancing intellectual knowledge and not chatting with big words.

AIG bonuses

No issue has united the left and right like this. A company whose leadership has done nothing but fail for two years; a company whose management is so incompetent that the business -- the world's largest financial institution in 2008 -- would evaporate from the planet if it were not for a $150 billion handout from American taxpayers. 

AIG is an epic icon of failure and immorality, responsible to a serious degree for the greatest economic disaster to affect the world in nearly 80 years.

And yet, the leadership is rewarding itself with $150 million in bonuses.

I think this illustrates a problem with how public markets have altered capitalism. We have ceased to think of AIG's management as "the help," when in fact they are an educated form of just that. Because large public companies usually have no clear owner -- just millions of stockholders -- a vacuum forms at the top and is filled by people who work at the company, but own little or none of it. But we have to remember that capitalism is based on ownership, not management. If it was based on management it would be called something like gilded socialism.

In the realm of private, closely held companies, management is just a more skilled form of a company's labour. Owners of private companies hire people with good track records and perhaps education and demonstrated skills, to achieve certain results using the owner's capital. If they are successful, they will usually be paid well, and may be rewarded with some of the profits or perhaps even with a sliver of the owner's capital itself.

But these private company managers know their place -- they know the owner is not an irrelevant abstraction. The owner is often someone they see in the halls and in meetings every day; or at least is someone who visits the office. They cannot fire the owner but the owner can dismiss them. 

Public companies should be the same. But this vacuum has allowed management to take the role of owner.  

Obama's challenge is to change this perception; to ensure that managers manage and owners decide, among other things, how much managers are to be paid. I fail to understand why this is so difficult in the case of AIG, as Obama's government owns 80 per cent of the firm. Why does Obama not remove AIG's board and appoint a committee representing taxpayers to evaluate the past achievements of AIG's top managers and make decisions about their future ability to create value for the firm. Instead of the loosers controlling the purse strings, they will be purged Once AIG has competent managers and is stabilized, it should be returned to the private sector under a new regime of regulation.

Apart from AIG, we need to understand how this ascension of management occurs, and we need to prevent it. Unless a CEO is like Bill Gates, where s/he owns a large part of the company (ideally a controlling share), all CEOs, CFOs, or SVPs should act as though their "owner" is someone who walks the halls and asks questions about $1,200 trash bins and other things that are difficult to sneak by a private company owner. We need a mechanism to make public companies operate with the kind of attention and passion private company owners bring.

The Democratic party

Short post: after the Civil War, the Republican Party was despised in the U.S. South and white racists gravitated to the Democratic Party, where they stayed until the 1960s. The Civil Rights Movement was a major shift: Democrats handed more power (a incremental increase in power) to Southern blacks and white racists and those who just lean that way shifted to the Republicans. The Republican party enjoyed substantial success in elections following this, but America's demographic shift may suggest this was a poor bet. Yes, non-whites are increasing as a fraction of U.S. voters, but it is simplistic to think this is the only effect.

Non-whites are also increasing as a fraction of the population. Even if they do not vote, their very existence -- the fact that many white families have only become friends with an Indian, Chinese, black or Latino family in the last generation -- shifts the thinking of moderates. Moderates who only knew white people could support an all-white, for whites, party in the U.S. Today, it's hard to find people so isolated. 

The Democrats have the moral lead in this because they lead the Civil Rights campaign. Obama of course is a Democrat. So this party stands to benefit from the unstoppable spirit of multiculturalism enveloping the United States. 

Perhaps this also illustrates the value of moral leadership. Where Dick Cheney's geopolitical view is that power is something to employ to achieve goals -- invade a country to acquire its oil because no one can stop you -- I think History will show that a failure to have moral leadership can be very very expensive. 

Is CostCo like a casino?

Check out this quote from Costco's plain spoken CEO, Jim Sinegal:

At Costco, one of Mr. Sinegal’s cardinal rules is that no branded item can be marked up by more than 14 percent, and no private-label item by more than 15 percent. In contrast, supermarkets generally mark up merchandise by 25 percent, and department stores by 50 percent or more.

“They could probably get more money for a lot of items they sell,” said Ed Weller, a retailing analyst at ThinkEquity.

But Mr. Sinegal warned that if Costco increased markups to 16 or 18 percent, the company might slip down a dangerous slope and lose discipline in minimizing costs and prices.
Although there's more to Costco than its prices (the "treasure hunt" it engineers), having a firm limit on retail margins is part of its relationship with consumers. Consumers sometimes win big in this relationship. Where demand is extraordinarily high, Costco could break its 15 per cent rule and both raise profits and reduce out-of-stocks. This is commonly referred to as "good business".

But the unflappable Sinegal stands firm, in a sense allowing consumers to occasionally win a "shopping jackpot," further fulfilling its treasure hunt experience.

For casinos, their stream of revenue requires that they frequently hand over bags of money to random strangers. Any eight year old knows that this is their essential element (that and unnecessary sequins). Stop the jackpots and a casino wouldn't last a day.

Seems obvious. And it is obvious to Jim Sinegal. So why do other businesses subordinate their essential element to bottom line cost control?

3-second film review -- Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Brilliant title and exciting soundtrack, but I think they forgot to hire a screenwriter. Nothing real happens to the characters. Good for kids and/or people who like NYC at night. (Michael Cera may have overdone the under-acting).

OneLook -- better than Dictionary.com

I was reading a book about Google last night; though their success seems inevitable now, there was a point where Yahoo was monetizing their page much more than Google and I could imagine a reasonable person wondering if Google had the right strategy?

Of course, the right strategy was to subordinate monetization to the "product"; offering the fastest and best search results is Google's essential element.

Dictionary.com has a lot of ads and a lot of street cred. Perhaps for this reason I kept it as my standard dictionary for years after discovering the superior OneLook. But today I switched. 

OneLook is a writer's dictionary. It's clean and uses a simple command box with instructions right beneath the box. Its best feature, however, is the reverse dictionary: you type a few words and it usually produces hundreds of words or phrases in a sort of semantic triangulation.

Just 'cause I'm at it, I also use these writing tools:

Reform vehicular homicide laws

Some guy named Caleb Harrison just received an 18-month prison sentence for killing a 44-year old taxi driver named Michael while driving drunk in 2005.

I continually feel these sentences don't reflect the crime. For me, driving drunk and causing injury/death, or racing and causing the same, is akin to throwing hatchets off buildings. We know -- we all know -- that people can die because of this behaviour. So why is it treated more as an accident than as a pre-meditated crime against an unknown victim?
In sentencing him, Justice Michael Tulloch told Harrison that he seemed to be "a decent man" with many positives but he was lucky he didn't receive a prison sentence.
Someone who kills an innocent person with a 2000 lb weapon ceases to be a "decent man." He is a horrible human being; more horrible than virtually all Canadians. He should not be among us non-killers for a decade because he he drove his Mercedes into a taxi and killed a 44-year old man. 

Furthermore, he is not allowed to drive for two years, following his release, just as he was not allowed to drink prior to his killing. 

Driving drunk, or racing a car, and subsequently injuring or killing someone, should be treated like the crime compounding a crime that it is; in fact, Harrison was a criminal twice just when he got in his car that night -- as a drunk driver and as a violator of his probation. 

If a known drug dealer on probation sells rat poison to an innocent person, killing him, he'd be looking at a decade in prison. A drunk driver knows, or should know, that he is doing much the same thing.

Michael Bryant reformed racing laws; perhaps it's easier to do that because the target appears to be outside of "normal" society -- young punks. Well, a young punk who stays under 120 on the highway is a thousand or a million times more decent and responsible as a Canadian than this killer.

Expensive cars -- Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Tata Motors and Renault have both pioneered very cheap cars; the business strategy is initially based on Eastern European and South Asian economics, a constraint that is disciplining these car-makers to be cost-obsessed. These cars are built to have some reliability and not be ugly, but otherwise be stripped down versions of what we today consider a car.

What is that exactly?

Cars have become sort of space ships; no casual mechanic can understand how they work in their entirety. But a car built from scratch to be simple -- to have far fewer parts and simpler parts -- is a spectacular game-changer for this market. It's as powerful and simple as Wal-Mart's supply chain.

To some degree, cars are status symbols, and middle-class professionals are more likely to buy diapers and CDs at Wal-Mart than to drive a car that screams "cheap." But this doesn't mean they won't. In today's economics, with failed business models for major automakers, reduced disposable income for consumers, and the knowledge that fuel economy will continue to become a priority, small, cheap, reliable, simple cars will come to dominate. To put a figure on it, I predict the $7000 car in Canada by 2014; it will have around 50 hp and hold four passengers and some cargo. It will be noisy on the highway and be devoid of anything digital. It will be repairable by people who can understand how lawnmowers work.

These cars will displace $30,000 and $50,000 cars just as netbooks displaced notebooks and Ryanair displaced BA. Why? It's about distinguishing between features and the essential element of a technology.

The essential element of a car (apart from the status symbol) is that it is used to take people or cargo places that are too far to walk. Perhaps that's so simple that we have forgotten it. But Ryanair understood that the essential element of airlines is that they deliver destinations; a plane ticket is not a gourmet sandwich, nor leather, nor pretty skirts nor stereo headsets, it is Greece, Barcelona or Paris. Equally, netbooks provide the essential elements of surfing the web, writing prose, creating presentations and storing numerical data.

A BMW is a method of getting people or cargo further than one can walk ... PLUS, tens of thousands of dollars worth of surplus features. Certainly, in an era where compensatory consumption is vital, not just to egos but perhaps also to one's career and position among peers, these features were a true investment; like buying expensive season's tickets at the Air Canada Centre. But are we still in that era?

There are numerous supply and regulatory issues to be worked out; it could take five years before we see these cars in Canada. But when we do, I am certain it will form one of the most significant shifts in personal automobiles since the assembly line brought cars within reach of assembly line workers.

Good Business Week article (2007).

Duffy -- lungs that won't quit

Born the year Mulrony was first elected, Reagan was re-elected and Orwell was deferred, Welsh singer Duffy (her last name, but a good moniker) is 1970s disco/soul reincarnated. It's amazing when young people express old souls; some things you can package, but this girl could carry a SkyDome of Boomers as well as any Rod Stewart.

Rockferry -- easily her strongest single. epic, soaring, fragile. Perhaps written reading Yeats?
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Warwick Avenue -- poppy tear fest 
Mercy -- radio friendly with a video shot using Super 8 film preserved from the year her father started university.

Around 1997 everyone started dancing swing. I think Duffy's the vanguard of the new retro swing.

Brilliant Huff Post take on media complicity

They should teach this blog post, and the much more brilliant Jon Stewart rant that gave rise to it, in journalism schools and frankly schools for citizens in democracies, for a generation.

Clearly, the world economic system failed society in some way. My view -- for a later post -- is that it has a lot to do with the cluster of people called Manhattan and that Rockefeller Plaza isn't in Pittsburgh.

So, not only is it odd that Stewart, though a New York-based show one that I think is outside of the mainstream, speaks truth to ... well, normal people ... but I think it's actually quite expected that the only clear thinking getting broadcast today comes from outside the mainstream.

Will Bunch -- not a fan of Reagan -- gives a few lessons "real" journalists could learn from Stewart's show:

  • research trumps access. Be smarter than everyone else.
  • stop pretending the media was not complicit
  • make it watchable by average people. average people have a mind and can make it up and think critically, but perhaps have little time in their busy lives for stuffy shirted faux gravitas.

Democrats Rush to celebrate

I wish I could find the quote; Scott Reid, former communication director for PM Martin, once said (to paraphrase), don't look at what a politician says, look at what he wants. 

Astutely, Obama's #2 Rahm Emanuel recently called Rush Limbaugh "the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party." Of course Emanuel is not praising Limbaugh or the Republicans; he is trying to cement Limbaugh's status in the media as the spokesperson for the party.

This is astute for two reasons: Limbaugh is passionately obeyed by a fanatical core of Republican voters too small as a group to ever form a majority; he is also unappealing to moderates and extremely unpopular among young voters. In other words, he is a polarizing figure who could overwhelmingly win an election of old, white, Evangelical Christians, but is more cancerous than Bush 43 on the national stage. He is a large, loud wedge issue for the Republican party, just as immigration reform may be for the ethnic-friendly, union-friendly Democrats.

Secondly, Limbaugh is an ideologue who earns a living as an entertainer -- as Michael Steele put it -- so he is driven by controversy and the attention it brings. He wants to be outspoken and famous more so than deal with the mundane aspects of helping a party gain or hold power.

Strategically, Rush Limbaugh is a gift to the Democratic party, who should do all they can to maintain Rush's status as the leader of the Right. But as I said at the start, doing so is much more complex than saying, "It benefits me for Rush Limbaugh to be the leader of the Right."

Which begs the question, why are Democrats having fun with this? If you type www.imsorryrush.com into your browser you get an Onion-style satire of RNC leaders who have apologized like scolded children to Limbaugh. You also have this story revealing the coordination of Clinton-era strategists James Carville and Paul Begala, which perhaps shows who is responsible for Limbaugh's current eminence.

Eisenhower didn't reveal Overlord to Great Battles Monthly on June 5, 1944 for a reason -- because he wanted to win, not be adored.

After eight years of being losers, the Democrats finally figured out how to win last year. For their sake, I hope they exercise more control.

Bell Canada buys 750 "The Source" stores

I have a Rogers Mobile plan and, frankly, I have no problems with it. I bought my phone in a former Rogers video store; perhaps seeing the writing for physical-media video rentals, the company leveraged its retail footprint to generate sales in other areas: TV, mobile, internet, VOIP, etc.

But when I was in that Rogers store, it felt empty. They had a few phone chargers on the wall and maybe some skins, but it was essentially a large empty space with a counter at the end. You don't need to physically browse "internet", "TV" or "VOIP", you just need to talk about it.

So, if Bell and Rogers are essentially in a coke and pepsi contest, where their products are not enormously distinct and they depend on sales rather than uniqueness to succeed, what will be the dynamic of selling Bell in Radio Shack

It could be a little busy ... maybe people like to buy abstract products like internet and VOIP in a clean room with a counter, as opposed to at a counter with radio controlled wasps. On the other hand, if Bell even breaks even on the radio controlled wasps, they can't help but do better by having the "push-through-tubes" services pushed through 750 shops. And maybe people who walk in for a battery walk out the VOIP, which cannot happen in the Rogers stores.

It will be interesting. Bell faces a lot of challenges both fixing the Radio Shack/Source model and integrating it with consumer communication platforms. But I think there's a lot of upside.

Who knows, maybe Rogers will respond by selling clock radios and printers next to VOIP.

The Go! Team -- everything all at once

Hockey is a very non-linear game; football has discrete plays with small objectives -- moving the ball more than 3.3 yards per down. Baseball is even more controlled -- they count errors! -- with every motion governed by its own discrete moment of play: each pitch, hit, walk, or steal begins and ends with non-action. But hockey ... it's fluid and fast and violent. Errors are the rule, with incomplete passes, and violence is not part of the play, but part of a second tier of unpublished score-keeping.

Broken Social Scene is a Toronto band that channels latin orchestration into a white-as-folk hipster ensemble. BSS is everthing all at once, and where radio's formula is formulaic music, a band whose basic array of instruments are too complex to comprehend in real time -- nevermind all the other parts of music -- provides cool escapism, like being lost in a mosh pit and loving the ebb of sick sweaty bodies.

BSS is so tight at times ... so I'm not sure if you can classify them as polyphonic. Playing by Heart typifies the ensemble film style; at first you meet Jon Stewart, Sean Connery, Anthony Edwards and Angelena Jolie and some other people, then you get everything all at once. And it's satisfying, like cheese inside cake. Someone on wikipedia described or defined polyphonic literature in a similar way, as Ulysses with it's 18 chapters of differing style.

So, the Go Team -- from England in the Emsemble Kingdom -- makes some of the freshest music I've heard in years. Not since Kanye West in 2004 or Hawksley Workman and Sarah Slean in 2001 has music felt so not derrivative. Sometimes, I swear they sample Sesame Street and draw from whatever hip hop was in 1981. It's cool and retro and discordant, but most of all it feels like a polyphonic or ensemble-like wall of music ... everything all at once and not all of it tight. It's discordant and even the musicians' ethnicity looks like the band was assembled for a public school assembly on friendship. The band was actually assembled; it's the product of some guy named Ian Parton, but the lead singer, Ninja, and keyboardest/vocalist/guitarist Kaori Tsuchida, both stand out on stage.

Top picks:
  • the wrath of marcie, for sure, for that layered, ensemble sound, ninja's energy and and Kaori's backing vocals.
  • ladyflash is cool and easy to listen to; it's their only mainstream hit.
  • milk crisis could have the greatest video of the last decade.
  • grip like a vice -- i listened to this for about 5 months on web radio before figuring out it wasn't like Salt 'n Peppa from 1986.

New growth theory -- Paul Romer

Paul Romer is just about the only economist whose ideas seem to be accepted by the "academy", and certainly can be accepted as common sense. In my view, all business/economics can be expressed as a form of New Growth Theory; you're either engaging in creative destruction, like RIM, Amazon or Wal-Mart's supply chain, or you are running a superior business that follows in the wake of creative destruction, such as Tim Hortons or Esso.

Romer doesn't write much pop science, but read this Reason interview. Some quotes:
New Growth Theory shows that economic growth doesn't arise just from adding more labor to more capital, but from new and better ideas expressed as technological progress. Along the way, it transforms economics from a "dismal science" that describes a world of scarcity and diminishing returns into a discipline that reveals a path toward constant improvement and unlimited potential. Ideas, in Romer's formulation, really do have consequences. Big ones.
And for the Marxists ...
One extremely important insight is that the process of technological discovery is supported by a unique set of institutions. Those are most productive when they're tightly coupled with the institutions of the market. The Soviet Union had very strong science in some fields, but it wasn't coupled with strong institutions in the market. The upshot was that the benefits of discovery were very limited for people living there. The wonder of the United States is that we've created institutions of science and institutions of the market. They're very different, but together they've generated fantastic benefits.

Everything's amazing; nobody's happy.

Louis CK is amazing at sounding like a dumb guy who accidentally said something smart. But in four minutes he just about equals Irvine Welsh on materialism.

Blindness (film) -- 3 second review

Roger Ebert is either dumb or saw Blindness right after seeing WALL-E.

What would you do if society crumbled? What if you were the world's only witness to it.

(Good film; read the book by Jose Saramago).

It doesn't fit with the over-exposed photographys style but I think the director (and/or Canuck Don McKellar) could have drawn more from Leonard Cohen:
And everybody knows that the plague is coming
Everybody knows that its moving fast
Everybody knows that the naked man and woman
Are just a shining artifact of the past
Everybody knows the scene is dead
But theres gonna be a meter on your bed
That will disclose
What everybody knows

Compensatory consumption

Remember when irony died following 9/11?

Whether you call it compensatory consumption, Veblen goods or just maintaining pace with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, I wonder if Pierre Luigi Sacco's insights will apply after the contraction.

The hallmark of a post-industrial economy is that basically people think in terms of identity when they make their choices. What they actually do is think in terms of, 'if I buy this, how will other people perceive me?' or 'if I buy this, what kind of person I am for buying this?' Why this is becoming so relevant? Well, before answering to that, let's just look at how people in the marketing departments actually address you when they try to sell you those goods. Well, they address you exactly in this respect.

The product itself is somewhat disappearing from the centre stage. What's just coming up is the kind of person who buys this kind of goods or the symbolic representation of the good, rather than the good itself, to the point that actually, they don't even make promises about what exactly that product delivers. What they promise is how you'll feel about the good, which is totally different.

The economics of identity is a tricky field because it's entirely new. We don't know anything about it. Why should these problems be threatening? Well, consider this, if scarcity is the hallmark of the economics of survival, what does it mean thinking in terms of scarcity in the economics of identity? Basically, what becomes scarce in this context is not the availability of goods, there are plenty of them, is a sort of invasion, we simply can't just protect ourselves by this attack of goods I mean popping up everywhere.

But, what becomes scarce is 'who can you pretend to be'? 

Feedback loops and inertial blindness

In between reading about the decline of western civilization due to economic collapse, I like to lighten up and learn about the coming decline of global civilization due to environmental collapse.

Recently, it's become clear that common sense can go a long way toward understanding a complex world. Models and world leaders could not predict the current state of our economy, but if you think carefully about whether people can accumulate debt forever, some things become more clear. Jane Jacobs was a successful intellectual who observed and experienced reality and reported on it and theorized anew based upon it. She had little formal training, but she's been proven dead right on urban planning.

So, I'd like to offer two theories based not in math, but in observation of the economy and ecology.

Ecology and the economy are closely related. A hundred years ago, much of Canada's GDP was a measure of things that grow in dirt, livestock that eat those things, the harvest of trees and other organic material, and the mining of minerals and other deposits. In other words, our wealth closely approximated things we took from the Earth.

Today, we have a service economy, and this is underpinned by Paul Romer's theory of endogenous growth; ie. economies grow because they generate technological change, which makes things more efficient. Today, we take more corn, trees, deposits and livestock off of the land, but it's a fraction of our economy; in the large part, we design better fuels, improve the lay-out of cities, improve the rubber in tires, invent information technology and cure pot-holes. We incrementally improve the efficiency of society, all while freeing more people to spend more time thinking up more improvements.

This is called a positive feedback loop, where "positive" is not a moral phrase. In fact, dire ecological predictions are underpinned by positive feedback loops; in the podcast behind the Gwynn Dyer link above (and here), three such positive feedback loops are named around global climate change:
  • the melting of the polar ice caps, which has visibly started and cannot be disputed by people looking at them, removes an essential and quite big "Earth mirror" and replaces it with the Arctic equivalent of a black driveway.
  • the melting of glaciers will release ancient stores of methane gas, which is 10-times worse as a greenhouse gas than C02
  • as oceans warm, their capacity to absorb CO2 will decrease.
Each of these phenomena require a small trigger -- such as our global output of greenhouse gasses -- and they will then feed upon themselves, and each other, far beyond the capacity of our total economy to exert control. When you start to enter a black hole, you cannot get out.

Economically, the credit crisis was also a positive feedback loop, with the collapse in home prices starving consumers of their raison-de-spend, causing layoffs and further bank failures, accelerating the cycle. It really doesn't matter what the trigger is when you've been absent-mindedly storing pails of gasoline in your living room.

Tragically, the economic and ecological loops could trigger a third, political positive feedback loop. Should the ecological loop trigger migrations from equatorial areas, refugee issues arise just as the economic loop triggers civil unrest generally. Governments that should be tackling the first two feedback loops will be distracted trying to reverse the political loop. At just the moment when we need a belle epoque to create regulatory and technological solutions to these problems, we will have the least capacity to do so.

Now, in case you have a gun in your mouth, you may want to read a little further. I'm asking you to consider a second effect, which I'm calling inertial blindness.

Let's say that you want to build a party town somewhere in the Nevada desert. You require water, so you invest in technologies to draw the water from ancient sources deep underground and over time this water enables your manufactured city to generate billions of dollars in both private wealth and tax revenue. But as your city grows, your annual draw on the underground water supply becomes significant. Although your economic growth continues, you're creating an ecological deficit in doing so and the situation becomes absurd. That it continues can only be evidence of both blindness and inertia. No rational person would build a large city on top of a 10-year water supply, but inertial blindness allows this. No rational person would try to build the CN Tower 10,000 feet high, just because at 1800 feet things were going so well.

Borrowing to consume some goods is an interesting strategy, especially for a young person who needs a house and a car before s/he can pay for these things. But what if the inertia of this consumption continues into the realm of blindness, to where consumption-beyond-means occurs because not doing this is harder than doing it (also, see Sacco).

The oceans have absorbed roughly 30 per cent of CO2 emissions since the start of the industrial age. But we are inertially blind to the fact that they cannot absorb infinite CO2 emissions. At best, they will stop absorbing these emissions; at worst they will become emitters themselves. Inertial blindness may lead us to turn 70 per cent of the Earth's surface into a smoke stack.

When borrowing and consumption slackened in the early 1990s, quantitative minds who were financial experts engineered new financial products, capable of extending growth. Again, this was inertial blindness -- it was anything but real growth, but it allowed the real growth to transition into theatrical growth. Following 9/11, theatrical growth was accelerated with more creative mortgage products and low interest rates. (Note bene, we did get the Segway out of this decade).

I'm writing all of this because I think it is essential that we develop models -- more sophisticated than I'm capable of creating now -- which identify and isolate these two phenomena, allowing policy makers to kill their causes. It is important that the national conversation (again, what a terrible phrase) include terms that mean what I mean when I say positive feedback loop and inertial blindness. We need to know when we're cutting down the last tree on Easter Island and when we're switching from tree-based energy to alternative energy. We need to know when growth is real and when it is a stage play in a dark theatre.

It is just shocking that the top people in our society did not know these things.