Thursday, October 30, 2008

Carbon tax Re-revisited - the $47 EP

Excuse the obscure Metallica reference. And how I forced the subject into the structure of the reference imperfectly (What does EP have to do with the tax?).

Think the BC Liberals' carbon tax is a great environmental plan that is fair and aimed at reducing carbon consumption? Apparently it's also disproportionally aimed at lower-income Canadians, who will end up paying more as the scheme progresses: $47 more than they'll get back on their taxes by the third year of the program. Meanwhile "those in the top income group will end up an average of $311 better off in year three."

As my friend just wrote to me: "Could it be that: Environmental policy - class analysis = poor environmental policy?" Indeed.

And this has just started to bother me: How does a consumptive tax that is refunded on your taxes curb consumption? I thought the point was to increase the cost so that people would use less, but if we all know we're getting the money back on our taxes, why will we consume less?

There is a place for prohibitive consumptive taxes, or consumptive taxes that are used to fix the problems created by the consumption. This one, however, just doesn't make sense.

Monday, October 27, 2008

YVR - a tale of two arrivals

On Friday I went to YVR (Vancouver's Int'l Airport) to pick up a friend returning from abroad. I had picked up the same friend eight months previous at the same place. The arrivals area has changed a bit since last time.

The first picture is from the arrival in February. I walked in and was struck with a sense of deja vu (not that odd, as I had been there before). I realized that it wasn't deja vu but simply familiarity from having seen it recently. Where? The Robert Dziekanski* taser death video. I was standing right where the video had been shot. Eerie, let me tell you.

This time around the room has changed significantly. There is no longer a plate-glass wall between the waiting area and the inner arrival area. Instead there is a large information centre open to both rooms in the arrivals area. Friendly staff eagerly asked if they could help me. Above the info booth there are several tv screens, one of which shows the second image on the right: A welcome sign in English, French and Chinese and a rotating selection of greetings from other countries, one of them Polish. Much more friendly than a taser.

* For those that don't know, Robert Dziekanski was a Polish immigrant that died after being tasered by RCMP who were trying to subdue him after YVR security called for assistance to deal with the distraught (and belligerent) man.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Book of History

More than a few years ago I purchased a complete set of the Book of History. I fancied myself a history guy, and thought they would be kinda cool to have. Two moves later, and they are still in my possession, all 18 volumes.

In the hopes of ridding myself of these weighty tomes via craigslist, I brought one inside and took some photos. And skimmed the first volume to see what it was about. What an odd set of books. There is zero information about its publication: no date, no company, no copyright. There is a list of authors, though, and tonight I Googled the most prominent, Viscount Bryce.

Turns out the books were written between 1915 and 1921. And they're quite progressive for their time, as you can see: "It is very possible that they are mentally inferior to the whites; but not so inferior as is commonly believed." The black races are potentially not that inferior to white races. Virtually open-minded these men were.

Okay, kidding aside, I wonder just how progressive this thinking was. Relating it to football (like I tend to do on occasion):
It may have been possible to have seen the first black footballer playing for England back in the 1920's with London-born Jack Leslie, a prolific striker for Plymouth Argyle between 1920 & 1935, scoring over 400 goals. Leslie had been informed by his manager Bob Jack that he had been selected to play for England. He later received communication cancelling his call up to the England team stating that they didn't realise he was ‘a man of colour’. Jack Leslie later remarked in 1982 to Brian Woolnough: “They must have forgotten I was a coloured boy.”
Racism was fairly common at the time in England. Even considering the possibility that "the black races" weren't inferior to white folk must have been fairly forward thinking. It's so difficult to judge historical attitudes.

Bartolomé de las Casas is often cited as a person who knew better at the time. He was a Spanish priest who, after witnessing the crazy exploitation of Native Americans by the Spanish, became a staunch defender of the rights of natives. He famously defended their... (have to publish to get around my failing autosave; watch for part II).

I just realized this topic is way too huge. Suffice it to say that de las Casas might not have been the paragon of virtue that he is at times made out to be. I have read that he did not feel as strongly about African slaves as he did Native Americans, though I really do need to back up this rumour with fact if I'm going to continue spreading it.

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Myth of Vancouver's Downtown Density

Capitalized, like it's a title of a Hardy Boys mystery.

After the Pride Parade a friend and I were walking back up through the West End and as we walked past a park on a treed avenue she expressed amazement that we were walking through the densest neighbourhood in North America. I had heard this a few times, and was at first sceptical but accepted it. But it raised two questions for me tonight as I walked around downtown Vancouver: 1) What exactly is the myth of Vancouver's density? and 2) Is it true?

I've just returned from a Google chat with that friend, and she says that the West End (or the downtown peninsula) is the densest neighbourhood in North America. Hmmmm, will check that.

According to Wikipedia: "Vancouver's population density on the downtown peninsula is 121 people per hectare (or 49 people per acre), according to the 2001 census." (from a City of Vancouver info sheet)

Also from Wikipedia: "New York County (which contains Manhattan) had the highest population density with a calculated 104.218 persons per acre." (from the 2000 US census)

So, they myth is busted. According to Wikipedia. Or is it? Old data, right? High growth, right? And there was this odd bit to the City of Vancouver info sheet:

Downtown Local Area population change: +215% (1991 to 2001)

What does "local area" mean in regards to downtown Vancouver? I'll try to find that out.

Meanwhile... Density on the downtown peninsula is actually 63 persons per acre, according to a much newer fact sheet from the city, and the Downtown Local Area pop. change is +55%. Mad growth since 2001. Enough to surpass Manhattan's 104 persons per acre? (more on this below)

I've just found a few more info sheets on the City's website, and they make for interesting reading. According to the 2006 census, the "Downtown Local Area" has 43,415 residents (oddly, another sheet says 43,417) on 375 hectares of land. Sounds like a lot. The West End, at 44,560 residents on 204 hectares, is substantially more dense. Could this be it? With the conversion from hectares to acres (2.47 acres/hectare) we are left with a density of...wait for it....88.43 persons per acre, almost 16 persons/acre short of the US/Canada record.*

Is there any hope?

The downtown pop. growth has been substantial (+55% in the last five years), so is it possible that it has grown enough in two years to surpass Manhattan? Let's explore the possibility: 43,417 (taking the more generous figure) on 926.25 acres (375 hectares) gives us a measly 46.87 persons/acre. There is no way the population of the area has grown by more than 100% in two years.

What about the West End? Maybe it has experienced significant growth as well, and has overcome that 16 p/a gulf. Well, judging by census figures, chances are slim to none (with an emphasis on none). Population growth since 2001 was 5.8% (and was lower from 1996 to 2001), or about 500 people per year. Even with a generous estimate of an extra 1000 people/year, the density would only have reached 92.40 persons/acre, still more than 10 p/a short of Manhattan. And this is all assuming that Manhattan's density has remained constant, something I highly doubt. A glance at US census data shows Manhattan's population grew from 1990 to 2000, and according to Wikipedia it has continued to grow since then, and at a faster rate.

So, the Myth of Vancouver's Downtown Density has been busted. It is not the densest neighbourhood in North America, but it does come close.

* I am not delving into Mexican population statistics right now.

Edit: A Google search and some quick calculations showed the densest area of Mexico City with a density of 70.14 persons/acre.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Prediction results

I'll have some comments on the election later. For now, here are my prediction results:

Riding-------------My prediction-----------------Result
NW-Coq-----------Dawn Black by 1,800----------Black by 1,490
Burnaby-Doug----Bill Siksay by 500--------------Siksay by 798
Burnaby-NW------Peter Julian by 4500----------Julian by 6,994
Van Kingsway-----Wendy Yuan by 2,500------Don Davies by 2,799
Van Quadra-------Joyce Murray by 3,300--------Murray by 4,808
Van Centre--------Hedy Fry by 1,700--------------Fry by 5,214
Van East-----------Libby by 11,500----------------Libby by 15,379

Not a bad record, and decent numbers. I worked the first three, so had a bit more information to work with. I shortened Libby's margin a few days ago, should have left it (at 13,500), and I switched to Fry after a poorly thought-out Byers prediction. I put too much value in Kingsway as a Liberal riding (should have listened to friends in the Davies campaign). But I am quite happy with my Vancouver Quadra call. Some people were calling this one close, putting too much value on the by-election results last year.

Monday, October 13, 2008


What is the point of all this if the only difference is slightly more NDP and Bloc seats and slightly less Liberal and seats?

Significant aspects of this election:

1) NDP laying claim to the possibility of governing this great land. 20% of the popular vote isn't that far from 28%, where the Liberals sit. It's a far cry from 35-38%, true, but it does signify a change in the tone of the NDP leadership.

2) The Bloc is not a spent force. A while ago it seemed like the Bloc was on the way out. No new ideas. A lack of identity without any real move toward sovereignty, and so on. Harper gifted them this, but the readiness with which voters moved back to the Bloc means they are and will be a meaningful force in federal politics for a while.

3) Stephane Dion on the come-back trail. I'm not sure how much he actually did (good reviews in both debates), and there remains the possibility that he'll be canned after the election is over, but I think he has shown Canadians that he isn't just an acharismatic egghead.

4) Last but not least: The coming-out party (ultimately a disappointment) of the Green party. Did they think they would finally win a seat? Why did Adriane Carr run in Vancouver Centre? We'll have to see what the final numbers are, but I'm pretty sure they'll improve on their vote total of 2006. May did very well in the debates, but until the Greens establish a voter-base and expand their party identity, they will struggle to retain the numbers they poll in the weeks leading up to the final vote.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Seat total predictions

Seats in Parliament as of the dissolution for the election, according to Wikipedia:
Cons - Libs - Bloc - NDP - Green - Ind

Current prediction from
Cons - Libs - Bloc - NDP - Green - Ind

If this is the final result (and it won't be), is there a winner? Does Harper keep on keepin' on? Does Dion remain, on the strength of his comeback? Does Layton trumpet his gains while decrying the electoral system (I would)? Does Elizabeth May have anything to add to the conversation? And who are these independents?

Prediction from the UBC Election Stock Market (as of 11:15am Thursday the 9th):
Cons - Libs - Bloc - NDP - Green - Ind

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Was I wrong? aka Federal polling V

"2008 federal election: In the space of a few years, the once fragmented right returns to power while the once natural governing party is is reduced to one of three parties on the fragmented left."

This was my cheeky little line about the 2008 election before it was over. I just saw some numbers that seem to indicate that the Liberals have rebounded and today I read for the first (and possibly only) time that the Conservatives may lose seats this election. Is that possible? I don't have the wherewithal to research the various close ridings, but these come to mind: The Bloc is again in first in the polls in Quebec. The Liberals are back on top in Ontario. The NDP are swinging for the fences in BC.

Edit: I just read an Accidental Deliberations post that tried to work out why the Conservatives' election strategy isn't going so well and why they might not be able to re-focus their strategy. Very interesting. They may not have room to move on the economy, which is now front and centre.

Mini election prediction

I'm only going to predict a few ridings, and some aren't that difficult to call, so this is a bit of a waste of your time and mine, but I have to get my feet wet sometime.

Libby Davies cakewalks in Vancouver East: margin: 11500 votes
Dawn Black will hold onto New West-Coq-Port Moody: 1800 votes
Bill Siksay will win a squeaker in Burnaby-Douglas: 500 votes
Wendy Yuan will win Vancouver-Kingsway: 2500 votes*
Peter Julian is safe in New West-whatever it's called: 4500 votes
Joyce Murray takes Vancouver-Quadra: not as close as some think, 3300 votes

And Vancouver-Centre? Good luck. I have a feeling Hedy Fry will finally lose, but that feeling isn't solid. Is her time up? Do new residents forget her work in 80s? Will Michael Byers draw out the young and idealistic lefty votes? How much of a spoiler will Adriane Carr play? I'm going out on a limb and picking Byers by 350 votes.

Edit: Hedy Fry by 1700 votes. I just don't see Mayencourt stealing many votes from Hedy, and I get the feeling that the Byers campaign isn't going as well as hoped.

*pure guesswork. I've heard Don Davies is doing well, but I have a gut feeling the Liberals will take this.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Conservatives involved in sex trade!!

I just listened to two of the Conservative attack ads aimed at Dion. Heard this little gem, a reproduction of a message left by a Conservative woman:

"I'll tell you what I can't afford: Dion."

Can she afford other men? Do Conservative men and women comparison shop for sex? Is this the tip of the Conservative sex trade iceberg? Inquiring minds want to know.

Federal leadership debate

I'm watching the English debate streamed on CBC (it keeps re-setting, which is annoying). I tried the CTV site but nothing would load. I've watched about a third, and my impressions so far:

Harper held his ground, but only barely. He appeared at a loss when confronted about his investment spending (they've invested in the forestry and the automotive sectors?). He also wanted to be very clear, as he repeated frequently. He's been between jobs, and knows how hard it is for Canadians in danger of losing their jobs... really? And he can't seem to avoid his little smirk.

Dion's English was difficult, but he spoke with conviction. He forcefully defended the carbon tax, pulling out numbers of tax savings for lower-income Canadians. He attempted to carve out the middle economic ground, a phenomenon that would have been hard to imagine even a few years ago.

Layton had great lines (Where's the platform? Under the sweater?) and stood up for Canada's working families. His jibes at the Liberals should be worked into their campaign. The NDP, unfortunately for them, aren't a regional party, so a few points gained in the polls won't necessarily translate into an increase in seats.

May surprised me in two ways: demanding support for the pulp-and-paper sector (what?) and throwing economic numbers around comfortably. I can't see the Greens getting more than one seat, and even that is doubtful.

Duceppe reminds me of an alien. I really enjoy his almost disinterested engagement in the English language debate.

Regarding the environment: Harper has nothing. His record is ridiculous, and everyone seems to agree.

For a great commentary on the debate, see the Tyee's Blog-O-Rama.

Could there be a Batman without a Joker?

This passage from The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy got me thinking*:

"He understood what the priest could not. That what we seek is the worthy adversary. For we strike out to fall flailing through demons of wire and crepe and we long for something of substance to oppose us. Something to contain us or to stay our hand. Otherwise there were no boundaries to our own being and we too must extend our claims until we lose definition. Until we must be swallowed up at last by the very void to which we wished to stand opposed."

Not sure what I concluded. There's something in there about politics and fanatics and activists and framing debates, but it's not a coherent thought yet. Someone with a better sense of Canadian political history could make something of this, I think, though our federal leaders seem to rotate rather than reappear.

*and directly related to the title of this post: I just re-read The Dark Knight Returns, one of the best pieces of comic literature. A psychiatrist posits that Batman is actually responsible for all the deaths caused by his enemies, that Batman is manifesting the evil acts, perhaps to fulfill some latent psychotic drive within himself.