Tag Archives: Tommy Douglas

Douglas, Deng and Diocletian

(originally written May 21, 2012.  Part of Great Upload of 2013.)

Tommy Douglas

I read a bio of Tommy Douglas recently, figuring as a guy with sinister leanings (sinister in the original Latin sense of “left”, that is :) ) I might as well brush up on the father of Canadian Medicare, and reigning Greatest Canadian.

To me, the biggest surprise was the standing ovation he got from the NDP faithful after his farewell speech at their 1983 convention. Not the fact that he got one, mind you; the fact that it was twenty-three minutes long!  Given the way he shaped the CCF, its successor the NDP, and ultimately the scope of the Canadian welfare state, a standing ovation was a given. But twenty-three minutes — holy cow! …TV sitcoms are only twenty-two!

From this, we can infer that Douglas was a rare political leader who was able to transcend party factions after he stepped down. Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien may have led the Liberals to three majority governments, but there’s no way his successor’s faction would’ve clapped that long: Chretien beat Paul Martin in the 1990 Liberal leadership convention, and Martin’s supporters were impatient to see P.M. become PM.

It’s also hard to see current PM Stephen Harper getting that kind of ovation, however long he leads Canada’s Conservative Party: he’s already infuriated libertarians (having characterized them as child porn supporters) and religious conservatives (by refusing to reopen the abortion debate). At the end of his career, those conservatives will give him the clap, but not twenty-three minutes’ worth, however much Ezra (“ethical oil”) Levant urges them on. :)

Douglas, a socialist, was famous for his parable of Mouseland, which went to the effect of:
“every few years, the mice of Mouseville would elect a black or white cat to Parliament [ie. the Liberals or Progressive Conservatives]. One year a mouse suggested they elect mice instead [ie. the CCF]. He was branded a Bolshevik and jailed.”

Funnily enough, Deng Xiaopeng, the Communist, was famous for a very different cat/mouse parable, along the lines of:

“I don’t care if the cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.”

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From housing to plumbing

(originally written Mar 4, 2012.  Part of Great Upload of 2013.)

Readers (regular and irregular both) may know that about six years ago, I was quoted in MacLean’s saying Canadian housing was in a bubble.  So after six long years of looking very wrong, I was delighted to see the right-wing rag run a cover story proclaiming that Canadian housing is in a bubble!  So I’ll dedicate this email to all the stopped clocks out there — twice a day, your time will come!  :)

Like anyone else challenged by a cognitive dissonance between ego and evidence, I naturally prefer the delusion that I wasn’t wrong, just early.  ;)  Having figured prices would fall by 2008 at the latest, I like to think I was only off by an Olympiad, or eight “Friedman units“.  On the more forgiving fossil-record timescale, I nailed it!

MacLean’s take

MacLean’s cites low interest rates and lax lending standards as a (sub?)prime reason for the real estate boom-turned-bubble.  This can kind of be expected, because most people aren’t great with money.  It’s a financial variant of Sturgeon’s Law, which says that “ninety percent of everything is crap”.  Take housing market predictions, for example…  ;)

Given the opportunity to make very bad decisions by enabling financial institutions, most people will do so.  Indeed, the mutual fund industry owes its existence to people’s predilection for sub-par performance!  Of course, most guys who throw their own darts probably do even worse, so the best way to look at mutual funds is probably to see them as a less-damaging “cowpox” to the “smallpox” of DIY investing.  :)

My take

As you’d expect from a left-leaning atheist on an issue like this, I’m with… Jesus, and blame the bankers.  ;)  If people are trying to borrow beyond their means, competent financial institutions are supposed to not make loans.  Of course, fewer loans means lower profits and much lower stock-option-based executive compensation.  (As they say, no good deed goes unpunished.)  By loosening lending standards, bank executives can enjoy kingly compensation; and by the time the crisis hits, they’ve moved on to other pillage-able pastures.  Which explains why cartoons like this make the rounds:

Banks lending / too much damn money / to people, is a haiku microcosm of how Greece came to be in its quandary: it borrowed more than any sane lender could’ve reasonably expected it to repay.  Which is why European governments are trying to work out “bailouts” by which they launder money through Greece to recapitalize their countries’ banks.  The “choose your own adventure” blog entry here does a pretty good job of showing the stalemate.

Compounding the problem, austerity packages are being pitched, which will only make the crisis worse; in cutting public services, austerity measures reduce a country’s GDP (because public-sector activities count towards GDP) meaning debt has to be repaid from an even smaller national account.

The endgame seems to be that Greece defaults and reverts to its own currency, while everyone else does the duck-and-cover.  After mistiming the Canadian housing market — and fuel cell vehicle commercialization for that matter — I’ll decline to guess when that happens.  ;)  A cheaper currency would cement Greece as a cheap vacationing spot (tourism is one of their biggest industries) and allow them to attract some manufacturing jobs with which to rebuild their economy.

There’re many precedents for thinking that default and devaluation would work.  Iceland defaulted a few years back; its GDP is now higher than pre-crisis levels, and its government debt is now back at “investment grade”!  Argentina also did pretty well after its default in the early 2000’s… and a forgiving of debts (effectively a society-wide default) preceded the rise of democracy in classical Athens.

The march of progress.  And plumbing!

Pessimists might note that we’re not always that good at learning the lessons of history — even as Iceland resurges, Latvia is in a “Shock Doctrine” death spiral.  But here on Team Glass-half-full, I like to think that we do in fact make slow progress.  :)   Consider universal indoor plumbing, which none of us would want to live without.  First invented around 2000BC by some proto-Tommy Douglas of the Harappan Civilization in the Indus Valley, this was such a breakthrough that within thirty-eight centuries London, England — capital of the globe-straddling British Empire — had decided to build its own!  Progress — there’s no stopping it!  ;)

Epic Vancouver 2012 (and raw food)

(originally written May 15, 2012 — part of my Great Upload of 2013)

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I outlined a piece tentatively titled “Douglas, Deng and Diocletian” on Saturday, as I cycled to Vancouver’s new convention centre along the largely-empty downtown bike lanes.  ;)  But alas, attending the Epic Vancouver “green consumerism” show threw those plans off-kilter.  Musings about historical figures are “evergreen” projects — they can be written up any time — but event-driven patter has a best-before date.  :)

I was surprised that Cadbury didn’t have a booth at the conference; they were the first major confectioner to switch a major product line to all-fair trade chocolate a few years back (their flagship “Dairymilk” bars) and you’d figure they’d want to make sure everyone knew it.  Heck, according to the Tommy Douglas bio I just finished, our Greatest Canadian hired one of the Cadbury heirs to help set up government-run enterprises (insurance, bus services) to help improve Saskatchewan’s finances so the province could finally move ahead with universal healthcare in 1962.  Being able to tie the Cadbury name to Canadians’ most treasured institution, would seem like a marketer’s dream…!

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The Vancouver Electric Vehicle Association had a century-old electric vehicle on display (model year 1912).  I was shocked (ha) to see steering was accomplished with a bunch of levers — like a modern military tank.  I guess the automotive Steve Jobs hadn’t yet reinvented the human-car interface with the steering wheel.  (“We think this ‘steering-wheel’ thing is going to be big — it’s insanely great!!“)

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As is typical of these trade shows, the headline sponsors were environmentally-conscientious corporate behemoths, but the exhibitor mix went well into the “granola” spectrum.  ;)  One of these was the raw food society of BC, who seemed a pleasant if misguided bunch.  Which isn’t to imply that the rest of us aren’t misguided — we surely are, just in a more mainstream way.  ;)

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As I understand it — possibly incorrectly — the idea is that raw food is closer to what humans evolved eating, meaning it’s better for us.  As such, it belongs to a family of beliefs which considers technology unnatural, and hence bad, or possibly dangerous.  Of course, while we may chuckle at the raw-fooders, most of us are a little uncomfortable with GMO’s.  The sad hilarity is that it’s more logically consistent to reject all technology from fire onwards, than to pick and choose an arbitrary point between “natural” technologies and “unnatural” ones!

To adapt an analogy I heard in some podcast, cooking is a convenient technology, just like writing.  The pot gives us an external stomach in which to pre-digest our food (using heat) for easy nutrient absorption, just like paper and other media give us an external brain to store data for easy information retrieval.  And while cooking probably destroys some nutrients, it kills off microbes which cause food-borne illnesses, too.  In earlier eras before modern healthcare technologies, that was pretty important!  The Chinese have been cooking water for at least three thousand years: tea is lightly-flavoured boiled water with a caffeine kick.  It was the Red Bull of its day!  ;)

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I imagine most Canadians who go on raw food diets lose weight, if for no other reason that junk food options must be pretty meagre.  Eating less calorie-dense foods, they’d probably feel full sooner, and their bodies would have to work harder to pull nutrients out of the food they did wind up eating.  Since modern urbanites tend to be on the thick side of fit, this probably nets out positive on health, but mainly as a result of better eating habits, as opposed to prehistoric ones.

One species that could definitely benefit from cooking is pandas, who eat 12 hours a day.  Their carnivorous digestive system can’t extract nutrients from bamboo very easily — not that there are many to begin with!  And given all the fiber they take in, they’re not just regular, they’re frequent: dozens of times a day.  Reminds me of when Leo was a newborn.  ;)

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I didn’t see any vegetarian groups at Epic, though the crowd was probably their target market also.  While Westerners could probably benefit from reducing meat in their diet, avoiding meat is more of an ethical issue than a “natural human condition” issue.  One theory has it that meat-eating is a big reason why we spread across the earth, and our largely-vegetarian chimp brethren didn’t.

The premise is that meat enriched the milk of human mothers so much, they could wean babies earlier than other primates (traditional societies wean at around 2 years; largely-vegan chimpanzees at about 5 years).  This meant humans could reproduce faster and dominate the world the way we’ve been doing, for the past tens of thousands of years.  It would also imply that to enjoy a truly representative Paleo diet, raw food enthusiasts would want to get used to all manners of sashimi.  :)

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Considering how much flack TIME magazine got recently for putting a woman breastfeeding a three-year-old on its cover, this all seemed topical enough to justify swerving my writing plans.  As strange as that may seem to the rest of us, if she was a paleo-diet vegetarian, five years might be scientifically justified (!).  It seems weird to us since it’s so far from our cultural norms, but most cultural norms are laughably arbitrary: while my Ukrainian grandmother looked queasy when I told her I ate raw fish, my Japanese mother-in-law was astounded that I sometimes ate carrots, uncooked…!  :)

Newsflash: Canadian PM’s American Idol supports Stephane Dion-esque carbon tax shift

Note: for non-Canadian readers (or, indeed for Canadian readers who don’t follow politics) Stephane Dion was the milquetoast who led the Liberal Party of Canada to its then-worst-ever federal election result in 2008.  He ran on a campaign of a carbon tax shift (“The Green Shift“), for which the Conservative Party mocked and savaged him.

We’ll get to Stephen Harper and his erstwhile idol after the jump, but a bit of background discussion is necessary to provide a proper context…

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