Saturday, September 29, 2012

Iran, Embassies, Omar Khadr

Prime Minister Harper took a ridiculous and counter-productive hard line against Iran a couple of weeks ago. Breaking diplomatic ties with Iran was a move that left politicos around the world scratching their heads and wondering what the heck happened. Was there a threat to Canada's Tehran embassy? Had Iran done something that nobody else knew about? Apparently none of the above - there was no reason for Canada to suddenly treat Iran as Enemy Number One.

Today we discover that Harper has finally bowed to pressure and let Omar Khadr return to Canada. Harper's backers are very unhappy about Khadr's return: just look in the Comments section of today's Globe article about it. There are strong feelings that Khadr should have his citizenship revoked (despite his having been born in Canada), that he should be tried for treason (despite already having spent his entire adult life in prison for something he did at 15), that he should be executed (despite Canada not having the death penalty).

It seems likely that Harper, knowing he would be unable to keep Khadr out any longer, used Iran as a bone to throw to his base. The politicization of every policy is the hallmark of the Harper regime.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Information Age

A factoid I recently stumbled across... The price of a passport for a child under 3 years is $22. For $24, you can get a passport with 48 pages (double the usual amount). That's what we used to call a "businessman's passport".

I want to know how many toddlers have 48-page passports. I was unable to find out through Google or True Knowledge. Back in the day I'd call up the Globe & Mail fact-checking department or ask a reference librarian. There also used to be giant books of facts like the Canadian Almanac and the New York Times Desk Reference.

I had a similar problem a few months ago when I was trying to discover the closest hippopotomus to my house.

In some ways we have less access to information than we used to.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mark Carney for Liberal Leader

Okay so it's all rumors and his office is denying it, but the idea is so wonderful that I have to try to spread it further.

A leadership race between Trudeau and Carney would be... boffo. Carney on our side would be... world-changing.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

[Not] Solving Traffic Problems in Uptown Waterloo

I attended the Uptown Traffic summit last week. It was a success - over 120 people, lots of careful consideration of the problems that were posed.

In the promo for the summit, Ward 1 Councillor Melissa Durrell said, "When I was going door to door campaigning during the election, traffic was the Number One concern." Kudos to Melissa for holding the summit.

But. Big but.

The summit started with city and regional employees giving some presentations about the context. They described the Waterloo city Official Plan, city and regional Master Transportation Plans, the Complete Streets initiative (that's what is causing all our "roads on diets"), and the provincial Places to Grow plan that legislates intensification in Uptown Waterloo (among other areas). Everything they said emphasized that cars are not the priority; bikes and public transit are the priority.

Then we got into the summit, which consisted of four questions:
  1. How might we support Waterloo's desire to become a bike, pedestrian and public transit-friendly city while recognizing the significance of the car?
  2. How might we handle the increase in traffic while maintaining a neighborhood feel?
  3. How might we reduce the number of parking spots available while maintaining a strong, vibrant economy?
  4. How might we create safe streets while still enabling access for traffic?
Good questions all. But nowhere in there is a question that addresses what all those voters were talking about on the doorstep. Nowhere was there a question that would lead to solutions for how hard it is to turn left off of Alexandra onto Caroline in the morning; or the backup of cars on Bridgeport heading towards the Erb intersection in the evening; or the huge amount of traffic cutting through the Uptown on Erb, heading from the west side subdivisions to the expressway because there is no west side expressway.

There were no questions about how we're going to cope with the new traffic generated by the thousands of new residents who will move into the condos that are currently being built, many in a small area around King and Allen.

There were no questions about how we will cope with the huge impact LRT will have on Uptown traffic. John Shortreed estimates that the LRT will cause King Street to lose 60% of its capacity. He estimates that Weber can only take part of the load. Where will the other cars go? (Sidestreets.) I don't know if John has estimated the loss of capacity caused by the LRT on Caroline, but I do know that rush hour traffic is already heavy heading north on Park, jogging along William and continuing down Caroline. The Bridgeport-Caroline intersection is already very busy at rush hour, and the LRT will make it a total mess.

It seems that there is no awareness of the real traffic issues in Uptown, and no desire to fix them. What really slays me is that all these politicians and city employees who are fixated on "walking, biking and rollerblading" and who hate providing infrastructure for cars - they all have cars.

I am not an enormous proponent of the car. I never had a car when I lived in Toronto, and didn't buy a car till I was 40 (and even then, only because it was required for work). I wish Waterloo was designed in such a way that one could live conveniently without the hassle of owning a car. But it ain't. And I want my government to be based on reality, not ideology. This isn't a trivial issue. The health of the every aspect of the Uptown depends on getting this right.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012


My first career was as a market research analyst, and ever since then I've been a market research hobbyist. As part of that I always volunteer to do surveys - I like to keep up with how questions are asked, critique technique, and so on.

But in recent years it has come out that the Harper Conservatives use surveys as a political device to keep tabs on voters. They maintain a huge, sophisticated database that we're all in, and that tracks not just our political affiliations but also our spending habits, activities, beliefs... who knows what. There is increasing evidence that they used this database to devise a program of voter suppression in the last election, as well as a program of dirty tricks, calling voters and pretending to be Liberals while doing things to piss the voter off, like calling late at night or sending a rude message.

It's got so that I often don't answer surveys. Surveys are supposed to be anonymous, aggregating data but protecting the privacy of each respondent, and it's clear that a lot of them aren't doing that.

Now for the latest in dirty surveys. In the lead-up to the KW by-election tomorrow, I have been getting a ton of robo-survey-calls. They start with a voice saying they want to ask some questions about the by-election. The first question asks who I would vote for if the election were held today. I answer Eric Davis, the Liberal candidate. The second question asks me if I know that Dalton McGuinty is destroying the province. Then it abruptly hangs up and I get a bleeping busy signal.