Sunday, May 27, 2012

Is there a Market for a 'Premium Facebook Membership'?

With Facebook's IPO a week past and looking pretty lukewarm, it is a good time to look at their business model and explore whether or not there is a better alternative. Facebook essentially earns income through advertising and data mining. This model has worked in the past, with Google being the biggest success story, but even Google has spent the last three or four years expanding its business to include things as diverse as mobile phones, an operating system and virtual reality.
In the case of Facebook their greatest asset is not just the biggest social network in the world but one of the most engaged group of users ever conceived. Facebook's 2011 revenue was $4.27 billion which lead to a profit of approximately $1 billion. As of May 2012, according to Wikipedia, Facebook has about 900 million users; half of whom log in using mobile phones. Another way to break that down is to say that Facebook is earning a little more than $4 a year in revenue and $1 in profit per user.
With this in mind, is there a way for Facebook to generate more income and users to have a better experience on a subscription basis? That is to say, is there an annual fee high enough for Facebook to make more profit off a user through a subscription than through data mining and advertising while still being low enough that users would rather pay the fee to protect their data and remove advertising?
From Facebook's end how much would they need to generate for it to be a worthwhile venture? There are a few things to consider. Since data mining is a relatively new industry and presumably the geographical data gained from mobile connectivity will be more valuable than PC data and will lead to better advertising (for example a well-placed coupon for a restaurant 100m before you walk past it) Facebook would be reticent to accept a one time payout in the form of charging money for an app download. This may change as they produce more apps that work synergistically with Facebook but are outside of the core competency, like the messenger service, photo apps, etc. but for Facebook itself that does not seem likely. Likewise Facebook wouldn't want to risk alienating any user as Google+, among others, is just waiting for a major mistake on Facebook's part to jump in and be everyone's main networking tool.
So from Facebook side it would need to be a voluntary system - a two tiered website which at a fundamental level are not so different that those who are not paying for the premium service feel disenfranchised. There were reports of a Facebook test in New Zealand that allowed people to pay money to force their status through to all friends despite whether or not said friends had turned of status notifications from a particular user. Provided the users weren't spamming, or there was a limit on how many premium updates one is allowed per month, this is about the level of difference Facebook can get away with. Despite the marginal value of a single user being nearly zero (would you pay more to advertise on a site with 900,000,001 users vs. 900,000,000?), it is unlikely that Facebook would accept a rate of $4 gross which with, likely, lower marginal costs would lead to an equal or greater profit per user because the value of the company is based in this yet unknown but perceived future value of all this content being generated and the information that can be extracted from it. Since the majority of costs are probably marginal based on the user a fee of $1 per month would generate approximately $11 per premium user every year. That would mean if 10 percent of users signed up for premium service, Facebook would be earning as much from that group in subscription fees as they currently are generating site wide from all income streams.
From the user side, would this service be worthwhile at this price? That is difficult to say. The current advertisements do not bother me so if it merely turned off the tracking data and removed the advertisements I might not find it all that valuable. On the other hand, the newest form of advertising on twitter, where random tweets are found in your main feed, really bother me and I might be willing to pay some pittance to prevent that from happening on Facebook. Likewise there are plenty of users who take to Facebook to promote their side project, art work, political opinions, etc. who may find the idea of preferential treatment in the Facebook feed a valuable perk. Another perk that a lot of people might find alluring would be to have greater control and ownership of the content they upload and link to the site.
Facebook cannot try to force users to pay because users are their most valuable, albeit intangible, asset. That being said there is certainly room for this to be experimented with. Would I pay $12 a year for Facebook? Maybe.

Monday, May 14, 2012

An Economic Assault on Pascal's Wager as an Example of Skewness

I've recently heard a few people discussing the merits of Pascal's Wager on multiple podcasts, including my favourite call-in atheism podcast "The Atheist Experience". Pascal's wager is essentially a 2x2 game theory grid in which there are two choices (believe in god or don't believe in god) and there are two outcomes (there is a god and there isn't a god) with the equilibrium decision being that you should believe in god because it not only offers the greatest possible prize (heaven) but also offers a safer result in the case that you are wrong (a moral life vs hell). The following is from the Wikipedia page:

1. "God is, or He is not"
2. A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
3. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
4. You must wager. (It's not optional.)
5. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
6. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (...) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.

Choice God exists (G) God does not exist (~G)
Belief (B) +∞ (heaven) +1 (moral benefits)
Disbelief (~B) −∞ (hell) -1 (immoral consequences)

Now one thing I haven't seen is someone make an argument based on the economic principal of "skewness" against Pascal's Wager. Skewness is the idea that people are willing to risk something small for an exceptionally small chance at a very large reward. The most common examples are lotteries; people risk a couple of dollars for a small chance to win millions. When you calculate the odds of winning the jackpot it becomes painfully clear that the present value of your two dollar investment is nearly zero; that is to say that the odds of winning the jackpot are so slim that even though the wager is low and the maximum potential is high the risk involved (odds of winning) are so low that the jackpot divided by the likelihood of winning is nearly zero.
A simple demonstration would be this:
Ticket price: $2
Jackpot: $15,000,000
Odds: 1/100,000,000
Ignoring the complication of calculating how many tickets were sold and discounting the jackpot based on the odds that there are going to be more than one winning ticket (which actually makes the lottery even worse) you see that
$15,000,000/100,000,000= $0.15 or that your two dollar ticket is really only worth fifteen cents and your best option when it comes to the lottery is to not play.

So how does this relate to Pascal's Wager? Well it requires us to look at his supposed payouts one more time the issues should be clear:

Choice God exists (G) God does not exist (~G)
Belief (B) +∞ (heaven) +1 (moral benefits)
Disbelief (~B) −∞ (hell) -1 (immoral consequences)

It is probably fair to note that the benefits/costs of heaven/hell if there is a god is probably correct. Where the trouble lies in what he supposes are the costs and benefits to different decisions if the result is there is no god. If there is no god then why would the belief in a god and its moral code be a net benefit? Belief in god causes people to do all sorts of horrible things. These range from war and terrorism, subjugating women, disrespecting the environment and refusing to give gay people equal rights to wasting money on tithes, being unable to enjoy life because the way you were born conflicts with church teachings, potential psychological trauma caused by ignoring the biological urge to have sex well past puberty and wasting time studying incorrect science.
Likewise, disbelieving in god if there is no god, is very much a positive. It isn't immoral as Pascal says but rather an affirmation of freedom. When one accepts that he or she on average has less than 80 years on this planet life becomes precious. You appreciate everything, work toward freedom for everyone and aiding the environment because ultimately the only thing you have even close to immortality is your legacy. So in that way I would adjust the chart as follows:

Choice God exists (G) God does not exist (~G)
Belief (B) +∞ (heaven) -100 (self-righteous oppression)
Disbelief (~B) −∞ (hell) +100 (freedom and empathy)

The other very overt error in Pascal's Wager are the first two assertions:

1. "God is, or He is not"
2. A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.

This is a logical fallacy: Just because there are two possibilities doesn't mean they are equally likely. If I put 5000 red marbles and one blue marble in a leather pouch and draw a marble there are only two possibilities: I draw a red marble or a blue marble. This doesn't mean that because there are two possibilities they are equally likely outcomes. Do your own research on the next point, although it may end up being my next blog post, but I argue that the odds that there is a god (and beyond that there is not only a god but also the god you chose to believe and that you chose the correct way to worship him or her or it or they) is extremely small such that the best way to live is as though there isn't one.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Finding a New Big Man vs. Presidential Elections

Although elections around the world are increasingly a testament to who can raise the most money, the point is most clearly visible in America (although Harper has ended all public funding in Canada which seems to be one giant step in the same direction) where the supreme court has upheld the rights of corporations (which are people) to spend as much money (which is speech) as they so desire. When this is coupled with the fact that "Super PACs" can do all of this fundraising and advertising without even disclosing their donor list there is a situation where it is very clear that money buys elections.
Since elected officials owe their jobs to this system and are clearly skilled in the raising of funds, they have no incentive to bring about change. The supreme court doesn't seem to have any desire to change the system. The population as a whole seems quite apathetic to the issue. With all of this it is easy to believe that the system will continue for at least the foreseeable future.
My suggestion is to take a look at the nature of the "Big Man" from hunter gather societies for a new answer. I remember watching a movie called "Ongka's Big Moka" in a first year anthropology class that details how a tribe uses potlaching (gift-based economy) to decide who will be the next "Big Man" or the de facto leader of all the connected tribes. You can see part 1/7 below and click through on Youtube for the rest of the movie.

My suggestion is that American politics work in the same way. Start the four year election cycle with multiple candidates around America trying to use as much as their personal wealth as possible to secure donations from other people. As stronger candidates emerge others will undoubtedly capitulate and push all of their funds toward those stronger candidates in hopes of garnering some favour under the new regime. As divergent candidates arise people will undoubtedly donate what they can afford or as much as they are willing to, to whichever candidate they agree with the most. Admittedly there would still be a need for advertising as candidates grow strong enough to bring their campaigns to the national level but they would need to maintain a large surplus of wealth for their ultimate gift. Finally when one candidate manages to outshine all the rest, he or she would then take all of the funds they have remaining and disperse it evenly to the populous as a whole. At least then a large portion of the money raised would go to people who need it instead of large advertising and media firms. I don't know exactly how much the average person would receive but probably enough for a decent lunch for everyone in America. Not too shabby. The State of the Union address would get a lot more viewers if the President had to buy everyone a sandwich to eat during the speech.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Some Innocent Regicide

If England were to ever end their monarchy, which I hope they don't and doubt they will, it would be a real shame if they allowed the royal family to seek refuge in a foreign country nor would it be fair to force them to live out their existence in relative obscurity. It would be unfair and a missed opportunity.
The only fair thing to do would be to bring every member of the royal family to the chopping block in the Tower of London. The summary executions would make the perfect occasion for one final royal event complete with all the necessary pageantry.

These are the things I think about...

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Japan's Post-Disaster Social Upheaval

I read a lot about how Japan's social order hasn't broke down in the wake of a major earthquake, tsunami, nuclear disaster, thousands of aftershocks and an ongoing power shortage but I have to disagree. Signs of stress and social breakdowns are less extreme but easily visible.
In western cities drug abuse is blatant, thievery is rampant and gang violence isn't uncommon. When you consider this as the null state a social breakdown must mean mass riots, looting and a complete breakdown of the economy. Anything less wouldn't even register.
Japan, like many East Asian nations, is highly ordered. Rules are strictly enforced and breaking social or legal conventions is severely punished. Children learn from a young age to follow rules. As an elementary school teacher I can say that the overlying theme of primary education here is to produce Japanese adults. Education as we think of it , the three 'R's is incidental to creating another generation with the same values as their ancestors.
With that in mind one needs to pay more attention to see the break down of Japanese society. By comparison it seems ludicrous but some of the examples that come to mind are people are standing on the wrong side of escalators, more people are walking while smoking and some staples are still sold out at times. I have even heard discussion of government ordered changing of company dress codes to reduce energy use this summer.
It isn't the riots or looting we see during hurricanes in America but when you consider the starting points it is a similar escalation of anti-social behaviour.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Why you Should or Should not vote for Harper

A quick sample of my friends online activity shows that about a third of them vote conservative. About half of those are either voting conservative for the wrong reason or are unwilling to admit publicly why they are voting conservative. Many of my friends have business or economics backgrounds and flatly state they are voting conservative because the conservatives are better equipped to run an economy.
This, to paraphrase PM Harper, is simply not true. If we look historically the economies of Canada and America almost always grow quicker when the liberals or Democrats are in power. Furthermore the government tends to run a more balanced budget under left leaning governments.
This shouldn't be surprising when we think about the fact that most famous, well respected, Nobel prize winning, influential economists are all liberals. Right wing policies from supply-side economics to the trickle down theory have all been proven wrong. Even the bread and butter of almost all economic beliefs, that consumption taxes are more efficient-both in collection practice as well promoting savings-was flatly ignored by PM Harper, despite his economics background as he cut the GST as part of his platform in 2006.
Now if you are voting for the conservatives because of their Christian leanings, you have a moral belief that spreading wealth through taxation policy is wrong, you are anti-gay marriage or anti-abortion then you are voting conservative for the right reasons. Those last two might not be on the table now but only because it was the reason the Canadian Alliance lost their first two elections.
I would mention the irony of voting conservative for Christian reasons is that if you remember what Jesus preached about being charitable so perhaps the NDP are the most Christian. Although economically speaking they might create a welfare state that proves to be too heavy of a burden.
How did I vote? I voted for a local candidate, not a party. If I was in a different riding I would have voted for a different party. Likewise if we had a different system, proportional representation for example, I would have voted differently.
This isn't meant to be an attack on the conservatives, although I would love to see PM Harper out of power, but just to read a little deeper than the party's one line philosophy when you choose to vote.
There is no party I agree with completely. Despite living near a nuclear disaster I think that, unlike the Green party, it shouldn't be the first target in the energy industry for dismantling.
I like that the conservatives are offering money to subsidize sports and gym memberships. Another step would be a stronger Canada food guide. Ignatieff is an accomplished writer who would surprise most people if they actually read one of his books. He is the Canadian Noam Chomsky.
Anybody who completely rejects one Party's platform has fallen into the trap politicians set for you. If the other person came up with it, it must be bad.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Online Validation

I was thinking about the parking validation systems at a lot of malls in Tokyo and thought that it would be possible to adapt this system into a cross-promotional advertising program between Internet providers and major online stores. Essentially when you go to the mall you pay a certain amount per hour for using their parking garage. Now when you go to certain shops or restaurants within the mall you get a voucher to use toward your parking expense. Likewise when you spend a lot of money at the mall the amount of vouchers above the price of parking is voided as they are only valid on the day of purchase. Essentially people that use a mall's parking lot while downtown or plan to enjoy some window-shopping must pay for parking but those who have a shopping agenda can use the parking service for free or at a discounted rate.
My thought is that you could adopt this system online. With the onset of open ID accounts that allow people to use the same username to log onto multiple websites it would be possible to track a person's online shopping to give a discount toward their monthly Internet bill. People who consistently use the Internet to make purchases would see the websites they use paying some portion of their bill to keep the user online shopping more. Likewise someone who makes a single large purchase, like an airline ticket, might receive a free month of Internet but to limit the discount to reduce the cost incurred by the shop, the shopper would not be able to carry over any accumulated discount to the following month's bill. It would be possible for websites to make deals with specific Internet providers in each country or region which would allow local Internet providers to use these deals in advertising. I think you would also see a lot of companies offering an initial or first purchase discount with some lower discount on subsequent purchases. Likewise, with viral advertising and person to person advertising becoming so popular it would be possible to offer vouchers to those who refer their friends and peers to a particular website.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Why does Canada lag in its treatment of expatriates?

I have been living overseas for nearly four years now. As such I believe that between my personal experience, and the fact that I tend to research issues important to me to a nearly compulsive level, I am moving toward expert status with regard to my knowledge of not just the way the Canadian government views its expatriates but how contemporary countries treat their citizens living overseas.
The recent earthquake that hit Japan is the second major issue to afflict foreigners in Japan since I moved here. The first was the collapse of NOVA, a large employer of English language teachers. NOVA accounted for about half of the entire English language industry in Japan when I landed in Tokyo. It was also my first employer in the country. Within the next two months NOVA had gone bankrupt leaving about 5000 foreigners unemployed. This lead to the Australian government to offer its citizens flights home, New Zealand and England quickly added support to their citizens and it was finally America's influence that lead the Japanese government to offer us the same level of unemployment support as Japanese citizens. The Canadian government did nothing and as far as I was told by my friends and family back home this didn't even make news in Canada.
I am not comparing this to the tragedy that has befallen the whole of Japan with the recent earthquake but it is the only other case where foreign governments could have provided help, most that had affected citizens did and the Canadian government remained silent. The current position of Canada with regard to helping Canadians in Japan deal with potential radiation poisoning, according to the Canadian Embassy website,"Government of Canada offices abroad are not in a position to provide medicine or medical treatment to Canadian citizens who have chosen to travel or reside outside of Canada" is a complete farce. This is completely untrue. Canada is a wealthy country with a well funded government. The website should read "Government of Canada offices are unwilling to provide medicine or medical treatment to Canadian citizens who have chosen to travel or reside outside of Canada".
The notion, presumably, is that Canadians who can afford to travel to Japan can pay for their own radiation treatment or flights home. In fact this was explicitly echoed by Harper recently. "There continues to be a large scale normal, for the most part normal, commercial airline service from Japan so it people want to leave they have that option." This is not always the case. A lot of people teaching English in Japan live on very low incomes and subsist month to month on barely enough money to survive. This issue is compounded for anybody working as an assistant language teacher (ALT) at a government school because the January pay cheque is smaller due to the 3.5 week holiday over Christmas and New Years. When you add in that Japanese tradition dictates a monthly pay period it would be difficult for a lot of people to afford a flight home.
As for radiation treatment, potassium iodide (KI) is currently being purchased across the west coast of North America by people worried, rather absurdly, by the radiation cloud heading East across the Pacific via the jet stream. This same treatment is quickly being purchased in Japan to the point that it is nearly impossible to find. That is, assuming, one even has the ability to read enough Japanese to find medication.
For the moment I still think that it is premature to call for evacuation of foreign nationals or to hand out medication to all of a country's citizens. This is not, by any means, a cry for help. I am still confident that my decision to stay in Japan was the right choice. I also personally take a mutli-vitamin everyday that contains an appropriate amount of potassium iodide but there is a level of callousness being showed by the Canadian government that makes me sick.
My friend from Norway got a phone call from his ambassador a few hours after the earthquake to make sure he was OK. Further to that the Norwegian and British embassies hosted Q&A sessions with nuclear physicists to explain the situation in Fukushima. The UK embassy is also handing out free KI pills to all of its citizens and offering free or discounted flights out of the country. America has chartered flights for any citizens wishing to leave and giving people up to 90 days to pay back the price of the ticket. Meanwhile the price of an Air Canada flight to Canada has more than tripled since the earthquake. France and Germany have come out and told their citizens to leave the area. This is probably inappropriate and caused a lot of fear but at least it shows they care about people.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Japanese Parenting

I was walking home from work today and stumbled upon the following scene:
Yes. A child of about 2 years sitting in the middle of the road without an adult in sight. If you can't tell from my terrible camera work, the child is sitting in the middle of the one lane slightly hidden from the intersecting road by a large wall. Japanese people drive on the left side of the road so someone could make that short turn and not see the child because of the wall obscuring the view.
Now someone might point out that instead of helping the child I just walked by and took a photo and this is true but I would rather do that then say yell at the child to go home and be accused of trying to kidnap it or something.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hindu View on Overpopulation

If the Hindus are correct and the whole idea of reincarnation is true than wouldn't overpopulation and massive herds of cows be a sign that souls are being promoted at a higher rate? I mean lower species are disappearing at an accelerated pace while higher species, like us, are increasing quickly. Or if you look at the spread of much lower species like jellyfish and cockroaches than perhaps we can see an ever increasing divide between the karma rich and poor. This great divide needs immediate legislative intervention to close the karma gap.

Ex-Cop, Current Selfish Bitch, growing tobacco in New York

The New York Times ran a biopic on Audrey Silk, a retired police officer living in Brooklyn. Her complaint? The loss of smoker's rights and increased taxation of tobacco products. The solution? Growing her own tobacco in her backyard, cleaning the leaves in her kitchen and curing it in her basement.

I suppose I can start by saying that smokers have no rights and deserve no special treatment. Smoking is a choice. It is also something that can change. If a smoker is upset about being harassed or feels smoking is a hassle they can quit. It is not exactly the same thing as a sexual orientation or racial background. To argue that smokers deserve any special rights is ludicrous. All other qualities being equal, I would never hire a smoker because they waste time with excessive breaks.

If I lived in America, where health insurance is an issue, I would likely hire someone less qualified who doesn't smoke. Audrey Silk when contemplating the most recent New York smoking ban, this one disallowing public smoking in parks and on beaches, said this would make smoker's rights advocates "apoplectic" which is rather ironic because although it is used to describe someone in a rage it literally means someone afflicted by stroke a known risk of smoking. Coincidentally, the risk of stroke and other serious health risks, are the reasons that governments around the world are trying to reduce smoking rates through taxation and the impact of second hand smoke through public smoking bans.

With regard to this Audrey Silk argues "They’re using the power of taxation to coerce behavior. That’s not what taxation is supposed to be for.” I would say, no Audrey, this is exactly how taxation should be used. When companies or people consume products that have a negative affect on other people, through pollution, health risks or social nuisance the government has a duty to charge a tax equal to those costs, often referred to as externalities, as a way to compensate those who have to deal with the negative consequences of that consumption. Taxing loud night clubs, tobacco, alcohol, carbon emissions, etc. have both the short term benefit of raising funds to compensate victims as well as also reducing long term consumption of those products that society deems an unnecessary burden.

Smoking by its very nature is a selfish action. It is something that people who care more about a small amount of personal enjoyment than upsetting countless people in their vicinity. For this reason it was not surprising that later Audrey added

"The authorities, she added, should not be concerned that she might be illegally selling her cigarettes.

“I make meatballs,” Ms. Silk said, by way of explanation. “My recipe is a four-hour ordeal. My biggest loved ones do not get any. When I have to put a lot of work into something, I don’t share.”"

Finally just a small thing. Audrey argues that her tobacco farming is a big middle finger to the authorities to which I wonder if, perhaps, at some point in time as a police officer if she didn't give the tazer to some person for literally doing what she now promotes. Audrey Silk, fuck you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Application Complication

I purchased an iPhone in September (on a side note my bill has been reduced by 60% over my previous phone which means it has been the best investment I have ever made) and have been downloading applications, or apps as the kids say, ever since. I now have around 60 apps on my phone. As the number of apps I possess increases I am starting to find classification more and more difficult.

When you have 24 or less apps arrangement is simple and folders are unnecessary. Keeping the top 12 apps, by usage, on the front page and the remainder on the last page you have a relatively simple sort. Within the front page you could arrange the apps any number of ways, by colour of symbol, alphabetically, usage, order of download, the default, etc. but all amount to the same basic thing since you can see all the apps simultaneously when you open the screen.

As I continued to download more applications and finding that three screens worth of apps would not be practical I decided to start sorting my apps into folders. When considering how to group apps the iPhone is quite intelligent in guessing names for folders - not only predicting generic titles like games or education but also more specific groups like card games or board games - but the fact is a lot of applications serve more than one purpose.

Do I put's app in with the health section along with my weight tracker and exercise video library apps, my social section because I use the bodybuilding forums or with other apps that connect to online shopping websites?

Does Google's application go with social apps because it connects me to my Gmail, reference section with Wikipedia or in utilities because it is a search engine and train map?

Once you have decided to go with folders, is it worth keeping the four or five most used items on the dashboard for easy access or will that upset your sense of order? Another issue I have found with using folders is that I am less likely to cull my apps and delete the ones that I find useless if they are hidden in a seldom used folder.

In deciding how to separate my apps that appear to fit into more than one category I have managed to avoid the pit that is to add more and more folders to the point that their function has been lost. I chose to place the apps together based on the function that I associate with the app the most. For both the examples above it has placed them along with Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter in the social folder. Finally new downloads remain on the second page, not in a folder, for a short period of time until I deem them useful and place them in a folder or summarily delete them.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rep. Louie Gomhert (R, Texas)

Mr. Gomhert is attempting to pass legislation to allow congressmen the right to wear concealed weapons in Washington. In light of the tragedy in Arizona, where many people blame over sized 30 round clips for amplifying the carnage, Mr. Gomhert decided to go on FOX to stand up for the constitutional right to bear arms by saying
"It's not the spoons that make people fat and it's not the guns that kill people, it's people that kill people.""
Although in simplest terms this may be true but I will say that it would be far more difficult for me to manage my diet if I used a ladle instead of a spoon.

Friday, November 05, 2010

How the Tea Party can help American Democracy

With the conclusion of the 2010 midterm elections in America showing that the Tea Party is a very real movement, the question is how will they shape American politics. Widely viewed as a product of the Republican party, though self identifying as a nonpartisan small government movement, the Tea Party has gained key seats in both the upper and lower houses. Although I personally disagree with much of their views the way they expanded so quickly, utilizing Fox News among other outlets and general discontent, is commendable. I think that the Tea Party has an opportunity to strengthen American democracy over the next two years.
If the Tea Party wants to solidify their gains and attract people from both sides of the aisle they need to formally separate from the GOP. Forming a new party between now and the next presidential election would do more for Washington than the Democrats and Republicans could do combined. America is in desperate need of a new party. The two party system is no longer viable. Adding a strong third party, with members already elected to both the Senate and Congress which gives them a legitimacy that no other third party has, would revitalize American politics. With the backing of Fox News it is likely the Tea Party's presidential candidate would get a lot of press coverage and possibly even a podium at the debates.
With a third party in the mix it is not far fetched to believe that there would soon be a fourth or fifth party on the scene. A solid Green party who advocates for clean energy, universal health care and social justice would help America clean their tarnished image. With two parties on both the left and the right, the government and it's policies would naturally move to the centre.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

World Vision

I noticed a "World Vision" sign on the train last night. Instead of the standard "For the price of a cup of coffee..." it had "for the price of your daily bottle of water..." you can feed a child in Africa. This really started me thinking about the implications. First, did the signs and TV commercials in Canada change too? Second, is this just a comment on how the modern person drinks a bottle of water everyday?
But if we go deeper what are the implications? I mean if we think about coffee and look at the countries where coffee is produced we see what? To find the area for a coffee plantation, massive rain forests are razed. People in these countries often have limited human rights, but conversely coffee in some notable regions (think South America or Southeast Asia) coffee production is the alternative to producing narcotic drugs.
Whereas bottled water has its own environmentally destructive legacy. Not only is the delivery of bottled water versus tap water clearly indicate loads more emissions but where companies find the water is often untouched wilderness which is essentially bulldozed over to put down a factory. When we think of the plastics we can't help but think about the oil used to make the plastics. Where does oil come from? countries that harbour terrorists and refuse women rights to do anything.
When you balance out the two I think it is clear that coffee is better for the world than bottled water. So is World Vision changing their stance to also try to get people to subliminally reduce their bottled water intake? Perhaps a good message but done in a horrible way.
So when World Vision asks you for the price of a bottle of water a day instead of the price of a coffee a day don't buy into their propaganda unless this is just a nod to the fact that in a post Star Bucks world the price of a coffee is no longer affordable.

Rekindling the Flame

I haven't written many posts recently. The main reason being that the blog had served its purpose. I was using the blog to rant about things that I found it difficult to do in person, mainly because of a feeling of isolation. That feeling passed as I moved to a larger city, learned more Japanese, started work at two companies with a social edge, etc. But now I have discovered a new purpose to blog; to hone my writing skills. I am currently looking to do a Masters of Education then follow it with an MBA. To do an MBA you must write the GMAT which includes an essay component. I am hoping that by writing blog posts I will increase my score on the written portion of that test. My goal is to write a blog every few days.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Obesity Leads to Bullying

This newest post in my recently obesity focused blog is discussing a new study. Dr. Lumeng at the University of Michigan discovered that above all other possible indicators (income level, social skills, race, academic prowess, etc) obesity is by far the most likely to cause a child to be bullied. Obesity increases the odds a child will be bullied by 63 percent. The research was found to be so groundbreaking it will be featured in the journal Pediatrics.
Honestly why do people even bother looking at stuff like this? Since joining academia have they so fully removed themselves from society that they cannot remember their own childhood? Fat people get beat up. If we spent half the money used on stupid research to buy vegetables for these kids, there wouldn't be obese people.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

American Obesity Epidemic

According to a new report made by a group of retired American military officers school lunch programs are making kids fat. Obesity has become the number one reason why potential military recruits are denied entry. Although current recruitment quotas are being met (mostly because certain convicts are now allowed to join and a lack of a high school education is not necessarily a deal breaker) this could cause problems in the future. Finally a good reason to fight childhood obesity; because diabetes and other health concerns are not.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Teenage Pregnancy: My Selfish Gene Theory

I have been reading "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins recently. Considering my knowledge of genetics is rudimentary at best and my understanding of evolution is not much better I felt that it would be worth reading into these fields so I could hold my own in a conversation. I am about two thirds of the way through the book and it is enlightening. I shouldn't really call it a book I suppose, it is more like one huge argument by someone who is extremely arrogant and self important. That being said the argument is compelling and in the field of Ethnology, Dawkins is quite important. I am not sure if I want to read his newer books about religion because having seen his rants in movies like Religulous or on The Colbert Report, I cannot distinguish his view from that of Evangelicals. He is essentially an evangelical atheist. I don't care for those people on the fringe who have no interest in listening.
The interesting thing about The Selfish Gene is it doesn't just explain how using the gene as the evolutionary unit that evolution would take place but gives you the tools to think in a genetic-based-evolution way. By the third chapter when he frames a new experiment you cannot help but stop reading for a few minutes and think about the puzzle and try to use the tools gained thus far to work out a solution. It really teaches a new way to think. It isn't long before you start thinking about other things with regard to the selfish gene. So here is my completely uneducated evolutionary stable idea:

If we assume that men and women are dirt sluts until marriage and after marriage are wholly monogamous, then it stands to reason that evolution would favour genes that promote premarital pregnancy since after marriage if one partner is not virile/fertile than neither person can procreate. Whereas those who seek to impregnate/be impregnated before this switch in sexual behaviour from filthy sluttery to monogamy will be more likely to produce offspring.

Thursday, November 05, 2009


Traveling around Academic Earth, which is a sweet website unto itself, I discovered a site called Kiva. For those of you who have never heard of Academic Earth, it is a website that has viewable lectures from a number of top rated schools in America. Among them are Princton, Yale, Harvard, MIT, Stanford, etc. Profs agree to have individual courses filmed and put online so people can watch them for free. The website lacks an interactive component where members can discuss the course but hopefully that changes in the future. I am currently watching a course from Berkeley called "Current Issues in International and Area Studies". This course is just a series of guests. The guests all seem to be pretty decent thus far which is good because the Prof kind of sucks.
Anyways Kiva, introduced by one of the guest speakers of the aforementioned course, is a website that helps hook people up with individuals in the third world who require micro finance loans to start their businesses. The pay back rate is about 97.5% which means that if someone were to look at the website as a donation system and not an investment it would mean for $500 you could be doing the equivalent of about $20000 worth of help. A lot of the entrepreneurs on the website seem to have genuinely decent ideas and the website has a decent track record from what I read. I haven't signed up yet, though I think it is a possibility. I urge anyone interested in the world of micro financing to take a look even if it is only out of interest. The minimum loan increment is $25, a lot of the loans guarantee against currency risk and many of the organizations have a long term perfect record. You could probably help out many people while the initial $25 remaining safe.
FYI, There are 'communities' on Kiva that allow you to both communicate with like minded people and coordinate your loans for the maximum benefit of a particular segment (gender, nationality, industry, etc.). Within these communities the group who has lent the most money? "Atheists, Agnostics, Skeptics, Freethinkers, Secular Humanists and the Non-Religious" with a distant second being "Kiva Christians".

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Free flights for baby and mother a bad precedence

A child was born recently on an AirAsia flight. To celebrate this, the airline offered the newborn and mother free flights for life. Does this not seem like it will lead to a load of cunning pregnant women to board planes when they are too far along with the hopes of scoring some free airline tickets? Perhaps I am overly cynical thinking that a mother would put the health of both herself and her unborn child at risk in the hopes of giving birth in the sky but, I think it would be hard to argue that at least some women out there did not read this news like a how-to guide.
All other airlines should produce a press release condoning these actions and reiterating their policy limits on how pregnant someone can be on their flights to preempt any of these attempts.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

How to end global warming the horrible way

Now I say all of this tongue and cheek. That is to say I do not necessarily think that this will work, nor do I suggest people follow my advice but try to see within the content the point that I am trying to make, which is, that by and large any problem in the world today is essentially the fault of the baby boomers. I am not forgiving the transgressions of people born prior to the baby boom nor am I saying those who are younger are all innocent and just hapless victims of the social and environmental ills we see but simply that as an over-sized group-I am referring to both their waists individually and their numbers en mass-of people who were among the first to wield an influence great enough to affect the whole globe that they are the ones who are most at fault.
It is our (assuming the average reader is similar in age to myself) parents generation who, benefiting from years of unprecedented growth-mostly because of a legal structure that ignored things like environmental degradation or human exploitation-learned to take joy in excess. Whereas our grandparents found social acceptance in being as frugal as possible-because of the depression or to help the war effort-our parents find acceptance in keeping up with the Jones. I am not speaking about my family nor about any individuals but rather about a demographic group. These baby boomers have managed to take all that their progenitor's squirreled away and spent it, along with their personal earnings and since that wasn't enough to satiate their hunger, they are now taxing the future as well. I laugh at middle aged people on right wing shows, like the programming on Fox News, who mention these issues when they speak about government bailouts while ignoring that it is their generation who is causing all of the problems.
Now my suggestion is simple. Withhold love to your individual parents regardless of whether or not you think they are to blame. Redirect all of your affection toward your grandparents because they were the models of frugality that perhaps the world needs. See how long it takes the leaders of your nation to enact government policies to help correct these problems when you are bartering with their child's love.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Classic TV on Youtube

For whatever reason people have chosen to upload classic television shows to Youtube and for even less of a reason I have chosen to watch some of it. TV sucked back then. It had no edge, no meaning, was overtly religious and the fact that the show had no long term storyline meant that nothing exciting could happen and reasonably be concluded inside a 20 minute time slot.
One of the shows I have been watching recently is Family Matters. It is the perfect show to watch while studying since you only need to watch about 30 seconds an episode to know what is happening and watching anymore is actually detrimental to your enjoyment. Anyways one of the things I noticed is that Judy (Jaimee Foxworth - who is actually a porn star now FYI), the youngest sister, was just written out of the show without warning. If I were writing the show I would have had a conversation like this later on...
Harriette (mom): I sure miss Judy around the Christmas season
Laura (older sister): Yeah, to bad she got herself addicted to heroin and was stabbed to dead on skid row last year.
...or something like that to give the viewer an explanation. Make it really casual, like regular conversation, then move on the the stupid clown-like humour of Steve Urkel as though nothing was said. Now that is comedy.

Obama Talks to the Children

President Obama is celebrating the new school year with a speech directed at the all the grade 7-12 children in America. The topic of his speech will revolve around the future of education, staying in school and inspiring the children [to do what?]. Not surprisingly this speech has garnered a lot of criticism from the right. Jim Greer, Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, is quoted as saying:

"The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the President's agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President's initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates."

This comment is pure hilarity. By saying that the kids will be ostracized if they disagree with the president, he is conceding the fact that the vast majority of children and educators alike already support the president and his mandate, therefore it is not necessary to try and 'obligate' the children to agree with his reforms; whatever that means. Thank you Mr. Concession.

One of the user comments following the article on the yahoo! news server really shows how ludicrous the arguments against Obama's speech really are;

""I sent my children to school to be educated NOT indoctrinated." — justamom"

The author, a concerned [albeit retarded] mother, is worried that her children will somehow be mesmerized by Obama's speech and become some sort of Democrat-for-life. To this I would say that the whole point of the education system is to indoctrinate the youth. Now, admittedly, my personal experiences come from Canada, but I think in general the process is the same around the world. Taken to the extreme we have the religious schools who are clearly there just to turn out a new generation of worshipers but, all schools are trying to produce a group of kids who will vote in a block. I cannot think of how many times I heard teachers say things like "If the Conservatives win, that is it, I am retiring. I don't need another four years of their BS" (Mr. Cinani said that one specifically for anyone who went to my high school; though similar things were muttered by most teachers).
Why do teachers do such things? Because of a moral rectitude? No. At a Catholic school most teachers would be morally obliged to vote for the Conservatives (though I disagree with the logic), so it is clear that it is out of their own self interest. Since Liberals (and Democrats) tend to support teachers with higher pay, more resources and most prep time, supporting them at all costs is a great way to have their workload lightened while simultaneously increasing their pay.

Let the president speak, have faith that your children will consider what he has to say and make their own decisions as to its validity, and accept that this is the nature of the education system. Besides, most high school students will be legally able to vote in the next federal election and should start watching politics now so that they are a) politically interested and want to vote and b) have gained some immunity to the tripe that spills out of the mouths of most politicians and have built up a filter to tell the difference between rhetoric and reality.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Nanananananana Flame Wars (you know like the Bat man theme)

Decided to post a complaint (written below) about the shoddy writing of an article in the Washington Post. The story was about how men like the A/C lower than women. Because that is news. Anyways the guy made a comment about how "women are from Venus and men are from Freon". Leave the humour for the intelligent. Anyways below is what I wrote.

You are pretty much the worst writer I have ever seen linked to the Yahoo home page. This includes the immense amount of ticker writers based in non-English speaking countries.
Why would you go with the men are from Mars, women are from Venus comparison then change it to Freon? Clearly the analogy fits considering how hot Venus is and how cold Mars is.
You could have said this in a different way or made it a literal statement but you chose to add your own wit only to find it is lacking.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


So I realized that today is the 10th anniversary of me getting my learner's permit. Man am I old?! Also My Birthday is 3/16 and as of today I am 316 months old. Is that crazy or what? I mean to sit down and think about something like that on the day that it comes due.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Bad birthday present or worst present ever?

Japanese people are extremely rude about weight. I think it is one of the reasons why they are so small on average. Imagine school yard bullying that lasts your whole life. Well on my last birthday I experienced this first hand. Someone who wanted to buy me a birthday present asked me what I want. I told her I didn't want anything; we aren't exactly friends and frankly I did not want to feel obligated to reciprocate. Although in hindsight the gift I received would be nice to replicate. She asked me if I wanted a belt so I said alright (my current 100 yen shop belt was fraying). Afterward she asked me what my waist size is and I told her 32. It is actually 31 but I prefer 32 belts because they tend to cover the 30-34 range which is where I have been for the last decade. It makes me feel better knowing that I can gain and lose weight without worrying about buying new clothes, I suppose. She then told me that I was lying and bought a 38 belt for me. The smallest hole is a 34 which is currently far too big to be useful. This is not surprising given the fact that she has taken it upon herself to call me "metabolic" recently which is Japanese English for fat. To this I say it is like the cow calling the horse obese. So I ask you bad present or worst present?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Response to The Economist's Online Debate

"This house believes that retirement in its current form should be abolished."

Dear Madam,

The current pension system is in shambles. Developed nations around the world are slowly going bankrupt trying to cope with more people exiting the workforce through retirement than entering it; less workers caring for more retirees. This is worsened by the fact that life expectancy is rising which means that they are collecting their pensions far longer than before. One option is to abolish the legal maximum age of employment. This would allow people to continue working thereby adding more to government pension plans and withdrawing less. This looks great on paper.
However if we chose to abolition maximum retirement ages there are some caveats to consider. Those who will be least willing to retire are high ranking executives, essentially closing off the best jobs to the more efficient youth. Especially in the world now, everyone needs to be aware that anybody born a few years after them will be more integrated in the global digital system than his or her elder. I am sure everybody under 30 has experienced their boss spending hours explaining how to do some 'new' technique in Excel just to think about how you figured that out yourself in high school or university. Perhaps in the past it was necessary to keep the older people on hand as long as possible because of the nature of education through apprenticeship. Not to mention until about 1800 technology did not change nearly as quickly so the longer a person practiced his or her trade the better they would be at it; they didn't have the concern that at some point down the line everything will be different and they will have to learn the whole system again.
This could also lead to a greater concentration of wealth. If a parent can stay active in a company as a senior executive long enough, it makes it much easier to pass on the position by nepotism to their child; despite a 20 or 30 year age difference. Especially when you add to the fact that salaries and bonuses are quickly rising in their share of the remunerations the wealthy receive. If people were able to collect these funds for an extra 10 - 15 years think about how many more legacies there would be.
Anybody who has given up on his delusions of grandeur but has enough savings to afford him or herself a reasonable retirement will opt to do so instead of working a menial, dead-end job with little chance of further promotion. Add to this list people who work physical labour, or are in decent unions, and have the option to retire early for a percentage of their full pension. Add the people who barely make their respective national governments stipend.
When considering such a radical change one must consider who it will benefit. Simply allowing people the chance to work longer will not necessarily lead to them doing so. Since anybody can chose to retire at any age up to the limit already, perhaps they will still do so. Those who do keep working may not necessarily be the people we had hoped would continue.
Will this measure be fair and proportional? It doesn't appear so. In fact it is likely that this would be the first step in destroying a pension system that millions of people rely on. If the maximum retirement age is raised, will the minimum age to receive a pension decrease? Do we chose to coax people back into working with some tax benefit?

View the whole Debate here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Stupid Formulaic TV

I recently watched the first episode of a new TV show, "Royal Pains" and boy was I pissed. This had to have been the most formulaic show ever conceived. Basically the plot is this:
A doctor is fired from a New York City hospital because a Trustee died under his care, following this his fiance leaves him and he finds himself poor and alone. His brother decides to take him to some swank party in the Hamptons where he manages to save some person's life. This promptly lands him the role as 'concierge doctor' to the Hamptons.
Or put another way, Time Magazine's 50 Hottest Guy Alum who hates rich people and has an attitude is dragged by his brother, of "Road Trip" fame, to the Hamptons to interact with the rich. His keen skills and inability to play by the rules are 'House-like'. The Hamptons are in the throws of their beach season which makes it appear very much like the "Beverly Hills 90210" of old or "The O.C.". In fact the whiny song at the end falls just short of going "New York here we come" in a complete rip off of Phantom Planet's tune at the start of "The O.C.".
So we have the doctor drama mixing with the rich people with the rebel from out of town genres meeting in what will probably end up being the most popular show in America ever! It's not surprising that this show was written by two staff writers. Clearly no outside creative force was necessary to come up with this. Also the question of how can people get away with this type of drivel is clearly that it is actually what the average person wants.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Lottery

A young, poor, rancher boy in America has won one of the largest lottery prizes ever. Now in some ways it seems really nice that someone from one of the poorest counties in America has won the lottery but that is just the surface.
The real travesty is that someone who has allegedly had to rely on the kindness of his town's folk for charitable aide would feel it prudent to spend $15 on lottery tickets. In reality if everyone were to be rational only the absolutely wealthy would win the lottery: they are the only people that have the disposable income to waste on things like lottery tickets.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Michael Pollan

Michael Pollen's newest book has really changed my opinion about food. I think that I am someone who is more conscious of what I eat than the average person. Although I am not the healthiest person, nor do I consume only the best foods but I am someone who thinks about what I am going to consume and am generally aware of what I am eating. Even before reading this I have thought that the level of processing is a better indicator of a food's healthiness than how much of each of the macro nutrients it includes.
The first piece of advice that ever took to heart about being healthy was to shop only on the periphery of a supermarket; the produce, bakery, dairy, and meat sections of the store while avoiding the centre aisles. Although Michael Pollan argues this is a good starting point he warns that "You are what you eat, eats too". In this respect the meat that we consume is far less healthy than it was before. Now, like people, our cattle is living off of seeds. Most of the animals we husband (can you say that?) are now raised on a high calorie diet of grains instead of its natural diet of grasses slowly consumed over a day of grazing. The fact that our animals are now eating food with more calories and a less rich spread of micro nutrients and who knows what else, after all we do not yet know everything in our food that people actually use and what is turned into waste (I mean shit), means we cannot expect modern cattle to be has good for you as say the meat 50 years ago.
The other thing that is worrisome is what comprises our food. Have you looked at the ingredients label on something like yogurt or bread? These are foods that our species has been consuming for thousands of years with positive results. But now these products have all sorts of crazy things in it. This all comes from the repeal of an American law regarding food standards
The 1938 Imitation Rule (repealed in 1973) "There are certain traditional foods that everyone knows, such as bread, milk and cheese, and that when consumers buy these foods, they should get the foods they are expecting... if a food resembles a standardized food but does not comply with the standard, that food must be labeled as an 'imitation'." Reinstating this law would be a good step toward reducing obesity.
This is what worries me about eating now; even if you stick to what appears to be whole foods you are not necessarily consuming real food stuffs. Is it possible to avoid all of the chemicals?
What if you decide to try for the more natural approach of free range? "'Free range' doesn't necessarily mean the chicken has had access to grass; many egg and broiler producers offer their chickens little more than a dirt yard where nothing grows."
Michael Pollen finally summarizes our human condition by stating, "The human animal is adapted to, and apparently can thrive on, an extraordinary range of different diets, but the Western diet, however you define it, does not seem to be one of them"
A really easy and interesting read. As an added bonus, there are a lot of interesting resources available at the back and I recommend it to everyone.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Last Call

I recently returned to Canada to visit family and friends. While home I invariably went out to the bars and noticed something immediately: last call. Last call is something I have not had to deal with in Japan. I believe the intent of last call is to help monitor the behavior of Canadians. My guess is the assumption is this "if bars cannot serve alcohol after 2:00, people will drink less and go home earlier thereby reducing the harmful externalities of drinking". Now in reality I think the story goes more like this: People see they have a limited time to drink so they ply themselves with alcohol early to guarantee themselves a healthy glow by the end of the evening. The fact that they are drinking quickly means they almost certainly over consume because they do not give the alcohol time to work its magic before drinking even more. Then at 2:00 a whole slew of inebriated people are set loose at the same time where they can interact; causing damage to nearby property, inflicting pain on themselves and others, drive under the influence (surrounded by others doing the same), have (I am assuming) unprotected sex and eat a bunch of highly suspect street meat to the detriment of their GI tracts.
Whereas in Japan, if you want to go to a club until 6 or 7 (or 8 or 9), it is wise to be quite parsimonious with the alcohol to make sure you aren't the guy sleeping in the corner of the club. Not to mention you have no need to drink quickly so you almost always know when you have had enough. People filter out of the club evenly throughout the night so the streets are never overrun by the drunkards.
I ask you, which system is better?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Ben Stein

I recently watched Ben Stein's movie about intelligent design. I thought it would be entertaining to watch; mostly in an ironic way. That being said I went in with low expectations about its core arguments for intelligent design. But when I watched the teaser online, back when it was first being released, it was portrayed more as a documentary looking into why there isn't a debate between intelligent design and evolution as opposed to, what it turned out to be, an argument for intelligent design.
From the onset his arguments were weak at best and hypocritical at worse:
If you do not know exactly how life first came into existence doesn't it make sense that God (with emphasis on the singular form of the noun) create it? This of course ignores the further issue of how did said God come into existence?
I enjoyed the fact that the priests interviewed argued that religion should not supplant science and that the Catholic Church has reconciled itself with modern science; including evolution.
I will say Richard Dawkins is a douche. I am in possession of at least one of his books but am not really sure if I want to read it anymore.
Ben Stein's mocking tone of some of the theories about how life first came into being is hardly appropriate for a documentary and really puts him on par with Bill Maher; not a compliment.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Earth Hour: Waste of Time

According to the Orrilia Packet, one of the best newspapers from Northern Ontario (ha ha), Earth Hour was a colossal waste of time. Apparently it produced a 'negligible' reduction of Ontario's carbon footprint. Like most hippie plans it was a lot more showy than worthwhile to begin with, but it could have done a load of good for our energy supply.
In the long run this, now, annual event could encourage people to conserve everyday. There are many ways to conserve energy with no impact on our standard of living.
But anyways, the power companies coped with the reduced demand for electricity by reducing the amount of hydroelectric energy produced. Since this is one of the greenest energy sources, though conservationist may not agree, there was no reduction in the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere.
How is it that with so many people around the world wanting to participate in Earth Hour, Ontario energy companies didn't respond by reducing their dirtiest energy for the duration?

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Xmen Wolverine philosophy

Okay so I just watched Xmen Origins: Wolverine via the Internets. It was pretty cool. Actually it was a pre-release edition so not all of the editing was complete. There were editor notes throughout and much of the CGI was unfinished. Anyways, this experience has led me to a philosophical question that I would like to pose:

"Being invincible necessarily limits a person to a single, predisposed, hair style for life"


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Buying panties in Saudi Arabia

Saudi women are finding themselves in an uncomfortable situation. Because of the laws forbidding women from working, they find themselves having to buy their panties from men. This is further exacerbated by the fact that women are not allowed to leave the house without a husband, brother or father in tow.
According to the article, ""Even in such open regions as the U.S. and Europe, men do not sell underwear to women," said store manager Husam al-Mutayim, a 27-year-old Egyptian. "I don't let any of my female relatives buy underwear from men. It's just too embarrassing.""
I wonder how these women would feel about the knowledge that in Japan people can not only buy their panties from a vending machine but they can also buy the used panties of a
school girl.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Rush Limbaugh

I am surprised that no one has killed Rush Limbaugh. First, I am not recommending it, I do not think that murder is ever justified, nor do I think that I would ever go as far as to say, someone deserves to be killed.
That being said a large portion of highly partisan and hugely influential people have been killed. Some of these people were more polite and reserved than Limbaugh. Some were less known than Limbaugh. Certainly most upset a smaller group of people than Limbaugh.
When I think of someone like MLK being shot while Limbaugh doesn't even need to live in fear, I get quite cynical. The NRA is a very right wing organization, Limbaugh is far to the right and MLK was far to the left. Of course political killings will be from the right to the left. They have the guns!
On the other hand, MLK was really a single argument man. He just wanted civil rights and equality. Limbaugh is not just partisan on every possible issue you can think of but also rude in so many ridiculous ways. Think about how he mocked Michael J. Fox for having Parkinson's disease. Surely some NRA people have mothers with Parkinson's disease?
It is a testament to the nature of America, for better or for worse, that nobody has shot Limbaugh. What should we take from this? Perhaps we can be the optimist and say that America has just become safer for political dissent, that freedom of speech is more cherished and people are more democratically enabled to say what they think without fear of persecution. I imagine MLK would prefer that story. Though, you can't help but think its because Limbaugh is a right wing fanatic and not a left wing fanatic.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Academic Earth

Academic Earth is one of the coolest websites I have seen in awhile. It is a new start up from some recent Yale (I think?) graduate. Essentially, many Ivy League schools film their lectures and put them on their website. That way a student who has missed a class can watch the podcast. Some of these classes are given weak copyright protection so that someone can use and distribute the video, provided they do not exploit them for profit. Well this Yale Alum decided to collect the videos available and put them on a single website. People are able to watch videos on a variety of different subjects coming from highly regarded universities including MIT, Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Berkley. As of right now there are perhaps 100 full courses on the website but I am sure in the future there will be a lot more. There is a clear bias toward economic and political topics that is probably because the founder was a business grad. From what I have seen so far, I think that Princeton may have the best professors around; though there is a very famous physicist from MIT with videos online.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Accidental Theorist - Paul Krugman

This book is amazing. It is a little dated (at times it discusses the possibility of a European currency) but the essence of the book still rings true. The book, published after Bush's first electoral victory, discusses a myriad of issues, not the least being the folly of Reagan's supply side economics. The book comprises about 30 shorts originally written for a few American newspapers and an online newspaper called Slate. Although Krugman is no longer writing for Slate it has a list of all his previous articles. There are also many other prominent liberal academics who currently write for, or have written in the past for, Slate. Krugman attempts to discuss economic theory using plain language that is designed to be understood by lay people.
If you would like to get two birds stoned at once, that is to say read one of the essays that epitomizes his style and check out the very cool Slate magazine, do so by clicking here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

13 year old boy dies skiing

A Korean exchange student in Toronto died while on a ski trip to Snow Valley with his school. After the accidental death of the boy it was revealed that an $8 provision on the permission slip for the rental of a helmet may have saved his life. After the fact one parent said that she assumed helmets were mandatory. Why would someone say that? It's so clearly bullshit. Who reading this wore a helmet, or saw someone wearing a helmet, when we went skiing as kids? I can't for the life of me think of ever seeing someone on a ski trip wearing a helmet. I know that with the crazy style of snowboarding that is getting popular helmets are becoming more fashionable but they are certainly not to the point that a school board would make them mandatory. These parents are probably in their late thirties or early forties and should be thinking about when they went skiing. Were ski helmets even invented when they were kids?
Further to that the school board is defending its permission form with the opt in helmet program by arguing that parents carefully read permission forms and therefore were aware of the provisions. I highly doubt this too! Did your parents sit down and read all of your forms or just ask you what it was for? Did they even ask what it was for before signing it? Nothing like tragedy to bring out the worst in people.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

$75B for the stupid and careless

President Obama just announced a new $75 billion plan to help people who would otherwise have their homes foreclosed. It would be geared toward those individuals who have a mortgage greater than the current value of their home.
I am not one to support government intervention. I think that generally the government should only use taxation in its fiscal policy. That is to say it should influence the market only as far as varying tax rates can achieve. It should only help obtain economic equality with progressive taxation. That being said I do concede that, at times, expansive policy and grants may be necessary; that is to say the least bad policy. So in that respect I do not go as far as to feel my anti-intervention beliefs are a moral imperative.
So how do I feel about this? Well I will say that I like a lot of the major Obama stimulus package. Working to increase the national capital should pay off in the long run. For example, renewing the National Defense Network, along with other infrastructure, should help America regain part of their competitive advantage. It will create construction jobs now and more permanent jobs in the future. Putting money into research for future technologies including renewable energy resources should keep America at the forefront of technological improvement. So the main stimulus plan is, generally, well designed.
But I have a hard time liking this new stimulus plan. I understand that millions of people losing their homes could have an adverse affect on the economy. Further to that it may cost even more money in welfare and homeless shelters and all of the other burden on the social safety net associated with homelessness, than to keep them in their houses. All the same this plan is essentially the same as bailing out the banks. It is rewarding the careless and stupid; those who did not save money and/or bought houses out of their means with very small down payments. It sets up a bad precedence for the future: don't worry about saving or taking care of yourself because the state helps those who screw themselves.
The banks, in theory, employ those with a strong understanding of the economy to help turn a profit. So they should have known better than to lend to anyone who wanted to borrow. Further transforming said high risk loans into low risk derivatives was not kosher. But you cannot ignore the individuals who sought out these loans. Its not as though bankers accosted people on the street with sacks of money and a repayment schedule.
Its also not entirely the Bush administrations fault on the government side. Frannie Mae and Freddie Mac were encouraged to lend to anyone who wanted to buy a house by Democrats as a way of closing the gap of the Plebs and Plutocrats (working class and investing class; stray cats and fat cats; proletariat and bourgeoisie; ad nauseum).
This is also why housing prices shot up so quickly. Basically because of a new policy from Washington, the number of potential purchasers ballooned in an instant. This excess demand increased the value of homes across America. It also led to a construction boom which has now led to an excess of residences.
This is the folly of grandiose government policies. Something as innocuous as an attempt to raise up the poor in America helps crash the global economy. What could this current policy do? Well if I were a person whose mortgage was say $X and the value of my home is $X+Y, I may be looking for a Realtor who will tell me that Y is a negative value so I qualify for some of the relief funds. This could, though fictitiously at first, drive down the value of homes even more and lead to a further loss of faith in the economy.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Mac users should be a recognized minority

Mac users should be visible minorities with all the rights afforded to other groups under constitutions and charters around the world. Our glowing apple emblems are visible from far away. When some company does not support Mac formats (like yahoo internet radio), we should be able to chant OScism. I call an for an end to the world of hate that these corporate OScist have created.
If I type,
does text not appear?
Does my battery not drain,
If no jack is near?

Friday, February 13, 2009


Having now experienced both, I can say with some authority that the literal knife in the back is way more painful than the proverbial.
I had to have a cyst removed from my back at a Japanese hospital. First thing I noticed was the cashier. Canadians, Europeans, Australians, etc, should not call their systems universal if they do not cover everyone in the universe. I think there is an opportunity for a class action lawsuit there. I am just saying.
My stupid insurance stipulates that I have to pay in advance then wait for the money to come back to me. So along with the cystectomy, which hurt so much, I had a walletectomy which I think annoyed me even more.
Want to be scared? Let someone who doesn't speak the same language as you cut you open while you are watching. Its a bad situation because we think of doctors as the most intelligent people around. Its where the trust needed to allow them to do such things to us comes from but how can you personally gauge someone's intelligence if you cannot communicate with them. Or, worst, weakly communicate with them. In Japanese they say push for both push and pressure (oshimasu) so hearing a doctor say "now pushure" does not inspire faith.
But the operation was a resounding success so I felt better after.
On the bright side, both the nurse and doctor were hot.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Will blogging ruin my life?

I don't think so, but then this isn't a blog about my intoxicated romps and sexual conquests. Are people so naive as to think that companies won't find their blogs when they apply for a job?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Unpaid overtime affects the labour market negatively

I am not one of those people that grumble if I have to work too much. Even with my current job, which is quite easy, I regularly come in before my shift officially starts to prepare my lessons, clean the classroom and get myself organized. I also tend to stay late to catch up on my students paperwork or reply to e-mails from the higher ups. But there is a point where this becomes detrimental, not just to your own personal life but, to society as a whole.
In good economic fashion, let's assume people who are paid a salary make more than those earning an hourly wage. So, perhaps, built into the salary is some allowance for unpaid overtime. Which I think is perfectly acceptable. You should try to go above and beyond expectations to prove yourself useful to the company that hires you. Further to that you can also think of putting in extra hours as a way to differentiate yourself from your peers as the better candidate for promotion.
However, working too hard for that future career is not always wise. If you put in an extra 20-30 hours a week (without pay) to move up in the company, the raises you receive barely cover the work you have already put in. It also means your boss has an expectation that now for an even better salary you will gladly put in even more hard work. It could be a bad precedence to set.
Paid overtime is a beautiful thing. I would happily put in 70+ hours a week if I received 150% pay for all of the extra hours; at least those in excess of what is a fair expectation of a salaried employee.
In Japan overtime is rarely paid. There is an expectation that you must do 'service time' before and after every shift. It also means coming in on the weekend when the need arises. Though there is no extra pay, it is a Japanese tradition to pay a bonus equal to 1-2 months pay twice a year so it may come out in the wash. During this recession, however, it is becoming clear that a lot of corporations are forcing people to work constantly. This is effectively driving down the hourly wage below the legal minimum.
Minimum wages disrupt the labour demand making unemployment higher than it would normally be. A lot of people argue that it is a reasonable limit to insure those who are able to find work are earning a living wage. But when the overuse of unpaid overtime occurs, there is no clear winner. Marginal productivity surely falls with the increased fatigue, unemployment still rises as fewer people are taking on the workload previously spread out and employees get burnt out; not to mention career satisfaction plummets. Although unpaid overtime is strictly illegal, corporations have been unhindered in the practice. Government enforcement during these times would help bolster employment numbers and keep Japan the world leader in productivity.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pat Quinn named governor of Illinois

Governor Blagojevich was finally removed from office. After attempting to sell former Senator Obama's seat to the highest bidder the Illinois Legislature voted unanimously to impeach. Blagojevich, trying to put things into perspective, went on a media tour, compared himself to Mandela and won the affection of Geraldo Rivera. What an idiot. How is being imprisoned for inciting a revolution against a racist legal system similar to selling a seat in the American Senate?
Regardless, Pat Quinn was a surprise choice to be the new Governor. Although he had some success in his early coaching career with the Kings and Canucks, and a notable career as both a player and coach in the minor leagues, he was never able to get the Leafs their much desired Stanley Cup. He has worked as a coach, manager and president of multiple sports clubs but this will be the highest position he has held with any organization. As the Governor of Illinois he will effectively be the highest ranked member of the Blackhawks' franchise.
(Did you see what I did there? Two people, one name. Very funny. I give myself two thumbs up)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Ted Haggard

Oh Ted Haggard you are a son of a bitch. There is very little that I dislike more than malicious hypocrisy. Being hypocritical is part of being human. I am hypocritical on a regular basis, but the difference is that, for one I do it in obscurity and, two its effects are generally esoteric in nature. I refuse to eat at McDonald's but I have no issue with the Japanese counterparts like Mos Burger. It is essentially the same (though I think there is a quality difference in the food they serve) so I suppose my vocal snub of one and admitted love of the other is quite hypocritical. Who does it affect? Me really. Who even knows? I suppose readers of this, a few friends in Japan, perhaps some in Canada but not so many that I would say I am a voice of the movement.
Ted Haggard on the other hand, does not live in obscurity. He is an extremely well known person. Add to that the malicious nature of his hypocrisy and I think it becomes very easy to find him repulsive. For those of you who do not know, Ted Haggard was the head of a very large evangelical church. He was also the head of the national evangelical congress of some 30 million people. As the head of this congregation he spewed his anti-gay hate speech on a weekly basis. Meanwhile he was carrying on a sex and meth for money relationship with a male prostitute.
He is now back in the news because of a documentary scheduled to be released on TV about his life. His fall from grace as it were. At least Haggard admits that he is a loser who deserves this.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Iceland is way too competitive.

When America let Lehman Brothers go bankrupt Iceland, not wanting to be outdone let their whole country go bankrupt. When America bailed out their financial sector Iceland let the World Bank bail them out. But this competitiveness took a left turn. Iceland's government, which recently collapsed, is now being rebuilt with a new person taking the reigns as Prime Minister. Once again Icelander's competitive spirits have got the best of them. With America electing a Black President and Iceland wanting to be even more progressive have named Johanna Sigurdardottir. She is an openly gay politician. Well played Iceland. We'll see how long it take America to catch up to this one.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Boosting rainy day sales at convenience stores

Umbrella theft in Japan is ubiquitous. Fortunately there always tends to be an umbrella in the stand to replace the own you had. Umbrellas have a wide price margin from 100 yen for a small clear plastic umbrella to several thousand for a retractable. The ones typically found in a convenience store range from about 300 yen (large clear plastic) to 1000 yen (vinyl with an automatic opening button).
When someone is caught in the rain without an umbrella they will typically do one of three things. The first being suffer the rain (though Japanese people tend to be far less willing to to this than Canadians), take an umbrella from a nearby stand or buy a new umbrella (likely the cheapest one available since most people already have more umbrellas than any individual ever needs. Since Japanese society tends to frown on all crime, petty or otherwise, taking an umbrella must be done in the least visible way possible. Although I have seen people walk by and outright grab an umbrella or place a broken umbrella in a stand and grab one in pristine condition this is not the usual ritual. One must enter the convenience store and make a purchase, then leave and grab an unsuspecting umbrella so it appears that they are merely taking the umbrella they placed in the stand moments before.
Now how could a shopkeeper with no scruples take advantage of the above information to increase sales?
What if the shop keeper had one of the employees steal umbrellas later in the rain storm when someone may be inclined to just buy a new one. If there is heavy rain and the person does not want to get wet they may buy a new umbrella upon exiting to find their umbrella stolen. That would mean the customer would effectively make two purchases and assume some random person snagged the umbrella.
Then when the rain is just lightly falling the stock person could put the umbrellas back in the stand. A light drizzle is unfortunate but someone may not feel inclined to spend a few hundred yen over a light rain. They may however want an umbrella enough to take one for free if possible. Therefore having a full umbrella stand at the beginning of a storm may drive the sales of everything else.
Since I often see very full umbrella stands at empty stores, I imagine this is one of the reasons.

Stupid CTV

Looking for somewhere to watch some streamed TV I stumbled upon The CTV. If possible I prefer to stream legally because the video quality tends to be a higher quality, the video tends to load quicker and legal websites are far more reliable. Unfortunately you can only view videos on CTV from a computer terminal in Canada. As annoying as that is, it is not enough to really upset me with CTV. What upsets me is they made me watch the initial commercial before the notice popped up that I cannot watch the video. I understand that these websites are subject to federal laws as well as copyright legislation and therefore are bound to only show video in the area they are expressly allowed to but should the warning not pop up before I have to sit through some shampoo commercial?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Obama has been sworn in as the President of The United States of America!
In hindsight, I have to say Bush wasn't as bad as everybody thought he was (Ahh using the past tense about him FINALLY). I mean he was divisive and incompetent but he wasn't evil. That role was filled by the person I am equally happy is out of office; Dick Cheney. I welcome Joe the Vice President into office as well. I think that he is a decent person whose presidential hopes were marred by his uncanny ability to put his foot in his mouth at every opportunity. Thankfully the Vice President has less chances to do just that and so I believe he will be effective in the traditional role as VP; that is to say Biden will roll back the changed portfolio of VP that the power-mongering Dick in office before him created.
The inaugural speech was very articulate. I daresay that Obama touched on everything that I hoped he would. From the social justice side, he discussed the reform of the education and health sectors. This is just one instance where it looks like he is willing to go forward with all of the sweeping changes he argued for from the beginning despite the current financial crisis. Others include the entitlement programs needing to be revamped. I really hope that he can fix these programs soon since the unpaid portion of liabilities in these programs are rising very quickly.
When dealing with these topics and others he was very much different than Bush in his attempt at being bipartisan; discussing that we should not worry about big government or small government but good government.
He discussed his plans for proper, peaceful, diplomacy; that he will open up to any nation who attempts to bridge the gap and show an end to their militant ways. This reaffirming of the need for so called soft power is a welcome change and will hopefully raise America's status in the world. He also discussed that terrorists are destined to fail if Americans refuse to let terrorist actions affect their lives.
On that note he echoed the sentiment of people like Locke and Paine in saying that America must not deal in its liberties to help keep the nation safe. To me it sounded like freedoms in America may be increased during the Obama years and perhaps Guantanamo will be closed very early during his presidency.
On the economic situation he argued that there will be some difficult times in the near future but people must let go of the paranoia the markets have inflicted upon them to return consumer expectations to where it should be.
Finally Obama discussed the need of developed nations to aide the development of the South. That we cannot sit back while other countries starve. That we can no longer ignore science with respect to things like climate change and that it is the developed world's responsibility to curve greenhouse gases. He foretold of a world where we harness the sun, wind and land to power our homes and drive our cars. It looks like Aide to disadvantaged nations and helping the environment will be two pillars of the Obama foreign policy plan.
Of course it is a little early to draw so many far reaching conclusions about the next 4-8 years of American governing but with the Democrats in serious control of the house and Obama being so very different than Bush one cannot help but get swept away in the moment.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Sex Offender wins Rape Victim Lottery

Alaska hosted a charity lottery to support women support groups. Alaska has some of the highest rape rates in America, which makes the results of the lottery both more predictable and more alarming. The Winner? according to CNN the winner of this lottery is a former sex crimes convict.
I am sorry Alaska (personified), but this joke is just not funny. I get the whole Sarah Palin joke; it was a satire on the religious right. It was really a masterpiece.
The drill, baby, drill in the Alaskan wildlife preserve is not my cup of tea but I can see the audience you are playing to with that one. Ted Stevens was maybe my favourite joke. It was Norm Macdonald-esque humour done to perfection. Starting off with the stereotypically grizzly old Luddite who, ironically, chairs one of the most technologically advanced Senate committees was gold. Moving from there into an indictment on suspicions of accepting bribes was great. But the best part? That one of the bribes was an ugly statue of a fish! I love someone who can poke fun at themselves. The interconnection of all the jokes is well done - going from Stevens being corruptible to trying to remove barriers to drill to a bridge to nowhere was so seamless that I, for one, was begging for more. But, alas your humour took a turn I cannot support so, the important thing is not to overstay your welcome. You had a couple of hit jokes, your 10 minutes of fame if you will, but now it is time to lumber back home and stay quiet.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Why is Polygamy such a taboo?

Those crazy West Coast hippies did it again. British Columbia had been refusing to prosecute known polygamists for awhile now. Shockingly the culprits are not new age commune dwellers, likely because they do not believe in the institute of marriage at all, but Muslims being sheltered by Imams in the community of Bountiful.
Arguments in favour of prosecution say that BC cannot refuse to prosecute crimes because they believe that the federal law is unconstitutional; they do not have the authority to do such a thing. Conversely, there is a lot to say about the law being unconstitutional. Though the law is often said to be 'protecting' women and children it was originally created to keep the Mormons from moving to Canada. Since the purpose of a law is nontransferable there could be some weight behind the argument.
Is polygamy really that bad? Like most relatively harmless personal social decisions, polygamy would probably be better if it was legalized. The closed Mormon and Muslim communities in North America are a direct result of such prohibitions. They shy away from mainstream society because their lifestyle is considered unacceptable. The cloistered communities then become a breeding ground for sexual misconduct. Small communities with an excess of husbands relative to wives drives down the age with which women are considered marriageable. Add this to the privacy that such couplings require to stay out of the public eye and organizations that check up on suspected abusers in two-person marriages are either unaware of what is occurring or not able to get into the community to stop it.
Though polygamy is not for everyone, would it not be better to have it monitored than to have it done in secrecy where the only candidate for your third wife is your second daughter?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Mars rovers mark fifth anniversary

Spirit and Opportunity, two robotic Mars rovers, are celebrating five years on the red planet. This is quite the feat considering they were originally designed for a 90 day mission. This either makes them the most reliable American made vehicles ever or the elaborate ending to some interesting game theory. Given the way the American auto industry is faring, I choose to believe it is the latter.
It is no secret that government organizations around the world rely on the central bureaucracy's budget for support. Some programs, such as primary education or health care, are quite visible whereas the benefits of science funding is not as easy to see. It can help lead to a more educated work force by promoting tertiary education or attracting highly skilled foreign labour which increases domestic production but since there tends to be a delay in satisfaction laypeople often do not see the benefits to taxpayer funded research.
This makes the funding of government departments focused on research more volatile. NASA may suffer the most from this volatility. They tend to focus on fewer, more expensive projects. Even the current mantra of 'faster, better, cheaper' may mean their average mission is smaller than a decade ago but still much larger than the research programs at government sponsored university labs. NASA also has a history of major failures to overcome. One such incident in 1999, saw a major Martian mission destroyed because the American scientists were dealing in imperial measurements while their European counterparts worked in metric. Then there are the more visible disasters involving space shuttles:

So how would an organization whose financial allocations are unstable try to expand their budget? Perhaps by making spectacular successes as well? Manned missions tend to get more attention by the general populous so sending people to the International Space Station may help garner a greater budget even though the scientific merits may be dubious. The photos of earth rising from the lunar surface taken by Apollo astronauts are still popular postcards that can be bought anywhere in the world. I am sure if NASA managed to return Man to the Moon they would likely see the huge budget required to step foot on Mars.
Alas NASA cannot run a pure publicity campaign. So convincing scientists is also an important step. Once science funding is increased they still need to compete with the likes of the National Science Foundation, its associated medical arm (taking money from cancer research requires one to be seriously cunning) and myriad others. So perhaps they could show that, although there are regular failures, an equal number of missions exceed their targets by extraordinary amounts. Or, perhaps, it is simply damage control. If the rovers lasted a mere six weeks and the targets were five years that would be a disaster but if the mission parameters stated 90 days then six weeks is, at least, 50 percent. Not bad.
Either way I like NASA and I am pretty sure their primary goal is to satisfy me which they have.