Sunday, April 22, 2007

It's Sarko-Sego!

The first round of votes are being counted and Nicolas Sarkozy leads, with Segolene Royal in second place.

BBC World is doing a bad job of hiding their excitement that "socialism is not dead in France" just because Segolene didn't lose out to neo-Fascist Le Pen. But the fact that Segolene made it through to the second round will soon be nothing more than a historical footnote. 'Cos it's two weeks 'til President Sarko!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Just A Thought....

If Ontarians can't be trusted to buy light bulbs and feed themselves without dire consequences, should we really have a say with the big stuff?

I would like to suggest that before the debate about electoral reform really gets underway, we consider the option of abandoning democracy altogether. After all, enlightened despotism has never really been given a fair shake.

The New and Improved Nanny State

The province is moving forward with an arbitrary ban on incandescent bulbs. The ban will punish the dealers, not the users (i.e. stores will be banned from selling them, but I will apparently still be able to travel to Buffalo to buy them out of spite).

What amazes me is that those who supported the ban are now trying to convince us that the other bulbs are better: they last longer and will save you money over time. They need to stop. These people have made it perfectly clear that it doesn't matter what people's opinion of the bulbs are. Instead of trying to persuade us in the first place, they pressured the government to restrict our choices. You can't have it both ways. You won, now shut the hell up.


An article at TCS Daily highlights Kiva, the website that allows individuals to make microloans to entrepreneurs in the developing world. It points out exactly what appeals to me about the organisation:

Kiva offers a blueprint for development that Friedrich Hayek would have appreciated. First, the focus is squarely on the individual — at both ends of the lending process. Corrupt third-world governments are bypassed altogether, as money flows directly to the people who need it. Moreover, that money originates not from the "coerced charity" of taxation, but from the freely chosen generosity of informed citizens.

Second, the funds distributed by Kiva are not handouts, and therefore do not perpetuate dependency. Money is loaned in support of specific business ventures, with the ultimate goal of promoting financial self-reliance. The necessity of repaying these loans does much to foster personal responsibility, in sharp contrast to the message sent by aid shipments or debt relief. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, these small businesses empower Africans by giving them a direct stake in their societies and economies — a necessary condition for the emergence of a democratic polity.
The article also discusses the criticism that microlending has received: that it reduces the pressure on governments to reform and that there is no evidence that microlending aids development.

While I believe that extending credit to the poor actually will help in the quest to bring societies out of dire poverty, I also think that it is not the only measure of success. I don't believe welfare is a good solution to poverty in North America, why should it be a considered acceptable solution in Africa or South America?

I first began lending through Kiva last year, to a woman in Kenya. She has now nearly repaid her loan, which she used to build another room as part of a rental business. The additional income this generates will ensure that she can provide her children with a secondary education. Whether or not the loan will significantly help the Kenyan economy overall, it is helping one woman to better provide for her family. She is teaching her children the same values that my parents taught me: that hard work and education matter. But they can only matter if you have access to opportunity, which is what Kiva helps to provide.

I still believe in charity to help those most in need. But this woman didn't need charity. She needed short-term access to funds to expand her business. Yes, the Kenyan economy is in need of reform to enable small entrepreneurs to access credit through private lending institutions. But clearly some people in the developing world are unwilling to wait patiently until the rules are rewritten so that they have a chance at improving their lot in life.

There is no one solution to the problem of poverty. War, corruption, disease, a lack of access to basic education, the need for political reform and a host of other factors all are all part of a cycle that keep much of the world in dire poverty. The fact that microlending does not immediately solve all of these problems (although citizens not concerned with the immediate issue of making sure their children are fed are more likely to pressure their governments to reform) does not mean it does not have a role to play. We need to stop looking for a quick fix. It isn't coming.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

There isn't always a reason

"If you try to put it into some broader sociological framework, you just risk saying something totally Jan Wong."

Andrew Potter on the Virginia Tech murders.

It was a horrible tragedy, there is no meaning to be found.

Enlightened Repression

The European Union plans to enshrine in law denial of the holocaust and "grossly trivializing crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes”, except in cases where the genocide denial is state sanctioned:

In an attempt to assuage Turkish fears, several EU diplomats said the provisions would not penalise the denial of mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman troops in the aftermath of the 1915 collapse of the Ottoman empire. Turkey strongly rejects claims that this episode amounted to genocide.
Yeah, Turkey and the mainstream media.

Special care has also been made to protect the right to belittle the horrors of the Holocaust if it results in a high grossing film:
...the wording was designed to avoid criminalising comical plays or films about the Holocaust such as the Italian comedian Roberto Benigni’s prize-winning Life is Beautiful .
It will also exclude Stalinist crimes, presumably because there are still Stalinists in a number of European parliaments.

So, basically this law empowers the European Union to dictate the facts of history and punish those who question the official truth. But that's okay because it's our truth.

(Link via Damian Penny)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

I'm Not Getting My Hopes Up

I have absolutely no faith that the Sudanese government plans to honour its promise to let a UN peacekeeping force into Darfur. But wouldn't it have been a great way to call their bluff to have had troops pledged for the mission even before they agreed to it? The world has been pressuring Sudan to allow the force for years now, and now the U.N. has to do the embarrassing scramble to find troops. It's as though it had all been carefully planned out to give Khartoum to find a reason to change their mind.

I'm not even going to comment on the confidential report that says the Sudanese government has been disguising military planes as U.N. planes and using them for bombardments of villages. We're talking about the same people who send militias to rape and murder little girls. It is no more and no less than what I would expect of them.

Why Stop There?

Toronto is considering a ban on transfats because -- if we don't all boil alive in the next five years as a result of global warming -- they are going to kill us.

Well, that's all well and good, and of course we can all agree that the government should make all of our decisions (major and minor) for us. But I'm confused as to why this new proposal is so narrow in scope. Even though I accept that trans fats are the single greatest threat to human kind since chlorofluorocarbons, I'm not sure they can be blamed for all of our ill health. There are all sorts of lifestyle choices that we know are good for us, and yet so many people are not making them. If Mayor Miller really cares for the people of this city he will take their health into his hands immediately. I propose that the following should become law within the city of Toronto:

1) No smoking. Obviously. Not just in public. Not just in front of children. Anywhere at all times. The evidence is in. It's bad for you.
2) At least 8 hours sleep a night. A good night's sleep is known to have many health benefits. Busy students, working parents, people addicted to Facebook, so few of us are getting enough sleep. It would also help save energy. Lights out from 11-7. Sweet dreams!
3) 6-8 glasses of water a day. The evidence is in. It's in every women's magazine. Water is good for you. Drink it.
4) One-a-day vitamins for all. Because there would be a cost associated with this one, the city will demand new money from the feds to pay for it (Our Money, Our Micronutrients!)
5) Each citizen's caloric intake will be limited based on recommendations from Canada's Food Guide to Healthy Living. Obviously eventually Toronto will need it's own food guide to reflect our ethnic diversity, dietary restrictions and special needs, but building a food guide takes time and we need action now!
6) Daily cardio and weekend yoga/pilates. Toronto needs to get moving!

Sure, there are those that claim that the city does not have the right to enforce such laws. But a careful reading of the new City of Toronto Act shows that Mayor Miller does indeed have such authority (morally if not legally).

In no time at all Toronto will not only be the Greenest City in North AmericaTM, but the Healthiest Metropolis in the Galaxy TM. And that's a city I want to live in!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Magna wives, lock up your men...

Belinda's coming back!

Belinda Stronach has announced she will not be running for re-election and instead will be taking on a role as executive vice-chairman of Magna. Apparently daddy can't find anyone who's more qualified for the job than a university drop out who has never shown any ability to carry a task through to completion.

You see, this is why women don't enter politics: the pressures of family life are just too great.