Monthly Archives: October 2008

Cell Phones and Driving

The Province of Ontario is considering an outright ban on the use of handheld cell phones while driving, which requires some investigation, as it is contentious.

We will use cell phones as a catch-all for a Blackberry, iPods, DVD players, GPS navigation systems, beepers, text messaging and the rest of the communications technology that winds up in your car.

There are two schools of thought.  The first is people have been observed driving while putting on makeup, eating a burrito, drinking coffee, bopping to the radio and a hundred of other distractions, with little or no deleterious effect on their driving ability. 

The second school of thought is that a distracted driver is a dangerous driver, end of the sentence, full stop.

When it comes to the operation of a motor vehicle, here are a couple of constants:  30 miles per hour = 44 feet per second.  Reaction time for most humans paying attention, is a half-second, another second to begin deceleration and another second to actually come to a stop.  Add it up and a stop from 30 mph is 110 feet from the moment of ‘oh, there is a giraffe in the street’ to stopped.  That’s for someone paying attention.

Where the distance stretches out is a driver not paying attention.  The half-second reaction time becomes longer, sometime as long as two or three seconds to recognize a situation that requires driver action, then add on the two seconds to come to a stop from 30 mph.  We’re at 176 feet, just under 60 yards, more than half a football field.

To figure this out at highway speeds, essentially double the distances, as 60 mph is 88 feet per second.

For the nitpickers, yes, with an ABS equipped car, on dry pavement, with a skilled, focused driver knowing they are being tested, you can get better numbers.  I’ve done it in a stock car, competition karts and a Formula Ford.  I’ve done full-panic stops in a ‘78 Pontiac, an ‘87 5.0 Mustang and an ‘06 Sentra, all non-ABS equipped vehicles.  Done right in a good hard stop, your eyes feel like they’re coming out of your head and you are suspended in the seat belts, your body off the seat back.

Considering that most drivers don’t have the belts cinched down tight, have a cell phone glued to their head and are not paying full attention, the final distance for a panic stop from 30 mph could be anywhere from 176 feet to a couple of international time zones until they clue in.  Too many rear-end accidents start with “I didn’t see you stop as I was on my (insert gizmo name here)…”  There are too many anecdotal incidents, that most of us have experienced, of being cut off, or nearly driven over top of by other drivers on their cell phones.

Which explains why the province is going to ban the devices in hand-held mode, ticketing drivers for using them while driving.  Fair enough.  It’s the backlash that I’m concerned about.  Listening to call-in shows, where half the callers seem to be calling while driving, the universal excuse is that “I’m a better driver and I need the phone for my business.”

I call ‘bull-shee-it’ on the first one, as the median driver in Ontario is a clueless hump.  Quebec is different:  They are out to kill you.  A red light is considered a suggestion in that province, not an absolute. 

Ask any professional driver of trucks, school busses or motor coaches.  They’ll tell you they spend more brain cycles worrying where that wandering van with Mom and the soccer kids is going to wind up, trying to stay the hell away from them. 

As for the ‘need it for my business’ argument, I don’t buy it.  I have had a cell phone for years and my voice mail has said “I might be teaching, or driving right now but I will get back to you shortly.”  Sorry, I’m not going to answer your call while driving.  Get over it and if you don’t appreciate that I choose not to die while driving, then I don’t care what you’re offering me.

What we’re missing in all this discussion is the science.  Motor vehicle drivers have not been studied that well, but there is a profession where human interaction with transportation technology has been documented.  Commercial airline pilots.   

The way that pilots interact with repetitive tasking in a high stress environment is very well and very extensively studied.  Flying a commercial aircraft is a few seconds of excitement (landing or take off regimes) interspersed with hours of mind numbing tedium, as the flight management computer (FMC) flies the plane.

In studying pilots (and accidents) it has been proven over and over again that a ‘sterile’ cockpit is the safest cockpit during landing and take off.  No discussion of the kids, the Phillies, or anything not directly associated with the task at hand, making the airplane fly, or land.  The pilot must be fully focused on the command of the aircraft, end of sentence. 

However, pilots, like other humans, do stray from a sterile cockpit, but the pros only do it when at cruise altitude, or when the ‘work’ is over for a few minutes and the FMC is flying the plane.  Yes, there are significant distractions in a commercial cockpit, but all of the distractions are focused on navigation, crew alerting or operations, not tunes, MySpace email, or text messages from the kids.

In emergency situations, which commercial pilots train for all the time, the science of Cockpit Resource Management (CRM) has also studied how flight crew interact.  One airline, Northwest, used to have a simple emergency procedure on the cover of their manuals:  The pilot-in-command will fly the plane.  The pilot-not-flying will work through the steps to diagnose and rectify the emergency. 

Note that first step again:  Fly the Plane.  Wings level, sufficient airspeed, no climb or descent, look out the windows.  Fly the Plane.

Which is what should be imprinted on the steering wheel of every motor vehicle:  Drive the Car First.  

Bailout The Base Goes On

As expected, insurers, automakers and US subsidiaries of international banks are lined up with their hands out for piece of the action from President Jo Jo The Idiot Boy and Henry the FrankenFinancier’s trillion dollar bailout of Wall Street.

In an Associated Press article the greed heads are lining up outside Henry the FrankenFinancier’s office, Paulson is taking meetings with groups including hedge fund managers that are petitioning for assistance. 

To quote the CEO of something called the Financial Services Roundtable, in writing to the Treasury official running the bailout program, “…The institutions that are excluded play a vital role in the U.S. economy by providing liquidity to the market.” 

As best as can be determined, the Financial Services Roundtable is a high-priced lobby group that has been beeping and mooing for bankers.  Their motto is “Impacting Policy. Impacting People”, which can be translated from PRSpeak into “Hit them over the head until they do what we want, then jam it up the consumer’s ass.”  Is that cynical of me?

Considering the CEO Of the Financial Services Roundtable is Steve Bartlett and Bartlett is the former mayor of Dallas, the Roundtable has some good hooks into the White House.  We won’t mention his Congressional experience (‘83-‘91) or his fingers in the House Banking Committee, FHA deregulation, or his post-congressional work on Gramm-Leach-Biley, Sarbanes-Oxley, the 2001 Tax Cuts or the normalization of trade with China.   

Also as best as can be determined, the Treasury official getting the pressure and running the actual bailout is named Neel Kashkari (“Cash and Carry”).  I’m not making the guy’s name up.  He exists and is the guy running the bailout for the Treasury Department.

Meanwhile the Masters of the Universe are under time pressures.  As of January 20th 2009, President Jo Jo The Idiot Boy goes back to Crawford, TX and someone else, whose last name ends with a vowel, will be in the big chair.  There is unstated concern that Obama might add some oversight to the Bailout The Base Plan, investigating the financial shell game a little too closely.  This would be bad, at least for Wall Street as they might have to give up their Masters Of The Universe secret decoder rings.

Putting it back in perspective, President Jo Jo The Idiot Boy, via the Treasury Department, is rapidly stuffing more money into Bailout The Base than into the entire years’ funding for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Are you going to change your magnetic ribbon on the SUV from “Support Our Troops” to “Support Our Hedge Fund Managers!”? 

Funny how nobody is talking about the war these days.  Must be over, right?

Bars in Ottawa III

Having woken up from a sound sleep at 04-Dark, I remembered an old watering hole in Ottawa.  Don’t ask why my brain went there; it just did.

The Chez Lucien in the Byward Market.  The Times Square building is on the site now, as the Chez Lucien was torn down a number of years ago. 

There is also a legit (and apparently very good) restaurant/pub called the Chez Lucien in the Market on Murray Street.  Let’s be clear, this is not the Chez Lucien I’m considering:  We’re talking about the Original on Clarence and Parent street, with a truly skeevy bar and the Salons Dianne and Colette.  Rather than sully the reputation of the current Chez Lucien, I will refer to the one I remember as the Original Chez Lucien.

The Original Chez Lucien, also known as the Lucie, like most bars in the Byward Market of that era catered to the class of drinkers known as either gifted-amateur or professional-grade.  The Original was a two storey building last painted an exciting grey in 1946.  The top floor had rooms that one could rent, presumably by the hour, as the Original Chez Lucien was Known to Police.

There were three reasons to go to the Lucie:  First, to get drunk.  Second to watch the Le Go-Go Danseurs who performed topless.  There was no food that I can remember at the Original Chez Lucien, aside from bags of potato chips.    

Back in the Day I worked as a mobile disk jockey doing weddings, parties and stags for a local company.  Each month there was at least one booking for a wedding reception at the Original Chez Lucien in the Salon Dianne or Salon Colette, which were the two reception halls for the place.  Invariably there would be a couple of hundred guests in their finest finery celebrating the wedding of a family member in a dive that hadn’t seen a mop since the beginning days of the Pearson government.

Of course, there were also fights, as the Original Chez Lucien seemed to have that kind of impending-violence edge to it.  For that I blame the Le Go-Go Danseurs. 

The bar proper was down the hall from the two reception salons.  There were the traditional dark arborite tables, tobacco-stained walls, wooden chairs, ash trays and smoke-shrouded customers who favoured having a back to the wall at all times.  None of the regulars sat in the middle of the bar for good reason.  Along one wall was a juke box and a six-inch tall platform the size of a table top, upholstered with a biological experiment of a carpet.  This was the stage.

Every hour one of the female servers, who were also the dancers, would go over to the bartender and demand a quarter.  She would toss the quarter in the juke box and punch up three songs.  This was the musical accompaniment for her demonstration of the Arts of Terpsichore.

Song one:  March in place fully clothed.  Song two:  March in place without one half of one’s top.  Song three:  Twitch in place, having exhausted all dance skills, without the top altogether.  And that, gentlemen, is your entertainment for this evening. 

The server would rearrange her costume, pick up her tray and continue serving the now thirsty patrons who had been deprived of beer for close to fourteen minutes.  For many of the customers, those fourteen minutes were as close to quitting cold turkey as they could stand without the onset of DT’s.

I have seen my share of naked human female breasts.  I am an avowed leg man (and make no apologies either), but even an average pair is a beauty to behold as proof that God, as a designer, does Good Work.  Damn Good Work. 

Except in the case of the Original Chez Lucien servers.  Several were tattooed in the days before tattoos resided on every second suburban soccer-Mom. One female server who danced looked like she could physically assault a moving freight train and had successfully demonstrated her railway brawling prowess more than once with a 12-2 record over her career.  Another server looked like my Aunt Lillian in a bikini top and threadbare baby doll, which may explain things that only an Adlerian counsellor can appreciate.

Nonetheless, many of the male guests of the wedding receptions would skulk out of the reception down the hall to gawk once an hour.  When the men returned to the wedding reception, there would be a significant increase the volume of discourse at the tables, usually in female voices, using language that cannot be reprinted here. 

At one wedding reception the groom, paralytically drunk, was carried chair and all to the bar by the best man and the ushers to observe the goods on display.  When the groom, chair and male half of the wedding party returned from their observations, the Matron of Honour and the Bride’s Mother took matters into their own hands. 

The police arrived within five minutes and obtained promises. There would be no more chair transportation of the Groom to areas outside the Salon Dianne.  The other promise was the more active members of the distaff side of the wedding party would stop breaking quart bottles over the heads of the Best Man and Ushers.  Satisfied with arrangements, the police left and festivities resumed, celebrating the union of Julie-Claire and Hubert in Holy Matrimony.

The Original Chez Lucien. Alas, long gone.

Gas Prices Don’t Tumble, they Float

For some odd reason, now that wholesale crude oil prices are less than half the price they were in July, the price of retail gasoline has stayed more or less the same and I’m not happy about that.

According to Reuters, Friday’s spot price was $63 a barrel.  In July, crude was $147 a barrel.  (Divide 147 by 63, carry the nine, subtract…to hell with it, where’s the calculator?) Today’s price for Regular Unleaded in the Greater Toronto Area is around 98 cents a litre, or $3.92 a US gallon, more or less.  (I’m not being five-decimal-place-precise here, relax.  Four litres = 1.057 of a US Gallon, so a simple x4 on the calculator gives you the US price, close enough for our purposes.)

It’s one of those funny coincidences that retail gas prices can spike on a rumour that a refinery worker in Houston has a boo-boo on his elbow, but if the prices drop significantly, it seems to take forever for that ‘expensive’ gas to work its way ‘out of the system’.  This, of course, is a load of manure and worthy of some investigation.

A family member used to run a retail gas station, so I have a more than the average inside knowledge of how fuel pricing works in the real world.

A gas pump typically has a 1500 (6800 litre) gallon tank underground.  Some are bigger, some are smaller.  Two or three times a week a tanker truck brings the retailer the fuel to keep the tanks well filled.  At the time of delivery, the retailer pays for the gas, at the wholesale price from an independent distributor, who buys it from the fuel terminal at a distributor’s price.   In round numbers, the distributor makes 3 to 5 cents per litre as he or she sells it for the wholesale price to the gas station. 

That price is roughly 2 to 3 cents per litre less than what is on the sign outside the gas station; the price you and I pay.

Here’s a bit of math.  That 6800 litre load of gas is worth $204 of potential profit to the dealer, as long as the retail price doesn’t go down and the retailer sells every drop. 

Put simply, the retailer gets Foxtrot Alpha if prices stay the same.  The retailer now owns that gas in the ground.  If retail prices go up, say 2 cents a litre from when they filled the underground tank, the retailer can make a little bit more, say $340 on the load. 

A bit more math.  Most cars have 50 litre gas tanks, some are smaller and SUV’s of course, are bigger, but 50 litres is a good back of the envelope average.  That means the retailer has to have 136 customers buy a full tank of gas, to sell that load in the ground and realize the $204 profit in a $6460 (wholesale) purchase.

Guess what happens when prices drop?  The oil companies will occasionally offer what is called support.  They will credit the retailer with a couple of cents extra per litre, to match local prices, but that retailer still owns 6800 litres of gasoline in the ground at the old price.  Every litre he or she pumps at the new, lower price, means they lose money, without support from the oil company.

Of course, getting support is handled on a case-by-case basis.  Complain too much and the likelihood of getting support is slim to none.  The retailer is stuck with 6800 litres of gas at the higher price and can’t sell it without losing money on every litre.  Plus, the retailer can’t get another load of wholesale-cheaper gasoline, until they sell what they have in the ground.

There are other things that happen.  On more than one occasion when a price war was escalating, with local brands selling for several cents less than the national brands, a retailer would call for support and be told:  “You don’t get any, as it’s Petro-Canada’s (or Shell, or Esso) turn to match them.  Don’t expect to sell much gas this week.” Oh gee. Thanks. 

Yes, that is technically a conspiracy to fix prices.  Except the out is that the retailer has the option to sell the gas at a higher price and that isn’t controlled by the oil company.  Sure.  Cut into a brands’ market share by not selling as much as the others and see how much support you get.  Conversely as a retailer you can try to find 136 people with empty gas tanks and a closed head injury who are dumb enough to buy gas at a significantly more expensive price. 

The argument of the oil companies is that the distributor and retailers are independent businesses, so the oil companies have no influence on oil prices, after all it’s the free market at work, right?  The distribution terminal is owned by the oil company and that’s the last time the oil company touches the price. 

The oil company, naturally, wants to get the most for their product when the distributor takes a tanker load, so the oil company controls the difference between the distributor’s price and the retail price.  The oil company looks at the several hundred thousands of litres of gasoline they have in storage in those big white tanks and knows to the fourth decimal place how much it represents as potential profit every hour.  Yes.  Every hour.

When crude prices go down, as they have in the past few weeks, the oil company can potentially be stuck with several hundred thousands of litres of ‘expensive’ gasoline in inventory.  But oil companies are also very skilled at hedging crude prices and keeping the distribution flowing at a fast rate.  This reduces the oil company’s risk of being caught with inventory at less than excellent profit per litre.

What happens is, as cheaper crude comes into production, the per-litre profit for the oil company goes up, as the input cost of the crude is less than before.  However, the price to the distributor does not get adjusted on an hourly basis.  Weekly is more like it.  That overlap is where an oil company makes killer profits, after all, “it will take time for the expensive gas to work its way through the system.”  Forty-five days is the usual number quoted from a ship tanker of crude to a load of Regular Unleaded in your tank. 

As to the veracity of that number, I can’t call ‘bullshit’ and neither can those who make the laws or collect the taxes.  When the harsh light of investigation by the lawmakers is turned on oil companies, the oil companies bring out economists who speak a language only other economists understand.  The pols get baffled and shrug their shoulders.

The government up here by the way, has a vested interest in keeping prices up.  We have (and many states do too) what is called an Ad Valorem tax on fuel.  The tax is a fixed percentage on the wholesale price.  Higher wholesale prices on fuel means the government makes more money.  Lower wholesale prices, means the government makes less.  Be assured the oil companies know their tax law cold and can tell to the fine cent exactly how much they owe in taxes every hour.

Just as a final poke in the eye, here’s a little science.  A gallon (or litre) is measured at a specific temperature, usually around 15.5 deg. Celsius or 60 deg. F.  If the temperature of the gasoline is higher than 15.5 C, it isn’t a ‘true’ litre or gallon:  It’s short a teaspoon or two.  In metric that would be just about 10 millilitres:  Gasoline expands as temperature rises.

Conversely, as temperature drops, you get a bigger litre or gallon, usually a teaspoon or two more than a ‘true’ litre or gallon.  Gas pumps, almost universally, across Canada have a temperature compensating meter.  Why?  Because it is usually colder up here for six months of the year and gas stations would be pumping a ‘fat’ litre.  This adds up to lost revenue for the oil companies, as 10 ml over 6800 litres is 6.8 full litres, or roughly $6.80 a load.  Multiply that out by how many gas stations and you’ve got some money there in the course of a month.

Oddly enough, in the southern US, the oil companies said they couldn’t refit all their pumps with temperature compensating meters, as it was too expensive. 

Or, if you like your conspiracies with a black helicopter, the US oil companies have been pumping ‘short’ gallons for years, as the southern US is warmer than 59 degrees most of the time.  The oil company gets a few extra bucks per load, again probably around $7.  For some reason they can temperature compensate pumps in a huge country of 33 million, but can’t do it in a single state with 23.5 million people.

Summing up, the game is rigged five ways to sundown.  Which means, even if the price of crude has dropped by more than half, we won’t see properly lowered prices until sometime in December.

Gotta love that free market.

The R Word

We’re going to go there.  The R Word means Race. 

Race can be talked about, openly, by grownups, as long as one is respectful, supportive, honest and inclusive, which is exactly where we are going to stay, but expect some mild discomfort along the way.

Specifically we’re going to talk about the obvious observation, that Senator Barack Obama is black.

There.  We said it.  Notice the planet is still revolving, gravity still applies, buildings have not fallen over, there has been no rain of flaming frogs from the sky and George W. Bush is still depriving a small West Texas village of their idiot.

The Pundit and Poll Trolls have been talking about something called The Bradley Effect as a shy code-word for a phenomenon where people tell pollsters how they’re planning to vote, but doing something else when confronted with the pencil, voting lever, chad puncher or computer doodle on an actual ballot.

To truly simplify The Bradley Effect and strip away what is being implied, hang onto your socks, here it is:

Will white people actually vote for a black man for the office of President, in America, in November 2008?

There.  We said it.  Out loud.  No sugar coating, no indirect obscure references and no coy batting of eyelashes. It is a difficult question that should make you uncomfortable, especially if you’re white. 

(Disclosure:  I’m so White that White people point at me and say “Who’s the White Guy?”  Technically, I’m English-Scottish-Irish-Welsh-American cross-bred with several generations of Ottawa Valley hillbillies.  I rest my ancestral case, M’lord.)

So there sits the question.  For the majority the answer is “Hell, Yes, we will vote for Barack Obama as he is the right person for the job.” 

However, there is that percentage that will not vote for Obama.  Not because Barack Obama is the wrong person, or inexperienced, or any number of disagreements with policy, but who will not vote for Obama because he’s Black. 

Now, how does that make you feel?  Do you feel queasy or lightheaded?  Sit down for a bit and take a few breaths, you’ll be fine. 

We all belong to various races, as race is a taxonomic term that groups very broad physical characteristics by commonality as a short-form descriptor.  Caucasian, African, Semitic, Nordic, South Asian, Asian, Aboriginal, Innu are all terms that describe the collection of physical traits associated with a race.  Ninety-nine percent of the genetics are the same, but we needed a way to describe a Samoan and a Swede in the same sentence.

Unfortunately, the term “race” has been corrupted to include politics, nationality, affiliations and behaviours real or imagined associated with that race, in a hurtful and discriminatory way.  That’s why you are feeling uncomfortable now.  “All Elbonians are horse thieves” is an example of a negative racial statement.  (It’s wrong too:  All Elbonians are goat ropers, not horse thieves.  I’m kidding, relax.)

Now that we’ve defined our terms we can come back to the core question.  Does race matter in the US Presidential Election?

My answer is a very simple No, as race is the dumbest reasons to vote for or against someone.  The potential that any sensible human would even consider voting based on race is repugnant to me as it calls to all the worst aspects of the human animal.  Race voting precludes thinking for yourself and succumbing to very dangerous and very stupid fears.     

However, there is a percentage, who vote, who don’t use their brain as anything other than a spacer to keep their ears from touching in the middle of their skulls.

These include people who insist that only small town America is patriotic, or their policy is going to benefit Joe SixPack and Joe the Plumber and The Real America, whatever the hell that is.  This includes pundits who point to The Bradley Effect as a way for some people to vote by race and feel OK about it. 

This also includes commentators who claim that Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama solely on a dermal melanin percentage.  This also includes the perpetrators of the Barack “Osama” typographical “mistakes” and the hundreds of other petty, dumb beasts out there.

They’re playing a fear card and a race card in the ugliest way possible, by indirect inference.  They don’t have the courage of their convictions to stand up and be direct about their beliefs.  I’ll give swine like George Wallace and Bull Connor one point for being straight-up Honest-to-God Racists:  At least you knew where you stood with them.

The sleaziest and scummiest are the ones that mouth the pieties of America out of one side of their mouths, while doing a Zarrow shuffle with the cards and getting the Ace of Spades to magically appear every time.  These are fear-mongers of the worst kind.  The kind who stoop to using race as they know they can’t win any other way. 

We still have that question sitting out there don’t we? 

Will white people actually vote for a black man for the office of President, in America, in November 2008?

I have my answer:  I truly hope that white Americans will vote for a black man for President.  He’s the right person for the job.

Now, you have your say.


Canadian Election Results

We’ve counted the paper ballots up here and the polloi have decided that we want another minority government under Stephen “Steve” Harper.  Don’t worry, dear American readers, I’ll translate later.

No party has a mandate to govern, without the assistance of one or two of the others in a pseudo-coalition, usually bill by bill.  The Conservatives under Harper have a slight increase in seats, while the Liberals got clobbered.  The NDP picked up a few, as did the Bloc Quebecois.  The Green Party was shut out and there are three Independents.

(American translation:  ‘Republicans’ up a bit, ‘Democrats’ eaten for breakfast while the ‘Social Democratic’ and "Quebec Monomania’ party had some increases.  Three independents got in but no Greens. The Canadian Prime Minister is also a sitting member of the House and has to win in a riding in order to lead.  There are 308 seats in the House of Commons and you don’t get a mandate unless you get a majority of the seats. 155 was the magic number:  The Conservatives got 143, close enough to sniff it, but not close enough to kiss it.)

Which means Canada gets more of the same governance we had before, in a House that resounds with playground taunts masquerading as debate, while the committee work grinds to a halt under a heavy mist of bully-boy micromanaging by Harper.  Harper doesn’t care as he rules by fiat, e-mail and memo from the Privy Council Office and the Prime Minister’s Office.

Naturally, the Day After has our pundit class sniffing the entrails looking for something to talk about.  Stephane Dion, the head of the Liberal party showed that making it up as you go, is not the way to win.  At one time, under Trudeau, Chretien and less so, Martin, the Liberals were almost declared the Natural Governing Party with the best political machine going.

When the Liberals put Dion forward as the party candidate, it would seem that the wheels fell off the Big Red Tricycle.  Yesterday, the Liberals proved they couldn’t organize a fart contest at a bean supper.  They didn’t get out the vote and they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) make Dion into a leader that Canadians could tolerate for a few years. 

Stephane Dion is photocopying his resume as he did not deliver the raw power of a majority that the Liberals machine needs to keep functioning.  Dion knows that the Night of the Long Knives is coming.  Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff are holding the door open for Dion to make a hasty, ungraceful exit.

Jack Layton of the New Democrats did well in the last week of the campaign, buying as much airtime as the party could stand.  The NDP was up a bit, seven seats, but Jack is charisma-challenged enough to keep the party in third place.  He’s a nice guy, but he’s no Ed Broadbent.  Or David Lewis.  Or Tommy Douglas.  And never will be.

The Quebec Monomania Party (sorry the Bloc Quebecois) is the political equivalent of a man having three nipples:  No real use, plus one extra as a conversation piece.  Nobody, outside of Quebec cares what Gilles Duceppe has to say, except he has fifty seats that vote as a bloc(k) and can prop up the Conservatives, who hate the Bloc worse than Sin itself.

Which leaves us where?  The Conservatives and the NDP agreeing to play nice with each other for four years, with the Liberals and the Bloc doing incontinent miniature poodle impersonations, pissing all over everything? 

That kind of Parliament might work in Political Science class, but Harper refuses to share his toys and insists on governing like the PMO is his own personal Star Chamber, complete with a pentagram of ewe’s blood on the floor.  White smoke issues from a chimney on the Langevin Block and laws are passed Because He Says So.  Woe betide any bureaucrat or Minister who disputes What Is Said by He Who Rules.

Here’s how it will play out.  Harper will continue issuing Orders In Council running roughshod over democracy.  However, this is the third election that Harper, as the sole voice and sole focus of the Conservative party, has not won a majority.  The backroom brokers might not be happy with Stevie as he had not delivered the insane power that a majority gives the advisors.  And he hasn’t done it three times in a row. 

The Liberals will implode and come back out from the black hole with Bob Rae in charge after a vicious fight with Michael Ignatieff for the leadership.  Miraculously, the wheels on the Big Red Tricycle will come back on under Bob Rae.

Over at the NDP, the bench strength is slim.  Jack might run one more time in a Federal election, but unless he has some credible Cabinet alternatives, the party is still tilting at windmills.  Unfortunately, the NDP can’t grow credible alternatives, as the House will resort to its’ usual level of decorum.  This is accurately summed up as four annoying children screaming “I know you do but what am I?” at each other while replying with “You suck!”

Gilles Duceppe will pull the pin on his leadership of the Quebec Monomania Party in another year and return to teaching Eye Bugging and Grammar at UQAM.  The Bloc will disintegrate into Montreal and non-Montreal factions that argue over commas and accents in a platform that even the NDP can’t fathom, but make perfect sense in Quebec politics.  It’s like sex with someone in Public Relations:  They sit on the edge of the bed all night long telling you how good it’s going to be, but don’t actually drop the underthings.  Then they go home.

Then there is Elizabeth May of the Green Party.  No seats in Parliament, but at least their percentage of the popular vote is up.  Can she tolerate another four years on the outside looking in, nose pressed up against the door?

Now, if (and there are a lot of ifs here) Rae takes over the Liberal party in the next year, he’ll have three years to build a credible alternative to Harper.  Rae could defeat Harper and the Conservatives in 2012 with a Liberal majority, assuming Rae builds a slate of alternatives to the sideshow exhibits and perambulating brain stems that are the the current Conservative ministers and caucus. 

This is assuming Harper sticks around.  He might just quit and toss the entire Conservative party under the bus.  Harper is a technician who has no soul in the game of leadership and has no soul to lead Canada.

How To Get Even With Wall Street III

Using the concept of Quo Bono? (Who Benefits?) regarding our personal spending, we can choose to spend our hard-earned money in such a way that it benefits our local community by deliberately choosing local stores, services and businesses.

Why local?  If your city, town, village, hamlet or unincorporated rural municipality isn’t working, then it isn’t a nice place to live, bring up your kids, work, retire, or simply hang out in, then your life sucks.

Why should your life suck? 

Employed, reasonably prosperous people with a half a shred of hope tend not to engage in looting, shoplifting, arson, vandalism, drug turf wars, drive-by gun play, selling their bodily orifices for money, or opening arbitrage accounts.

Working communities are very resilient when things go wrong, as they know they can rely on each other.  Working communities are not afraid of change.  Working communities are willing to offer a hand up, not a hand out, when times are bad. 

Working communities encourage citizens to say things like “No” or “Piss off” when offered the new and improved, change you can believe in, more convenient, more economical, larger, faster and better as determined by Wall Street and Big Corporations.

Best of all, working communities scare the crap out of politicians, Wall Street and Big Corporations, as it demonstrates the potential for citizens to actually think and act together, instead of being lead around like cattle. 

Therefore, change must come locally first.  Wall Street and Big Corporations do not care about where you live.  You do.

Second, the political class in the US and Canada are as a group, a bunch of lying sacks of shit who will say anything and do anything to get their lips on the money teat.  Unfortunately, we cannot legally euthanize them for the good of society as we would rabid raccoons, chickens with avian flu or cows with Bovine spongiform encephalopathy.

Remember that Wall Street got its bailout from politicians.  Did you get a piece of the $700 Billion?  Did you get invited to a spa day and management retreat after declaring bankruptcy, like the folks at AIG did?  Do you have a Gulfstream V business jet at your beck and call?  Is Henry Paulson on your speed dial?

Did your bank call up out of the blue, to give you a couple of months to rearrange your finances and renegotiate your mortgage to a better payment plan that recognizes the way the economy is going?  Did someone from Wall Street offer to share their bonus with you?

Me neither.

We should ensure that those responsible for dumping us in this mess get their attitudes adjusted.  The least offensive way is to take away their money and power. 

Politicians need an attitude adjustment and the only one they understand is being voted out of office.  Wall Street and Big Corps?  The only way you can adjust their attitude is to deprive them of money and their buddies in power.

All politics is local.  I didn’t say that, Tip O’Neil said it and he was absolutely right.  Even in national elections with a global focus, what happens in your community is what matters.  Promises of ‘prosperity’ and ‘change’ are just promises, unless the politicians are very specific about what, locally, is going to change.  Promises don’t put money in your pocket, groceries on the table, or jobs in the community.   

Politicians at the local, state, provincial and federal levels need to fear that your community is watching them closely and will use the ballot box and the media to keep them in line.  That’s how lobbyists do it.  They engender fear in the politician that the lobby group will contribute massive amounts of money to the opposition if the politician doesn’t play ball.

Which is why we come back to working, local, communities.

Now you have the secret of Quo Bono.  It isn’t actually to slap Wall Street and Big Corporations upside the head, no matter how tempting. 

Quo Bono is designed to change the whole game by changing the political landscape, by changing the local landscape, by taking money from Wall Street and mindfully spending it locally where there are real benefits, not benefits for Wall Street.  OK, we do get to slap Wall Street a bit, but not the way they deserve it.

Conclusion?  When you put your hand in your pocket to pay for something, ask yourself; Quo Bono?

The rest will come.