September 22, 2007

Finally, Inevitably, Parity

Via John Ludwig, via Marginal Revolution, the Canadian dollar reached parity with the US dollar this week. As John put it:

Wow. The world has voted on the US economy and government policies.
Exactly. Now, part of this rise is due to good government (as they like to say) in Canada, but much of it is surely due to bad government here in the US. And I'd like to thank both President Bush and Congress for both doing their part to debase our currency.

I blogged about the difference between Canadian budget surpluses and US budget deficits back in 2003, and the simple fact is that, given massive, year-after-year deficits with no end in sight, the world is going to place less of a premium on the US dollar.

With the dollars at parity, now it's Canadian shoppers who are coming to the US for bargains. Oh, how times have changed.

Tracey Carle checked the Web on Friday morning to see the wait times at the border and then bolted to the United States to shop.

Ms. Carle left her home in the border town of Surrey, British Columbia, cruised through the increasingly tight border here in a relatively breezy 34 minutes, stopped immediately to gas up her sport utility vehicle on the cheap at the U.S.A. Mini Mart and shot down Interstate 5 toward her real target, Target.

"Anytime in the last few years it's been better," said Ms. Carle, 49, explaining that she has long crossed the border for bargains. "But now, this is just whoo-hoo!"

Four months ago, I wrote:

Before long, the Canadian dollar will be at parity with the US dollar, and then surpass it. I hope someone in our elected government sits up and takes notice then.
I doubt that's going to happen. No one in our government seems to care.

July 16, 2007

iPhones and Wireless Data in Canada

AppleInsider has a story on how the cost of wireless data in Canada may be holding up the introduction of the iPhone there:

In the U.S., AT&T's combined iPhone service and data plans start at just $59.99 for 450 anytime minutes, 5000 additional night and weekend minutes, and unlimited data. But in Canada... a comparable plan for Rogers Wireless -- the only carrier with an iPhone-compatible GSM network -- would currently run about $295 per month.

Rogers charges $60 for 500 anytime minutes, $25 for an additional $500 anytime minutes and a whopping $210 for 500MB data plan. Unlike AT&T, the Canadian carrier does not offer an unlimited data plan and its monthly minutes do not rollover to the next month if they go unused.

Last year, considering the possibility of spending a good deal of time in Canada, I stopped at a Rogers Wireless store to ask them about their data plans:

Me: How much do you charge for unlimited wireless data?

Salesperson: We don't offer that here.

Me: It's fine if it's more expensive than in the States, but how much is it?

Salesperson: We don't offer an unlimited data plan.

Me: You're kidding.

Salesperson: No. We just don't have that here.

Me: At all?

Salesperson: No.

Me: Okay, if you don't, who does?

Salesperson: No one.

I have a mobile wireless broadband card from Sprint (evil though they may be, they do have a great wireless data network). It costs $60 per month for unlimited data, and it's one of the better purchases I've made recently. I no longer hunt for Wi-Fi hot spots on the road, paying T-Mobile and others $10 a day for the privilege of using their networks. I haven't yet found a place where I've wanted to open my laptop that Sprint wasn't available, and I don't have to worry about how much I'm using the service.

So where are the competitive pressures that would lower prices for wireless service in Canada?

May 23, 2007

The Rise of the Loonie

Last week, the Canadian dollar reached a 30-year high against the US dollar: 91.79 US cents to the Canadian dollar, which it hadn't seen since October 1977. (Since then, it has continued to rise, and is now at 92.41 US cents.)

My first visit to Canada was in March 1998, when I visited MGI Software in Toronto, a developer I was courting in my role as VP Developer Relations at Be. On the day of my arrival, 25 March, a Canadian dollar was worth 70.84 US cents. It continued to fall during the remainder of President Clinton's term in office. On the date of President Bush's inauguration, 20 January 2001, it was worth 66.12 US cents. It reached a low of 61.92 cents on 21 January 2002, and came close again exactly 10 months later, at 63.06 US cents, but it has been on a tear ever since. (Statistics via the FXHistory section of

Since Bush took office, the Canadian dollar is up 39.76 percent. When you consider that Canada has a comparable (though much smaller) economy, a comparable standard of living, a border that's essentially open to most trade, and a higher level of government services, this becomes an amazing statistic. It's what happens when one government runs budget surpluses year after year, while its neighbor, after briefly running a budget surplus under one president, begins running unprecedented budget deficits under his successor.

I compared the US and Canadian federal budgets back in 2003 (here and here). The Canadian government has continued its policy of fiscal restraint, while the US government seems to have learned little or nothing. Before long, the Canadian dollar will be at parity with the US dollar, and then surpass it. I hope someone in our elected government sits up and takes notice then.

June 19, 2006

Somebody Call Stephen Colbert

From The Seattle Times:

WEST VANCOUVER, B.C. -- A woman in this suburb north of Vancouver had reason to feel like Goldilocks in reverse when she arrived home to find a bear eating oatmeal in her kitchen, police say.

The one- or two-year-old juvenile bear apparently entered through an open sliding glass door, broke a ceramic food container and started chewing down last Thursday, West Vancouver police Sgt. Paul Skelton said.

"It sounds like a nursery rhyme, doesn't it?" Skelton said. "At least we have a health-conscious bear on our hands."

Three police officers couldn't get the bear to budge, he said.

"The bear didn't appear to be aggressive and wasn't destroying the house, so they just let it do what it was doing and eventually the bear decided to make its way out of the residence and down toward a forested gully," Skelton said. "It ended the best it could."

Currently, "Grizzly Bears" are number five on Colbert's "On Notice" list. Maybe this will move them up a notch, which would put them just behind "Black Hole at Center of Galaxy".

June 06, 2006

Way to Go, Hurricanes Fans

Last night was Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals. I usually only find hockey interesting in person, but even on television, this was a game for the ages: Edmonton went up 3-0, then Carolina scored four unanswered goals to make it 4-3, then Edmonton tied it at 4-4, and finally Carolina went up 5-4 with just 30 seconds left. it was tremendous fun to watch.

My favorite moment, however, was at the start of the game. Since a Canadian team was playing, the first anthem sung was "O Canada". A few weeks ago, San Jose fans booed "O Canada" at a home game, also against Edmonton -- an awful gesture against a country that happens to be one of our closest allies. In contrast, last night, to my great delight, not only was there no booing, but one could see and hear Carolina fans singing along with it. At the conclusion, there was plenty of cheering.

I'm not a true North Carolinian -- I'm not a native, and I won't stay here forever -- but I was proud of the people in attendance last night. They made their state and their country look good. We need more of that sort of thing these days.

May 01, 2006

Baltar's House

It's easy to take the Internet for granted, now that we're so used to it -- it's easy to use it without reflecting on how much it has changed our lives, in ways large and small.

My son Cameron and I have been catching up on Battlestar Galactica -- I had heard so many times that it was the "best show on television" that I finally broke down and bought the DVDs of the first season to give it a try. Having watched it through most of the second season at this point, yes, it might well be the best show on TV, and is certainly up there with the other three shows I watch, 24, House, and Rome -- but that's not the point of this post.

In the show, one of the characters has (and returns to in his imagination) one of the most beautiful homes I've ever seen. It's modern but not austere, tastefully decorated, but the star is the view -- floor-to-ceiling windows throughout with wonderful sights of the ocean and islands in the distance. Battlestar Galactica is filmed in Vancouver, and from time to time I'm able to pick out locations there. When we saw the house, I said to Cameron that I thought it must be along the Sea to Sky Highway, just north of Horseshoe Bay, maybe 15 or 20 miles from downtown.

A decade ago, that would have been the end of the discussion. Now, though, fact-checking is just a search away. As it happens, fans of the series have created Google Earth files (here and here) detailing shooting locations for the show. One of them uses frame captures from episodes and helpfully lines up the views in Google Earth with the views from the shows. As it turns out, the house in question is indeed along the Sea to Sky Highway, six or seven miles north of Horseshoe Bay, just south of Village Beach Park. I've driven past it at at least a dozen times on my way to and from Whistler, though it looks as if it's well hidden from the road. Here's a screen capture from Google Earth showing the view:

Baltar's House

A minor thing, to be sure, but it reminded me of how much the Internet has changed how we think -- that we can learn virtually anything we want to know, and behave accordingly. I think we don't reflect on or appreciate that often enough.

April 15, 2006

Blame (and Invade) Canada!

According to Damn Interesting, the US once had a contingency plan for invading Canada:

The U.S. plan was titled "Joint Army and Navy Basic War Plan -- Red," and it included plans for the invasion of Canada by the United States as part of a larger worldwide military action. War Plan Red was actually designed for a war against England and it's Commonwealth. The scenario imagined a conflict between England (code name Red) and the United States (Blue) fighting over vital international trade and commercial interests.

The plan was devised by the Pentagon U.S. military in 1934. In the event of such a military conflict, American planners assumed that England would use Canada (Crimson) -- a part of the British Commonwealth -- as a staging area for attacks on the United States...

The ninety-four-page document outlined plans for stopping British reinforcements by taking the port of Halifax, then seizing the hydroelectric power plants at Niagara Falls while the Navy blockaded Canada's Atlantic and Pacific ports. The Navy would also take control of the Great Lakes. Special notice was made about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and how they were not a force to be taken lightly in a military action.

Next the U.S. Army was to attack in force on three fronts -- advancing from North Dakota towards Winnipeg, moving from Vermont to capture Montreal and Quebec, and moving from the upper Midwest to take over the nickel mines of Ontario. The plan also called for a convoy to travel up Route 99 to Vancouver, and for the British colonies in the Caribbean to be taken. The goal of the U.S. was not only to defeat Canada, but to claim it as a prize, as described in the document:

"BLUE intentions are to hold in perpetuity all CRIMSON and RED territory gained. The policy will be to prepare the provinces and territories of CRIMSON and RED to become states and territories of the BLUE union upon the declaration of peace."
Even more strangely, the Canadians apparently had invasion plans of their own:
As for the Canadians, they had their own plan outlining the invasion of the United States. Developed in 1921, it was called "Defense Scheme Number One," and it called for Canadian soldiers to march on Albany, Minneapolis, Seattle and Great Falls, Montana. They were well aware that they lacked the military strength to defeat the U.S., so the thrust of the plan was to buy time for the British to arrive and help their commonwealth ally.
Wikipedia entries on these plans can be found here and here.

Reading about all this, I can't help but think of my favorite line from Canadian Bacon, from the press conference at which the US President (played by Alan Alda) demands the release of a "hostage", saying:

Release her pronto, or we'll level Toronto.

April 24, 2005

New Vancouver 2010 Logo

Here's the new logo for the 2010 Winter Olympics to be held in Vancouver:

Vancouver 2010 Logo
According to the Vancouver 2010 Website:
For centuries, the Inuit people of Canada's Arctic stacked rock in human form to create the inukshuk, a steadfast guidepost that provided direction across the vast horizons of the North...

With the deepest appreciation for Canada's aboriginal heritage and for the joy Canadians share in celebrating winter's snow and ice, the emblem of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games is a contemporary interpretation of the inukshuk. It is called "Ilanaaq", which is the Inuit word for friend.

I liked the old logo, but I like the new one, too. Though it does look kind of like Strong Sad:

Strong Sad

April 09, 2005

Reporting Hate Speech = Hate Speech?

This is so absurd it's almost funny. A former aboriginal leader from Canada is on trial for hate speech directed against Jews. From a CBC story on the trial:

David Ahenakew's lawyer says the reporter who wrote the newspaper article that led to the aboriginal leader being charged with a hate crime should have been charged with the same offence.

Doug Christie told court Wednesday that James Parker, a former reporter with the Saskatoon StarPhoenix newspaper, knowingly disseminated hate by publicizing Ahenakew's anti-Semitic comments.

"Who distributed the allegedly hateful words?" said Christie, who argues that Ahenakew thought he was having a private conversation with Parker when he praised Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust.

"If it had been Dr. Ahenakew, no one else would have heard them other than him and Mr. Parker. Mr. Parker had a story that was the best he could hope for in his life."

Parker covered a conference on aboriginal health in December of 2002, when Ahenakew -- a former senator with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations and a member of the Order of Canada -- made a speech in which he blamed Jews for starting the Second World War.

Parker spoke to Ahenakew outside the conference, recording their conversation.

In the interview, which was played in court Monday, Ahenakew referred to Jews as "a disease" and said Hitler "made damn sure" Jews didn't take over Germany and Europe. "That's why he fried six million of those guys," Ahenakew said.

The publication of the comments resulted in Ahenakew being charged with the wilful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group.

I'm tempted to say something funny about this, because it's just plain stupid legal theorizing on behalf of a difficult-to-defend client (at least according to Canadian law), but is it part of the larger trend of attacking journalists for their reporting? Kevin Sites reported a Marine killing a wounded Iraqi and was widely branded a traitor out at the far right end of the blogosphere for it.

(I should note, by the way, that I don't agree with Canadian law in this regard. Ahenakew's comments were disgusting, but I believe in freedom of speech as long as it doesn't directly incite violence against persons, which his words don't seem to do. Having said that, Ahenakew is a Canadian citizen and must know the laws there.)

February 20, 2004

Vancouver Highlights

Via Flickr, a handy resource from Caterina Fake: a list of cool things to do in Vancouver -- dining, drinking, sightseeing, and shopping. This is on my mind because I'm headed out there next month for meetings with Stewart, Caterina, and the rest of the Ludicorp team.

To Caterina's list, I'd add:

  • When I worked in Vancouver, one of my colleagues was a former executive with a major record label's Canadian operation. He confirmed what I suspected: a&b sound is probably the cheapest place to buy legitimate CDs in North America, if not the Western world as a whole. It's a long story involving cutthroat competition and loss leaders. All you need to know is that the deals are fantastic (though perhaps a bit less so now with the plunging US dollar).

  • The Boathouse restaurant on Denman has an outdoor upper deck. In the summer, sitting there with your drink and your fish and chips, looking out over English Bay, the only possible conclusion one can draw is that life is, in fact, good.

  • I have many fond memories of dining at Bridges on Granville Island. It's good anytime, but on a sunny day, sitting outside, False Creek laid out before you, with the Burrard Street bridge off to one side... it's hard to beat.

  • My favorite gallery in Vancouver is the Coastal Peoples Gallery in Yaletown. It's First Nations (the Canadian equivalent of "Native American") art and jewelry, all from the Pacific Northwest, all very high-end -- no tourist junk.

  • Cupcakes on Denman. They bake cupcakes and only cupcakes. They're rather good at it.

  • I was taught a rule of thumb when I was in Vancouver: if it's raining and it's less than 7 degrees Celsius downtown, it's snowing up on the ski areas overlooking the city -- from west to east, Cypress, Grouse, and Seymour. Of the three, pretty much everyone I knew stuck to Cypress. All three have night skiing -- it was a real treat to leave work around 5:30 PM, be on the slopes by 6:00 or so, and ski until 10:00.

  • Ecco il Pane. Cherry chocolate bread. Go. Now. Eat.

  • My Canadian friends are probably going to laugh at me for this, but I miss London Drugs. There's nothing quite like it in the US -- it's like a modern US drugstore, but about twice as large, with reasonable prices, and with decent computer, audio/video, and photo sections.

  • If you like REI in the US, you should make a trip to Mountain Equipment Co-Op. No outdoor store anywhere could hope to match REI's flagship store in Seattle, but MEC is cool in its own right and worth a trip.

  • I haven't run for nearly a year now due to a knee problem, but when I did run, I bought all my gear at the Running Room -- my favorite chain of running stores anywhere. Their house branded line of running and workout clothing is outstanding -- I've abused my microfiber shirts and pants mercilessly for years now and yet they're still in great shape.

  • I've yet to be tattooed, but if and when I get a tattoo, no matter where I live, I'll get it done at Sacred Heart. Its reputation stretches far and wide.

  • No Soup Nazis at Soup Etc. -- just friendly people and really good soup. Bengal Lentil and Lobster Chowder are my favorites, but honestly, it's hard to go wrong. Great on a cold and rainy day (which Vancouver has from time to time).

  • There are two popular dessert chains in Vancouver. Death by Chocolate is more ubiquitous, but to my mind, True Confections is the superior choice. It's all good, but if it's in season, the strawberry shortcake is to die for.

  • The best cheese I've ever had is the maple smoked cheddar from Urban Fare, which also happens to be an extremely hip supermarket with lots of other great stuff to eat.

  • Whistler is only an hour and a half from Vancouver, up the Sea-to-Sky Highway. It's the largest ski resort in North America, and (if memory serves) the third-largest in the world. The village is all newly constructed to look like a pedestrian-friendly town, and though it's artificial, and though it's probably bourgeois to say this, it works for me. Whistler is great fun any time of the year, not just during the winter. If you're in Vancouver over a summer weekend, a day trip to Whistler for a stroll through the village, a meal, some shopping, and a gondola ride up to the Roundhouse would make for a perfect day.

  • If you're driving to Vancouver from Seattle, White Rock is just across the border on the Canadian side. It's a small beachside town with a long boardwalk and a stream of water-facing restaurants and shops. It's not spectacular, but I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for it -- I've spent many a weekend afternoon there, browsing through stores, walking along the water, and settling down for a nice meal.

December 13, 2003

Congratulations, Prime Minister

Paul Martin was sworn in as Prime Minister of Canada yesterday. Here's hoping he can continue the success he had as Finance Minister, during which time he drove the Canadian government to consistently run surpluses, while at the same time finding more money -- though not enough, according to some -- for social programs.

A good sign is the Prime Minister's stated first legislative priority: new ethics rules to improve transparency and accountability in government. One of the new rules will ban ministers from the use of non-commercial aircraft except in exceptional circumstances (and such use to be disclosed within 30 days). If only US Cabinet members had to travel that way.

December 02, 2003

Canada-US Smackdown!

I've written on numerous occasions (here, here, here, here, here, here, here) about the ever-growing cultural divide between Canada and the US. Now that the New York Times is saying the same thing, does that make it real?

Canadians and Americans still dress alike, talk alike, like the same books, television shows and movies, and trade more goods and services than ever before. But from gay marriage to drug use to church attendance, a chasm has opened up on social issues that go to the heart of fundamental values.

A more distinctive Canadian identity -- one far more in line with European sensibilities -- is emerging and generating new frictions with the United States...

To many commentators the two countries seem to be exchanging their traditional roles, one founded in America's birth as a revolutionary country and Canada's as a counterrevolutionary alternative.

During the Depression, under the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the United States was the progressive force, while Canada stubbornly held on to conservative economic policies.

By the mid-1960's, though, Canada shifted to a far more activist government, moving to a national health insurance system. Not long afterward, the Vietnam War began siphoning popularity from the Great Society experiment of President Johnson. The trends have only widened since.

From harm reduction to universal heath insurance, marijuana decriminalization to gay marriage, Canada seems to be on the right side of many, many issues. Meanwhile, their murder rate is far lower (32 percent of the US rate), their prisons far less full (17 percent of the US rate), and their budget balanced.

Once again, I ask: are we in the US too proud to learn from Canada?

September 15, 2003

Harm Reduction in Vancouver

I'm headed to Vancouver for a few days off this week, so this seems particularly appropriate. From a Salon article on efforts to create safe fixing sites for drug addicts in that city:

It's 11 o'clock on a busy Wednesday night inside 327 Carrall St.... in the smaller back room, two or three junkies at a time inject heroin or crack cocaine into their veins using sterile swabs and fresh needles under the watchful eye of a registered nurse. In here they can also receive advice on vein care, skin infections and detox programs...

The... operation is illegal, but the mayor's office has looked the other way since it opened on April 7; the guerrilla safe-injection site running here every night from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. insures junkies have sterile gear to shoot up with, and discourages them from fixing alone -- a main contributing cause of overdose... The site is the de facto vanguard of an evolving "harm-reduction" strategy that the city of Vancouver hopes will help clean up the streets and halt a decade-long illicit-drug catastrophe that's killed more than 2,000 via overdose and infectious disease.

Essentially, the situation here has been so bad for so long that the government is willing to help addicts plunge illegal drugs into their veins if it means stemming the greater tide of destruction. If the city's official plan stays on track, by mid-September street junkies will be able to walk into a storefront at nearby 135 East Hastings St. almost any time of day and get high in a safe, clean facility administered by the provincial Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. It's a prospect that's angered conservatives from Ottawa to Washington.

So far, so good. Rather than continuing with an interdict-and-punish strategy that has never worked, Vancouver politicians have realized they have to try something different. But wait -- there's a problem. The US government doesn't like what Vancouver is doing:

Vancouver's bold strategy has provoked the expected ire of conservatives -- especially south of the border, where Washington has recently watched Canada sanction gay marriage and close in on federal decriminalization of marijuana. The prospect of government-backed hard-drug use next door has the White House palpably unsettled: As soon as Vancouver's planned site gained Canadian federal approval in late June, U.S. drug czar John Walters went off. "It's immoral to allow people to suffer and die from a disease we know how to treat," he told the Associated Press. "There are no safe-injection sites," he added, calling the policy "a lie" and "state-sponsored personal suicide." David Murray, special assistant in the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, told the Vancouver Sun on May 2 that likely "unintended consequences" of the safe-injection site could force the U.S. to tighten border controls to prevent increased drug trafficking. That could, of course, negatively impact trade of all sorts.
This is offensive and stupid. It's offensive because we're telling a sovereign nation -- one consistently ranked as having a higher quality of life and better social services than do we -- how to run their country, and threatening them with consequences if they don't do things our way. It's stupid because we've had a "War on Drugs" for decades now and haven't achieved anything except a soaring prison population, yet somehow our leaders feel competent to tell others how to handle their drug problems.

The mayor of Vancouver seems highly pragmatic:

"This is a health problem, not a criminal problem," says Vancouver Mayor Larry Campbell. Like many other Canadian officials, Campbell appears unfazed by Washington's rhetoric. "We have conservatives in Canada, too, and they won't look at fact or reason either," he says flatly. "I've been to Zurich [Switzerland] where they had a problem way worse than ours, and I've seen the results." The harm-reduction component of the widely endorsed plan -- Mayor Campbell was voted into office in 2002 promising to implement it -- is modeled after programs in Europe and Australia, which have dramatically reduced overdose deaths and the spread of disease.
The reality is that supply reduction simply doesn't work:
[Drs. Evan] Wood and [Martin] Schechter... cite a 2001 United Nations report indicating that only 5 percent of the global illegal drug flow is successfully thwarted by law enforcement. Still, the problem isn't on the enforcement front lines. "The responsibility lies with the politicians and policymakers who continue to direct the overwhelming majority of resources into failing supply-reduction strategies, despite the wealth of scientific evidence demonstrating their ineffectiveness," they write. "Our strong consensus [is] that curbing HIV and overdose epidemics requires a shift toward prevention, treatment and harm reduction." ...

According to the latest Vancouver drug use epidemiology report, injection drug use was the predominant mode of HIV transmission in B.C. from 1994 to 2000. A 1997 study of more than 1,400 Vancouver needle users revealed an HIV infection rate of 18 percent -- the highest level anywhere in the developed world...

Conservatives, [nurse Fiona] Gold... points out, should be equally invested in the harm-reduction strategy -- especially those who are fiscally conservative. Every HIV-infected addict dropped into the healthcare system costs the Canadian government an average of $150,000 in long-term care; the cost of 12 such patients would pay for the new site to run for a year, she says.

Once again, we find that no one wants to experiment with social policy when it goes against their dogma. Liberals are willing to allow children to rot in failing schools rather than experiment with privatization and school choice. Conservatives are willing to allow drug users to die rather than experiment with safe-injection sites and other harm reduction programs.

"It's certainly reasonable to expect that if this is successful in Canada, that some people will want to imitate it here," says UCLA's [Professor Mark] Kleiman. The prospect of entering uncharted legal waters may be another reason Washington conservatives are sounding a defiant note... "There's no doubt that those who want to keep U.S. drug policy very supply-reduction focused feel threatened by this." ...

But conservatives also argue that the positive results of harm-reduction programs overseas may not translate across different cultures or cityscapes. "I think there are far more serious difficulties with the Swiss model than have been acknowledged," David Murray of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, a social anthropologist by training, told the Vancouver Sun in May. "My impression is that the presumed benefits will turn out to be illusory." Enabling addicts to pursue their habit, conservatives say, will inevitably boost neighborhood crime and deepen urban decay...

"This isn't a game I'm playing where we win or lose, it's peoples' lives," says Mayor Campbell. "If it doesn't work, we'll try something else, but we know that pure enforcement doesn't work... The fact of the matter is, the most compelling reason to do this is the U.S. system -- just take a look at your jails. Prisons are a growth industry in the United States, and a vast majority are in there for drugs, of some form or another." Indeed, more than 70,000 inmates, or roughly 55 percent of the U.S. federal prison population, are currently locked up for drug offenses, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. "People don't come out rehabilitated, and the drug and health problems aren't dealt with," says Campbell. "We're simply trying to move beyond outdated laws." ...

UCLA's Kleiman offers... advice for a displeased Bush administration.

"A really sensible U.S. government might say to Canada, 'We think this is a really dangerous experiment, but if you're crazy enough to try it in your neighborhood, God bless you, and we'll watch,'" he says. "A scientific view of drug policy would say, 'Here's an opportunity for us to learn something.' Of course, that's not what I expect to see from Washington."

Sensible, pragmatic viewpoints and a willingness to try new ideas when the old ideas aren't working -- I don't expect to see that from any politician in the US. It's not just sad; in this case, at least, it's tragic.

September 05, 2003

What Country Am I?

I took the Country Quiz the other day. Here are the questions, my answers, and the result:

  • How's your quality of life? [Good | Could be better] Good
  • What climate do you prefer? [Stay cool! | Mild and tropical, baby] Stay cool!
  • Do you ski? [Yes | No] Yes
  • How do you resolve conflicts? [Let's talk about it. | I hate you. Die.] Let's talk about it.
  • Are you social? [Go away. | Hi there.] Hi there.
  • How do you feel about foreigners? [They make me nervous. | Let's have open borders.] Let's have open borders.


You're Canada!
People make fun of you a lot, but they're stupid because you've got a much better life than they do. In fact, they're probably just jealous. You believe in crazy things like human rights and health care and not dying in the streets, and you end up securing these rights for yourself and others. If it weren't for your weird affection for ice hockey, you'd be the perfect person.

I wasn't trying to be Canada, but there you go.

Interestingly, when I was in Japan this summer, Joi Ito took me out for dinner to a private club located beneath the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. Walking through the lobby, I mentioned to him my affinity for Canada. "You could be a Canadian," he replied. "You like to get along with people." True enough.

July 02, 2003

It's Official!

The 2010 Winter Olympics have been awarded to Vancouver!

Congratulations to the people not only of Vancouver, but of British Columbia and all of Canada. I'll see you there in about six and a half years.

Go Vancouver!

Today is the day that the International Olympic Committee decides on and announces the venue for the 2010 Winter Olympics. The three final candidates are Vancouver, Canada; Salzburg, Austria; and Pyeongchang, South Korea.

As I've written before (here and here), I think this should be an easy decision. Vancouver is friendly, clean, inexpensive, and has perhaps the most beautiful natural setting of any major city in the world. It also happens to have one of the world's three largest ski resorts an hour and a half north in Whistler.

The IOC announces its decision at 0841 Pacific Time today. If you're in Canada, you can watch the ceremony on CBC, CBC Newsworld, TSN, CTV, Global BC, and probably the Weather Channel for good measure. ( has a complete schedule for the day's events here.)

Go Vancouver!

May 30, 2003

Chrétien on Canada

From the Globe and Mail, an article on Canadian Prime Minister Chrétien's criticism of the US:

Prime Minister Jean Chrétien criticized the massive deficits being posted by the "right-wing" Bush administration in the United States yesterday, while boasting of his own government's economic management.

"The Americans will have a deficit of $500-billion [U.S.] this year, and it is a right-wing government," Mr. Chrétien told reporters travelling on the plane with him to Europe. "If we were to equal that, it would be a $75-billion [Canadian] deficit because we're 10 times smaller. Imagine!" ...

He said Canada is now the envy of the world, with a strong economy, political stability, and a diverse and tolerant population. He chided Canadians -- and the media in particular -- for failing to celebrate the country's successes.

The Prime Minister said Canada is the only country among the G8 industrialized nations to have put its public pension system on a sound financial footing.

He also said European leaders are envious of Canada's ability to absorb roughly 200,000 immigrants a year without the kind of political backlash that is roiling their countries. Italy, for example, expects to see its population decline from 60 million people to 40 million in a few decades, he said, but has trouble winning public support for higher immigration levels.

"How can you run a country with social programs when you have a population that is decreasing?" he said.

He added that his "failure" was that he was unable to achieve the target immigration level of 1 per cent of the Canadian population, or more than 300,000 new arrivals a year.

"For them, the question is how to accept a few."

As I noted back in January (edited slightly for clarity):

From Statistics Canada, Canada's population in 2001 was 31.0 million. From the US Census Bureau, the US population in 2001 was 285.3 million. From the Canadian Forces, the defense budgets for the US and Canada in 2001 were USD$310.5 billion and USD$7.3 billion respectively. Doing the math, in 2001, Canada spent USD$235 per capita on defense, while the US spent USD$1,088 per capita.

Had Canada spent at the US rate of USD$1,088 per capita, their total defense budget would have been USD$33.7 billion, or CDN$52.3 billion. Projecting forward into 2002-3, instead of a CDN$8.7 billion surplus, Canada would have run a deficit of CDN$43.6 billion. Had the US spent at the Canadian rate of USD$235 per capita, their total defense budget would have been USD$67.0 billion. Projecting forward into 2002, instead of a USD$159 billion deficit, the US would have run a surplus of USD$84.5 billion.

What I find interesting is that had Canada spent on defense at the same rate on the US, their deficit still would have been only CDN$43.6 billion -- not the CDN$75.0 billion figure implied by their population, which is one-tenth that of the US.

In other words, even if Canadians spent the same amount proportionally on defense as their counterparts in the US, they would still have a budget deficit 40 percent smaller, while maintaining universal health care and other benefits not present in the US.

Is the US too proud to learn from Canada?

May 14, 2003

Putting the Screws to Teachers

From the Province, an article on the British Columbian government's takeover of the College of Teachers:

B.C.'s education minister has taken control of the professional body that governs teachers away from the teachers themselves...

Currently the college's 20-member board consists of 15 teachers elected by teachers from various regions in B.C., four members appointed by the government and one representative from the faculties of education at B.C. universities.

But under legislation introduced yesterday by [Minister of Education Christy] Clark, only eight of the board members will be elected by the teachers. One will still be chosen from faculties of education, but the other 11 will be appointed by the cabinet.

Clark said those 11 will be chosen after she consults with representatives of private schools, superintendents, principals, vice-principals and parents...

She acknowledged the legislation will probably be unpopular with the B.C. Teachers Federation, but added: "I have to look at the broader public interest."

"We're outraged," fumed BCTF president Neil Worboys.

"Clark and her government are putting the boots to teachers.

"The teaching profession will no longer be a democratic, self-regulating body. It's going to be controlled by the minister."

So does "the broader public interest" justify any action that impinges on the rights of individuals?

While I'm no fan of teachers' unions, I'm a huge fan of teachers, and to take control of a profession's regulating organization seems wholly unjustifiable, absent evidence of corruption, which the BC government has not alleged. In fact, I can't think of another example in Canada or the US where a professional regulatory group has been taken over by the government. If anyone knows of one, I'd like to hear about it.

May 05, 2003

Go Canada!

Via a Slashdot entry and a story in the Ottawa Citizen comes news of the US State Department's latest Patterns of Global Terrorism report. Canada is mentioned, mostly positively, but including the following passage:

Some US law-enforcement officers have expressed concern that Canadian privacy laws, as well as funding levels for law enforcement, inhibit a fuller and more timely exchange of information and response to requests for assistance. Also, Canadian laws and regulations intended to protect Canadian citizens and landed immigrants from Government intrusion sometimes limit the depth of investigations.
All I can say is, thank goodness at least our neighbor to the north still seems to understand the importance of civil liberties.

May 04, 2003

Canada, the US, and Drug Laws

According to the CBC, the US is threatening unspecified measures against Canada if the government there decriminalizes marijuana:

David Murray, right-hand man to U.S. "drug czar" John Walters, says he doesn't want to tread on another country's sovereignty, but warned there would be consequences if Canada proceeds with a plan to decriminalize the possession of marijuana.

"We would have to respond. We would be forced to respond," said Murray.

Murray didn't spell out what the American response would be, but he invoked images of tie-ups at border crossings and intense bureaucracy...

Murray tried to express the feeling in the U.S. that looser drug laws go hand-in-hand with an increase in crime and drug addiction among youth, and used some apocalyptic language to do it.

"You can't wall this off saying, 'We're only talking about a little cannabis.' Our experience is they come together like the Four Horsemen," he said.

I'm not sure what I find more outrageous: the implied threats against our neighbor and ally, or the ridiculous claims about the effects of decriminalization. As NORML put it:

In Holland, where politicians decided over 25 years ago to separate marijuana from the illicit drug market by permitting coffee shops all over the country to sell small amounts of marijuana to adults, individuals use marijuana and other drugs at rates less than half of their American counterparts.
Don't believe NORML? How about a report from the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction?
Lifetime experience of cannabis is reported to range from 10% (Finland) to 25 to 30% (Denmark and the United Kingdom) of the whole adult population, with a substantial number of countries reporting figures of around 20% (Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Ireland and the Netherlands)... [C]ocaine and ecstasy have been tried each by about 0.5 to 4.5% of the population... As a reference outside Europe, in the 2000 US household survey, 34% of adults (12 years and older) reported lifetime experience of cannabis and 11% of cocaine.

Recent use of cannabis is reported from 1 to 10% of all adults, although most countries that have information report levels of between 5 and 10%. Recent use of amphetamines, cocaine or ecstasy was reported in general by less than 1% of adults, although Ireland and the United Kingdom have somewhat higher figures for the three substances, together with Denmark and Norway for amphetamines and Spain for cocaine. In the 2000 US household survey, 8.3% of adults (12 years and older) reported recent use (past year) of cannabis and 1.5% of cocaine.

I heap criticism on liberals who are against experiments in school reform (notably voucher-based systems) not so much because I'm positive they'll work, but because I'm sure the current educational system doesn't, and feel strongly that we should try new ideas. By the same token, though, conservatives who are against experiments in drug policy reform deserve the same criticism. The War on Drugs has been an abject failure by any reasonable measure. Why aren't conservatives willing to try new ideas?

The US could do with a lot less partisanship and a lot more pragmatism these days.

April 24, 2003

Toronto-WHO Smackdown

On NewsHour last night, the deputy mayor of Toronto, Case Ootes, faced off against Denis Aitken, chief of staff for the director general at the World Health Organization, moderated by host Ray Suarez:

Ray Suarez: Denis Aitken, the WHO has added Toronto to a list that includes Chinese provinces and the Chinese capital Beijing. Why?

Denis Aitken: Because Toronto now meets the three criteria that we have for ensuring that we try to keep down the international spread of the disease.

The three criteria are that there's a large number of cases, that secondly there's evidence of transmission now unfortunately outside of the hospital community and the local family of those into the wider community, and finally that we have had a case of an exportation of the disease from Canada.

Ray Suarez: Deputy Mayor Ootes, given those criteria what was Toronto's reaction to the WHO's announcement of a travel warning.

Case Ootes: Well, we were obviously very upset and have launched a protest through our federal minister of health that the action by the World Health Organization is not justified given the situation in Toronto which is completely different from the situation in China...

Ray Suarez: What about the third criterion Mr. Aitken mentioned, that now there is evidence that cases have been exported from Canada to other countries?

Case Ootes: I think he's talking about two cases, and to issue a warning based simply on that, that has the economic impact on the lives of people in this city, seems to be an action that doesn't... isn't merited by the facts...

Denis Aitken: Let me say that one case was enough to start this thing in Canada. It came from Hong Kong. In Hong Kong one case was enough from Guangdong to start the case in Hong Kong, the whole outbreak in Hong Kong.

Score one for the WHO.

Toronto and SARS

Toronto has been the city hardest hit by SARS outside of Asia. Yesterday the WHO took a dramatic step, adding Toronto to its list of cities and regions for which it warns against all non-essential travel:

Hoping to slow the spread of SARS, the World Health Organization on Wednesday warned against "all but essential" travel to Toronto and parts of China, including the capital, Beijing -- a move immediately decried by one of Toronto's chief microbiologists as "ridiculous."

The statement from the WHO extends a previous warning that urged people not to travel to the Chinese province of Guangdong and to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

"As a result of ongoing assessments as to the nature of outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Beijing and Shanxi province, China, and in Toronto, Canada, WHO is now recommending, as a measure of precaution, that persons planning to travel to these destinations consider postponing all but essential travel," the group said in a statement issued from Geneva.

The reaction of Toronto's health officials and city leaders was of outrage:

Anne McLellan, federal Health Minister, said Canada takes "very strong exception" to the decision.

"I am just shaking my head here in disbelief," said Dr. Colin D'Cunha, Ontario's commissioner of public health.

"Our team is very disappointed with the WHO's warning. We believe this decision was made without consulting the province. We believe it is an over-reaction."

Others were harsher.

"It's a bunch of bulls---," said Dr. Donald Low, chief microbiologist at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital, who has been at the forefront of Canada's SARS battle. "The impact on the city -- you won't be able to take this mark off."

But while Toronto is angry at the WHO for their travel warning, one of Canada's own provincial leaders is considering doing the very same thing:

Alberta Premier Ralph Klein mused yesterday about whether he'd let his government's employees travel to Canada's largest city...

The Alberta Premier said yesterday that he had cancelled a trip to China because of SARS fears. All of his government's employees are now prohibited from travelling to China, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macao.

Mr. Klein said the province is also considering whether to impose a similar ban on travel to Toronto.

Personally, I think the reaction of Toronto officials puts them in danger of looking like Chinese officials a week or two ago: in denial about the true nature of the threat they face. A more considered response would be to say something like, "While we disagree with the WHO's assessment of the seriousness of the situation here, we will work with them over the next three weeks to continue the process of containing SARS in Toronto and demonstrating to the world that our city is safe for travelers."

March 12, 2003

"I Guess Those Were Some Important Pizzas"

A story from the Globe and Mail:

When she saw the screen door's shattered glass and heard somebody shouting for help, Marcella McAulay did not pause to think that she was supposed to be working.

The 34-year-old pizza-delivery woman ran into the house in Selkirk, Man., and tried to comfort a man she found curled up in the hallway, clutching his stomach where a blast from a 12-gauge shotgun had torn out his entrails.

When Ms. McAulay returned to the pizza shop three hours later, her boss yelled at her for missing work and fired her on the spot...

A single mother and part-time student, Ms. McAulay has not found work since the shooting the night of Feb. 26.

An owner of Frank's Pizza, Randy Saluk, said Ms. McAulay was fired because she abandoned her pizza-delivery duties.

"She wasn't doing her job, plain and simple," Mr. Saluk said. At the time of the shooting, she was on an unauthorized coffee break, he added.

"When she's not delivering, she's here to aid the cook and help clean and stuff like that."

Selkirk RCMP Sergeant John Joslin said investigators kept Ms. McAulay at the scene of the crime so they could interview her about the shooting.

"I guess those were some important pizzas," he said, chuckling.

The closing quote is classic RCMP-at-its-best -- dry Canadian humor. Excellent!

As for the pizza store owner and the employee, I'm willing to bet that in this case, what goes around will come around.

February 23, 2003

Vancouver Votes Yes

Vancouver has voted in favor of their city's bid to host the 2010 Winter Olympics, by a margin of 64 percent for to 36 percent against. Their only real competition -- because let's face it, Pyeongchang isn't going to win -- thinks this doesn't change anything:

Michael Schuen, spokesman for Salzburg's 2010 bid, said in a phone interview from Austria that the result was "what we expected." "We have a little more than 64 per cent in our polls," he said, referring to a poll released Friday showing 75-per-cent support in Salzburg. "Now it is an open race. It [Vancouver's result] won't change how we approach things."
Anyone who thinks a poll and and an actual plebiscite are directly comparable is mistaken. A plebiscite forces serious discussion and consideration of issues -- going to a polling station, drawing the curtain behind you, and pulling a lever is vastly different from answering a question over the telephone. After all:
A recent Gallup poll claimed South Korea had 97.2 per cent public support for its bid. The same poll also showed that fewer than 70 per cent of respondents knew anything about the bid.
GamesBids will be updating their bid rankings later today -- it will be interesting to see how they think this affects Vancouver's chances.

February 10, 2003

GamesBids and the 2010 Winter Olympics

GamesBids is a central repository for information on bids for upcoming Olympics. Olympics junkies can geek out on page upon page of news, background, statistics, and everything else relevant to the bid process. If you have any interest in such matters, I recommend it.

The next host city to be selected will be that of the 2010 Winter Olympics, with the vote to be taken 2 July. Four cities (Andorra la Vella, Andorra; Harbin, China; Jaca, Spain; and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina) missed the short list, and one (Berne, Switzerland) dropped out, leaving Pyeongchang, Korea, Salzburg, Austria, and Vancouver, Canada as the remaining candidates. GamesBids operates a bid ranking system called BidIndex, according to which the candidate cities' bids are rated as follows (as of today; higher numbers are better):

  • 64.45 Salzburg
  • 60.70 Vancouver
  • 50.82 Pyeongchang
Admittedly, I have been neither to Salzburg nor Pyeongchang. But I have lived in Vancouver, and it is hard to think of a more spectacular or more appropriate venue for the Winter Olympics.

Vancouver is an oceanfront city with a backdrop of snow-capped mountains that rise just minutes from downtown -- during the winter, one can be skiing at Cypress or Grouse half an hour after finishing work in the city (with Seymour taking a bit longer). An hour and a half to the north is Whistler, the largest ski resort in North America (and third-largest in the world, if memory serves), with a convenient and highly walkable village, a mile of vertical, and trails that are up to seven miles long. Vancouver is friendly, clean, and inexpensive. It also boasts an amazing array of great restaurants at bargain prices. If any place should host the Winter Olympics, it's Vancouver.

The official site for Vancouver's bid can be found here.

February 01, 2003

Text Bullying

A story from one of my favorite parts of the world on the unfortunate but inevitable trend of messaging-based bullying:

It used to be a shove on the way to class or cruel words scrawled on a toilet stall, but access to technology is giving schoolyard bullies new tools to torment their victims.

Text bullying -- sending threats or abusive messages via cellphones, pagers or computer instant-messaging -- is beginning to raise concern at Lower Mainland schools.

"Text messaging is just starting to come to our attention," said Peter Ewens, principal of Argyle Secondary in North Vancouver. "It's another medium students are now able to access to carry out behaviour such as harassment and bullying."

Argyle is currently dealing with a death threat against a student and a teacher delivered by e-mail. Police are still investigating the threats and uncovering the trail of the sender, who was able to hide the origin of the message. So far, two students have been suspended and police are still working with computer forensic specialists to trace the threats...

At Eric Hamber Secondary in Vancouver, principal Andy Krawczyk knows text bullying happens by e-mail, and he expects cellphone harassment is on the way.

"The schools used to have a no-pager or cellphone rule, but that's long gone," he said. "Parents give the kids cellphones to keep in touch. But the more technology gets away from us, the more difficult it will be to come up with simple rules to control it."

Via Smart Mobs.