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Techno-Socialist


Conservative Million Jobs Plan ads removed from Google Ads

by doconnor in Conservative Party, Politics

I had been seeing Ontario Conservative’s Million Jobs Plan adds on websites for weeks. Some times I would even click on them knowing it would mean money would be transferred from the Conservatives to the left-wing websites I am reading.

I was thinking about what I could do now that we have found out the million jobs are based on bogus math and I realized I could complain to the online ad companies arguing the ads where inaccurate. On the morning of Thursday May 29th I submitted a complaint by clicking on the corner on the ad. By Friday May 30th the Google ads for the Million Jobs Plan has been replaced by ad saying they would control Hydro rates.

The other ad company that has been serving Million Job Plan ads is AdRoll. I submitted a complaint to them through live chat. They said they would look into it, but decided the ad is “not attacking any individuals or groups, and they are promoting their own opinion on policies” so it is in compliance with their policies. I will follow up with them further.

Let me know if you see a Million Jobs Plan ad served by Google. You can tell which ad company it comes from by clicking on the triangle in the corner and clicking on AdChoices.


Ontario Conservatives, Mathematically Irresponsible

by doconnor in Conservative Party, Politics

It’s been four days since the mathematical failure of the Conservative’s Million Jobs Plan was relieved, yet strangely it isn’t the top story of the election.

There have been two articles in The Star, but they are “balanced” in that the give equal time to both sides when, in fact, one side is factually correct and one is incorrect. At this point they shouldn’t be asking Hudak if he stands by his numbers. They should be asking if they are wrong because of incompetence or did he attempt to perpetrate a fraud on the people of Ontario. They might even ask if he is going to resign as leader (You’ll notice that New Democrats aren’t hesitant to question their leader in the middle of an election).

To help appreciate the seriousness of the Conservative’s error consider the gas plant scandal was largely over the $900 million difference between the government’s estimate of the cost of $230 million and the Auditor General cost of $1.1 billion. Much of that difference was from the estimates of the starting dates and how to adjust for net present value. These are the kind of thing people could legitimate debate and disagree about.

The Conservative’s error of treating man-years of employment as “jobs” was not a matter that accountants would stay up late debating. It a massive distortion that octupled their job estimate. This error would not be acceptable on a high school paper. To have it as the centre piece of a major party’s platform means incompetence or deliberate lying. To put a dollar amount on it, if they overestimate jobs by 400,000, that would amount to $200 billion per year in income.

During the opening weeks of the campaign the NDP where, rightly, criticized for not releasing a costing for their platform because it seemed like they where going to pay for everything through the same corporate tax increase. Now that they have, the complaints has stopped. However the Conservative Party have not released a costing for their platform, yet no one in the media seems to be complaining.


The Power Plant Scandal by the Numbers

by doconnor in Liberal Party, Politics

The most quoted number for the cost of the Ontario Liberals moving two natural gas power plants away from urban locations in order to win a few more seats is $1.1 billion dollars.

If you look at the Auditor General reports that the number is based on you can see that the much of the 1.1 billion dollar cost would still be needed even if the plants would built in their new locations in the first place, as the NDP and Conservatives claim they would have done if they where in government at the time.

This cost breakdown uses the Auditor General’s numbers. The units are in millions of dollars in net present value. The total is different because I also include the addition profit the companies are likely to make at the new locations, which presumably they would not have made if the new locations where selected during the bidding process.

Cost of
different location
Cost from move
Missassauga to Lambton
To Greenfield 72
To Greenfield’s lender 150
To Greenfield’s suppliers 67
Legal fees 4
Line loss 60
Saving from delayed opening -76
Reduced gas delivery -65
Finance savings 5
Total -5 222
Oakville to Napanee
Gas turbines 210
Sunk costs 40
Legal fees 3
Gas delivery 577
Gas and hydro connections 43
Additional gas for modified turbines 35
Transmission upgrades 81
Line loss 32
Replacement power 91
Lower power cost -275
Saving from delayed opening -162
Construction savings 170
Site cheaper -55
Total 678 112
Grand Total 673 334

Some interesting observations can be made. The Lambton location is just as good as the Mississauga location because the addition line loss is made up for by lower gas delivery charges. It also explains why moving the Oakville plant cost more even though it wasn’t under construction yet. Moving the plant was actually cheaper, but the costs of the new location was much higher.

With these substantial costs to putting the plant in Napanee you can understand why the Liberal government made decision they did. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NDP or Conservatives had been in office, they would have tried to put the plant in Oakville.

The decision to move the plants was, of course, political and done to try and win a few extra seats, but parties make decision like that all the time. This was just an unusually blatant example. The same thing happened during the Scarborough—Guildwood by-election where all three major parties came out in support the Scarborough subway over the LRT despite its higher cost and shorter length.

The gas plant costs plus other scandals have given the Liberals a reputation for wastefulness. If you say they wasted $2 billion over 10 years of government that amounts to 0.1% of total government spending of about 2 trillion over that period. Very few households could say they waste so little money and any corporation would be proud of such a small percentage. Some commenters on the Toronto Star website seem to think the Liberal’s waste could pay for an entire transit network for the GTA. 200 million per year would pay for less then one tenth of the expected cost.

On the other hand the possible cover up of emails relating to the gas plant decision can not be justified. While it is not definitive emails where purposely hidden from the committee’s requests they have admitted they deleted emails. The federal Conservatives had a similar problem during its minority government and was found in contempt because of it. The modern practice of not admitting to the genuine justification for a policy (because they are made to appeal low knowledge voters, therefore the justification doesn’t stand up the scrutiny) clashes with the absolute power of parliament to demand the documents that contain the justification which can be wielded under a minority government.


Submission to the Procedure and House Affairs Committee on Bill C-23, Fair Elections Act

by doconnor in Democracy, Politics

As you consider the Fair Elections Act, your common sense may tell you it is vital to prevent fraudulent or ineligible voters from casting a ballot at any cost.

However the mathematical reality is that the effect on an election of a ineligible vote is equal to the effect of an eligible voter who is unable to vote. One gives one extra vote to a candidate, the other removes a vote from a candidate.

Any change to make it more difficult to vote will only make elections more democratic if it prevents more fraudulent or ineligible voters from voting then it discourages or prevents eligible voters from voting. Given there is every reason to believe there is virtually no fraudulent voting in Canada, any change would have to meet a very high standard before it would provide a net benefit.

If you believe in improving democracy, you must consider these factors as you vote on the measures in this bill.


Ford Nation’s reaction predicted by science

by doconnor in Politics, Toronto

Once someone becomes a leader of the high [Right-Wing Authoritarian Follower's] in-group, he can lie with impunity about the out-groups, himself, whatever, because he knows the followers will seldom check on what he says, nor will they expose themselves to people who set the record straight. Furthermore they will not believe the truth if they somehow get exposed to it, and if the distortions become absolutely undeniable, they will rationalize it away and put it in a box. If the scoundrel’s duplicity and hypocrisy lands him on the front page of every daily in the country, the followers will still forgive him if he just says the right things.

- from page 100 (footnote 5 of chapter 3: How Authoritarian Followers Think) of The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer. The book is by a psychology professor who spent his career studying authoritarians and authoritarian followers with surveys and experiments that give an empirical foundation to his insights.

Right-Wing Authoritarian Followers are the segment of society that largely driven by fear and believe what their leaders say without question. In our society they represent many, if not most, of the hardcore conservative supporters. They are probably the only supporters Rob Ford has left.

He shows that they are willing to forgive any wrong doing by their leaders not matter how blatant or hypocritical so long as they continue to say the things they want to hear. This is just one of the ways they are hypocritical.

The book is free and available at the link provided. I would recommend that anyone who wants a better understanding of how supporters of modern conservatives think should read it. It doesn’t really suggest ways to change their minds, but understanding they can’t really help themselves will make you less frustrated.


Rob Ford: Addicted to being Mayor

by doconnor in Politics, Toronto

Rob Ford may not be addicted to crack. It’s even possible he isn’t an alcoholic, just an occasional binge drinker. But I think his is addicted to the adulation he gets from being mayor.

He has admitted to smoking crack in one of his drunken stupors, yet still he refused to resign as mayor. Anyone else would have quit months ago when the video was first reported or when he started losing control. Yet he still subjects himself to the numerous indignities of covering up his misbehavior and then having to confess the truth. His lawyer has claimed that pressure from the media has damaged Ford’s health, when he could have prevented these problems by not binge drinking or, more realistically, resigned to reduce the media pressure on him.

This article suggests many people get involved in politics for the adulation they get.  No doubt in some cases that adulation can become addictive. It would explain why Ford spends much of his time dealing one and one with resident’s problems. That way he can receive that respect and praise directly from individuals, one at a time. It would also explain why he continues to puts himself and his family through this torturous process that is destroying him.

Others, like Michael Jackson, have arguably died from the effects of addiction to adulation. If Rob Ford doesn’t quit, I fear he may not make it to end of his term.

…and back during the election people said Smitherman wouldn’t be any better then Ford just because that had similar policies.


Bombing campaing to remove Assad the best option for Syria

by doconnor in Politics

I believe a bombing campaign with the aim to toppling the Assad regime, similar to the campaign in Libya, is justified.

The primary reason is that allowing the civil war to continue would likely cost more lives then a bombing campaign would.

If we do not intervene the Syria civil war could end up much like the civil war in neighboring Lebanon, where the multi-side war lasted for more then ten years and didn’t really end until there was international intervention, by Syria. The Syrian civil war has cost 100,000 lives so far. If it continues for another 10 years the number could reach 500,000.

In Libya the bombing there cost relatively few civilian lives. During the bombing Toronto Star reporter Rosie DiManno was in Tripoli. She was kept under continuous control by the Gadhafi regime, never allowed to talk to people on the street without supervision. They tried to show her all the civilian causalities, but the best they could to come up with is a single body every day or so, and sometimes the doctors would take the reports aside and tell them the victim has died in a traffic accident or something.

A bombing campaign could be more difficult in Syria then other places where it has worked, like Libya and Serbia, because the Syrian military is more advanced. They could even lose fighter pilots to the enemy, but the number of western lives lost are likely to be tiny compared to Syrian causalities.

One of the major concerns about intervening is that many of the rebels are Islamic extremists. While this is true, I think it is a argument to intervene as soon as possible. It is the civil war that has brought the extremists to Syria. Allowing the war to continue will only make the more entrenched.

It would have been better to try and end the war earlier, but even now I doubt the extremists would have much support among the people of Syria. They may make up a significant percentage of the rebel fighters, but that doesn’t equate to popular support, especially since many of them are foreigners. However, the longer civilians suffer, the more popular support the extremists will get.

The only counties where extremists have gained a significant foothold are Afghanistan and Somalia, two countries that have been in a state of almost continuous war for decades. Keeping the Syria civil war short will help keep the extremists from gaining any more of a foot hold. If we are able to end the war, the extremists may still commit bombings and other terrorist attacks, but the level of killing will be much lower.

It should be possible to provide weapons and support to the secular rebels. This article argues that they are separated by geography and ideology and dislike each other almost as much as they dislike Assad.

A bombing campaign against the government forces to bring victory to the secular rebels would be a risk. There are a lot of things that could go wrong, but I believe the risk of allowing the civil war to continue is likely to cause more death in Syria and a greater chance that Islamic extremists could acquire chemical weapons.

Perhaps to greatest benefit is that it would send a message to other dictators that the world does not accept using massive military force against democracy protestors.


Mobile friendly rss feeds for The Toronto Star

by doconnor in Media, Meta

The Toronto Star website recently underwent another revamping. In the process the mobile version of the articles seems to have been removed, or at least I can’t access them from my smartphone. Using Firefox mobile leads me to a crazy page by page view that I suspect is design for tablets. Using the Android 2.3 Browser sends me to the desktop formatted page.

I mostly use The Star’s rss feeds on Google Reader for reading. What I’ve done is create a small php script that takes The Star’s rss feeds and changes the article links to the printer friendly version. They look great on my smartphone. They just have the article text and a picture with no javascript fluff and no ads.

To use it find the url of the feed. It will look something like this:

http://www.thestar.com/feeds.topstories.rss

Take the part after “http://www.thestar.com/” and copy and paste it after “http://doconnor.homeip.net/stariphone.php?r=” to make:

http://doconnor.homeip.net/stariphone.php?r=feeds.topstories.rss

You can subscribe to this link in Google Reader or any other feed reader. Here are some other example links:

Canada News
World News
Chantal Hébert Columns

You can find the feeds on The Star’s rss feeds page or you can follow the author link of a columnist to get a feed that that writer.


Trudeau: Project your beliefs on me

by doconnor in Liberal Party, Politics

Liberal leadership candidate Marc Garneau has called out Justin Trudeau for not having a platform. Trudeau has said that he is deferring to the Liberal’s policy renewal process.

There is no strong tradition of the leaders of political parties in Canada surrendering control of policy. This promise has all the hallmarks of one that will be ignored after he is elected, like the Conservative’s promise to be accountable.

However it is a very good campaign strategy. The problem with policy is that most people will disagree with at least some of it. If vision was as wonderful a thing as everyone claims, every politician would have one. The best political strategy is to have voters project their own beliefs on to the candidate, that way they’ll get broad support, even from people with contradictory beliefs. Obama was able to achieve this will his Hope and Change campaign.

Trudeau is using the Liberal’s policy renewal process to do the some thing. Most everybody knows that their policies will win out in the process. After all, their own beliefs are clearly the best and most sensible.

Does this mean you should vote for Trudeau? If you think that policy is important you should avoid him and vote for the candidate who you believe will implement the policies you believe in. However if you only care about winning elections, he would be a great choice as he has shown he is willing to do what it takes to win.


Religion tells us about the nature of man, not the nature of the universe

by doconnor in Ideas

Religion claims to tell us about how the universe works, but most religious belief comes from a time of superstition, ignorance and fear we can only catch a glimpse of when we read stories about fundamentalist cults in undeveloped countries like Nigeria.

People believe religion because that is what they have been always taught. They also believe that the Earth is one of eight planets that go around the Sun for the same reason. Nothing in their day to day experience indicates if those things or correct or not. People can learn for themselves the nature of the solar system by carefully plotting the motion of the Sun and planets and applying some serious mathematics. (I wonder how long it would have taken us to figure this if we weren’t already obsessed with the position of the planets because of astrology.) Of course, there is no reliable evidence that God exists.

Religion can’t help you understand the Universe, but it can help you understand something at least as mysterious, the human mind. The mind is the true domain of religion. It fits into its nooks and cranies, filling up space left unfilled by family, friends, society, knowledge and wisdom. Its shape and size changes from person to person and era to era, growing or shrinking as needed.

People who are in jail for life sometimes become born-again Christians. Religion creates a social network that accepts them for who they are, gives them a mission in life, fullfilling things to learn and forgiveness. Studies show the those who have done wrong and asked their God for forgiveness feel more relief from guilt then any other method, including admitting your wrongdoing. That’s why religious leaders are often found out to have repeatedly done immoral things.

In contrast, middle class people who live comfortable lives often only go to church on Easter and Christmas, giving religion less thought then than atheists for the rest of the year. They have no need for what religion provides, beyond a sense of tradition.

Religion is a story that provides spiritual fulfillment, just as Romeo and Juliet fulfills our desire for drama and Monty Python can reliably make us laugh.

Life of Pi really summaries why people believe in religion. Pi is found after being shipwrecked and spending months on a life boat. He tells two version of his tale to investigators, a fantastical story about a hyena, zebra, orangutan and tiger where only he and the tiger survive. Then he tells a tragic story about a sailor, a cook, his mother and him in the lifeboat in which the sailor kills the cook and his mother and he kills the sailor in revenge.

Pi doesn’t tell the investigators which is true, but asks them which they prefer. They don’t really know either way, so they choose the one with the animals. Pi says, “and so it goes with God.”

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Darwin O'Connor | doconno@gmail.com