Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tag Along with a Health Inspector

Due to a change in public regulation, the government of Saskatchewan has now put their restaurant food inspection reports online. Now you can find out how many rats are in the kitchen of your favourite eatery! Actually, I went through the whole thing, checking places that I generally eat, and didn't find any major problems with any of them. But one place was checkmarked for insect and rodent control! If you want to know which one, I suggest you start surfing the site.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Play with Wordle!

Wordle: Bourdieu

Have a bunch of awesome fun at the Wordle website, the site where you input text into their art program and watch paintings develop that would make Picasso green with jealousy. Or such.

Here is one I did using paragraphs from my paper on Bourdieu. How can you tell I'm currently writing a thesis? Check out some others I've done, cuz it's fun.

I'll try to post more often, I will!

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

10 Worst Bailout Boondoggles

I found this on MSN and thought I would reproduce it here, for that eventuality when the link no longer works (the original link is here). As you read it, keep in mind that at least THREE of these points are specifically about AIG, who just posted a $60 billion quarter loss, the worst quarter loss in corporate history, and is asking for more government aid (story here). Send this to your friends! Voice your displeasure to the powers that be! (Check out my post below for more of my recent 'angry man' letter writing. GM actually phoned me to talk about it!)

The 10 Worst Bailout Boondoggles by Michael Brush, staff
Slideshow appearing March 4, 2009

Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty has all but assured mistakes will be made as Ottawa rushes to spend $40 billion in stimulus. But a look south of the border at mistakes made with U.S. bailout dollars gives reason to be wary of how governments spend taxpayer dollars. Click the arrows to get started.

1. Pay to Play: Millionaire players on the New York Mets and the Manchester United soccer team should be slapping high-fives over government bailouts. The reason: The money is helping to pay their salaries. Without $45 billion in government help and a $306 billion backstop on its portfolio of rotten mortgage-backed securities, Citigroup would likely have disappeared. If so, the bank would have reneged on a $400 million, 20-year deal to name the new Mets stadium "Citi Field." And thanks to $144 billion in bailout money, AIG can make good on the $47 million it had agreed to pay for the right to plaster its logo on Manchester United soccer jerseys for the next 18 months. Glory, glory, Man United.

2. Empire Building: Many American banks are playing "Let's Make a Deal" and building empires with bailout money, instead of using it to make loans that help the U.S. economy. Shortly after PNC Financial Services got a $7.7 billion cash injection, it announced a buyout of National City. BB&T and Zions Bancorporation have said they have the urge to merge -- now that they've collectively pocketed $4.5 billion in bailout funds. Mergers have created more banks that are "too big to fail" -- so when they come back for more money, it'll be even harder to say no. BB&T says it would buy only "problem" banks, in the spirit of the bailout program.

3. Golden Parachutes for Failure: Cleveland's National City bank was run so badly that it was virtually ruined, mainly by imprudent exposure to subprime mortgages. Management's reward for creating this colossal disaster: $200 million in golden parachutes. And U.S. taxpayers will get fleeced a second time. Because of a last-minute change in tax rules, PNC Financial Services, which bought National City, will get about $725 million in income-tax credits. Those credits stem from the $19.9 billion PNC expects to lose on bad loans made by National City.

4. A Bailout for China: U.S. taxpayers were told the $700 billion financial-system bailout would create jobs by helping the American economy. Instead, one of the banks getting the most bailout money is plowing tens of billions of dollars into foreign companies. Bank of America, which will get $25 billion in bailout loans, recently spent about $7 billion to double its stake in state-owned China Construction Bank. B of A, whose CEO is Kenneth Lewis (pictured above), says it would've spent the money even without a cash infusion from the feds.

5. AIG’s $400,000 Post-Bailout Party: While American taxpayers were still absorbing the shock of having to foot an $85 billion bill (a tab that later grew to $144 billion) to bail out American International Group, executives at the insurer headed straight for the exclusive St. Regis resort in Southern California just days after their company got the money. The $440,000 tab for their eight-day stay at the Tuscan-style resort included $150,000 for meals, $23,000 in spa charges and $7,000 for golf outings. AIG says the event was held mainly to reward performance of independent insurance agents and brokers who were not company employees.

6. How Gold is My Parachute: Peter Kraus joined Merrill Lynch in early September to head up its strategy team. But Bank of America, bolstered by $25 billion in bailout money, won shareholder approval this month to take over Merrill. The deal will trigger a golden-parachute clause in Kraus' contract, allowing him to pocket as much as $25 million for his two months on the job, according to The Wall Street Journal.

7. Pay to Fail: Should U.S. taxpayers pay to keep executives who steered a company into a ditch? AIG thinks so. It recently agreed to pay retention bonuses to 130 executives, including $3 million for Jay Wintrob, who heads the division that sells annuities. Last year, he earned $2.5 million in salary, bonus, stock and options. Other AIG execs will get more than $500,000, or about 200% of their salaries, to stay through 2009, according to Bloomberg. The insurer had previously promised to forgo bonus payouts as part of the bailout plan. AIG says retention bonuses are needed to keep execs from leaving while it restructures and that departures could cause the company's reinsurers to cancel contracts.

8. Extravagant Pay: As millions of Americans learn what it's like to make ends meet on unemployment insurance, executives at banks getting U.S. taxpayer bailouts will continue to live the high life. Capital One Financial CEO Richard Fairbanks (pictured above) got $73.1 million in pay last year, according to The Corporate Library. That's 1,456 times the median household income of $50,233 earned by taxpayers footing the bill for Capital One's $3.55 billion federal bailout. Bank of America chief Kenneth Lewis last year took home $23 million, or 458 times the income earned by taxpayers covering his bank's $25 billion bailout. Both CEOs also make way more than the median of $8.85 million for CEOs at S&P 500 companies. Despite having to lean on U.S. taxpayers with modest incomes for help, both CEOs will likely continue to earn stratospheric pay. Neither bank has indicated it plans to cut CEO pay.

9. Free Use of Corporate Jet for Personal Travel: While hard times are forcing many of us to stretch another year out of the family jalopy, the CEOs at U.S. banks getting bailout money will continue to ride -- and fly -- high. John Mack (pictured right), who heads Morgan Stanley, which has taken $10 billion in U.S. government bailout money so far, enjoyed $356,000 worth of personal use of a corporate jet last year. JPMorgan Chase has gotten $25 billion in bailout money. Its chief, James Dimon (pictured left), took $211 million worth of use of a company jet last year. He used company cars at an estimated cost of $68,000. So far, neither company has indicated it will cut back on CEOs' personal use of corporate jets as part of its acceptance of taxpayer bailout money.

10. Lobbying: Citigroup, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase each spent around $5 million lobbying the U.S. federal government during the first nine months of 2008. Citigroup is getting $45 billion in bailout money, while the two others are getting $25 billion each. You can expect millions of dollars of that money to be spent on wining and dining Washington lawmakers; none of the banks has indicated it plans to cut back on lobbying.

My Letter to Government Concerning GM Bailout

I have followed recent economic events closely and I am glad that the government is helping to shore up the economy in this time of stress. However, I do have issue with some aspects of the proposed General Motors bailout. As stated by CBC News on Friday February 20, 2009: “GM expects there will be no further plant closures in Canada, but it plans to slash executive salaries by 10 per cent, cut benefits to hourly employees, and build new models at its Ontario plants. Under the plan, GM's Canadian workforce — which numbered 20,000 in 2005 and currently stands at 12,500 — would be pared down to 7,000 by 2010.”

What bothers me the most about this course of action is that it tries to stabilize the economy by stabilizing the companies who are most affected by the downturn. Part of this process seems to be the cutting of jobs. I am not sure how well the economy will fair if no one is working in the end. It disheartens me that the above quotation includes the slashing of 5,500 jobs, while cutting executive salaries by 10%. At the very least, GM should be cutting the same percentage of executive positions as they do plant positions.

This tells me that General Motors and the government are only interested in the well-being of the company at hand and its role in the stock market, and have no real sense of how this plan will affect the working population. I frequently hear the government during times of plenty use a statistic of low unemployment as a yardstick to show how the economy is fairing. But as soon as times get tough, unemployment does not seem to matter anymore – keeping the stock value of a company is more important.

I urge you to tailor a bailout plan for GM that is better suited for Canadian citizens and that geared more towards helping the economy, and not just helping a single company. All the experts are talking about how the collapse of the American/Canadian auto industry would be devastating to the economy. This is probably true, but please do not let the auto industry use that leverage to manipulate you into signing bad deals. I urge you to ask yourself “how did these companies get in this position?” and use the bailout as a tool to make the Canadian economy stronger in the long run. The Federal Industry Minister has been quoted as saying “We’re not bailing out pension plans. Let me be crystal clear on that.” I suggest that he should be bailing out pension plans – those of the plant workers in the company. Sure, have them take paycuts, do whatever it takes. But do not mortgage their future just so GM can have a viable corporate future, especially in light of their ineptness to become a viable institution on their own.

Sent to:
Tony Clement, Federal Industry Minister
Scott Brison, Liberal Trade Critic
Brad Trost, Saskatoon-Humboldt MP
General Motors Customer Services

Friday, December 12, 2008

Roger Ebert Review of Ben Stein's Expelled

If I were looking for the best criticism of Intelligent Design (ID), I wouldn't expect to find it in Roger Ebert's film critic column. But that's exactly where I found it. Ebert reviews Ben Stein's documentary Expelled (a film defending the tenets of creationism) and demolishes the creationist argument in the process. He does so in a very straight-forward, simple manner, that is easy to read and understand. Subjects that his argument smartly discusses and expounds include: ID's place in the scientific community; ID's assertion that Earth is the primary location in which to observe the universe; ID's assertion that the laws of chance make evolution too unlikely; the idea that Evolution equals Liberalism; comments on the documentary film process; and Stein's claim that Nazi, Liberal, and Evolution belong in the same sentence (ie. Hitler is a Liberal?).

I haven't seen the film yet, but I will. I saw Bill Maher's Religulous, and while I probably agree with more of the ideas in that film than I would in Expelled, I do admit that Religulous had it's problems as a film (for example, I'm not that big a fan of Maher's 'in your face', flippant attitude).
Somehow, I don't think Expelled is going to change my mind on anything.

Read the amazing column, titled 'Win Ben Stein's Mind'.

Read Rennie & Mirsky's Scientific American article discussing stuff Ben Stein left out. For example, Stein uses a paragraph from Darwin's On the Origin of Species to show how Darwin (note: NOT people misusing Darwin's ideas) led to the Holocaust; BUT this article reprints the actual passage, with the sentences that Stein conveniently omitted, showing that Darwin himself was not a fan of Social Darwinism.

For a great exploration on the history of the evolution/creationism debate, check out Eugenie C. Scott, 2004, Evolution vs. Creationism: An Introduction. Greenwood Press, London. This book not only explains each side of the issue, but explores the historical development of those perspectives.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Bizarro Muppet World

I was going to comment on Ford's so-called plan to stabilize its economic output by 2010, but rather than getting angry I thought I'd give myself a chuckle instead (Although I must note that most of Ford's propositions have to do with scaling back wages and benefits, I assume of their working core, but the phrasing "salaried employees" is confusing me). So check out the Ugliest Muppet Toys Ever. Yuck.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Night of the Living Copyright Infringement

On Halloween, a few of us watched the original Night of the Living Dead, the zombie classic directed by George E. Romero in 1968. All we did was make fun of it the whole time through, but to be honest, I think it's a pretty cool movie. Much has been made about the film, as both a horror movie and social critique (themes that have been applied to this film include American 1960s society, Cold War politics, and racism; the film has also been trashed by feminists because of the uselessness of the female characters). The film was so influential that The Library of Congress added it to the National Film Registry in 1999 with other films deemed "historically, culturally or aesthetically important in any way."

One of the reasons it was entered into the Registry is because of the stupidity of its distributor. Night of the Living Dead actually has no copyright status and sits in public domain. In 1968, copyright law required proper notice for it to retain its copyright. The Walter Reade Organization, the original distributor of the film, forgot to include the "Copyright 1968" tagline on the print, and thus it was never legally covered. So that means anyone can distribute and view it for free! So don't feel bad about downloading this sucker off the internet. In fact, you SHOULD download it off the internet! There are at least 23 distributors making money off this film, and George Romero doesn't get a penny! So why should they! And if you want to watch it reenacted by cartoon bunnies, click here.

Also Romero has stated that his decision to cast a black man in the heroic role had nothing to do with his colour: he "simply gave the best audition." If you think about it, that attitude probably does more for civil rights than any engineered social criticism ever could.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Worst Rap Video Ever, and What Can be Done About It

It's official; rappers have completely run out of new ideas. They're not even trying anymore. Here is "This is the Life" by Rick Ross. The song discusses how awesome it is being a rapper and "not stoppin' the champagne from poppin'". The vocalists switch from rapping in front of a black door, to rapping while sitting on a couch with some girls, to rapping while sitting in a convertible with a girl. Then the video is interspersed with static shots of booze, weed, girls, motorbikes, cars, jewelry shaped to look like the guy's head, and Rick Ross literally burning money. Static shots! We don't even have the pleasure of watching said motorcycle fly down a highway. And of course the shots are static, because the whole thing is filmed on a soundstage, because the rappers don't actually own any of the things they are bragging about. And being a relatively new act, they probably had to borrow a few hundred grand from the record company so that this stuff could be in the video.

I'm not ragging on rap; I just like rap that tries to say something. For instance, Outkast, K'Naan, K-os, M.I.A., Elwood, N.E.R.D., Kanye West without the ego, even Nas isn't that bad. Also The Streets, whose a skinny white guy from England. He may not be a prototypical rapper, but at least he can craft lyrics that I find meaningful. I'm also ragging on meaningless videos. If you're gonna spend a few hundred thousand dollars on 5 minutes of airtime, you might as well craft something artistically valid. Not every video should be political, but I should be able to come away with something (instead of "that's five minutes I'll never get back").

Off the top of my head, some great videos (not songs; videos. That's another thing to add to my ramble: videos that win at the MTV or MuchMusic Video awards should be the ones that HAVE GOOD VIDEOS! Not because the song is popular. If Rick Ross goes #1, there's still no reason for his video to be nominated).
Coldplay: The Scientist
Radiohead & U.N.K.L.E.: Rabbit in your Headlights
Just Radiohead: Just
Bjork: It's Oh So Quiet
Weezer: Buddy Holly
Johnny Cash: Hurt, or God's Gonna Cut You Down
Also check out Stylus Magazine's Top 100 Videos of all Time.

And an impressive music video from Sarah McLachlan, who turned the genre on its head and helped out some people at the same time: World on Fire.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Boring Life of Indiana Jones

There is a scene in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in which Indy mentions that he rode with Poncho Villa at one point. For some reason I immediately recognized it as an allusion to an episode of "Young Indiana Jones", which got me thinking: just how much adventure has George Lucas et al. crammed into the life of Indiana Jones? Does he even have time to sleep? Apparently not. I discovered this website that uses the movies, TV shows, and books to reconstruct an Indiana Jones timeline. Utterly fantastic! I find it amazingly coincidental that Indy managed to be at the right place at the right time for pretty much every single important event in the first half of the 20th century. And that's why he will forever be our mascot.

NOTE: As of this posting, the timeline does not have an entry for the year 1957, when the new movie takes place. I hope this stays blank for a while so as to not spoil anything for those who haven't seen the new film yet. But if you're scrolling and there's an entry for 1957, just skip it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Know Your Drinking Water!

I found this very informative article about bottled water and what's really going on: where it comes from, who produces it, and the major companies behind the deal. I've decided to just reproduce the entire article below. And don't forget, (as the Brita water filter commercials keep reminding us) using water filters at home is for the most part just as good, without all that plastic waste. The original article can be found here.

Where Your Bottled Water Comes From?
By Liz Metcalfe

A brouhaha erupted four years ago when it was revealed that Coca Cola’s Dasani brand of bottled water is purified municipal tap water. But according to the independent beverage research company Canadean, at least two out of every five bottles of water sold around the world contain "purified" water, rather than "source" water that come from a spring. Most big-name water producers market more than one line of purified water that comes from municipal water supplies.

If the label doesn’t name the source, or spring, it’s usually purified tap water. That’s not a bad thing. Although bottled water purveyors purify tap water and sometimes add things to it, municipal water straight out of the tap is every bit as safe – some say safer – to drink as bottled water. And if you have to buy water when away from your house or didn’t bring a re-usable bottle that you can fill, it’s good to know that the water you’re drinking didn’t have to burn up even more fossil fuel while being shipped or flown thousands of miles to get to your store.

Despite the growing number of bottled water labels, some stating exotic sources in the Alps, the lion’s share of the market is owned by big companies such as Nestle, Coca Cola, and Pepsi. Nestle has a big footprint in Toronto. Almost all Toronto-area grocery stores greet shoppers at the entrance with stacks of cases of Nestle’s Pure Life Natural Spring Water. Nestle also owns the Perrier, Montclair, and Sanpellegrino brands of water. Nestle’s website says that water in Pure Life brand bottles come from several sources, including purified tap or well water. The bottles of Pure Life Natural Spring Water in Toronto come from a spring in Aberfoyle, Ontario, which is about 10 kilometres south of Guelph.

Water is commonly sold in four categories:
•Spring water: from an underground source that flows naturally to the surface.•Purified water: water that has been distilled, de-ionized, or filtered through reverse osmosis or other processes.•Sparkling water: water that still has the same amount of carbon dioxide in it when tapped at source. This may involve replacing the carbon dioxide after processes.•Mineral water: Water that contains at least 250 parts per million dissolved minerals. This must be present in water at the source. Minerals cannot be added.

If you must drink bottled water, that makes Nestle’s Pure Life Natural Spring Water not a bad choice for Ontarians, since those bottles don’t have to be shipped very far. Ditto for Montclair water (also owned by Nestle), because it also comes from Aberfoyle. And Pepsi-Cola’s Aquafina bottles contain purified Mississauga tap water. Aquafina also purifies Vancouver tap water. In Alberta, Coca Cola purifies Calgary tap water. And 8 Degrees, water from Arctic icebergs, is bottled in St. Anthony, Newfoundland. Evian, Perrier, Vittel and Sanpellegrino, by contrast, are shipped to Canada from Europe.

If your ground water supply is suspect or you often get boil water advisories, large, returnable bottles of purified local water or water from local springs is a good choice. Read the labels to find out how far your water has traveled.

Below is a table of the sources and owners of some of the most popular brands of bottled water in Canada (Brand: Source / Owned by).

Evian: More than one source near Évian-les-Bains in the French Alps / Danone
Perrier: A spring in the Gard district of the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France / Nestle Group
Montclair: A spring in Aberfoyle, Ontario / Nestle Group
Nestle Pure Life Natural Spring Water: A spring in Aberfoyle, Ontario / Nestle Group
Sanpellegrino: A spring near Bergame in a valley of the Italian Alps / Nestle Group
Vittel: The Gérémoy spring in the Vosges Mountains of eastern France / Nestle Group
Dansani: In Canada, purified tap water from Calgary, Alberta / Coca-Cola
Aquafina: In Canada, purified tap water from Mississauga, Ontario or Vancouver, British Columbia / Pepsi-Cola