Saturday, January 31, 2015

Deep Down Dark

First heard of this book praised very strongly on NPR where the speaker was adding it to their Morning Edition Book club  Otherwise the topic was already appealing, but her enthusiasm hooked me.  The ordeal of 33 miners stuck 700 metres (2,300 feet) below the surface got the world's attention.   1.2 billion people around the globe watched the rescue.

A reader expects to hear all sorts of heroic inspiration, but Hector Tobar, a Pulitzer prize winner gives a lot more.   There is no communication for 17 days.  Above the mine there is no certainty that anyone is still alive.  Down below they have no idea if rescue attempts are being made.  After communication is established the dynamics change. but we are able to reconstruct the first days.

The men who were trapped were typical of many miners.  It was the most money they could earn and they were willing to take the risks.  They were mostly poorly educated.   Some had girlfriends as well as wives.  Many had had drinking problems.  One had been a professional soccer player on Chile's national team

When they first became trapped they tried to organize themselves and ration their resources, but in fact a small number stole some of the food.  They drank water used for mining which was less than ideal but helped them survive.  At one point although mostly Catholics, they let a Jehovah's Witness lead prayer meetings, but eventually they broke up.  The faith did help them get through to when communications opened up on day 18.  They also found dark humour joking about death as one way of coping.  Hector explained Spanish profanities which was also part of their coping strategy.  One miner was from Bolivia, but not seriously discriminated against.  After the rescue, the Bolivian Prime Minister visited the miner.

Above ground a lot of decisions and manoeuvring.  Offers come from different parts of the world.  Drilling and rescue experts are called in and determine three different approaches.  Chilean politicians in some cases try to get publicity out of the ordeal

A psychologist was called in as well as other doctors to advise on the best way for the miners to handle their isolation while rescue efforts continue.   NASA psychologists were consulted as they were familiar with handling isolated people.  Food is sent down, but at first carefully controlled.  Some medical procedures are established with one very loosely qualified miner.  Early on they are promised large amounts of money which prompts an interest in motor vehicles.  Many do not have driver's licences and a request goes out for test information.

The men are able to communicate not only with rescue people, but also their families.  One miner asked for his allotted time to be split between his wife and his girl friend.

Charles Darwin is referred to as he had traveled through the area on his way to Galapagos.  the land around the mine for a great distance is described as pretty desolate.  The mine was in the Atacama Desert where Darwin walked.  Chile is such an odd shaped country, 4,300 kilometres north to south but only 350 kilometres at its widest west to east part.

After the rescue they are offered all sorts of trips and many do go to Disney World, Israel (for holy sites),  Dominican Republic.  For many the adjustments are stressing, but others are able to move on.

We all look at this experience as miraculous, but the author has given us a good understanding of the dynamics below and above ground.  The author was able to interview all the miners and much of their families and rescuers and got several perspectives on what really happened.   A good read because of the complexity of the rescue.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Driving and Freedom

My father was a truck driver and a champion car rally driver, but it made it difficult for me to learn to drive.   I was very intimidated by his expectations.  Never learned to drive a stick shift, but did finally get my licence at age 18 thanks to high school driver ed at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School.  More on my father at

After graduating from university the job market didn't click for me.  In some ways I was very naive and thought prospective employers would jump at the opportunity to channel my brains and my charm, but for a very long time nothing clicked.  My parents were in despair, but finally I hit on the idea of being a social worker.

Somehow my qualifications did send the right message.  The one obstacle was that a car was required.  My parents saw that as an opportunity to get me to fly out of the nest and arranged for me to get a car and the necessary insurance.  Elsewhere I have recounted that the job only lasted six months and that I learned about how a car's value can depreciate more than the principle declines.  One of the more valuable lessons learned.  Another was driving to Wasaga Beach and Midland, places that I dragged my future wife and later my family to.

Here I was stuck with a car and payments and no job.  But the car it turned out was an asset.  Six months later I landed my second full time job and a car was a necessity.  I ended up living in Burlington with a sister and traveling on the job all over the Niagara Peninsula

Met my wife due to a series of weird chances.  Came home early on my birthday with the intention of watching my alma mater, University of Guelph play basketball on tv game of the week.  Tv didn't work and on impulse (actually thought birthday a big disappointment) drove to Guelph, about 40 minutes away and leanred game had been played the nite before.  Making the best of bad luck I called on some old friends and eventually ended going on a blind date with my future wife.  How I met my wife:

At least two fascinating things got my attention on the job.  One was the Welland Canal tunnel and the other was Niagara-on-the Lake.  I felt compelled to take my future wife and surprisingly she hadn't seen either.   Doing a little bit of calculation I managed to work in the Fort Erie area and drive over to Buffalo to watch a basketball game.  This escalated my interest in basketball which led to further escalations described in another blog.  Basketball led me on some interesting adventures:

I learned of a job from one of the people I investigated that sounded ideal--I was a big newspaper reader and had enjoyed working with young people--circulation.  My car again was an asset--supervising youngsters and collecting their money spent years doing it--taking a car load out canvassing (borrowed wife's bigger older car to win prize).  A bit more on how I won a contest with family help:

I worked for several newspapers and eventually ended up as a traveling salesmen selling a variety of things described elsewhere.    This meant even more driving and more opportunities.  At this time I was enjoying the best of big cities (Toronto, later Montreal), middle sized cities, small towns and rural areas.  My personality had got the best results in rural areas but big cities had a variety of things I became mesmerized with.

My daughter, Heather decided to focus on journalism in King's College in Halifax--with my newspaper circulation background I tried to talk her out of it, but in the end respected her choice.  neither of us had ever been to the Maritimes so it seemed unnecessarily far away. I had been pretty much centred on where I lived (Oshawa, Haliburton) and Guelph, but was pleased my daughter could expand her horizons. At this time I was selling a product that was pretty much out of someone's garage, but I had the freedom to sell it anywhere in Canada.  This opened up new doors and I ended up selling in the Maritimes and Quebec.  I fell in love with Ile d'Orleans and my wife and I vacationed there and different parts of Nova Scotia where we also vacationed, Oak Island, Yarmouth, Wolfeville.  Before cars most of us lived relatively provincial lives.  People are the same everywhere, but they are also unique.  Always found new pastures fascinating.

On one Easter weekend I had planned to travel to Halifax to pick up Heather and make some sales calls   My car stalled and was going to require major repairs.  I was encouraged to rent a car, everything seemed closed, except the airport.  The most powerful car to date and it gave me a another level of freedom (or feeling powerful)

Another Maritime pickup my glasses broke--Heather ended up driving through rush hour Halifax, Montreal and Toronto on a learner's permit--helped her get her licence--worked out good for me--while she drove I could map out where to go and get rested  (she was already a capable driver)

I remember driving to the Maritimes and meeting people I had met at trade shows back in Ontario. Why would they do that?  Ironically they wanted to meet sales people to learn and didn't meet enough at their remote location.  I found I was appreciated a lot more in such areas.

Lately not drive so much--one delivery run for The Rider as one way to alleviate cash flow, but also to seek out new prospects and speed up advertiser response  plus also a little private shopping

At my father's funeral I was struck with my sister Rebecca's eulogy.  Amongst many other details she mentioned that my father loved visiting different places and taking different routes.  It seems that gene was inherited.  Furthermore my son Michael has taken it a step further and has been in several countries in Europe, Asia and Africa and now resides in New Zealand.  On a recent visit I was struck how at home he is driving on the left hand side of the road.

Freedom is a big topic and driving is only one factor.  Our ancestors were very limited in where they could go and how fast.   If you were rich you had less restrictions, but even they could go no further than a horse could take them.  So in one sense anyone with a car has more freedom than the richest person two hundred years ago.

What's to like?--no supervisor over your shoulder--listening to radio I learned where I could hit a CBC or NPR station almost anywhere.  I also listened to a variety of  tapes, some self improvement, bu also entertainment and then moving with the times to  CD.  Seeing interesting places (all places are interesting partly inversely to how familiar you are with them)--open up opportunities (wholesalers in Maritimes, Quebec)--interesting challenges such as when I decided I could make sales calls on francophones although my French skills were pathetic.  Some travel adventures can be read at: to Quebec; in the Maritimes ands in Ontario,

What's not to like?--Although access to a car got my career started I often wondered if I gave up opportunities that might have paid more, but did not have the advantages of driving. Driving can be expensive, unless you have a company car or a generous expense account.   For a brief time I did have a company car and have had reasonable expenses most of the time supplemented by Revenue Canada deductions.  Garage time at one stage was disruptive and time consuming.  I normally spent 10+ hours away from home or between motels, often longer.  I considered driving a perk of the job--there always seemed to be somebody willing to let me drive at my expense while they paid a commission.

Despite the current situation it seems likely the price of gas and other operating costs are going to increase to the point where fewer traveling sales jobs can be justified.  Email and the internet have given many a more practical alternative.  The future is probably more mass transit, more electronic communication, maybe more air travel for vacations.  Climate change was not a concern for most of my career and I feel a bit guilty that I was able to take advantage of the lesser awareness.

Photo story:  The Bridge to Ile D'Orleans.  I had overshot a sales call which resulted in my first view of Ile d'Orleans which in turn led to two enjoyable vacations illustrating to me the freedom of driving.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Peter Gzowski--still remembered

It has been twelve years since Peter died and almost 17 years since his last radio show.  Recently came across "Remembering Peter Gzowski , a book of Tributes" that brought back a lot of memories.  His voice was not the melodious type associated with radio announcers, but his words and manner of speaking drew us in.  There was more to it than that as he played a role in choosing guests and topics that enveloped the whole country.

Mostly remembered are the radio shows.   As a traveling salesman making mostly cold calls I was able to arrange my time to listen to many of his shows.  I took my job seriously trying to cram in as much face to face sales time as practical, but noticed that I tended to linger in my car a little longer as he was finishing up an interview, then further noticed that other people seemed to do exactly the same thing.

There were so many interesting conversations that there are actually few I can recall.  There used to be a regular political discussion amongst Dalton Camp, Eric Kierans and Stephen Lewis that was wonderful. They didn't try to top one another, but under Peter's guidance talked about serious (and some not so serious) topics in an intelligent manner.  Quite a contrast to what one would hear on today's cable tv.

He had lots of artists and writers on his show.  Robert Munsch, and W. O. Mitchell were two that got my attention.  Musically I remember Natalie McMaster and Raffi.  Two humorists I enjoyed were Danny Finkleman and Stuart McLean.  I don't recall Rick Mercer, on the show, but have learned Peter helped him get rolling after his daughter Alison Gzowski encouraged him. Peter also interviewed plenty of non celebrities that helped give different perspectives on Canada.  I recall him saying that when approached by Americans for broadcast positions he asked them if they included a budget for visiting small towns and that he rejected such offers because he loved the freedom given to him by the CBC.

On a personal note, I was able to play in a press softball league (at Christie Pit in Toronto) and was quite thrilled to play against Peter (and Danny Finkleman).  Peter is often described as shy and my one experience would back that up.

Peter was known as much as a writer and I did read some of his articles, but not any of his books.  I was vaguely aware of his interest in literacy affairs.  Literacy is one of my concerns, but didn't realize that Peter raised over $7 million dollars with his golf tournaments in that cause.

In his last years he acted as Chancellor of Trent University.  He wasn't content to just be a ceremonial figure.  Although it was the nearest university to my high school for that reason I avoided it.  Years later visited the campus and was struck by its setting on the Trent River.

He died of emphysema which hit a nerve with me.  I watched my non smoking mother die of it and it is truly frightening.  Peter was nonchalant about smoking most of the time, but he realized that it led to terrible things and he seemed to have repented towards the end.

He added a lot of enjoyment to me and I feel fortunate that I was able to take advantage of circumstances to listen to him as often as I did.

Friday, January 9, 2015

The Bollywood Gender Gap and Culture

What makes you decide which movie to watch?  Of course some of us look at a lot of details, but for this post I am interested in whether the male lead or the female lead influences your decision.  Even this can be a bit difficult as many of us go as a couple and have to consider the opinion of our companion.  Even with same gender groups, decisions may partly be made by whether or not they are looking for the opposite sex or to affirm their own gender culture.

Most of us very definitely like to look at the opposite sex and the more attractive the better.  Men also  like to see what masculinity standards and which approaches to desirable women work.   Women also want to see what fashion (and behaviour) standards are important. Members of the LGBT community might spin things a little differently, but have a definite interest in gender issues.

With all that, it is fair to say that we are attracted to both male and female leads and roughly equally.  Strange to say that is not reflected in their pay.  Some reports regarding Bollywood point out that in the past the male lead has been paid as much as ten times what the female lead is paid.  Also there are more significant male roles in the film industry.

India, like many other cultures has a long history of male dominance.  Men are the ones with the aggressive hormones that lead to fighting and bossing.  And they have been the ones controlling the money.   With men dominating families in real life it was naturally reflected in films.  Not getting pregnant helps men develop leverage for salary negotiations, but really it is primarily their traditional position in families.

Negotiating for compensation for films can be complicated.  Seldom is it a straight fee, often it is a share of the profits with different calculations used.  Females are less inclined to accept share of box office receipts in lieu of a larger fee.  Both established actors and actresses can make a big part of their income from product endorsements.

Athletes were at one time demanding what seemed like large amounts of money and one of the rationalizations was that their careers were short and risky.  Actresses, particularly the ones whose avatar must reflect youthfulness and attractiveness are subject to a short big income career.  In India years ago it was taken for granted that when a woman gets married she retires from whatever work she was doing to concentrate on household duties..

Today more Indian women are working outside the home and more unmarried couples are attending movies as dates.  If a young man wants to make an impression he will have to consider what his prospective date would be attracted to.  Women want to see their lives reflected in what is shown on screen and this is starting to happen.

To me one of the reasons Western societies have gained prominence has been their willingness to give women more credit and more responsibility.  Getting the vote was a big breakthrough and so was their contributions to war efforts. Glamour is still important (to both sexes), but as women achieve more economic, social and political power they need to be represented by a wider range of activities. Women  in India are more visible in policing, the military, politics, business and even boxing.

Women consumers have enough clout that women centric movies are more common.  Examples include "Kahanni," "Queen," "Mary Kom," "Mardaani," and "English Vinglish."  There are still plenty of male oriented films with the women serving merely as props for the men, but there are changes there as well

Bollywood actresses are looking for something more meaningful than complementing the male lead.

Nandita Das has played her share of romantic roles, but has sought more meaningful roles--for my first awareness she played a gun toting rebel in "A Peck on the Cheek.." In " Provoked" had her playing an activist in a wife abuse case.   She has written and directed "Firaaq" concerning the aftermath of the Gujarti riots. She had had key roles in Canadian Deepa Metha's films "Earth" and "Fire" set in India. The latter film was very controversial with Nandita's role at the centre.

Juhi Chawla basically played romantic roles in her early career, but was smart enough to accumulate resources to get involved in film production and has produced four movies. Rani Mukerji (who recently married a producer), Vidya Balan (also married a producer), Kangana Ranaut and Priyanka Chopra have all had leading glamorous romantic roles, but have sought more meaningful roles and more money.  Deepika Padukone is supposed to have received bigger contracts in recognition that she does attract big audiences.

Mira Nair got started with documentaries and then in1988 directed and helped write "Salaam Bombay" which was nominated for the Oscar best foreign film.  She is most famous probably for "Monsoon Wedding"  I was very struck by "The Namesake."

Farah Khan was a noted choreographer for popular dance sequences.  Her ability to organize the most elaborate dance routines gave her the opportunity to direct "Main Hoon Na" and continues to direct big budget films.

Women directors are now receiving more opportunities and also getting involving in producing decisions.  Gauri Schinde, after doing ad commercials and short films made her feature "English Vinglish" in tribute to her mother who ran a home business and never spoke very good English as a sort of apology.  Sridevi made her comeback in this film.  It might be a step for female directors for women centric movies, but it might be a bigger step for them to direct big budget male oriented movies such as "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" directed and written by Zoya Akhtar.

As women direct and produce more films they will give the female perspective more emphasis.  As more consumers accept their critical importance to the success of a film (financially and artistically) they will get closer to pay equality.

As India achieves more gender equality it can create its own momentum.  Real life inspires movies and movies in turn inspire more dreams that reach towards reality.  There will always be gender differences (thank goodness), but it will be better for all when there is more gender equality.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


Are we really free to express ourselves?

After the Charlie Hebou terrorism the talk has mostly been about religious fanatics and racial overtones are evident as well.  Fear has reared its ugly head again.  I think back to another posting about "Talking to the Enemy," by author Scott Atran, a Franco-American scholar.  You can read my thoughts on it at

We are all fearful of "the other."  It might be a race or religion we do not understand.  The key thing is we do not understand them and our ignorance magnifies differences and minimizes similarities.  Scott has gone behind the stereotypes to question what drives terrorists and it is not what he originally thought.

Humans have evolved (a dirty word in some circles, but critical to understanding human behaviour) as groups.  An individual could not have survived the dangers inherent in our beginnings, but learned that teaming together helped us overcome many difficulties.  One of the difficulties proved to be other groups (perhaps separated by language, geography, race, culture).  Other groups would inevitably try to encroach on their territory and they would fight back.  The better organized groups prevailed.  Critically the strength of their group increased by their group identification.  Religion proved to be a key element in that identity.

Scott, an atheist would argue that religions have a lot of elements that might be considered" absurd" by outsiders.  But agreement on what absurdities are special or sacred to the group unites the group.  As a "Christian" nation some of us can identify with people in far lands of different races and even different customs as part of the same important group.  We should not be surprised that other religions such as Islam carry a wide identification including many nations and races.  When any of our religious affiliations feels threatened it can result in intolerant, even irrational behaviour.

Scott also learned that many terrorists knew each other playing sports or going to the same schools.  These group activities reinforced other group identities, but he found usually these social activities were instrumental in their identity.  Twisted logic can provide an opportunity to demonstrate group loyalty.

In another post I noted Jared Diamond's observations dealing with primitive cultures in New Guinea where strangers were scary and coping mechanisms had to be developed;
( Just as we needed to learn to tolerate strangers in small settings we need to better learn how to tolerate a much wider range of strangers for the world to survive with its new set of dangers.

We need to respect other people's beliefs (not necessarily agree with them).  We need to tolerate their ignorance and disrespect of our beliefs.  Provocative behaviour needs to be carefully guarded against.  Understanding needs to be a higher priority.  Yes, Charlie Hebou was provocative and no doubt profited by it, but they also made people think, not necessarily agree.  There are other avenues to address being offended than killing such as boycotts, education, self-examination and even ignoring. Other Charlie Hebou targets included other religions and many politicians and celebrities.

Free speech suffered a terrible setback and many people all around the globe will be fearful of expressing anything considered controversial.  Muslims will pay a big price for the actions of a few--prejudice, hostility and possibly legislative decisions around the globe.  Ironically European legislatures have been voting on Palestinian efforts to gain more recognition.

When you better understand another person you are less likely to disrespect them.  Many things need to be questioned and sometimes the questions can be offensive to others.  At Charlie Hebou they performed a necessary function in the world by questioning things that are considered too "touchy."

None of us deserve to die for our beliefs or expressions that stop short of killing others.  They say words can kill, but really they only provoke.  For mankind to survive such things as climate change, possible nuclear war, resistant diseases, tribal warfare and other known and unknown potential forces we will need to overcome our prejudices and work with others.  Respect at least enough not to kill others or discriminate unfairly against "the others."  I recognize that we need each other and believe we can each contribute to the betterment of mankind.

Not sure if tolerance is needed for understanding or understanding is needed for tolerance.  If you start with the thought that other human beings have something in common with you, you may find that the differences are more interesting than threatening.  In my 60 plus years  it amazes me how my peers looked down on foreign food, but now many of them now seek it out.  Same goes for all sorts of things and as we soak up more knowledge our lives are enriched.

Each of us as individuals have responsibility to accept other cultures, but those with real power also have responsibility to protect the long term interests of everyone.  The more people standing up for reason and understanding, the more momentum will be developed. I am reminded of still another post regarding Globe and Mail reporter Doug Saunders working from Britain became concerned about the myths about his new Muslim neighbours Really just demonstrates that misinformation is very influential.

When efforts were made to listen for messages from outside earth it was feared the reason we were not able to detect any was that civilizations that could reach the technical ability to send messages were also apt to self-destruct.  In simple forms it often seems that we reached our level of technical expertise in selfish competition and continue to compete when we need to co-operate.  There are many selfish groups (as well as individuals each wanting to take more than they give.

The big question is what can we do as individuals and as society to prevent future occurrences like the one at Charlie Hebou and still enjoy the freedom that prevailed beforehand.  The idea of tolerance and understanding might seem glib or naive to many, but there don't seem to be very many workable alternatives.  Are we up to it?

Monday, January 5, 2015

A good time for a carbon tax?

This post was inspired by a news item about Larry Summers' advocacy of a carbon tax particularly while prices are still low.  At least that is my interpretation as I only read a brief snippet.

Taxes are a dirty word in some circles and carbon taxes have their own critiques.  Following my post a few days ago on the price of gas declining it would be appropriate to suggest an effective way of dealing with it.  It won't happen anytime soon in the U.S. or Canada, but it would seem a wasted opportunity not to speculate on what could have happened.

One of the concerns of the low gas price is simply that people would consume it more and postpone efforts to find alternatives.  The Green Party has long said that rather than taxing things we want more of (such as income) it would be better to tax things we want less of.  Just as tobacco taxes can help mitigate the harmful effects of smoking, carbon taxes can be used to diminish the harmful effects of gas consumption.

Free market advocates love to let the market decide.  If consumers for any reason don't like something they don't have to buy it and the price will come down.  They assume the seller marks up the price from the cost of goods to make a profit.  What they overlook is there is an additional cost of many goods such as cleaning up the mess it causes.  In the case of tobacco our health and that of society as a whole suffers and is costly.  In the case of gas consumption it would be fair to say there are also health concerns affecting all of society, but also we would have to add the risks of climate change.

Climate change is denied by some people in power.  They have been able to stifle scientific consensus in legislation, but are gradually losing some of their credibility.  Insurance companies and military planners are not fooled and more and more consumers are seeking alternatives to fossil fuels.  All governments are concerned about deficits, but are reluctant to raise conventional taxes.  Carbon taxes do not have to be an addition to conventional taxes, but to also deal with deficits perhaps they could be justified.  There is irony in that notion, but perhaps also some leverage.  Realistically carbon taxes are more apt to be accepted if there is a lowering of other taxes.

When the real price of energy comes down (including the health concerns) carbon taxes will not generate as much tax revenue and government revenues will have to be adjusted.  Capitalists accept taxes for the expenses of running a government, but object to social engineering projects.  It all depends on how you look at social engineering projects.  Getting more consumers to switch to sustainable energy and adopt more environmentally friendly habits will help ensure our civilization survives.  If you as a voter and as a consumer agree on that goal you owe it to yourself to do what you can to make it happen.

Social engineering can certainly be abused, but perhaps the greatest concern is that money decides many issues and is controlled by too few people.  Plato in "The Republic"  tried to fix the problem by giving power to one group of people and money to another and letting the bulk of people do the necessary dirty work based on merit.  Not really been successful.  Thomas Piketty suggested an annual graduated tax on wealth.  If there is little benefit in accumulating wealth beyond a certain point it makes sense to spend it resulting in jobs or income for others.

Getting back to a carbon tax, there are many details to work out.  Getting the concept accepted might be the hardest part, but if it is to be effective the details do matter.  We don't want to punish people or businesses, but we do want them to consider alternatives.  Reluctantly I leave that to others, but hope that the decision makers are both competent and concerned for mankind.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Think like a freak and be more innovative

Have you read "Freakonomics" or "Superfreakonomics?" They are full of interesting facts that often have practical implications, but weren't "common sense" thinking.  This third book by the two author team is intended to encourage thinking that uncovers solutions to problems that have been overlooked.  Innovations come from thinking and maybe freak thinking opens up more possibilities.

In their original book I was struck how they analyzed a fall in crime.  A lot of propositions have been suggested including better police practices, greater incarcerations.  They determined that the suggestions did not cover the total decline in crime.  They took note of the date when crime trends started to decline and dug deeper.  The critical factor to close the gap was when  in the next twenty years after the abortion laws were liberalized with Roe v. Wade there were fewer unwanted babies many of whom would have been brought up in trying circumstances.  This is not a conclusion that would be welcomed by everyone, but still the implications are profound.  Wanted babies are very desirable.

In thinking like a freak there are a few guidelines.  A key one is revealed by a phrase not often used, "I don"t know."  Too many of us are ashamed to admit our ignorance or we just don't care.  Starting from the admission of ignorance we can discover more possibilities than many "educated" people normally consider.

A California experiment to encourage better water habits demonstrated the power of herd behaviour.  Rather than being motivated by saving money or saving the environment the most effective results came from pointing out that their neighbours were adopting some new practices.

Don't be afraid of the obvious.  Sometimes we overlook an explanation that just seems too simple.

When presenting your ideas avoid name calling.  Everyone will not understand or accept your thoughts, but keep the door open.   What has more effect?  We are inundated with mega data and that is likely to increase.   What we really respond to are stories that make a point.

A key decision we all have to make is when to quit.  Winston Churchill is famous for advocating never give up.  When a venture is well on its way and not going to plan we have a tendency to factor in how much we have already invested (time, money).  The authors suggest we should evaluate the opportunity costs, ie. what we could be doing instead of continuing on our problematic route.

Stephen and Steven are always finding new ways to look at things.  Keep up to date,

Friday, January 2, 2015

the price of gas and our future

Up until recently it seemed like the price of gas would just keep going up.  Alarmists were telling us that demand was up and supplies were drying up.  For several months the price has fallen and has caught many of us off guard.  What does it portend for our future?  Nobody really knows, but there are many factors involved and many decisions that can impact the trends.

At least three factors are responsible for the current lower price trend.  One is that demand has diminished due to economic slowdown that has impacted globally.  Secondly that new sources have been developed such as fracking.  Thirdly, Saudi Arabia has decided to keep up its supply even though it is very aware that it will keep the price low.

A big question is how long will that Saudi decision hold and why did they make it in the first place.  Speculation is that low prices will hurt some of their competitors who they are displeased with.  They want Iran to bend to the American nuclear negotiating.  They are also displeased with Russia,who has been supplying Syria who is also a concern of the Saudis.  ISIS is complicated so that the government feels threatened by it, but some Saudi religious elements support it financially and some in combat.  Furthermore the Saudis are worried that America will now be competitive with their fracking efforts.  I don't believe they have a quarrel with Canada, but the tar sands cannot generate a profit at a low price.  The Canadian dollar is tied fairly close to the price of oil so that has implications for all Canadian consumers and travellers.

Jeff Rubin once wrote that the reason for the Recession of 2008 was primarily the price of oil.  His argument included the cost of doing business was so high that the credit system could no longer support it.  Most other people were talking about over extended credit meaning consumers could not borrow money and could not afford to maintain their standard of living.  Now that the price has lowered how will that affect growth?   Read my post from August 20.2012 about Jeff's thinking back then

For the time being people have more money to spend.  Some are spending it on more gas while others are buying consumer goods they couldn't afford a short time ago.  If the price remains low this means the extra spending will result in new jobs and could create pressure to raise wages.  Sounds pretty good, but of course it is not that simple.  First it means Americans cannot afford the expensive fracking and the Canadians cannot afford the expensive tar sands meaning those sources will shrink.  Previously it was thought the price would go up as the cost of acquiring oil would go up and it would become scarcer.  However what will eventually put the price up is when demand increases because more people are able to spend money.  This is a delicate balance as when price goes up demand tends to go down.  At the same time as the price goes up so can the supply.  Standard economic theory. There is still uncertainty so no one is counting on price remaining low for very long.

Climate change will become more of a factor.  Instead of looking for environmentally positive alternatives while gas prices are low most consumers will continue to use fossil fuels.  At some point and it might be sooner than expected citizens will be more conscious that climate change is not a fraud and I suspect at one point even the Tea Party will be demanding action.  Heavy storms and tornadoes, floods, droughts, rising water levels on coastal land, even earthquakes linked to fracking will be perceived as too dangerous to ignore.  Many actions will be expensive and adjustments demanding.  In the end pollution will diminish with all sorts of benefits, jobs will be created and the price of energy will lessen.  There will be some losers and they will resist.  Unfortunately they have a lot of resources to protect their sources of wealth.  Their credibility will decline, but some wealthy people will use their resources to diversify.

The tradeoffs will require decisions at all levels.  Consumers will choose with their available cash to conserve, look for alternatives or just stick to their routine.  The previously increasing price of oil has spurred the search for alternatives.  Long term thinking suggests that the true price of the fossil fuel industry will continue to increase while we strangle in its other effects.  Most of us are really short term thinkers looking for a momentary pleasure.

Jobs can be created by converting to alternative energy and/or by increased consumer spending.  We can all live healthier more productive lives.  Adjustments will be made one way or another.  Will they be long term or just short term?  Fracking right now is providing jobs directly and indirectly, but will decline if the price stays low.

There is a fork in the road ahead and we will have to wait to see how mankind proceeds.  The consequences will be more than interesting.

Photo is in Havana with the old cars they needed to retain.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Looking Back on 2014

Did you have a good year?  Sometimes as we age memories seem very fleeting  but there are always nice things to remember and that is why I choose to highlight some of the pleasant and important things that did happen with my family.

Remembering those who are no longer with us still seems an appropriate way to start this account as I like to remember some of the reasons why we miss them.
Peggy Martin, a regular New Years Eve guest for over a decade and the mother of a close friend, Barbara.  A few things I remember include a love for her cottage and a bird watcher.  She was remarkable in her joy of life.  Up to the last she participated in a theatrical presentation.   I remember exchanging a few nature videos with her.

Ruth Stewart, my Aunt Ruth was my mother's older sister.  I have lots more to say about her at

Don Theroux, our handyman, was recommended to me by a Home Hardware store owner who thought Don was the fairest one he knew.  Don was involved with fundraising including some events for Gage Park that we attended. I learned that he also did fundraising for other causes.  When our son, Michael needed to raise money for an African venture, Don was very supportive persuading us to hold one more dinner that helped put us over the top.  Don did a lot of renovations around our house and simple things that I was too incompetent to handle without ever belittling me.  He had been a customer of ours, mostly for items he would give to other people.  I learned that he liked to buy from his customers.  We were well aware of his battle with cancer and admired his courage and determination.

Last year we lost one of our cats and a few months later the other one.  Took some of the joy out of life and soon we got another and then felt it would be better to get a companion.  Cats are individuals and with different timing you can get different results.  Our two new cats came to us within a few months of one another and they play with each other much more than the previous two.  Surprising the younger, smaller male cat is the alpha, but the two love playing together and the older female is protective of her new playmate.

Last Christmas our daughter Heather bought us Netflix, our son Michael visiting from New Zealand bought us a large flat screen.  Fortunately for us they helped set everything up.  We both became addicted to watching  Breaking Bad, Suits, The Good Wife,  House of Cards, the Killing, The Bridge, Scott and Bailey, etc.

In past years we have enjoyed the Mum show and this year we checked out Spring tide at Gage Park and enjoyed it.

The Can-Am Equine show in Orangeville was more interesting than usual.  With the help of Glenda Fordham we added an artist and three authors to our booth.  We were also situated right beside a booth with the headliner, Guy McLean.  As a fellow Aussie, Glenda was able to lure him over to our booth for one of my favorite photos of the year. with Barry and Bruce K Lawes, an amazing artist.

We got a last minute change of plans when Heather called to give us an early Mother's Day and Father's Day present with a Pop Up dinner.  A local business organized six wineries and six chefs for a very special dinner held at Liuna Station.  Very enjoyable.  Heather had won tickets and sat at another table, but our table consisted of reps for two wineries plus from Cake and Loaf (a fantastic bakery) for some interesting conversation.

Doors Open Hamilton was enjoyable.  Each year I try to see a few new buildings.  This year, mainly because the Dundurn Castle parking lot was over flowing I visited the Hamilton Cemetery and it was well worth it.  I also visited the Empire Building.

The Burlington Eagles Gift of Giving Back food drive set a new record 278,550.01 pounds.  It is important to realize their success is not just the enthusiasm of a sports group, but the ability to organize other groups to get involved.  For that I credit Jean Longfield who has developed a lot of support from different parts of Burlington.

Supercrawl is getting bigger and better each year.  This year they tacked on an extra day.  Lots of restaurants and food trucks.  One of the highlights was Circus Orange that like to play with fire and high elevation.

Right after I took part in the Parkinson's Superwalk and this year raised a little more than usual.  Walking through Gage Park is always a pleasure.

The Mum show in November had theme of the upcoming Pan American Games.   The soccer games will be played in Hamilton and I hope to take in some of the action.  As usual the flower display was dazzling.

We attended two 40th wedding anniversaries.  Michael and Karen Bromilow and John and Debbie Polkinghorne.  John and Debbie's was at their cottage near Parry Sound.  Both were great fun, meeting old friends, their offspring and in some cases pets.

Took in one movie at the Art Gallery of Hamilton International Filmfest.  Film festivals are used to help book "art" films or point towards awards.  Juliet Binoche is one of my favourites and she starred in the last night's presentation of "1,000 Times Good Night" which we found enjoyable.

A highlight for me was meeting up with my sister Rebecca, this time with her husband Ali and daughter, Samia along with my brother Marshall and his wife Jean.  We met at The Old Spaghetti Factory in Toronto and did some shopping at the St Lawrence Market during the holidays..

We like to close out the year with a few close friends at our place for food, drinks and laughs.

I read a lot of books and enjoyed blogging about some of them at
I also saw a lot of movies and you can check out my thoughts at:

I consider eating out one of the beautiful things in life and so consider restaurants as an art form. Culantro Peruvian was my choice for my birthday.  Stone House (for our actual 40th anniversary), Sokratis for a family function, Earth to Table, Jack and Lois, Ben Thanh Viet Thai, Nonna's.   Ventura's tried during Supercrawl and were very pleased with the service on a very busy day.  Bruyere in Cornwall gave a special private dinner. on the occasion of my aunt's memorial.

I did a lot of blogging.  The top three that drew attention were:  "Overbooked", about a travel book at  an admired old time movie star at my short but educational political career at  Enjoyed reading the few comments.  Without an audience there is not the motivation to write.  This year we will create some more memories.

Photos:  A group including me who have known each other for over 40 years and some for over 50 years getting together at the anniversary of Michael and Karen Bromilow.
Peggy Martin, Barb Martin, yours truly
Oscar and Izzy meeting Lexie.
Barry Finn, publisher of the Rider with headliner Guy McLean and fantastic artist Bruce K Lawes.
The tombstone of George Hamilton, founder of Hamilton. His grave had been moved to the Hamilton Cemetery which had been used for military fortifications during the War of 1812.  The round ball was done by a fellow mason to symbolize a requirement of being a mason.
One of the aerialists performing with Circus Orange.
Flowers at the Mum Show.
Marshall, Jean, Rebecca, Ali, Samia and Sharon at the St Lawrence Market.
Karen, Susan and Debbie enjoying New Years' Eve at our place.