Archive | February, 2015

Internet and the Leadership Deficit

20 Feb

The rise of social media seems to have mirrored a steady fall in the quality of leadership throughout the world’s great Western democracies. Whether it’s Brazil, Canada, the United States, or somewhere in Europe, there appears to be a decline in the quality and level of competition for political responsibility. This leadership deficit is a cause for alarm, since it comes at a time when the free market Western democracy model finds itself once again faced with a number of formidable challenges.

The current economic crisis has persisted across the world, and while America seems to be in recovery, most of the rest of the global economy remains fragile, vulnerable, and highly unstable. China’s Communist Party, long dependent on high economic growth to justify single party rule, faces a demographic time bomb and insufficient economic growth to sustain itself. This will require more rhetoric and bellicose posturing on the part of Communist China towards its smaller more dynamic neighbours. A more militaristic China will inevitably mean a rise of Japanese nationalism and ultimately Japan abandoning its commitment to disarmament. The Korean Peninsula remains a frozen proxy war, which could reignite should Japan, Korea, and China clash over territorial waters. This too is mirrored in the south:Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and the Philippines are all potential hot points for conflict.

In Europe, Stefan Zweig’s dream of a continent united through peace, is once more under a belligerent threat. Borders realigned through conflict, commercial airliners shot down, near misses, challenges to Western European airspace, the rise of extremist left and right wing parties throughout the continent, deflation, austerity, refugees, and violent Islam. Russia’s use of rhetoric juxtaposed over silent warfare is shaking the NATO alliance, and all what was good from economic integration has now frozen Germany and France into inaction – they trade so much with Russia that punitive sanctions would hammer their economies so hard that the European electorate would simply revolt. Thus through dirty war, propaganda, subversion, and ethnic cleansing, the map of Europe is once again set to be redrawn.

Bordering India, Europe and Russia, Sunni and Chiite Islam are once more at each others throats, with a dwindling number of Christians and an isolated Israel caught in the middle. A tragic result of Ottoman mismanagement, European imposed borders, and Cold War proxy states, the Arab world has fallen into darkness. Women have limited rights – in many of these places they are forced to cover their entire bodies in vast amounts of cloth so as not to incite the carnal desire said to be innate to man. In the worst of these countries, places such as Yemen, Somalia, and ISIL, these societies have become failed states, engines of terrorism, operating under primitive and violent tribal laws infatuated with a prophet and a one god. Institutions are non existent, corruption is endemic, and modern science is scorned. The region has become so regressive that not only has it become a black hole for civilization, but it has also turned to exporting its interpretation of religion and its violent behaviour to the rest of the world. The tragedy of the Arab world will not be easy to solve, I believe that baring a few exceptions, the entire region will remain economically and socially impoverished for many more generations, a source of great challenges for Western democracy.

In Latin America the Obama administration has been making a concerted effort to ensure the entire region remains firmly entrenched within America’s sphere of influence. Engagement with Cuba, the sharp decline of Venezuela, the end of Kichnerism, all fit with a general theme that has seen the US and its Latin American neighbours slowly but surely converge towards an entente of sorts. Yet the threat of corruption and weak leadership is also to present across the Western Hemisphere. Apart from the Obama administration, there have been few bright lights in Washington, and the picture is no better in Canada, Mexico, or Brazil.

And so one asks, “Why in an age of hyper connectivity and information saturation, is Western democracy at such an impasse?”

“How can it be that just when the Western world has the technology to leap into the future, it is strangled by impossible levels of inequality, corruption, and belligerence on the part of our political and business leaders?”

“Why are young people so turned off from politics, and why are so many of our leaders so rotten?”

Social media has an incredible power to mobilize vast numbers of people very quickly, for good or for bad. One need just think of the Arab Spring, the Maidan Revolt, or Alibaba. It has an intoxicating power to hypnotize and to distract. In an age where most of us no longer can sit in silence and just think, where every moment we are bombarded with images and lights, it becomes quasi impossible for the majority of people to hold their politicians and their business leaders accountable. For example, here in Canada we rarely pay attention to the activities of our parliaments, yet these very institutions, founded on the Magna Carta, are the places where the laws and the leaders of our time are supposed to be held accountable to us, their citizens.

Social media has another ill. Humans have an insatiable desire for instant gratification – give a person the choice of ten bucks now, or fifteen tomorrow, and most will take the ten now. Smartphones, texting, sexting, facebooking, chatting, and yes even blogging, not only consume our silence, they expose our deep dark secrets to everyone. One need just think of the long list of congressmen and political leaders who have had their careers cut short because a bit too much of them had been shared a bit too far on the world wide web. The great tech barons of our age unleashed the end of privacy, and we are but the first generation of humans whose every inner thought, desire, and naked passion is shared to all – how Orwellian it is. The ramifications of this border on the incomprehensible – I do not doubt there are whole schools of research devoted the field.

With the picture painted as it is, is Western democracy and the free market doomed? Are we destined to be enslaved by incompetency, hypnotized by social media rhetoric, terrorized by radical Islam, and bombed by Russian nukes? While I may give off that impression, contrary to my musings, I do believe humans have an innate ability to learn from the follies of their forefathers. We do repeat mistakes, often at the cost of countless lives, but in general the life we lead today is orders of magnitude better than what our ancestors had to put up with. Just imagine how jealous Marie Antoinette would be of modern plumbing, Oscar Wilde of gay rights, and Diogenese of Tinder.

I am hopeful that if we survive this critical period of democracy deficit, those who come after us will be more mature and accepting of the realities of a world without privacy, and in so doing bring a new raison d’etre to the West. Should this happen, Western democracy will once again spread enlightenment to the world.

It’s Raining in LA

10 Feb

After days of non stop rain in Vancouver, I cannot help but think of drier climes, images of figs, palm trees, and sunny beaches float through my mind. Ah yes, down with biking in yet another Pineapple Express, it’s time to move to Los Angeles!

Talking LA, this weekend an article in the Economist caught my attention. It was about the great lengths LA’s rich and famous go to to bypass the enormous traffic jams the “city” suffers from. For those who can afford it, the options include paying a chauffeur to drive you around in a built out GM suburban mega SUV, complete with office, TV room, and bathroom on board – a must if one is stuck and no loo is nearby. The vans include AC and curtains to block out the ever present pesky LA sunshine.

Some of the mega SUV’s even come with built in fitness bikes and baths, so you can get your ride in while being driven to the office. I mean, why bike to work in one of the world’s most perfect climates for cycling? That would be too simple…

Referendum: Premier Clark’s Plan B

10 Feb

This is increasingly looking like a classic case of the tragedy of the commons, where no one wants to assume responsibility for the common good, and everyone wants a free lunch. With the electorate already hyper segmented, it is increasingly easy for incumbents to offer the status quo rather than offer big picture long term solutions. Premier Clark has no incentive to stake her future on supporting the referendum – won or lost, she comes out clean. In the end the biggest loser will be the electorate, as either way they will pay the cost.

Price Tags

From the Globe and Mail:

B.C. Premier Christy Clark says Lower Mainland mayors will have to raise property taxes as a Plan B if voters reject a proposed sales tax to pay for new transit in this year’s plebiscite. …

“If they decide they do want to build transit without a Yes vote in this referendum, mayors will have to fall back, I guess, on the existing funding mechanism they have.

“They have always had the ability to raise money for transit through increasing property taxes and I suppose that would be one of the options available to them if the referendum fails.”


You think a West Vancouver council will vote to raise property taxes on some of the highest-valued homes in Canada to support light rail in Surrey?  Or Maple Ridge to support a subway in Vancouver?  Or any council anywhere to support anything outside their boundaries?


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SFU or UBC – The Gondola Solution

9 Feb

If the Broadway Line were built and extended as far as Alma Street, could a gondola system be implemented to get students the rest of the way to campus? It would certainly be cheaper than running buses or continuing the line to UBC.

What about SFU, why is NIMBYism still holding up the gondola line from Production Way up to the campus? Why can a few home owners force delays and unsafe commutes upon tens of thousands of people who live, work, and study up on Burnaby Mountain?

Barcelona and Medellin have it, why can’t we have it to?

Comments worth commenting on: Who has a helmet law?

4 Feb

The amount of lives saved by helmets is probably far outweighed by the lives lost due to higher levels of asthma, cardiac disease, obesity, and car accidents as a result of millions of people not biking because they don’t want to wear a bike helmet, or because they’re brainwashed by the helmet lobby that biking is dangerous.

Price Tags

Price Taggers just can’t get enough of the compulsory-helmet law controversy.  Stoker, meet fire.

arnoschort commented on Ohrn Words: “The Effect of Mandatory Helmet Laws”

There are very few jurisdictions in the world that have an adult helmet law which are enforced. The list is very short:

  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • BC, New Brunswick, PEI, Nova Scotia
  • 19 states in the US
  • Spain – only rural areas and there are other exceptions
  • Chile – urban areas only.

Isn’t it a bit arrogant to think that we might be right in having a helmet law when most of the world does not have a law and two countries have repealed theirs in order to introduce bike sharing?


UPDATE: Janda adds two fascinating articles:



In the 1980′s, Bell, a helmet manufacturer, was keen to expand the market for bicycle helmets, its most profitable product. It approached…

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Referendum: Editorial – Hume on a Hijacking

3 Feb

Hopefully the yes side can come up with a compelling big picture message as to why no is not an option. In a competitive global economy, Vancouver has to make investments in its transit infrastructure to keep up with other cities. The fall in the Canadian dollar is a stark reminder of how quickly capital takes flight to other parts of the world where things are being done better and more efficiently. This flight makes us only poorer against our peers.

Price Tags

Stephen Hume in the Vancouver Sun:


Anti-tax group has hijacked debate

Pressure group: The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, based in Regina, has no legitimate say in transit plebiscite


How is a non-democratic special interest group… able to develop such traction in framing the current Metro discussion of public transit funding?

How is a minuscule, Prairie-based, fundamentally non-democratic special interest group that operates like some self-appointed secret society able to develop such traction in framing the current Metro discussion of public transit funding?

Judging from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, you’d think Metro residents were staggering under intolerable taxes and about to be crushed by yet another.

Yet competitiveness studies show that after Alberta we enjoy the second lowest provincial tax in Canada. Our sales tax is lower than all but two provinces — and would retain that rank even with the proposed transit increase. Corporate tax rates here are second…

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Where is our Premier? What was she elected for?

2 Feb

The upcoming transit referendum is statement of our times. A provincial government too scared to take a stand on anything, has imposed on the recently elected mayors of Greater Vancouver a plebiscite on funding essential upgrades to transit in the region. The provincial government has said they will take no position on the plebiscite, this despite the fact that the region is by far the most important economic motor of the province.

Translink is the provincial corporation responsible for transit in the region, it operates in a similar fashion to another provincial corporation called BC Ferries. Both Translink and BC Ferries were divorced from the core Provincial Transport ministry, so as to get the hot potato of transit funding out of the provincial government’s hands, and into pseudo independent corporate bodies that can be blamed whenever fares rise or service is cut. While the issue here is not about BC Ferries, one need just pick up a local paper to see the state of that particular provincial “corporation”.

The result is the mayors are being forced to campaign for funding from the public to finance the expansion of transit and road and bridge infrastructure that is operated by a corporation that is kind of run by the province. Sounds crazy, but in fact it is worse than that, because if the funding is turned down by the public, the gridlock here will get worse, and the only ones who will take the blame will be the mayors and Translink. Christy Clark and the provincial government will be able to wash their hands of it.