Pope Francis: Challenges

There are four persons of interest here. Let me start at the top, with Pope Francis.

I am not Catholic, although I volunteered twice a week at a Catholic charity. For twelve years. I respect the faith of others. I deeply appreciate this Pope’s rapprochement where others want to exclude, to use Francis’ own words, the less perfect.

We may not remember the scandal at the Vatican Bank, where it was actually claimed that money launderers used that facility to conceal and move ill-gotten gains. From what I recall in the news, those claims likely had merit. And, to fix the problem, Francis installed Cardinal Pell as his top financial adviser – the third most powerful Catholic in the world.

Pell is our second Person of Interest. He did seem to be cleaning up the Bank quite nicely. There is a problem, though, and Pell is being accused of turning a blind eye to sexual abuse, and apparently lately, to perhaps having committed some himself.

A year ago Pell refused to travel back to Australia where he was Archbishop at the time of the alleged offences and coverups. His health prevented this. Apparently his health could prevent him from attending the preliminary hearing as well (see above hotlink.)

Our third person of interest is Tim Minchin, who over a year ago posted a video of a song which he wrote challenging Pell to ‘Come Home’ to Ballarat in Australia. Apparently Minchin donated proceeds to help the abused and their relatives to travel to Italy to watch the proceedings. My memory is, they weren’t allowed in and watched via closed circuit TV.

Our fourth person of interest is another Catholic. Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Müller will not have his five-year mandate as Catholicism’s chief theologian renewed. Müller was appointed by Benedict in 2012 and needs (and won’t get) renewal when five years is up.

Apparently (read the hotlinked article, eh?) Müller has been a bit of a thorn in Francis’ side. Here’s a few quotes from the article. Emphasis mine.

The two did not see eye-to-eye, with Cardinal Müller questioning Pope Francis’s attempts to being more open to “imperfect” Catholics, like those who are divorced.

Earlier this year, a victim of sexual abuse within the Church accused Cardinal Müller’s department of impeding the Pontiff’s efforts to stop internal cover-ups of abuse.

Müller is (was, actually) the second most powerful Catholic in the world.

Tim Minchin is still Tim Minchin.

Luckily, Francis is still, so far as I can tell, exactly what he’s always claimed to be:

  • the front face of reconciliation for Catholics who are imperfect.
  • financially incorruptible, and trying to clean house where needed.
  • sensitive to abuse: it should be stopped, and covering it up prevents that.

May God have mercy on us all. Pope Francis could use a little help here, too, imho.

Drones in America

Apparently, the US courts have decided that drones small enough, and used like hobby aircraft, are in fact model airplanes and thus Not subject to licensing. The logic seems to be, small hobby aircraft operated ‘for fun’ in line of sight were not regulated before, and a drone is essentially the same thing if operated in the same way, so long as it isn’t really big.

OK. But I think the USA (and Canada and all sensible governments everywhere) should insist that drones have a serial number on them, in several places, that can be recovered in the case of a crash (I’m thinking airplane crash here.)

My cameras all have serial numbers in them. My laptop has one. I’m pretty sure the manufacturer could track that serial number to a specific outlet, and I’m pretty sure that outlet could track that serial number to a specific purchase. Most of us pay for medium-expensive stuff by credit card, so that tracking would come right back to the purchaser.

The good news is, supposedly a stolen camera or laptop could be proven to belong to the original purchaser.

Even better, a drone involved in an accident or in criminal activity, could be tracked to the original purchaser.

Why doesn’t the USA put that into law: serial numbers. Almost everything of serious lasting value has one: the VIN on my car, your refrigerator.

Drone on.

What does the New Yorker think about Canada?

Here you will find a fascinating article about Canada versus the United States of America.

I will quote the opening two paragraphs, and encourage you to read the rest – slowly. As always, emphasis mine.

Title: We Could Have Been Canada. Here goes:

And what if it was a mistake from the start? The Declaration of Independence, the American Revolution, the creation of the United States of America—what if all this was a terrible idea, and what if the injustices and madness of American life since then have occurred not in spite of the virtues of the Founding Fathers but because of them? The Revolution, this argument might run, was a needless and brutal bit of slaveholders’ panic mixed with Enlightenment argle-bargle, producing a country that was always marked for violence and disruption and demagogy. Look north to Canada, or south to Australia, and you will see different possibilities of peaceful evolution away from Britain, toward sane and whole, more equitable and less sanguinary countries. No revolution, and slavery might have ended, as it did elsewhere in the British Empire, more peacefully and sooner. No “peculiar institution,” no hideous Civil War and appalling aftermath. Instead, an orderly development of the interior—less violent, and less inclined to celebrate the desperado over the peaceful peasant. We could have ended with a social-democratic commonwealth that stretched from north to south, a near-continent-wide Canada.

The thought is taboo, the Revolution being still sacred in its self-directed propaganda. One can grasp the scale and strangeness of this sanctity only by leaving America for a country with a different attitude toward its past and its founding. As it happened, my own childhood was neatly divided between what I learned to call “the States” and Canada. In my Philadelphia grade school, we paraded with flags, singing “The Marines’ Hymn” and “Here Comes the Flag!” (“Fathers shall bless it / Children caress it / All shall maintain it / No one shall stain it.”) We were taught that the brave Americans hid behind trees to fight the redcoats—though why this made them brave was left unexplained. In Canada, ninth grade disclosed a history of uneasy compromise duality, and the constant search for temporary nonviolent solutions to intractable divides. The world wars, in which Canadians had played a large part, passed by mostly in solemn sadness. (That the Canadians had marched beyond their beach on D Day with aplomb while the Americans struggled on Omaha was never boasted about.) Patriotic pageantry arose only from actual accomplishments: when Team Canada won its eight-game series against the Russians, in 1972, the entire nation sang “O Canada”—but they sang it as a hockey anthem as much as a nationalist hymn.

There is more, much more, in the New Yorker article. I take no pleasure in reading it, but wonder if the much-touted American Revolution, and slavery, did (as the article reasons through) set up the malaise in my southern neighbour country.

And now we have Trump.

Pass the maple syrup. Have a nice day.

For once, then something (???)

The title refers to a poem by Robert Frost. You can have a look for free.

What I’d really like you to read is a BBC News page about Donald Trump.

He’s considering renewing something like the Glass-Steagall act. This was, perhaps, the last piece of legislation to be removed (in 1999) that led to the crash of 2008.

Paradoxically, while on the campaign trail, Trump threatened to revoke Dodd-Frank, which was put in by Obama to fix things a bit during the crisis.

You can read the BBC page for yourself; I’ll content myself with quotes, emphasis mine:

Mr McDonald said there are good political reasons why the president might want to take a tough line on the banking industry. “The average little guy loves to hear this, so he’s going to score points with his base and it may not hurt him politically at all because it may not get done,” he said.

Dodd-Frank was designed in part to protect consumer banking operations from riskier investment banking business. Among other provisions, it required banks keep money in reserve at levels the president has said he thinks are onerous on smaller operations.

Finally, on this administration’s ability to promise, measure, and deliver:

Earlier, US Treasury Secretary, Steve Mnuchin said he believed the American economy could be growing at a rate of three percent within two years, thanks to the administrations proposed tax reforms. On the campaign trail Trump promised growth of 4% a year. The economy is currently growing at a rate of 0.7%.

Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something?

That’s the dumb question.

A Telling Show

Today we have two persons of interest.

I am a writer. One thing all writers should think about is ‘Show not Tell.’ For a fine explanation of that, go here and see how Shirley Jump explains it.

The second person of interest, fascination even, is Donald Trump.

Here is one place where some of Trump’s tweets have been gathered. I’ll select just a few words to show that Trump is telling.

  • Mainstream (FAKE) media
  • China & its highly respected President
  • We are making tremendous progress
  • Terrible!
  • Relationships are good-deal very possible!
  • Sad!
  • The U.S. recorded its slowest economic growth in five years (2016). GDP up only 1.6%. Trade deficits hurt the economy very badly.
  • First the Ninth Circuit rules against the ban & now it hits again on sanctuary cities-both ridiculous rulings. See you in the Supreme Court!

I could go on, but if you go through the above list, you’ll probably agree that most, if not all, the italicized words (emphasis mine) are not substantiated with any facts.

We’ve been told. It’s a telling show.

Evil and Corruption

Invulnerability corrupts. Power can convey invulnerability, and thus is often credited with corruption of individuals. However, the H.G.Wells story, The Invisible Man, had an intro which pointed out that the invisible man wasn’t specially powerful, but he could get away with things – was in a sense invulnerable, not liable to be taken to account for his actions.

Invulnerability corrupts.

Evil is, imho, the exercise of power without oversight. For a normal individual, that oversight is called conscience. However, many powerful forces in a society are controlled not by the consciences of individuals, but by oversight bodies charged with reining in those powers.

There are checks and balances within governments. Sometimes.

Between powerful coalitions, nations being an example, power versus oversight becomes a challenge for diplomacy. Carrot and stick, deal and threat, gift and sanction.

North Korea is a scary example of power challenging diplomacy.

So is the United States of America under President Donald J Trump. Large bomb in Afghanistan. Missiles in Syria. Trade threats. Walls. Discrimination.

Now for the dumb questions:

  • Is Trump invulnerable?
  • Does that slightly scare you?

Have a nice day.

Bankrupt.

Here you will find a fine article on Donald Trump’s brilliant new tax plan for the United States of America.

It will bankrupt the country. First, corporate taxes are going to be reduced from 35% to 15%. The trillions in deficits that mere economists predict won’t happen, according to Steven Mnuchin, because growth in reported income will cover it. I think a bit of simple math here is in order: 35% divided by 15% is seven over three. That’s more than double. So to make up for the tax break, American companies will have to report, and pay tax on,more than double their current net profit levels.

Sound likely? Guess not.

That this would save the Donald considerable (?? we don’t see his tax returns, eh??) tax money himself seems to trouble him not a whit.

In addition, this tax reform would do the following:

  • some sort of repatriation tax, giving big companies an incentive to bring back money they hold overseas
  • tax breaks for childcare expenses
  • doubling the amount of standard tax deduction
  • a cut in individual rates, although few details expected yet
  • more tax rate cuts for hedge funds, and other enterprises that pay taxes at individual rates
  • easing the tax form process

And in all of this there is no new tax revenue source:

Mr Trump’s blueprint is not expected to include any proposals for raising new revenue.

The much-discussed border tax that would put a tariff on imports – favoured by House Speaker Paul Ryan – will not be in the plan.

When Mr. Trump got in personal financial trouble in the past, he declared bankruptcy and went on living.

There is the odd voice of sanity in the wings, for example:

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown called the 15% rate workable only “if you want to blow a hole in the federal budget and cut a whole lot of things like Meals on Wheels and Lake Erie restoration and then lie about the growth rate of the economy”.

Bankrupt. The US Federal Government is going to be bankrupt.

No dumb questions this time. Have a nice day.

Donald, Duck!

I don’t think he sees it coming.

At some point Trump is going to face facts. The manufacturing jobs are not coming back. Automation has made sure of that.
Global warming is going to happen. Drought in California, floods in New York. More violent weather driven by more power in the atmosphere.
Russia will keep meddling with Ukraine and Syria (and goodness knows what else I’m unaware of.) North Korea will continue to develop missiles and atomic weapons.
Regime change will turn out to be 100 % disaster. Libya. Cuba. Chile. Iran. Iraq. Nicaragua. Will we never learn?
Trading partners can not be shut out by fiat. No automaker makes all the parts of any car. A  simple strike by the manufacturer of, say, dimming mirrors, could shut down GM. Remember that a fire in a single chip factory in Taiwan brought the computer industry to a halt.
Proxy wars end in failure. Yemen, Syria, and ‘Palestine’.
Draining the swamp by employing its owners is the biggest practical joke ever played on an entire country.

It’s called disaster, Donald. Do you see it coming?

Donald, Duck.

System

We are exploiters. Hunter-gatherers use an area and, if it loses potential, simply move on. Builders exploit regulations, cut down forests, pave farms, sell houses, and move on.
Politicians make promises, campaign, get elected, and move on – by listening to lobbyists and special interest groups.

So it should come as no surprise that nobody often looks at any ‘activity’ as being part of a system. We think we understand ecosystems, but then move to exploit them – by tourism, logging, fishing, mining, whatever.

A simple example is the use of nuclear power to generate electricity. It works. It is clean in the global-warming sense. It is reasonably reliable. It is Not throttle-able: you are either running a nuclear pile, or you aren’t.
And then you need to deal with the nuclear waste. There’s a lot of it, and at a wide range of difficulty when you need to handle it. Brooms and protective clothing at one end; irradiated metals from reactor and generator parts in the middle, and spent nuclear fuel being (I think) the most treacherous.
I submit that the long-term real cost of nuclear electricity is not yet known. Nobody has looked at the entire system over its entire lifetime – which will be longer than the lifetime of anyone reading this post. (Toronto will be underwater due to global warming before some of the radioisotopes are safe to eat.)

Another example is burning fossil fuel, of any kind. Peat, coal, oil, natural gas, tar sands tar – all are sequestering carbon buried long ago when the world was warmer and had a lot of carbon sinks and few carbon sources.
Now we’re going to reverse this process, and be amazed when the predictions turn out to be correct. Ice shelves in the Antarctic melting. Greenland glaciers melting. More power, and more sudden variation, in the weather system.

There is fallout. Britain is monitoring bird species, with more entering the endangered list ever year. It turns out some birds migrate using day length, while some use temperature as a clue. The former are now arriving later than the latter, and losing a nesting advantage they had only due to timing to arrive before their larger competitors. This is one example; there are others. In the north of Canada there are shore birds whose migration and breeding patterns indicate stress, with clear population losses as a result.

Polar bears will either greatly reduce in numbers, or stop eating from sea ice that is no longer there. Changes, changes: in the seal population, and in the safety of large shore mammals, including people.

And then we have transit in Toronto. Our mayor and city council steadfastly refuse to look at basic numbers: expected ridership, expected value.
These are the people who brought us the Sheppard Stubway. Who proudly opened the Union-Pearson Express (UPX) in time for the Pan-Am games, and then found it could not support itself. So they chopped the fare, guaranteeing that every ride will cost the taxpayer about fifteen bucks.
And now the same geniuses are designing a one-stop subway to Scarborough. I think this secures maybe one seat in provincial politics. Let me dwell on this fiasco for a few more words here.
It will cost, maybe, $28 in subsidies for every rider.
It will provide far worse service than the rejected LRT solution.
It will cost far more, and the final numbers aren’t in the ‘system’ yet.
It is not paid for by other governments, as the LRT was.
John Tory, our mayor, thinks he can fund it with magical thinking. Future development along the route will create tax revenue that will miraculously be identified and used to pay down the debt from subway creation.
There is no reason to conclude that this ‘system’ will work. I am not aware of any instances where it has.
Nobody has asked any of the hard questions about safety. This will be the longest tunnel in Toronto. What if there’s a crash like the one on the Spadina line? A couple of red lights were ignored by the driver. A fail-safe device which stops a subway passing a red light, well, it failed. Several people were killed. Many people had to creep out of the tunnel.
How will escape from such an event work, if it occurs in the middle of a very long tunnel? There won’t be any stations nearby, for sure.

From the above examples I have a sad conclusion.

Democracy is a bad system.

  • we vote with our dollars to pave farms, drive wildlife to extinction, ruin the climate.
  • we vote for politicians, whose mere ability to run, guarantees special interests are behind them.
  • we vote for politicians who sound good. They don’t think soundly, they just sound good.
  • we vote with our dollars to send jobs to Mexico, Bangladesh, China.

I have a stupid solution.

  • Bribe or coerce IBM or Google to lease one of their supercomputers to the government. (I’m thinking of the computer that can win at Jeopardy and identify skin cancers from black and white digital images.)
  • Install a benevolent dictator with a small cadre of advisors in all key areas of science, economics, health, and social concerns (inequality comes to mind.)
  • Let the cadre teach the supercomputer everything about their goals.
  • Let the supercomputer suggest actions and predict their outcomes.
  • Do the right thing.

The last part is why we need a dictator.

Now for the dumb questions:

  • Do politicians, especially elected ones, do the right thing?
  • Often enough to warrant electing them?

Have a nice day. As always, garbage responses will be trashed, as will responses with invalid eMails. (I won’t show your eMail, ever.)

 

The Bombardier Bonus explained

Here you will find one of the many reports on the excessive bonuses Bombardier top executives have awarded themselves, for ‘outstanding performance.’

They appear to have backed down, but they really haven’t. They’ve ‘deferred’ half of the outrageous bonuses. I’ll bet they’ll still cash in when they retire or are fired.

Bombardier is not well-managed. I’ll give some examples:

  • The C series airplane. It is well behind schedule. The company has lost billions of dollars on it. They are being bailed out by Canadian governments.
  • Incompetence with airplane subcontractors. When you sue each other, you’re not managing the relationship very well.
  • Incompetence with light rail manufacturing and delivery. Metrolinx is trying to break the contract, as the vehicles are not forthcoming.
  • Incompetence with streetcar manufacturing and delivery. The TTC is trying to find another supplier as these streetcars are years late.

Bombardier executives are not managing Bombardier. They are managing their own incomes. I suggest that these huge bonuses are in recognition of these points, imho they are facts:

  • Losses covered by government partial purchases mean the company does not own itself as fully any more.
  • Losses covered by government loans means more money will be needed later, not less.
  • Poorly ‘performing’ boards of directors, CEOs, and top executives eventually have to leave. Sooner or later the shareholders and governments and clients will have their wishes granted. Contracts will be broken. Loans will be called. Subsidizers will be made to look foolish.

So, what would a clever set of self-serving executives do? Give themselves one last, outrageous parting gift: huge bonuses.

Cynical enough? that’s the dumb question.