Kudo for HostPapa support

This website is powered by WordPress and hosted by HostPapa. I have had it for just over a year. I realized I could have my own eMail @ my own website. So I set out to set one up.

It turns out that I did set one up, a year ago, and had forgotten the password. So I put in a ‘ticket’ at HostPapa asking for support: how do I figure out the password, and how do I set up to get mail in ThunderBird?

Two days later, a carefully worded reply explained how, as webmaster, I could change any eMail password, and how in ThunderBird, to set up the eMail accounts.

I did as directed.

It worked. Everything works. This is terrific.

In short, HostPapa technical support bailed me out: of my amnesia, and of my ignorance of ThunderBird.

So, Kudos for HostPapa. If you need a website host, I recommend them. Very good value for money, and very good support. Includes backup tools, and I know that they work (blew my own site away once, eh?) and that recovery from them is possible.

Thanks to the HostPapa support team, I can do one more thing to help me market my poetry books.

Kudo for McTavish Roofing

We have, up north, four buildings, three very small, and one small cottage. We had three roofing quotes. We went with the middle price, after much thought. It was more for more, and not an obvious decision. Then the weather got either hot or thunderous, and the job waited … for awhile.

Most of the contact, after the original visit, was by eMail. This works for us as we have no telephone at our shack and have been distracted by birth of fourth grandchild, and the illness of my mother. We weren’t that available. EMail makes asynchronous communication possible. It does lack the ability to react to the other party in real time.

The notification came that the job was done. We were able to go “up north” the next day and have a look. We were impressed.

We were very impressed. We’ve had roofing done before both at home and at the cottage. Generally the cleanup is pretty good, at least OK. This cleanup was immaculate. Shingles perfectly in place, caulking and weatherstrips neat and professional. Not a trace of shingle on the ground, not a single nail, nothing. Swept clean.

And the four roofs look great. Perfect, in fact.

So, kudos for Eric McTavish and McTavish roofing. Thank you for a job well done.

Should we boycott TD Bank?

First we read that Iranians who have lived in Canada for years, and are citizens here, have had their bank accounts frozen without warning. ATM cards, debit cards, everything just stopped. Each individual had to go into the branch and retrieve their cash.

Supposedly this is due to sending remittances back home to Iran. However, my understanding is that the legal limit for this is something like $50,000. I doubt these people are or were sending back that much.

Next, I get a letter, ordinary mail, from TD Bank about my credit card. The letter arrives July 19, 2012. Enclosed is a “new account agreement”. This changes interest rates on the card, among other things.

The agreement comes into force on July 1. If I use the card or have a balance, I have agreed.

Note that my “agreement” is backdated by eighteen days. Note that I do have a balance on this credit card, a credit balance of eight cents.

So, now for the dumb question #1: Should I pull this credit card? I don’t use TD for anything else, but have had this card since it was a Guaranty Trust credit card, one of the few (at that time) which had no fees. When TD took over the card, they honoured the original agreement. Gradually it has become an ordinary card: the same predatory 2.5% surcharge for changing foreign currency, for example, as everyone else.

Dumb question #2: should I encourage you to pull your credit card?

Dumb question #3. If Canadian banks are going to p..s on Iranians, why is TD leading the “charge”? Is it because the natural leader, RBC, is one of the 20 banks that set LIBOR, and that entire exercise is under scrutiny? seems to have been manipulated? See articles on Barclay’s for more on this.

Why Rulers harm “their” people

Events in Syria are serious, pun not intended. Bashar Assad appears to be killing his own people, with helicopters, tanks, heavy artillery, and hand-to-hand slaughter. Meanwhile his country suffers under heavy trade sanctions imposed by the West. So we might ask why the ruler of such a country persists in his actions, while the whole country is going downhill, economically, socially, culturally.

To answer this I am going to use a study I read about, about values and sharing.

Imagine a small group, let’s say of ten young men who all know each other, are single, living in the same village. Our experimenter takes them aside, in secret, one by one, and tells each of them the same story. Every effort is made to be convincing; every proof required is carefully presented. The story goes like this:

A rich benefactor wants to anonymously benefit this village. He has decided to do so by giving money to ten selected young men (the names can be given) including the listener to this story. The money will presumably be spent in the village and the young men can do as they like with it. The money will be given out in one of two ways. In case A, all the other recipients will get $100,000 but the listener will get only $50,000. In case B, all the other recipients will get $30,000 but the listener will get $60,000.

The listener is assured that nobody will ever know that he made the decision, or what the choices were.

Think for a moment and guess what you, and the listener, would each decide to do. In case A the total benefit is $950,000. In case B the total benefit is $330,000. Decide before you scroll down, eh?

Almost every time this test is performed, the choice is B. Let me suggest why.

Suppose there is a shortage of eligible females in our village. In case A, there are nine guys with twice as much money as you. In case B, you have twice as much money as nine other guys. Guess in which case your odds of staying in the gene pool are higher?

Back to serious leaders such as Assad. As long as he is the “winner” in Syria, he will be OK in his own eyes. Doing better but not being in control of a much nicer country is not in his comparative self-interest.

Put another way, rulers harm “their” people because they are not their people. Assad’s family is his people, plus some business heads and certainly some army heads.

This explains the passive approach to global warming. Business leaders could make less profit by using less fossil fuel, less petrochemicals, less energy derived from fossil fuel; they could recapture carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. That would make them less money. They would rather live in a world where they have the money, and resources, more than the next guy. To an executive, the man-in-the-street is not one of his people.

This explains the disaster of free trade agreements. NAFTA gave us little but lost jobs. But the corporations and politicians and lobbyists are in their glory. We are not their people either.

This also explains the disaster of the Euro, at least to some extent. Business leaders in Germany have made record profits. Workers in Germany have had wages stalled for about seven years. They are not the main customers of German manufacturers. German exporters used German bank loans to their importers to pay for their exports, thus funding their own profits with bank loans. Now the debtor countries are becoming unwilling, perhaps unable, to repay. Only German businesses and executives have prospered. Now they want Greece to face austerity: they are not their people. Next will be Italy, Spain, Portugal. Eventually France, unless their new leader is in fact a wake-up call for them. Note that the workers in Germany are also not “their people” either, and have not shared in the financial bonanza of Germany’s productivity and exports.

Rulers try not to harm themselves. Left to a choice, they will keep their superior position, even if it means that all positions get worse. Better to rule a cesspool than be poor in Eden.

Why Not Proportional Voting?

There was a referendum in Ontario on this question a couple of elections ago. The proposed version of proportional voting was turned down. Now we are asking why we don’t demand this as a better implementation of democracy.

First, the version voted on was chosen by “one hundred ordinary people”. This is absurd. I have two degrees in pure mathematics, and I can’t tell you the best way to implement proportional voting. I do know I saw a paper that proved, for any such system, there can be constructed a pathological case which makes that system give the wrong result. It is not a simple concept; there is not a single solution, there is no perfect solution.

One hundred ordinary people are going to be, for the most part, flummoxed by all the complicated options. It will then be easy for the facilitator to take the group wherever he or she desires.

The proposal made and voted on, as I recall, included a number of extra seats for parties which received more votes (percent) than they elected representatives (percent). This allowed for a hue and cry, as individuals who never campaigned could thus get seats, individuals who had never articulated a position could thus get seats, party leaders who were too unpopular to get elected (remember Kim Campbell?) could thus get seats.

As a cynical individual, I suspect that the precise version of proportional voting put on the referendum was chosen so that, if it did pass, it would be of benefit, or least damage, to the existing parties. I suspect it was also chosen so that it would not likely pass. The existing party in power derives that power from the fact that we do not have proportional voting.

So today’s dumb question is, how would we get a decent voting system installed? How would it be chosen? How would it be marketed? How would the existing power structure be made willing to allow this to happen to it?

That does qualify as a dumb question, eh?

Euphemisms I Really Dislike

“The reports could not be independently confirmed.” I think this means, it’s somewhere between gossip and guesswork.

“Led by Gold”. Stock markets aren’t flocks of sheep. They are not led.

“Sold stocks and turned to bonds.” Every stock sold was bought by somebody. Except in the case of new issue, every bond bought was sold by somebody. People don’t “move out” of market segments, because they can’t. Individuals can, but the market as a whole cannot.

“whopping”. You’re supposed to be more impressed with the following word, which is usually “increase” or “decrease”. If it’s big, the percentage change should be enough. There certainly wasn’t any “whopping going on.

Kofi Annan’s peace plan (for Syria). This abject failure to have any effect is a tragedy. It is not a peace plan. It is imho a bunch of hot air with little to sway Bashar Assad from his current course of action.

Israeli Settlement. Each of these is, imho, an illegal land grab, a clear violation of international law. They are not settlements, they are part of Israel’s final solution for the Palestinians: if they live, they will live in disconnected ghettos with checkpoints everywhere, most useful goods (such as rebar and cement) blockaded, and tax revenues collected but not returned as infrastructure.

On ‘Special’ Cases

As a civilization, as a people, we should stop making laws, rules, and efforts for specific groups. We should instead make laws, rules, and efforts that apply equally to everyone. Some recent examples:

  • Jobs are needed to provide hope to Somali youth. Why not all youth?
  • Law forbids spitting on a TTC constable. Why just TTC constables?
  • No bullying gays. Why not simply, no bullying?

With rare exceptions, laws should apply to everyone, and be enforced on behalf of everyone. Equally. Without exception.

Proof, disproof, anti-proof, and in between

I read the British science journal Nature. In such publications one will often see the statistics associated with a particular experimental result. What this means, imho, is the odds of that result happening by chance alone. Generally this is expressed as P < something, typically a very small number like 0.0001, or one chance in ten thousand this result occurred by accident.

Something is often considered “proven” if P < .05, which is one chance in 20.

Something is often considered “not-proven” if P >= .05. Clearly P = 0.5 is a coin-flip and would not impress any of us. However, suppose P = 0.051? This is what I mean by in between, neither proven nor disproven.

Anti-proof would require an experiment testing for the converse of the original experiment. If in this case we had P < 0.05 we might consider the converse statement proven, or the original statement to be proven false.

Disproof is a bit trickier. In mathematics, a general statement is considered disproved by showing a single counterexample. “All crows are black” is disproven if one crow in seven million has a white feather somewhere. In science, P = 1/7,000,000 would be considered convincing.

Apparently it is even harder to prove that a new medication is better than an existing one. Sadly I no longer have the article I saw this in, I think a psychiatric journal, with a title something about “unicorns are possible”, hinting at the difficulty of finding a result of this nature.

Something to think about when you are using FDA-approved medicines. Is it better? What were the odds in the clinical trial? What are the odds of cure by psychiatry as opposed to by drugs? Do shaman practices work? Are there any examples of faith healing? If P was only 0.051, was the result discounted?

We are told, with confidence, that additives, drugs, procedures, diets, operations, are “proven effective”. Perhaps, if the stakes are high, we should find out what the odds really are.

Three More Things that Don’t Work

Telemarketing do-not-call lists. I just verified that three telephone numbers are indeed still marked as being not-callable. One of the annoying techniques in some calls is, after you answer, long pause followed by recorded voice: Good Bye. Another annoying technique is, no call-display number, or 0123456789.

Needless to say, these three phones are ringing at inconvenient times with telemarketing calls. Frequently.

Fining large corporations. If the profit is more than the fine, the company (actually its executives) made a good business decision. You will find here a news item about how GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) is to pay $3bn (£1.9bn) in the largest healthcare fraud settlement in US history. Shed no crocodile tears. Farther down in the same report these words appear: “GSK said in a statement it would pay the fines through existing cash resources.”

Amazingly, (read the article, eh?) GSK agrees to be monitored for five years. I find this fascinating. First, one implication is that normal legal oversight is insufficient. Second, the implication is, they must be more careful .. for five years.

Austerity. Slowly, world leaders and economists are expressing the blunt fact that an economy hit by reduced government spending, reduced social assistance, and increased taxation (only of the poor, not the rich nor the corporations) – that such an economy will not recover in anything like a decade, a decade of misery.

Why everyone (OK, David Olive, Paul Krugman, and the current head of France seem to get it, perhaps a few others) thinks we can grind the poor into the dirt to make payments to foreign banks, is beyond me. Social unrest is the certain outcome.

Common Currency. An excellent article in the Star over the long weekend (front page as I recall) explained what is going on with Germany. In the last seven years or so, German workers have not made any economic progress. German manufacturing has done very well, but by selling outside of Germany. To do this, German banks lent southern Euro countries lots of money. Germany’s trade surplus is apparently $200 billion a year now.

Normally, this would raise the German mark, making exports more expensive, and giving Germans more purchasing power. This could ease the trade deficit of the debtor countries. Instead, the Euro is the same in Germany and Greece. I am indebted to this article’s author for explaining that the trade deficit of the southern countries is the flip side of Germany’s trade surplus. Telling them to fix it is a bit high handed, since it was created and funded by Germany.

Naturally, Angela Merkel will try to stiff the debtor countries for every concession she can get. But she is not working for ordinary Germans. The citizenry aren’t getting much benefit from the current trade imbalance. Instead, the central banks are afraid they won’t get all of their marbles back. Perhaps they shouldn’t: when you got those interest rates, you must have guessed they weren’t T Bills. Meanwhile the corporations exporting all those very good products will lobby to help the banks get paid back.


When is Gravy Invisible?

Rob Ford ran for Mayor of Toronto on, among other things, a promise to stop the gravy train. Then he spent something like $100,000 on consultants to find savings. Not much came of this.

Now we read daily that the Toronto District School Board is habitually overcharged for repairs, renovations, and simple installations. We read that the Catholic school board manages with 70 workers and TDSB uses a closed group of some 900. If one of these cannot do the job, they get half a percent anyway as a contractual fact.

Two examples jump to mind: almost three thousand dollars to put in a simple outlet. Well over a hundred dollars to install a pencil sharpener – by putting in four screws.

So, it’s dumb question time. How come none of these auditors could find this anomalous spending? On my property tax, it looks like about a quarter is for education. How much of this is being wasted on these repairs?

Here is a link to the TDSB cutting to balance its budget.

Here is a link to the trades council giving gift cards, over a quarter of a million dollars worth, paid for by our tax dollars. There is a nice recap of the overcharging in the same article.

Back to the dumb question. Gravy is invisible when you don’t look for it.