TTC Citizen Input: Dumb Questions

Normally, I would put hot links in a post to help you. This time, I cannot. To find the relevant Toronto Star article, you need to google

Toronto Star citizen input hard to pinpoint

I can’t give you a hotlink because the google result goes to PressDisplay and conceals the parameters used to find the specific article. So I’ll give you a few quotes as we go along.

Basically, there are two claims here:

  1. Having citizen input on TTC matters is of dubious value
  2. It is expensive, considering the value received.

I propose to rebut both statements. Citizen input’s value first.

They were the chosen four: an entrepreneur, a lawyer, the head of a non-profit agency and an IT specialist — private citizens hand-picked from 485 applicants to sit among the seven city councillors on the Toronto Transit Commission.

You will note that all of these individuals likely own cars and can afford taxis. Who hand-picked these four? Why not go to a typical bus, subway, go train, and streetcar stop and pick the most intelligently responding person there?

Dumb question number one: do you believe these four (assuming you use what passes for ‘transit‘ in Toronto) represent your interests?

Now for costs.

For their trouble, the citizen members get $450 for each monthly meeting they attend. Three earn $5,000 annually. Vicechair Maureen Adamson, the head of Cystic Fibrosis Canada, earns $10,000 a year. It all adds up to about $47,000 from the TTC budget.

This is a bit obfuscatory, to be kind. Three earn $5,000 – impossible at $450 per meeting. One earns $10,000. Add that up and you get … $25,000. That’s a long way from $47,000.

Dumb question number two: were these four chosen for their likely lack of concern re TTC?

Dumb question number three: Is this article, planted on the front page of the GTA section of the Monday Toronto Star, an excuse to get rid of citizen input based on bad payback for money?

Councillor Gord Perks, who watches the TTC closely and has been critical of Stintz’s leadership, called the vote a minirevolt of sorts. “Watching that and having seen the TTC for a long time and participating in mixed-model boards,” he said, “I really get a sense that the citizen members are not equal partners at that table.”

Dumb question number four: are the citizen members of the board being overridden? Many Torontonians will remember Rob Ford beginning his ‘path’ as mayor by declaring, on day one, that ‘the war on the car is over,’ and scarily, council fell into line with this anti-transit viewpoint. If a mayor can do this to our council, can a review board do this to the four, appointed, citizen members?

Dumb question number five: is my claim that non-TTC users dominate the board fair?

“I think we bring at least the right questions to the table,” said Adamson. “I think we get enough information to make good decisions. I think it would also be better if a few more commissioners actually used transit once in a while.”

Finally, not all councillors think citizen input is a waste of time. My own councillor, Peter Milczyn, had this to say: “The citizen members bring more of a sense of fiduciary obligation to the company and more of a due-diligence approach to what staff are bringing forward.”

Final dumb question: Is Milczyn alone here? And if so, why?

Why which Warplane?

Brazil has just done a deal with SAAB of Sweden for some 36 fighter jets at a cost of 4.5 billion dollars. That works out to some 125 million dollars per plane. The SAAB Gripen NG is an impressive fighter jet. It is also rumoured that the NSA spying on Brazil figured in to this decision. Details are here.

You will remember that Canada was going to purchase the F-35 being developed (to use a euphemism) in the United States. Apparently the F-35 was going to cost five times the original estimate, at $600 million per plane. You can read all (actually only some, it’s a big fiasco) about that fiasco here.

One question we might ask our government: if the Gripen is such a good plane, especially the NG version, why don’t we consider it? There’s a neat article on this question here. Sure, it’s on a blog, but it is well researched and clearly written.

Now for the dumb questions:

Why did the federal government of Canada decide on the F-35? US pressure? Reflexive agreement with the US administration?

Why did it take so long, and such obvious technical difficulties, plus delays and cost overruns, for that federal government to decide to drop the purchase?

In the last page hot-linked above you will find these quotes:

With an upgraded engine producing 20% more power than previous versions, the Saab Gripen NG will easily match previous versions’ top speed of mach 2.  This makes it faster than Canada’s current CF-18 (mach 1.8), and way faster than the F-35 (mach 1.6).

If modern air combat dictates using advanced, long range missiles, then logic dictates we should equip the very best.  Oddly enough, the F-35 doesn’t.  Designed around the American AMRAAM medium range missiles, the F-35 doesn’t have much “wiggle room” for mounting larger, longer range missiles.  The Gripen, which mounts its missiles externally, doesn’t have this problem,  Its compatible with just about any weapon or bomb used by NATO countries, and should continue to be so.

Enemy detection shouldn’t be a problem for the Gripen NG, equipped with an AESA radar, infrared search and track system (IRST), forward looking infrared (FLIR), and a helmet mounted display similar to the F-35’s.

What about the F-35’s data link?  Well…  Turns out Saab actually pioneered the use of data links in the 60’s with the Saab Draken.  Newer Saab jets have continued to update its use, and currently the Saab Gripen is compatible with the LINK 16 standard used in NATO.  Information can be instantly exchanged between the Gripen and all friendly units.

The blog page is quite knowledgeable on the Gripen and has much more than just these quotes.

Is it really dead? If the Americans give us Canucks some sort of deal/pressure combination, will we change our ‘mind’?

Why is the suggestion to do an open look at what’s available, not being followed? In the

Dumb question time again: Is the government of Canada just stalling? in the Globe page you will find these words:

Ottawa formally announced Wednesday it’s now shopping around to see if alternatives to the F-35 better meet its needs as a replacement for the aging CF-18 Hornets. The government has acknowledged, however, that it could again decide the F-35 is best for the job. “We’re undertaking a full-options analysis and the F-35 is obviously one of those options,” Ms. Ambrose told reporters.

Still, the government is holding off calling for open bids to build the plane – as opposition parties are demanding – saying they’ll wait for an options analysis led by the Royal Canadian Air Force first.

I’ll bet we Canadians F-35 ourselves one more time. Comments, anyone?


Edward Snowden: why revelations matter

The range of spying by the NSA in the USA is mind-boggling. It makes 1984 look reasonable by comparison.

One example: the standards for random number generation were bent by the NIST under pressure from the NSA. This made ‘random’ numbers easier to guess, by perhaps a thousand or ten thousand times.

Those of you who remember the Netscape embarrassment, where it was found that random numbers generated by the browser were mostly concentrated in a few ranges, may know why this matters. Here’s some detail.

In setting up a secure (https for example) communication, the RSA algorithm plus a website’s security certificate, are used to start the process. Essentially the user’s browser sends the website a challenge message encrypted in that site’s public key. That the site can respond, encrypted in its private key, indicates that the site does indeed ‘know’ the private key – something that (supposedly) no other site knows.

Once this level of trust has been reached, the browser generates three random DES keys. (DES is a different encryption standard. You can look all of this up, I’m keeping this as short as I can.) The browser then sends these keys in a challenge message encrypted in the website’s public key. The website responds with a message encrypted / decrypted / encrypted (using DES) by the first / second / third key, respectively.

Since these three keys are only used for one session, it is pretty hard to break the triple-DES encryption. Since the messages used for setup are short and mostly random, there isn’t much information to try to break the RSA used by private/public keys and security certificates.

Unless, you have bent the randomizer so it isn’t very random. Then it’s easier to guess the DES keys used in https. If you are the US Government, you have computing power enough.

That means, every online transaction that you thought was secure, is not, if a government agency understanding the random number generator weakness has a record of the (encrypted) session’s messages and replies.

In short, no ‘safe secrets’ were really safe. The NSA could, if it chose, find out what you did last time you banked or shopped online. And if, like Bruce Schneier, you ‘encrypt everything’, you’ll have brought attention to yourself and likely are being decrypted right now.

Edward Snowden revealed this to us.

There’s more. The NSA introduced spyware into computers worldwide. This on top of tapping 70 million phone calls in France alone in the course of thirty days. You can read about this here. There’s nothing special about France; if you search about you’ll find that British, German, and Canadians were spied on too. Pretty much everyone.

Edward Snowden revealed this to us.

Finally, it appears that the NSA found a way to tap into computers that are not online. Devices were added to them (surreptitiously, I assume) that send radio signals. These computers can be listened to from the other side of the wall, for example.

While Snowden isn’t mentioned here, I’ll bet he revealed this to us as well.

I think Edward Snowden should be given citizenship in the country of his choice, and be received as a hero. I think that should apply even should he wish to live in the USA he has exposed as being much, much, bigger than ‘Big Brother.’

Poetry for the Whole Darn Universe: Malia Ann Haberman

This review originally appeared on Amazon on May 18, 2013. I repeat it here as this was one of my relatively few five star reviews, and I like to create additional visibility for writing I really admire.

Fun poems for the young, and for the old to read to them

five  stars.

Haberman has provided us with some forty-one poems, written (as her website declares) for MG, ‘tweens, and teens. That is right on. These poems are light and gentle with reasonable vocabulary, with the exception of the deliberately garbled Today my Tingue got Twusted (which is hilarious). Readers will empathise with Chocolate Ice Cream Cone and The Apple and the Worm. This is a fun read.

If you’re looking for my usual carps, they are few. I personally like each poem to start on a new page; I guess I’m not used to scrolling in PC Kindle. Perhaps due to the intended audience, the rhyme schemes are all pretty much the same for most of the poems. Tiny carps.

While this is not ‘like’ Doctor Seuss, it is pretty close in quality. You will laugh frequently, as in I’m a Thinking Kind of Kid (who does his thinking in detention!) and The Money Tree, when pennies could have been nickels. Some of the poems have twist endings, as in The Spectacular Stupendous Parade. I would have had as much fun reading this to my kids as I did reading A.A.Milne’s poetry books.

Back to the star count. My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. And, for the intended audience, this work clearly deserves five stars. Highly recommended, an unbelievable bang for your buck.

Jim Bennett, Kindle Book Review Team member. (Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Gridlock in Toronto: some dumb questions

If you google this topic, and have a lot of patience, you’ll find a lot of information.

The Toronto Region Board of Trade thinks gridlock costs some six billion dollars a year. But they are not interested in contributing to the solution. They think a gas (car) and property (home) tax is the answer.

Here is a page from the Globe and Mail on this topic. If you read this carefully you’ll be able to make these conclusions:

It is, apparently, difficult to count parking spaces in the GTA. 4 million or 3 million.

It is, apparently, difficult to raise $350 million from parking taxes.

Bullfeathers. Assume there are 2 million parking spaces that are parked on in every business day, some 200 days per year. Assume a surtax of $1.00 on every parking instance downtown, directed entirely to transit. Assume you can multiply one dollar by two millon spaces by 200 days: you get: Four Hundred Million Dollars.

I submit that, if one drives downtown, one’s costs for the trip are over ten dollars, probably twenty if you’re sitting in gridlock and paying for parking. Maybe more.

I submit that, if you want to reduce gridlock, you charge those who are both causing it and will benefit from its reduction.

So, the Real Estate industry is opposing this. Here is a link to the same page, in case you missed it above.

Now for the dumb questions:

  1. Are we the only ones who can multiply two by two hundred?
  2. Is this an underestimate?
  3. Is this affordable? If you have a drive-to job, can you afford $200 spread over a year?
  4. Is the resistance of the Real Estate Industry logical? Are they acting on behalf of their tenants?
  5. If we put up with this, are we dumb?

As always, coherent comments will be positively moderated. Respond here.

Corporations: tax breaks or tax increases?

We have an economy that is doing fine inasmuch as large corporations have large cash reserves.

We have an economy that is in disaster-recovery, inasmuch as large numbers of people are unemployed, and those employed are often under-employed.

So, it might be tempting to pull more money from corporations, and put it into various ‘helps’. I suggest increasing CPP would help later generations. I suggest increasing the minimum wage would be useful now. I suggest limiting part-time work, so burger flippers get full-time jobs with benefits, would be a good thing.

I am aware that corporations will fight like crazy against additional tax, and will see increasing EI costs as a tax (which it is) or funding CPP as a tax (ditto).

If you’ve been to my References page, you’ll be aware of Steven Aftergood, and the Federation of American Scientists. If you’ve visited, you’ll be aware of Secrecy News (to which I subscribe).

Here is a pointer to a CRS report on said website posted by said Mr. Aftergood. Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports are requested by Congress and generally not made available (without FAS, that is).

This report is about lowering taxes to stimulate the economy. In effect, it says that lowering taxes has trivial effect.

Conversely, rasing taxes (which is the reverse of lowering taxes) should also have trivial effect.

So, why don’t we raise corporate taxes (which are, effectively, less here than in the USA)? Could it be that we mere voters are out-lobbied by corporations?

This is posted under ‘dumb questions’, eh?

Multivitamins: an analysis I distrust.

In this web page you will find statements that vitamin supplements are essentially of no value and have potential for harm. The point of view is decidedly skewed, as in this quote:

“The message is simple,” the editorial continued. “Most supplements do not prevent chronic disease or death, their use is not justified, and they should be avoided.”

Why focus only on chronic disease? and death cannot be prevented by anything, eh?

The web page does not mention B vitamins, and the absence of reference to vitamin B12 is, imho, a glaring omission.

Vitamin B12 is an essential micronutrient. It is stored in the liver. It is produced only by some three families of bacteria. No plants contain it. Presumably the gut bacteria of cows, pigs, et cetera make this (among their many other key contributions to mammal health.)

Vegetarians are at risk for vitamin B12 deficiency. If you take folate, you disguise the shortfall for a longer interval, as folate shortage is an early diagnostic for B12 deficiency. B12 is implicated in the folate-creation pathways.

B12 deficiency can take ten to twenty years to manifest itself. I am aware of several individuals who were in sad shape and benefited from B12 supplement.

Person 1 was tired all the time. His MD did not want to test him for B12 deficiency. He added a checkmark himself on the go-to-bloodwork form. When the results came back, the MD asked, did you add the B12 test? Because usually, I check for folate at the same time. Lucky for me (the MD) I did this check as you are definitely deficient in B12.

Person 1 had contacts and found out how to get himself injected with B12. The effects were quick and profound: energy returned.

Person 2 is myself. I insisted that my MD do the B12 test. He reluctantly agreed. It came back a bit below borderline. I was taking supplements maybe once a week. I jumped it to daily (50 micrograms, in a B50 complex as that is cheaper than B12 alone, eh?). At the next re-test, B12 was OK. Oh, and I now felt human again. Being tired all the time is a drag.

Person 3 is my spouse. Essentially the same track of events.

Here’s my take on supplements of all kinds:

Understand, having researched, what the supplement you are thinking of taking is good for. Saint John’s Wort is supposedly good for depression. Check out side effects. Use the internet, especially trusted sites like Wikipedia (very good on technical stuff) and PubMed.

For some reason, B12 deficiency is becoming quite common. A cottager friend (person 4) is vegetarian, and had to go on B12 injections to regain energy.

I suspect that our carnivores are for some extra reason not getting their B12. Since most beef and pork here is from potentially antibiotic-fed stock, maybe the key bacteria aren’t present enough to create a stored backlog of B12 in the muscle tissues.

(I’ll do a rant on antibiotic stock feeding later. One ‘scandowegian’ country, perhaps Denmark, recently stopped feeding antibiotics to pigs and had yields rise.)

Back to my main topic. In the above referenced web page, you will find this:

There have been few randomized clinical studies of the effects of multivitamins and minerals on heart disease, cancer and risk of death…

May I point out that a lot of standard medical procedures have never undergone randomized, double-blind, clinical tests. Blood transfusions, for example.

May I point out that, focussing on heart disease, cancer, and risk of death is misdirection. The medical/pharmaceutical profession, imho, wants you to think those risks can be reduced by their procedures, their prescriptions, and their regimens. They also want you to think that theirs are the only benefits worth discussing.

When you’re tired all the time, another prescription isn’t likely to help. But vitamin B12 might.

It is reasonable to assume that other simple supplements might make up for our industrialized production of food with less nature, and more synthesis, in its inputs.

Now for the dumb question: what do you think? am I nuts? in my limited circle a specific vitamin has changed four lives. Placebo effect? Comment here, OK?

UnNatural Gas and the Ukraine

The Ukraine was poised to do a deal with the EU and the IMF in an attempt to dig itself out of a financial hole. Citizens of the Ukraine were of the view that getting closer to the EU would give them a more European lifestyle. I guess they aren’t aware of Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain; they didn’t know about Cyprus, which had all bank deposits over a limit taxed at twenty percent. (This to get the IMF and the EU to lend them money.)

When the Ukraine leaned toward Moscow, there were disturbances. However in the end Moscow (and Vladimir Putin) prevailed. How was this done? By providing fifteen billion (US Dollars I assume) in loans. In addition, the cost of natural gas to the Ukraine was dropped considerably. You can read details of this here.

One thing about this deal disturbs me. The Ukraine gets roughly a one-third cut in natural gas prices, to some $268.50 USD per thousand cubic metres. I thought that was still a pretty high price, so I searched about for the price of natural gas in Canada. My memory is that I found some fourteen cents per cubic metre, or $140.00 CAD per thousand cubic metres. Here is a website which more or less corroborates this figure.

So much for the observation. Now for the dumb question:

A lot of natural gas passes through the Ukraine, and the Ukraine siphons off some money for that transit. Good for them. But given the price, do we think that Russia has an effective monopoly over those European nations which buy its natural gas exports?

Kathleen Wynne and VQA Wines

It is possible to accuse Ms. Wynne of toadying to Scarborough, giving them a ‘stubway’ that will cost every homeowner in Toronto some $1200 and need to be heavily subsidized forever. It is possible to lay the accusation that this disastrous, imho, decision was taken to win a by-election in, well, Scarborough.

It appears that the lessons of the McGuinty government have already been forgotten: Cancel a gas-fired power plant to save four seats, and it becomes a habit; you next cancel one to save one seat. Mr. McGuinty then decided to take some of the heat with him and leave politics.

Now Ms. Wynne has a by-election coming up in Niagara Falls. Niagara Falls is in the part of Ontario that makes wine, among other things. So Ms. Wynne proposes to allow local VQA wines to be sold at farmers’ markets. You can find an article at theSpec here.

I’ll give you a quote to scan down for:

Liberal Kim Craitor paved the way for a byelection in Niagara Falls when he resigned his seat in September after a decade in provincial politics.

Wynne, who has yet to call the byelection, announced later in the day that city councillor Joyce Morocco would be the Liberal candidate.

The Liberals say their wine and grape plan, launched in 2009, also includes a fund to purchase specialized equipment and machinery, as well as better local and global marketing for wines.

It also includes a wine secretariat — led by Wynne and veteran cabinet minister Jim Bradley — to reduce red tape and help grape growers and wineries be more competitive, the government said. 

Now for the dumb question: Do you believe this decision was made with no consideration for the by-election?