Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Canadian, eh?

Today, my family took the Canadian Citizenship test, and we all passed.  We got notice about 17 days ago or so, so we have been cramming from the Discover Canada guide quite seriously.  I figured I would do fine, but I did get tense and butterfly-ish as the exams were being handed out. 

I cannot say what the questions were--the warnings about not posting such info on social media seemed aimed directly at me--but the intra-family comparisons indicated that I got the harder questions.  Maybe, maybe not.  But I got all the questions right and so did Mrs. Spew.  College Spew did fine, but did not study nearly as much.  I didn't mind the studying since I learned some stuff that I didn't know.  It was also fun to come up with ways to remember things like:
  • the Northwest Territories are not the most Northwest--that would be Yukon.
  • Yellowknife is the capital of NWT because there is no Y in Northwest, and Whitehorse is the capital of Yukon Territory because there is no Y in Whitehorse.  
  • the question that gave me the most concern was one about ... hockey.  Really.  I had not really read the guide carefully with regard to hockey since I was cocky about my hockey knowledge. 

After the test, we had to wait to get our results from the interviewer.  I thought the interviewer was going to test our ability to speak in one of the two official languages, but he was more concerned about my work--that I had proof of my job.  Which was not part of the documents I was required to send last fall nor listed as among the docs I needed today.  I guess I could have got online on my phone to get to my salary stubs.  Other than that, I just had to sign a form saying that I am not a war criminal or any other kind of evil-doer.  Well, indicated/convicted evil-doer. 

All we have to do now is wait for the invite to the ceremony.  At the ceremony, we get our Citizenship certificates and swear an oath to the Queen. This really is the hardest part of the process besides the $ and the effort to identify all the times we have been out of Canada over the past five years (my research and talks came back to bite me on that).  Why is it hard?  Because as an American, the idea of swearing allegiance to a monarch is, um, icky.  However, it is easier if I buy the idea that it is not swearing allegiance to the person but to the symbol, to the Canadian nation.  And, yes, I would be swearing to Queen Elizabeth of Canada, not QE of England.  And, yes, much better than swearing to Charles.  I would, of course, swear allegiance to Kate, but that is something else.

Anyhow, time to celebrate our near-Canadian-ness!  Woot, eh!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Measuring Progress is Difficult

It is often very hard to figure out what an event means.  Today, there is a report of Canadian Lt. Colonel being prosecuted for sexual assault.  But the assaults took place from 1998-2007.  So, is this delayed justice showing how slow, bureaucratic and broken the process is?  Or is it a sign of new times?  That the decision (or the announcement) happened very shortly after a new Chief of Defence Staff took over?   With a message of taking this stuff seriously?

The reality is it is probably a mix--something should have happened long before now, but a new boss with a clear priority on this might be pushing the case forward.  And yes, the CDS has a role in this because he has the job of enforcing discipline with the Canadian Armed Forces, not the Deputy Minister and not the Minister of Defence.  This is squarely in General Vance's area of responsibility. 

If we see more prosecutions in the next month or two (and announced via David Pugliese), then it will be clearly a sign that a change is underway.  

A Pander Bear?

Thomas Mulcair, leader of the New Democrat Party and leader of the opposition (one question I will get right), is getting flak today for calling Toronto Canada's most important city.

Why is this problematic?  After all, Toronto is the biggest city by far, it has the most economic weight, it has a heap of cultural weight, and on and on.  But since he is running for Prime Minister (yeah, I know, there is no vote for PM but for individual MP's but tell that to all of the relevant political actors in Canada--the voters, the candidates, the media), saying such a thing does not play well in any other place that might see itself as a most important city.  Since all politics is ultimately local, that means everywhere else that is not Toronto.

My bigger problems with Mulcair's pandering without restraint are on Quebec and supply management.
  • The NDP's stances on Quebec have been most problematic since they tend to want to give Quebec the easiest out possible--50% plus one--with none of the Clarity Act standing in the way.  Why? Because NDP's base is in Quebec.
  • While all the parties are pandering to the overly entitled dairy industry, Mulcair's stance has seemed to indicate that he would not reform at all, even at risk of Canada getting kicked out of the big trade negotiations.
The lesson, as always:

Monday, July 27, 2015

More on Supply Management

I went shopping today, which is enough to deepen my hostility to supply management.  How so?

First, $4 a liter for milk.


$10 for a big block of monterrey jack.... or any other cheese.  Two problems with this: the price and the selection.  $10 is way too much.  But most of the cheese is in this very big size, so that means that I have to pay a lot and then use about half or a bit more and then the rest turns blue before I can finish it.

And that is the problem with cartels--they limit price AND selection--as they game the products to maximize their profits without the fear of competition.  With competition, I might get a better selection of sizes and I might get a better price.  With a government sanctioned cartel?  Neither.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mach and Cheese: When Media Outlets Become Spokespeople for Lobbies

I tried to resist but I could not: this piece on Supply Management is such an utter crock of shit.  The big question is: why has the CBC become the sock puppet of the dairy industry?  A piece entitled "Why politicians defend farm marketing boards" ignores the political logic (more on that below), so what does the piece actually do?  As economist Stephen Gordon tweeted:
We can go through the list one by one, I suppose.
  • No bailouts?  Nope, supply management is not a bailout, which is a temporary effort to save a failing business/sector.  Instead, it is yearly (or is it monthly?) subsidy essentially since restricted supply increases prices despite what this set of talking points asserts.  Check out the price of cheese: $5-7 for a small block?  Really?  
    • "Price comparisons for food can be fraught due to variable factors like transportation costs and retail competitiveness"  Sure, this is true especially when there is no competition!!!  This is what a cartel is all about--setting prices high and then denying it.  Don't compare prices because ...ooops, they would show that Canadians are paying more.
  • Food sovereignty?  This point is absolutely stupid.  It says that export foods like beef and pork and grain can fall on hard times ... but dairy does not.  Wait, have the Canadian beef/pork/grain industries disappeared?  Have their farmers given up and moved to the cities for alternative careers?  No. NO!  So, why should dairy be special.  Oops.
    • The point about perishables actually makes it clear why dairy will not disappear--Canada will not be importing milk from cheaper producers anytime soon since the stuff spoils.
  • Sustaining the little guy?  One could do that without providing bonanzas, I suppose.  But if we let the market work its magic (and its destruction) elsewhere in the economy, why are dairy farmer so super-special?  Why protect them and not small bookstore owners?  Oh, because if we protected all small businesses from competition, we would pay more and get less.  Got it.
  • Trade threats are empty?  Yes, other countries have barriers, which they may lower if Canada lowers its barriers.  Ooops.  Got to give to get.
  • Who needs votes?  The basic point is that politicians pander to the dairy farmers and will continue to do so regardless of party.  Why?  Ask Machiavelli:
`` We must bear in mind, then, that there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things in any state.  For the innovator has for enemies all those who derived advantages from the old order of things, whilst those who expect to be benefited by the new institutions will be but lukewarm defenders.  This indifference arises in part from fear of their adversaries who were favoured by the existing laws, and partly from the incredulity of men who have no faith in anything new that is not the result of well-established experience.  Hence it is that, whenever the opponents of the new order of things have the opportunity to attack it, they will do it with the zeal of partisans, whilst the others defend it but feebly, so that it is dangerous to rely upon the latter.'' 
So, yeah, supply management is not going away, especially when the mainstream media outlets parrot their talking points.

UPDATE: This got tweeted later in the day:

Scary or Entertaining? The GOP Pool of Candidates

Sure, we can laugh and enjoy the spectacle (been a while since I posted about schadenfreude):
Brian McFadden, NYT

But, damn, democracy works best if there are at least two decent choices when one votes.  Competition is supposed to bring out the best (it can also bring out ethnic outbidding, alas).  But who is the most Reasonable Republican?  And can the RR win the nomination?  I am not a huge Hilary Clinton fan, but I could imagine four-eight years of an HRC presidency.  I find it hard to believe that one of these GOP candidates might be President.  Of course, all the talk is about Trump these days, but he will crash and burn at some point--no votes have thus far been cast.

I almost want to see Biden run, as I think I would prefer him to everyone else.  Oh well.  The good news is that I don't have to make jokes about fleeing to Canada, eh?

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Senate Complications

Folks are arguing that unicameralism (one legislative body) is fine, citing Scandanavian examples:
Which is fine.  These countries are well governed.  However, they are not that similar to Canada in that they have very homogeneous populations and not a bit of federalism.  The Canadian Senate, like the American Senate and probably the Australian Senate, are aimed at producing representation from federal units.  This can be both good and bad.  We can get into the pro's and con's at some point. 

But the point here is simply that Canada, despite being mostly cold and very northern, is not that similar to these countries.  Indeed, combined, their populations are smaller than Canada and any kind of union of them would probably include a federal design that insured that each unit would have representation--a Senate.  So, the simplistic comparison needs more work to show why the institutions that work great for homogeneous societies with unitary parliaments apply to heterogeneous, federal countries. 

Now, if one was arguing proportional representation vs. first past the post, that would be interesting.

21st Century Reading and Reviewing

I try to save paper these days by reviewing manuscripts via PDFs on my computer or my tablet.  It also makes it easier to read stuff while traveling--both to read on a plan and to carry less paper around.

The biggest challenge in doing this is the habit/standard of people putting their tables/figures at the back of the document and having endnotes and not footnotes.  I know most of the blame for this goes to journals which require such formatting, although that is changing (thanks Dan at ISQ).

So, I am going to be annoying and ask my students/friends who give me stuff to read to format it the way I want it--intext figures/tables and footnotes.  Sorry, but the line is drawn here and no further.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Harper's Big Strategic Mistake?

The story du jour in Canada is the effort by Stephen Harper to get rid of the Senate.  How so?  By not fulfilling his obligation to name new Senators.  He says this would get folks serious about reforming the Senate.  The problem is that any constitutional amendment would need to be approved by every single province--and with Quebec always having some demands of its own, such consensus is highly, highly unlikely.

You may not think I am an expert on Canada's constitution, but I have been studying the Citizenship Guide for nearly two weeks, so I am on top of this [Um, no, I am not].*
*  My stance on the Senate: I am pro-reform, not abolition.  Why?  Because the Senators should be elected, so that they are accountable  Why not abolish?  Because it would be nice to have some folks in the Parliament Buildings whose agendas are not completely controlled by party leaders and especially the PM.  Of course, elected Senators might have some party loyalty .... Hmmm, anyhow, that is my stance as un-finished as it might be.

Senate-bashing is popular these days due to a variety of scandals, including one that ultimately implicated Harper's closest advisers.  And this might be seen as a play for NDP support given that this is an NDP stance and to put the Liberals in an awkward spot of defending the status quo. 

I have not read heaps of stuff on this, but I have a question: Harper has left a bunch of Senate seats unfilled, so if the NDP win, they could nominate a whole bunch of Senators at once, going from zero (right?) to a healthy percentage.  This is not quite like an American President ending his term without filling vacancies on the Supreme Court, but it is not that different either.  Obviously, the big difference is that the Surpreme Court in the US is far more influential than the Canadian Senate.  So, perhaps the risk is minor, but I would almost vote for the NDP (if my citizenship comes through in time--it will be close!) just to get to this outcome.  Sure, Thomas Mulcair as the new Prime Minister might have to look a bit hypocritical in filling a Senate that he bashed, but he could honestly say that he would be meeting his constitutional obligations.

For a far smarter take on this stuff, see this interview with Emmet Macfarlane.

An Appropriately Short Discussion of a Tiny Super-Hero

We saw Ant-Man last night, and I have few small thoughts about a surprisingly delightful movie (spoilers beyond the break):

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Holy Deadline, Batman!

Not to fear, Robin, as we have the Bat-procrasination gas handy in our utility belt.

The APSA has announced that the deadline for submitting papers to the online repository for the forthcoming conference is August 4th.  The conference starts September 2nd.  Um, whuck?

In the old days, one had to mail the papers to one's discussant and fellow panelists a few weeks ahead so that they could get the paper and have a week or two to read it before the conference.  With the development of online paper banks and email, the expectation tends to be (varies by person and by standards set by each panel chair/discussant) to have the paper to the key person (the discussant) a week ahead of time so that they can read the papers.  

I have never, ever received papers or posted papers online a month ahead of time.  Why?  Because August is for finishing the paper!  Moreover, I would not read the papers three weeks ahead of time since I would want them reasonably fresh in my mind. 

So, APSA is setting a deadline that most will surely miss.  I asked the APSA twitter account if they could report/collect data on the volume of papers submitted by the deadline versus after.  My guess is that most are submitted within 10 days of the conference.  Not to mention that some don't post their papers because they fear plagiarism/getting scooped.*
* I have already written about this fear elsewhere.  The key logic: if you want to be cited, post. 
All I ask as a discussant is to get the paper to me at least a few days before I leave for the conference.  I may read some papers on the plane, but that is my choice.  I will certainly not read papers at the conference, as the conference is for going to panels, meeting up with friends/colleagues/co-authors/etc.  Spending a conference in a hotel room reading papers that were submitted too late is not my idea of a well spent conference.

My general rule is to be considerate--reading these papers is not the only thing the discussant has on his/her plate.  So make their job easier by giving them some time, but not necessarily an entire month.  Also, don't give them a paper that is one hundred pages (someone did that to me).  As in all things, reciprocity/golden rule and all that.