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A proposal for Canadian federal electoral reform

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With election time upon us yet again I've been thinking about some of the problems that seem to exist within our current electoral system and what might be done to solve them. We're all familiar with the failure of proportional representation in Ontario. Too complicated I suppose? Or perhaps a victim of a disinterested electorate that can't be bothered to spend the time necessary to understand how it works? In any event it seems clear to me that any successful solution can't take any more time to explain than it does to say. So, my proposal is this:

 Canadian federal political parties should not be allowed to cross provincial bounds.

Done dismissing it as ludicrous yet?

Okay. Good. Now hear me out.

While parties can't cross provincial borders, it doesn't mean that can't exist as separate entities within each province. You'd still have a Conservative Party in Saskatchewan, and a Conservative Party in Nova Scotia. The difference is that each would have its own leader, its own priorities, and its own platform. While there is sure to be a large amount of overlap in what each party represents, each is still able to tailor its priorities to its constituents. We all get better representation by shrinking an area that a party has to represent. The Alberta Liberal Party doesn't have to worry about the state of the fisheries and the Liberal party in Newfoundland and Labrador doesn't have to concern itself too much with the Wheat Board.

Where things really change is in Ottawa. It would no longer be possible for a single political party to form a majority government. The best a party could possibly do would be to take each one of the 106 seats in Ontario which is still barely a 3rd of the total number of seats in Parliament. Parties would be forced to co-operate and perhaps even form coalitions (gasp!) to form a majority. While we'd clearly see similarly-minded parties sticking together, they would still need to figure out who from each party would take over each Ministry and which leader would become Prime Minister. In addition members of Parliament are more free to cast their votes as determined by the people they represent than they are as part of party whose base spans the country. Under these conditions it wouldn't be unheard of for the Prince Edward Island Liberals and Conservatives to be closer in their views on some issues than the P.E.I. Liberals are to the Ontario Liberals. Wouldn't it be nice to see co-operation across party lines happening without being cast as some nefarious plot to trample on our democratic rights?

There are sure to be some growing pains of course. The election campaigns in P.E.I. are likely to change drastically as a result of not having access to the resources of the current national parties. In places where support for a particular party is already weak (I'm looking at you Greens) they might be forced to fade from that picture entirely. On the other hand you might also see new parties with more locale-specific platforms rise up and start winning a seat or two in Ottawa, further diversifying the votes cast in Parliament.

I also wonder if this proposal might also help to cure some of the lethargy that's afflicted the electorate. Would political parties that are able to focus their views and issues towards a smaller base drum up more interest? Would the fact that the governing party would not already be decided by the time voters in B.C. cast their ballot help to motivate them to make their opinions heard? If that doesn't at least help, I don't know what can.

So. That's my idea. I'd love to hear what people think. I know there are flaws in there that I haven't seen yet, so please point them out. To me the biggest thing we can gain from this is making co-operation in Ottawa a common-place activity. In the end, isn't that what government is supposed to be about?

Robots are people too!

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And like anyone, robots need to learn how to take a punch...or at least a solid kick to the back of the calf.

Kick that mechanical man!

Read the full story here.

The best part of the article is really the video of the dude pushing the robot around.

This is why they'll some day rise up against us.

Is it just me, or is Stephen Harper's face getting smaller?

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Either that or his head is getting bigger...

Stephen Harper has a tiny face.

Dear Mr. Baird...you are a hypocrite.

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Minister Baird,

I take offense at the position of your office as stated by your communications director that it is inappropriate to discuss the politics of the environment when a soldier is killed in Afghanistan. While I agree that it is a tragic event and that our fallen soldiers should be mourned, I do not agree that all business in the government should stop. The environment is a very important issue that affects us all, that requires action, and should not be dismissed. To me, this seems like a convenient tactic to avoid the much-needed debate over your government's position. I can understand why it's difficult to talk about given the lackluster and insufficient plan that you have put forth, but the realities of climate change won't wait for the Conservative government to wake up. While I'm not surprised at the delay/dismissal tactic as it tends to fit with the government's actions in the past, I am surprised at the hypocrisy of your communications director's statement. How can this position be put forth by the same government that decided it was inappropriate to continue lowering the flag on Parliament Hill to half-mast upon losing a soldier? It seems to me that if your government is unwilling to mark the death of a soldier by the simple act of lowering the flag, it can hardly take the position that it is inappropriate to do business under those same conditions.

In closing, I'd just like to state unequivocally that I am a big advocate of environmental protection and action. While I appreciate the steps your government has taken in some areas, protection of Western and Northern wilderness for example, I feel that far more could and should be done. A tougher environmental position must be taken; hard caps and targets need to be set, a "carbon tax"-like system with carbon credit trading needs to be implemented on a large scale.

Thank you for taking the time to listen to my point of view,

Geoff Wheeler


Dion challenges PM on clean air

Email Minister Baird

Thank you spamBots for improving my site!

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Welcome to the new and improved Gweez.net rant page!

Yeah...nothing much has changed as far as you can see...but some bastard spamBot forced me to make some serious changes to the comment system.

Just a few days ago I started being inundated with gweez.net reader comment emails. For a second I was happy to learn that I actually had some readership, unfortunately it turned out to be a script that basically posted gibberish with a link. Like so:

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Effective advertising, I know...but there it is. In the past couple of days I received hundreds of these types of comments, all from the same IP.

Incidentally, that IP was 87.249.56.198, so feel free to DOS the shit out of it.

I can't tell you what I've done to solve the problem, because that might tip off the spammers. Rest assured though, it has thus-far been effective. Read on in the knowledge that any comments you read are likely legitimate!

Also, if you are the one person on the internet who actually clicks on the links that come in spam emails or as blog comments, surrounded by gibberish, please stop. You're just making the spammers believe that their methods are effective and ruining the internet for the rest of us.

Hillside!

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Phew...what a festival.

Every music festival should be like hillside...they do everything right. They keep the number of people manageable, they use reusable dishes and cups for food and drink, there's even a living roof on the main stage. Seriously. How great a job do they do with this thing?

Oh...and the music. Holy crap. I gotta hand it to the organizers of this event...they always seem to get a really good mix of some amazing music. Gotta love it. Over the years (this was our 3rd year) I've been able to see some wicked acts like:

  • Arcade Fire
  • Broken Social Scene
  • Stars
  • Buck 65
  • Constantines
  • Geoff Berner
  • Holy Fuck
  • Final Fantasy
  • The Stills
  • Cuff the Duke
  • Amy Milan

This year was just as awesome. Here are the bands I managed to catch at least a bit of this time around:

  • Golden Dogs - energetic rock with a bit of a 70s sound
  • Memphis - featuring Torquil Campbell of Stars
  • That 1 Guy - Weird dude with a super-modded "bass"
  • The Besnard Lakes - Epic noise
  • Dragonette - Poppy dance hooks
  • Emily Haines & the Soft Skeleton - Of Metric fame
  • Immaculate Machine - Harmonic West Coast indie
  • Dears - Montreal group with some staying power
  • Ohbijou - Soothing
  • Mother Mother - Weird and dancey with some complex timing

My one regret was that we didn't manage to catch any of Shout Out Out Out Out. Saturday night had The Dears, Immaculate Machine and Shout Out Out Out Out playing all at the same time. We went with Immaculate machine simply because we know them well, and we didn't know when the Victoria, B.C.-based band might be around again. I'm comfortable with our decision.

Anyhoo...twas good times. You should all try to go next year. I know it'll be just as awesome.

Way to handcuff your city, assholes.

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I don't live in Toronto. I live in Guelph. A good 40 minutes to 2 hours away, depending on the traffic. I do, however, listen to the radio, specifically the CBC. (I have long since lost the ability to put up with the mindless repetition that is commercial radio.) So I am treated to the goings on of Toronto Municipal politics. Someone should tell people in Toronto to do the same thing.

Over the past few days there has been a debate raging about some proposed new taxes implemented under the province's new "City of Toronto Act". The mayor, David Miller, advocated these new taxes as the only way to curb the deficit problem facing the country's most important economic center. (Cities, apparently, are not allowed to operate under a deficit. Even the ones that bring the most money to the higher levels of government, and who are forced to implement the programs the government demands of them.) Two new taxes were proposed: a new land transfer tax of 2% (equal to an existing provincial tax) that you need to pay when selling your home, and a vehicle registration tax that would go towards badly needed infrastructure repairs and the TTC. Of course, as the council met to decide on these taxes, people who didn't want to pay them started to raise their voices a little. In the end, all that was decided was to defer the decision until after the provincial election in the hopes that Toronto's economic woes might become an election issue, eventually leading to the provincial government shelling out some extra cash for the city. The vote was 23-22.

This has been viewed as a defeat for the mayor as deferring the question to October basically means that all the money the city could have made in the mean time is gone, and in the mean time the cuts will have to be made. Just like the mayor always said...but apparently not enough people care what he thinks.

The thing that really gets my goat about this is the arguments made against implementing these new taxes. No one denies that Toronto needs the money. It's well known that the downloading of social programs by the provincial government forces the city to pay for all kinds of things that should really be the province's, or even the country's, responsibility. No, the arguments mostly centered on the public outcry about these new taxes, and the mind-bogglingly optimistic idea that the province will come in at the last minute to bail the city out.

I've got to say, anyone who didn't see a public outcry coming about these taxes is an idiot. That's what the public does...they complain when you raise their taxes. Even if it's for a good reason, like keeping the roads drivable, or keeping their children educated, they're not going to like it one bit. Who can blame them really? We all want to hold on to our hard-earned cash. But does that mean that the people responsible for making the whole thing work should listen? There were complaints that the public wasn't consulted, that there hasn't been enough discussion. Well, as a CBC listener, I've known about these developments for quite some time, and I've heard about several public meetings specifically to address the issue of these new taxes. They also say that the Mayor never campaigned on bringing in new taxes. Well, maybe he didn't say, "If you elect me I will create new taxes!", but he did say that he would use the new "City Of Toronto Act" to build the city and solve its economic problems. Anyone who was paying attention would know that the "City Of Toronto Act" gave the city the power to implement its own taxes. It doesn't take a genius to put two and two together and figure out that using an act that gives you the power to make taxes, mean making taxes. The problem would seem to be that no one really cared until the taxes were knocking on the door, then they raised hell about not being told. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR CITY YOU FOOLS!

That being said, I have heard the taxes being described by certain elements of the media as "a significant raise in our taxes." But...the land transfer tax only kicks in if you transfer your land. So...if you don't move, you don't pay. (Not to mention the fact that at least you have the money from selling your home to pay the tax at the time.) And if you don't own a vehicle you don't pay to register it. Seems like at worst, it would keep people from buying a car, which would reduce congestion, and pollution, and put more people on the TTC, where they need to be for all kinds of reasons. So...maybe people are paying attention to what they're being told, but they're not looking much deeper than that.

Now this is somehow set to become an election issue...and then the province will be forced to give the city money, right? Yeah...because going to higher levels of government for money has worked so well in the past hasn't it? Remember the "1 cent of the GST NOW" campaign? How many times do you need to be rebuffed from your attempts at handouts from the higher governments before you realize that the only one you can count on is yourself? The Mayor and his supporters seem to get this, what the hell are those other 23 councilors thinking? "This time they have to help us..."? Hell, even if somehow the province does decide to give the city more money, have you seen how long it takes to get anything done up there? By the time the children in Queen's Park are done their bickering half the services in the city are going to be cut and the infrastructure will be in a far worse state.

Already there are various service cuts being announced because this new tax revenue isn't going to come in. Does anyone think it will get better with time? In fact, even the councilors who were against the taxes admit that the shit will hit the fan if the province doesn't come through. They're talking property tax hikes in the double digits, and that's a tax that really will affect everyone (home owners at least), not just those who take the specific action of selling their home.

Basically what I'm seeing is a bunch of councilors bowing to the ignorant, anti-paying-more-taxes public, and putting all their hopes on the stingy grandfather that has let them down so many times before. Personally, if I lived in Toronto, those are not the people I would like to have controlling the city. Personally, I'd like my city to work.

Swarm Theory and Emergence

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Special thanks to Lou-Dawg for pointing me in the direction of this article: http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0707/feature5/

This article is really about emergence, even though is somehow never uses the word at all. It looks at how it's possible for groups of unintelligent individuals to produce intelligent group behaviour. Like how an ant colony can find the shortest distance to a source of food, while, if anyone has ever watched an individual ant do its thing, all the ants are basically dumb as shit.

Apparently studying this behaviour has led to algorithms for determining the most efficient shipping routes for gas, the fastest way to get planes up to a gate and unloaded, and getting customers through a ticket line faster. It's really quite a fascinating read...at least to those of us who are into geeky stuff like this.

Some of you may know about my graphics project back in my school days. It was based on a paper by Craig Reynolds that demonstrated how convincing flocking behaviour could be reproduced in non-intelligent artificial life forms known as 'boids'. By having each individual follow 3 rules the group would act just like a flock of birds or a school of fish. Moving together with apparent group intelligence. My project was based on the same principles, only it was on the ground instead of in the air. Nevertheless, my dumb little herbers (short for herbivores...I had predators to chase them around as well) made for hours of fascinating watching as they roamed aimlessly about in groups. Here's a screen shot:

Herbers in the Mist

Looks awesome, don't it?

Anyway...I love this shit. If you're into this kind of thing I've definitely got to recommend the book 'Emergence' by Steven Johnson. It starts with a humble slime mold and somehow manages to tie it all in to the unplanned growth of cities and slashdot's comment system. Definitely a cool read with an element of mindfuck.

Emergence

Genetically modified snap dragons don't breathe fire

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So last night I got into a bit of a discussion with my mom about the so-called dangers of genetically modified (GM) food. She's a pretty spiritual person, takes all kinds of vitamins and stuff from natural health food stores, and is in to holistic healing. Needless to say, she was pretty against it, but I'm not so sure her fears are justified.

GM food, and organisms in general seem to be getting a pretty bad rap. There's all sorts of stigma and sci-fi-like ideas associated with this emerging field. (I say "emerging" now, but I'll debate the validity of that term later on.) People hear the words "genetically modified" and they picture man-eating plants and unholy mounds of flesh with extra mouths and a nasty disposition. The fact of the matter is, these fears are pretty outrageous and based on ignorance and anti-GM propoganda.

Now I'm not going to sit here and try to tell you that there are absolutely no drawbacks or possible problems associated with GM foods, because there are. It's true that there could be unexpected allergens or other somehow toxic chemicals produced by these new organisms. It's also true that a certain GM organism could be extremely successful in a given environment and out-compete the native plant-life. The thing is, any of this could be true of any naturally occurring plants as well. Environmentalist are all too familiar with the problem of invasive species. The point here being that these aren't problems that are unique to GM organisms.

I think there's a common misconception out there that DNA is unique to it's owning organism. While it is true that the exact sequence of DNA is unique to an individual organism, one has to remember that a huge amount of our DNA is shared across all sorts of organisms. At the most basic level, all DNA, be it human, dog, dandelion, mold, etc., is made up of the same stuff. 4 basic amino acids are all it takes to encode how to make a blue whale, or how to make a potato. They are: adenine, cytosine, guanine and thymine. So when you take some DNA from one organism and splice it into another, you're really just sticking in a different combination of the same stuff that's there already. As far as the DNA is concerned, there is nothing sinister going on at all. How this new DNA is interpreted has more to do with what's around it and where it is, rather than what it is. This is why you won't get a frog leg growing on a tomato just because you've stuck some frog DNA in there.

Another thing that people don't seem to understand is that humans have been "genetically modifying" organisms to suit their needs for thousands of years. The only difference is that we've been restricted to selecting for traits that we like and breeding those to slowly push an organism towards the form we want. One needs look no farther than the family pet to see how much we can twist and mold life. All dogs, from the mighty chihuahua to the graceful great dane, are the same species. In fact, they're all just a sub-species of wolf. Corn is another good example. There are hundreds of varieties of corn (or maize) many of which have a pretty exotic or "mutated" look to them. The origins of domesticated maize aren't really known, but there is speculation that it's actually a hybridization of two different plants.

If one bears in mind that humans have been directing genetics to suit their needs for thousands of years, and that all DNA is made up of the same stuff, then one has to ask couldn't these GM foods actually occur naturally through random mutation? Granted, in some cases the odds are pretty slim, but it's not impossible.

The potential benefits of GM foods should not be discounted either. As our population explodes beyond the carrying capacity of the planet, the need for hardy, high-yield crops becomes more acute. The old-fashioned way to get these types of plants would be to choose the hardiest and most productive individual plants and cross them. We are then left hoping that at least one of the offspring through random genetic mixing has some of the traits we are looking for. Repeat this process for a few thousand years and you basically get the produce we eat today. Something tells me we don't have another thousand years to wait.

So I'll say again, I'm not denying the potential problems of GM foods. There are very real issues that we should be mindful of, but we have to make sure that we're realistic about what these issues are. We need to be careful not to be swept up in the wave of hysteria that comes along with the idea of genetic modification. Educate yourself. Educate those around you. Debate, but debate the facts, not the fears.

Hockey Notes

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The next batch of saviours for Leaf Nation are here! Vesa Toskala, Mark Bell, and Jason Blake are here to bring the Stanley Cup back to Toronto. Huzzah!

I know, I know...the blind optimism of Leaf fans...but I am liking the off-season developments thus far. I think Jason Blake will compliment the team's style of play quite well, and he's pretty much a guarenteed fan-favorite with the rough and in-your-face game he plays. A nice little upgrade in goal to take the pressure off of Raycroft is nice too. I'd kind of like to see Raycroft stick around and share durties with Toskala...that'd be a heck of a goaltending tandem. Generally though, a number one always emerges and takes a bigger role. Raycroft got his chance to convince everyone he could do it and it didn't work out. I wonder how much of the blame lies with him...and how much lies with the team in front of him though.

On another note, I am boycotting the NHL. What's that you say? I just went on and on about the recent Leaf developments? Well...mine is an economic boycott. I am refusing to give my hard-earned money to a league that seems to willing to do anything to cater to an audience that doesn't give a fuck about our beloved game. No more jerseys or buying tickets or any of that. Not that I really did it much before...I mean I couldn't buy a ticket to a Leaf game if I wanted to. If only there was more product to keep up with the demand. Are you listening Gary Bettman? You weaselly, power-mad prick. I'm not standing for your anti-Canadian business any more!

sigh...If only I didn't love hockey so much. Maybe I'll become a baseball fan or something...hah...and maybe Balsille will be able to swallow his pride long enough to not alienate the people who can get him what we all want so desperately. Not bloody likely.

TO: Facebook Capital of the World

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So apparently Toronto has more Facebook members than any other city in the world. It has more than New York, Los Angeles, and San Fransisco combined. This article examines why that might be, and mentions the tipping point or critical mass of a cultural phenomenon.

http://www.thestar.com/living/article/231008

RSS is here!

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Due to popular demand I have added an RSS feed for this blog. (Fully one third of the reader comments thus far are demanding an RSS feed!) Now those of you who just can't wait to hear what I have to say can keep right on top of my updates.

It is available by simply clicking the little orange 'RSS' button to the left. Go figure.

And so it begins...

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Alright, I've finally decided it's time to start actually posting on this blog. There's still some lingering details that need to be taken care of, but I'll get to them when I get to them. For now, the under construction notice has been taken down and you are reading the first post as ...uh...you read.

I had originally intended this to be a blog about Canadian politics, but I've had to re-evaluate that. Seeing as all the politicians are on their <cough> well-earned summer break, and because most normal people aren't anywhere near as fascinated or incensed by the goings on in the House of Commons as I am...I figured I should broaden my topics.

You can expect to find my thoughts on everything ranging from politics, hockey, nature, society, and so on.

If nothing else, at least I'll have somewhere to spew the contents of my brain when something gets me all riled.

Enjoy...

-Geoff