Monday 31 January 2011


When I bring an orange to work, it is invariably still sitting on my desk at 4:00. It's around that time when I start getting hungry again, and I look around and all I have left to eat is this damn orange. Ugg. Okay ... I guess I'll have the orange. Unless .... I go out and buy a chocolate bar! Yeah! That might hit the spot! No ... I'll eat the orange.

I actually like the taste of oranges. I like orange liqueur, orange candies, orange everything. But oranges are never the first thing I reach for. They're more like a food of last resort, and I think that's because they're just too much work.

Mandarin oranges are the exception. They still taste good -- especially the oxymoronic Japanese mandarins -- but they are easy to eat too. I know ... about this time you're thinking to yourself: is he really doing an entire post on oranges? There is some sort of backward reference to the NDP in here, right? Nope ... nope ... this here is a post about oranges. Anyhow, like I was saying before you interrupted me: mandarin oranges are my fave mainly because they're easy to peel. If you're careful, you can take off the whole peel off in one piece, and you can run around the house with it showing everybody how talented you are. I guarantee that your esteem will grow among all who witness your achievement.

But then there are the other oranges. I don't know if they're navel oranges or what, but you know the ones I'm talking about. They are about the size and weight of a shot put, but about half that is the 1cm thick peel that encases the actual edible part.* Getting that fibrous orange armour off is no small task: First you have to pick away at it for about five minutes with your finger nail to get it started. I recommend letting the nail on your index finger grow out for at least two weeks before attempting to do this. The other alternative is to make a cut in it with a pocket knife. Then as you continue to pick at it, it's a little bit like unearthing a dinosaur bone. The peel comes off only in small chunks, often with parts of the inside flesh attached to it. It's a painstaking process, but eventually you end up with a pile of peel chunks on the table and the actual inside orange that you were looking for.

Finally! I can eat! Alright, I'll just pull apart these orange wedges here and ... *SQUIRRRRT*. God damnit! I just washed that!

Sure, once you get to the inside it is indeed very tasty, but getting there is just too much of an ordeal for what it is. I mean, you shouldn't have to shower after eating a fruit. You would figure that with all our technology and experience with plant breeding and genetic engineering, the scientists could develop non-mandarin oranges that were easy to peel and pull apart.

*the whole orange is in fact edible. I know this because I used to work with somebody who actually liked eating the peel, and they never got sick and died, therefore it must be edible.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

CTV on Walmart / Russ Wyatt on Ski Doos

Well, let the knee-jerking begin. Somebody died, therefore we must change laws regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

Look, I'm not heartless. I actually have a bigger heart than most people, as I upgraded several years ago to a water buffalo heart on a visit to a Africa thinking it would make me better at golf. I'm not sure what this heart thing has to do with compassion, but I'm pretty sure I have that too. I also have logic. It's important to have both, otherwise you end up saying things like Russ Wyatt.

Wyatt today announced several things:
1) he wants to ban snomobiles in areas within city limits where they are currently allowed.
2) he wants to be able to seize the snomobiles if they are caught driving in said areas.
3) he wants to increase the minimum driving age to 16.

Let's discuss:

1) All we're doing is creating more law breakers for no apparent reason. People are going to do it anyhow, because there is really no reason not to except that, um, some guy who was driving in an area where it was prohibited hit somebody who was walking in the dark in the middle of a field near a Hydro right of way. Ya, that makes perfect sense. No logical fallacy there.
2) If you think it's hard to catch a car thief, try catching a snomobile driver that's afraid of having his $16,000 MX-Z 800R confiscated. Good luck. Maybe you can deploy the police helicopter to track snomobiles in a field instead of car thiefs in the middle of the city.
3) Makes sense, right? Older ... more responsible ... But is this really going to help? Driving a snomobile for 10 years before I got my drivers license helped make me a better driver. In fact, I would almost recommend that we make it mandatory.

Russ continues his silliness with this quote:

"10, 20, 30 years ago we didn't have snowmobiles that can go 160 miles per hour"

So, the reason for changing things now is because snomobiles can go faster? The olde power toboggans of yore didn't go fast enough to run somebody over? The old Jag 340 I used to drive could go 60 miles per hour, and that was probably one of the slowest snowmobiles in town. Russ is just grasping at straws. There is probably lots of straw in that field where Ken Stammers got run over. He can go there ... as long as he wears something reflective.


Another thing that I saw on CTV this evening was that Walmat was going to build "supercentres". They're like centres, only they're super!

This was one of the lead stories, and I thought to myself: why is this a lead story? Actually, why is this a story? Do other stores get news coverage when they expand their product line? The advertising execs at Walmart are no dummies. How do we let people know we're expanding our grocery area? Buy TV advertising? Buy billboard space? No .. just send an email to CTV. They'll broadcast it to the province for free.

I am left wondering if there was some sort of real local news that I missed. Wasn't there some kind of meeting at city hall? There must have been, because they mentioned in passing that the councillors voted to approve the 58 new cops. Is that all they did? Anything else I should know about?

I would dare to say that the things our elected officials decided today is a little more important than the fact that Walmart will start selling meat in 4 months. Mind you, after looking at the "most views" list on the Free Press web site, I might be mistaken there.

Tuesday 25 January 2011

Another roundabout!

Even though the only way you'll catch me in East Kildonan is if I get kidnapped or drive without my glasses on, I am very happy to learn that E.K. is getting a new Roundabout, because it means the City has not let the traffic circle debacle of last fall scare them away from building proper roundabouts.

Those of you who are new to this blog may not know this, but I have a bit of an obsession with roundabouts. I advocated for them two years ago. I rejoiced when they built one in my neighbourhood, and I'll complain about four-way stops to anybody. That is why I was slightly concerned when those little mutant "traffic calming circles" caused a shit-storm to erupt that even had the Director of Public Works basically saying on TV that people were too stupid to use them. Fortunately common sense has prevailed and a properly designed roundabout is still recognized as a efficient traffic control device.

In fact, if you elect me as mayor, I pledge to replace four-way stops with roundabouts whenever possible: everytime an intersection with a 4-way stop is due to be rebuilt, if it needs to be torn up for a major repair, or if traffic congestion demands it.

Not only that, if you elect me as mayor, I will

  • implement a one-in-one-out policy for traffic lights. Do we really need to put up another set of lights on route 90? Fine .. let's figure out how to get rid them somewhere else. We rely far too much on lazy planning.
  • actually implement traffic analyst recommendations regarding speed limits.
  • restrict new residential development on the edge of the city until somebody can convince me it's absolutely critical.
  • ensure that all new development -- residential or commercial -- is properly funded, so that we don't build neighbourhoods without schools or massive commercial developments without proper infrasturcture.
  • Get rid of red light cameras in areas where .. wait ... what? The election was last year? Damn. Never mind.

related: Graham Hnatiuk

Thursday 20 January 2011

Of TREEs and inverted rates

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? A willow? A boabab? A one-man environmental advocacy group?

In the Free Press story earlier this week Lower electric bill for poor urged, something seemed odd: why would environmental groups lobby the Public Utilities Board for lower rates for anyone? Lower rates encourage greater power usage, which is bad for the environment. So .. I decided to take a peek: Who are these groups? How can non-profit organizations afford to hire fancy American lawyers?

The first group -- Time to Respect Earth's Ecosystems (TREE) -- is very small. How small are they? They are soooo small that their head office is a nest. Haha. Oh, I kill me... Would you believe I just came up with that? Actually, this is their head office:

It turns out that TREE is actually just a guy: Peter Miller, Professor of Philosophy, University of Winnipeg. He doesn't even have a web site, but he does have a mission: "Advocacy for a sustainable forest agenda in Manitoba."

So he's a philosopher who is for sustainable forests, but he wants to help poor people. Okay. What about the other group?

Green Action Centre, formerly Resource Conservation Manitoba, is a much larger group. Or, I should say, they are a group. They have a web site with all kinds of information about their causes and activities, which include active transportation, recycling, reducing emissions, composting ... the list goes on, but oddly the list does not include anything about lower hydro rates for poor people. It's not on their blog, or their "events and actions" page, or anywhere else that I could find.

Why is this group hiring lawyers to lobby the government about a policy that's not even on their agenda? Well ... probably because the aforementioned Professor Peter Miller in on their board of directors. What appears to be happening here is that Prof Peter is leveraging the name of a well-known group to lend legitimacy to his personal quest.

On to the second question: how can they (he) afford to retain and pay these consultants and lawyers? Answer: he can't and he doesn't. Who does? You do. Indirectly.

It turns out that this thing about petitioning the Public Utilities Board isn't a one off. In fact, it's pretty much an annual event, and each time Peter Miller applies for and receives a full reimbursement of his costs:

Accordingly, the Board (Public Utilities Board) will award cost in full ... Costs shall be payable by Manitoba Hydro within 30 days of the date of this Order.
He did this in here, here, here, and here in 2008 when he was awarded an eye-popping $142,066 for lawyers and consultants from Arlington, MA, even though according to Hydro the value of their input was very questionable:
The evidence provided by Mr. Weiss to the GRA proceeding was not relevant ... Further, the evidence was duplicative, since it was virtually the same evidence provided by Mr. Weiss, through RCM/TREE, in the 2007 Centra Gas General Rate Application.”
142 Grand for redundant information. Nice. Now, in relation to something like, oh .. I don't know .. bipole III, $142k is peanuts. Nevertheless this is a very expense hobby that Peter Prof has -- it has cost over $300,000 in the last five years alone ... but it hasn't cost him a cent.

So that's who they are and how they get their money. Now ... why? Why is a guy/group whose mission is to protect forests intervening in a PUB hearing to reduce Hydro payments for low income people? This is somebody who once said that supplying power below cost was a "crazy policy", and that "if no one is feeling the pinch from energy prices, why bother?" (source)

It's a tough question to answer. It's not immediately apparent why he's doing this, though I suppose I could phone him and ask him if I really wanted to. I think he's just bored. You may have guessed from my subtly sarcastic remarks two posts ago that I think a two tiered rate structure is a dumb idea. I don't doubt that Peter Prof would agree that it's a dumb idea. He's just run out of good ideas to lobby PUB for.

I actually happen to think that a previous idea of his is a good one ... or at least not a bad one: an inverted rate structure. This is where the first X amount of power is charged at a low rate, and the excess power is charged at a high rate.

If you really want to promote conservation while not bankrupting poor people, this is the way to do it, because as economists like to say: people make decisions on the margin. That is, it's your marginal cost of the next unit that you take into consideration, not the cost of all the units you bought before. Let me illustrate: when you go your friend's social and buy tickets for the 60-pounder of booze, you really only want to buy one ticket because your friend is a cheap skate and his fiancée is a bitch. But you buy three tickets, because the marginal cost of the two extra tickets is half what the cost of the first ticket is. It just seems stupid to buy only one ticket.

Manitoba Hydro actually does have an inverted rate structure ... sort of. There is a slightly higher rate for electricity use in excess of 900 kWh per month. I just checked my past two hydro bills and I use about half that, even though I routinely waste gobs of electricity. I leave my computer on overnight and while I'm at work. I never unplug anything. I have incandescent Christmas lights still, and they're set to turn on at 11 AM. Actually, they're set to come on at dusk, but you get the idea.

A far better idea than having separate low rates for poor people, or capping their payments at 6% of their income, or whatever dude is suggesting, would be for Hydro to lower the rates for a basic minimum level of monthly electricity use -- enough to run your fridge, stove, and lights. Nothing more. Set that at maybe 3 ¢ per kWh. Everything above that should be charged at cost, whatever that is, or maybe a little more. Probably something like 9 or 10 ¢ per kWh. If I'm paying three times as much for my marginal power usage, I may be more inclined to power down my PC at night.

Low income people should save money overall because presumably they don't have 60 inch plasmas sucking up megawatts every evening, so most of their power usage should fall within the lower rate bracket. The catch is that people who heat their homes with electricity will get screwed. Maybe something else can be worked out for them. It should be easier for Hydro to keep track of who has baseboard heat than how much everybody's income is, after all, Hydro is the gas supplier too.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Well that was interesting...

I was just shutting things down for the night when I heard a noise from outside. Peaking out the window, I saw a little old lady with a cane, wearing slippers and a pink housecoat, walking down the street.

I kept watching as she dissappeared out of view. That's ... unusual. And not right. I should probably go see if she's okay. Should I go out there? If I don't go and she ends up falling in a show bank and freezing to death, like that lady in Toronto, then I will sort of kind of be responsible. I should probably go...

So, after quick consultation with the wife, I put on my jacket and braved the -25 windchill. By the time I caught up, she was around the corner and half way down the next street, heading towards a busier street and a retention pond.

As it turns out, my services were not really needed. Her husband, who apparently was a little less indecisive than I, had a head start on me. Watching him chase after her was a little like watching the Boissevain turtle races (I would imagine). Her: determinedly walking at a brisk 1 km/h towards the west. Him: racing behind her at a blistering 1.2 km/h yelling "Hey, where the hell are you going? Get back here you stupid woman!"

Anyhow .. everything was fine. Apparently she had "watched too much late night TV" and decided to go for a walk. I can understand that. But to where, nobody knows, and the lady wasn't talking.

I walked back with them for a while and watched them both walk up the driveway of their house, which, as it turns out, is right across the street from mine. I had talked to the husband a few times before, but I had no idea he had a wife. Now I do. Good to know.

Monday 17 January 2011

Thoughts from the past week

The dance of the yellow machines

Hearing about the snow-clearing problems in New York and London may give you a new appreciation for the efficiency of the snow clearers here in Winnipeg. I was caught behind a small fleet of loaders this past weekend as they made their way through suburbia cleaning up the intersections. They each pick their intersection or back-alley or driveway, scooping away the snow with their twenty-thousand pound machines, mindful of the impatient drivers like me trying to squeeze past them. They do their thing, leap-frogging each other up the street, and before you know it they're gone.

They ought to be good, of course. They do it enough. But unless you are unfortunate enough to get caught behind a convoy of graders on a long stretch of road, the daunting task of clearing the city of snow gets accomplished without a whole lot of inconvenience to anyone. Here's to the big yellow machines.

Two tier hydro

You may have read that there is a move afoot to force Hydro to provide different rates for poor people. I think this is a great idea. For too long elected and accountable officials have held a strangle-hold on social policy. Having to explain your policies to the taxpayers is really quite onerous. It's unreasonable, when you think about it. I mean, suppose you as an MLA or Premier wanted to engineer a social policy that, to the majority of voters, seems ill-advised. You simply can't do it because the pleebs might vote you out of office. Why not offload policy implementation to crown-corporations and unaccountable arms-length organizations, via government controlled boards? That way you can execute your vision without having to worry about answering to the common folk.

We should have thought of this a long time ago. Imagine the perfectly regulated paradise we would be living in if we could utilize all of these other avenues to implement policy rather than having to plan for everything in the government budget and explain it to the voters.

Max style

Max Poulin's number is being retired by the Winnipeg Goldeyes. There is no more deserving person than Max, who was been a such a key part of the organization for so long. In minor league ball, you really have to appreciate it when a talented individual like this stays with the club for so long. Too often a club such as the Goldeyes cannot retain talent and character long enough to really form an identity with the fans, but Max was certainly an exception.

Not only was Max a good ball player, but the guy's got some style too:

source: ChrisD

He looks like he was yanked straight out of 1925. I could never pull off that look. It's a good example of how each person has their own individual look that works for them. I still haven't found my "look". I hope to God it doesn't involve cross-dressing because I really don't want to do that.

Speaking of looking good...

Have a good week, all.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Dead Guy Ale

A review of another of my Christmas beers:

After my last beer review, Miss Martin commented:

Ever gone on an Oregon microbrew binge? Based on this post, I have a carefully formulated hypothesis that you would lose your shit. Scientifically speaking.
I have not made it to Oregon unfortunately, but yesterday Oregon came to me in the form of Dead Guy Ale. Brewed by Rogue Ales in Newport Oregon, this "Handcrafted micropiece" is "Greatfully Dedicated to the Rogue in Each of Us." I can't help but think of Sarah Palin when I hear that word, but I will try not to let that interfere with my objectivity.*

This Rogue is 650 ml and 6.5% alcohol. It pours a deep amber with a cream coloured head that has a thin texture and dissipates fairly quickly. The taste is citrusy with just a little bit of bitterness, and it goes down leaving little behind in the way of aftertaste.

It is a pleasing beer and not nearly as intimidating as the name suggests. It was easy to drink, and a full 12 hours after doing so I am not dead at all. For other reviews, go here.

*if you want my thoughts on Sarah Palin, you can check out Impalin' the VPILF and Pullin' for Palin.

Friday 14 January 2011

Censorship for nothing and bleeps for free

The little faggot with the earring and the makeup
Yeah buddy, that’s his own hair

That little faggot got his own jet airplane

That little faggot he’s a millionaire

... lyrics you will probably never hear again on the radio, now that they have been deemed "offensive".

They were deemed offensive because one individual, we'll call him Whiny-Pants McLooser to protect his identity, heard the word "faggot", ignored the context in which it is used, got offended, propagated his irrational offense to every other gay/bisexual/lesbian in the country, and complained to the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council on behalf of all of them. The Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, being staffed by politically correct zombies, ruled that it violates broadcast standards and cannot be played.

There will always be individuals out there that are hyper-sensitive, or lacking the intelligence required to put things in proper perspective. I don't blame Whiny-Pants for anything because it's not his fault. He has weaknesses, just as we all do. His shortcoming just happened to result in an externality that affects the rest of the country, albeit it in a small way; but that's only because the CBSC is full of idiots.

Organizations that have the capacity to infridge on personal freedoms and activities like the CBSC, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, and so forth, need to have very specific mandates and need to have extraordinary adherance to those specific mandates. Those mandates should focus protecting us from words and actions that genuinely incite hatred or have tangible negative effects on society at large. Their job is not to coddle the weakest member of society ... to protect the feelings of the most thin-skinned individual at the expense of everybody else.

The song "Money for Nothing" has been played on the radio for 25 years without producing any tangible negative effects on society. It has not caused any gays to get bashed to my knowledge. It has not incited hatred. The term "faggot" in this song doesn't even refer to a homosexual -- it is a term used with jealousy in reference to a rock star who gets all the "chicks" he wants. The CBSC has far overstepped it's mandate in banning the unedited version of this song, and has actually made things worse. Thanks to their decision, the word "faggot" has not only appeared in this blog for the first time, but has appeared hundreds of times in newspaper articles all across the country. More importantly, it has created unnecessary animosity against the gay/lesbian/bisexual community: "Money for Nothing" is an all-time classic rock song with an epic guitar/drum intro that compels you to crank up the volume when it comes on the radio. But no more ... thanks to the gays you can't hear it any more.

Why create this animosity over something so trivial as a rock song? A rock song that doesn't even have anything to do with gays? It is total stupidity. Once again, I have to use the "Complete loss of perspective" tag for a blog post. Sigh....


A little piece of trivia for you: that other voice that you hear in the song -- the one singing "I want my MTV" -- is Sting. He was invited to collaborate on the song because that hook is the same as the hook from the Police's "Don't Stand So Close To Me". In fact, he got co-writing credit as a result of that one line.

related: Reed points out that membership in the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council is voluntary. While that may be the case, the fact that virtually every radio station in the country is a member tells me that there are consequences for not being a member. I don't know what those consequences are ... perhaps some companies will only advertise with members of the CBSC, perhaps there are implications related to royalties, or broadcast rights, or who knows what. The point is that their decisions have an impact. Not being a member is not an option for most stations.

Monday 10 January 2011

Winnipeg, Bilbao and Valencia

I didn't have a chance to read the Winnipeg Free Press this weekend, but I did see the front page. Actually, I saw half of the front page through the window of the news paper box, but I believe that makes me qualified to comment on it's content.

What I saw appeared to be a comparison of Winnipeg with Bilbao Spain. Winnipeg, with its Canadian Museum for Human Rights, and Bilbao with its Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim museum. Perhaps some sort of high-level comparison can be drawn there, but to expect that the CMHR will have the same kind of impact on Winnipeg as The Goog (as they call it on the streetz) had on Bilbao is, I believe, somewhat optimistic. Extremely optimistic, actually.

Firstly, "Canadian Museum for Human Rights" is not nearly as catchy a name as "Guggenheim".
Secondly, Bilbao has the advantage of being located in warm and touristy Spain. People don't travel to Spain just to visit The Goog. They travel to Spain to be in Spain, and while they're there they visit The Goog.
Thirdly, people generally don't like to see depressing things when they're on vacation.

If you want to make a comparison with a Spanish city, there is another one you should consider: Valencia. Yes, Valencia .... Mediterranean yachting hotbed and home of a Formula 1 Grand Prix race, tasty oranges, and paella.

Valencia has a cluster of architecturally unique venues called The City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias). It includes a science museum, an opera house that looks like a storm trooper helmet, botanical gardens, a cinema/planetarium, a indoor sports arena, and Europe's largest oceanographic insititute. Coincidentally, these buildings are all located immediately adjacent to a cable supported bridge (puente l'assut de l'or) that resemblances our own Esplanade Riel.

In fact, when I posted the above pic two years ago on a personal website for friends and family, I had the caption:

This is the brand new International Museum for Human Rights that they just finished building in Valencia. Haha. Just kidding.

Some more pics:

Bilbao is probably a more appropriate comparison with Winnipeg, because Valencia was already "on the map" before these things were built. But my point is ... do I have a point? Ya, I guess I do. I guess my point is, interesting architecture and architecturally unique venues are common, but rarely do they have the impact of the Guggenheim. You don't often hear of people talking about the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, or of any number of other weird and wonderful buildings throughout the world, in the same way that they speak of The Goog or the Sydney opera house.

Now, I don't know what the piece in the Free Press was concluding, but I just want to caution about getting your expectations too high. As stunning as the CMHR may turn out to be, it is highly unlikely that it will be marveled over as one of the greatest masterpieces of modern architecture like the Guggenheim was, and it is even more unlikely that the impact will be near as great.


Just for fun, here is one other pic that I took in Valencia:

Friday 7 January 2011

A Wee Angry Scotch Ale

I was lucky enough to get some beer for Christmas. Not your run of the mill beer either, but non-standard beer in non-standard sized bottles. This particular specimen clocks in at 650 ml and 6.5% alcohol. Enough to get a bit of a buzz going if you haven't had supper yet ... like a certain someone I know.

A Wee Angry Scotch Ale is brewed by the Russell Brewing Company in BC. Russell is the outfit that bought Winnipeg's Fort Garry Brewery three years ago. It may very well be the case that this ale was brewed and bottled here in Winnipeg, as opposed to the Russell plant in Surrey. Anyhow, enough talk. Let's tip this thing and see what it's like:

She pours with a thick foamy orangey-tan head that slowly subsides, leaving sticky lacing around the glass. I have a bit of a cold, but even still I can smell the maltiness of the beer. It tastes a little bit of nuts and wood chips, but in a good way. It is very drinkable. There is residual bitterness that stays in the mouth for a good while afterwards, which encourages you to take another slug of beer so you can get back to that wonderful wood chip flavour. It's a vicious cycle, and the reason why I've already had to refill my glass since starting this blog post.

The reviews on Beer Advocate talk about caramel and toffee. Maybe I should eat a caramel just to see if it tastes like wood chips to me with this cold. Regardless, it's tasty yet inoffensive; and your friends will feel inferior to you, with their wee little weak-ass bottles of piss-coloured 5% Budweiser.

Thursday 6 January 2011

Gerry Rafferty

I found out via Facebook that musician Gerry Rafferty died on Tuesday of this week. Gerry was best known as the artist behind the song "Baker Street", with it's iconic sax solo.

I was driving home one night and heard that song on the radio. I had heard it a thousand times before, including on the episode of The Simpsons where jazz man Bleeding Gums Murphy dies, but I didn't know who sang it. I needed to know, so I memorized some of the lyrics..

And then he’ll settle down, in some quiet little town
And forget about everything.

..and googled them when I got home, finding out of course that it was Gerry Rafferty, former member of the band Stealers Wheel -- best known for the song "Stuck in the middle with you", otherwise known as the song where the guy gets his ear cut off in Tarantino's Resevoir Dogs.

After reading this bio, it seems that his death is almost a long-sought relief from a painful existence. I really have nothing else to say about Gerry, except that "Baker Street" is one bloody good song. RIP.

And when you wake up it’s a new morning
The sun is shining, it’s a new morning
But you’re going, you’re going home.

Sunday 2 January 2011

What? Smoking is bad?

I need photographic proof. Large photographic proof, right there on my cigarette package, otherwise I will forget that it's bad.

Last week, Health Canada unveiled it's new larger warning labels for cigarette packages. Like this:

The new labels are 50% larger, now consuming a full 75% of the cigarette package. The current labels, that take up a hardly noticeable 50% of the package, "have reached their maximum potential" they say.

I don't smoke. I have never smoked as a habit -- never bought a package of cigarettes -- therefore these warning labels don't directly impact me, however I have to say that they make me uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable as in "ugg ... that is gross! I will never smoke!", but uncomfortable as in slightly embarassed.

I can't quite put my finger on it. I don't know if I'm embarassed because having these huge warnings on our cigarette packages is so uncool ... so un-James Dean. Or if I'm embarassed that Canadians are so stupid -- or the government thinks we're so stupid -- that the message will only penetrate our iron skulls if it takes up a full 75% of the package. It's like giving instructions to somebody who doesn't speak english. When they don't do anything, yell at them. When they still don't do anything, yell louder. Pretty soon you look like an idiot, screaming with your beet-red face as the other person stares at you like you're some kind of alien.

The obvious question is: what do we do when the current labels "have reached their maximum potential", (which will probably be in, oh ... immediately)? Make them fill 90% of the surface of the package? 100%, with a toll-free number on the side of the package that you can call to find out what brand of cigarette you're smoking?

"Alright, Mr. Smartypants", you might be saying. "What's your big idea for getting people to stop smoking?" Well, first of all, Mr. Snarky Reader, I didn't say I had a better idea, and further more, it's not my job to come up with one.

The anecdotal info that I have is that people quit because smoking is beginning to have a negative impact on their lives. They're sick of standing outside and freezing their ass off, or they're tired of losing their breath after walking up the stairs, or it's just too damned expensive.

I think that's the biggest factor right there -- money. Especially for young people. In 1994, the Chrétien government decided to combat cigarette smuggling -- not by cracking down on the smugglers, or by imposing manufacturing restrictions and export taxes on the cigarette producers -- but by reducing tobacco taxes.* In that one fell swoop, the government probably caused more smoking deaths than all of the tobacco advertising and music festival sponsorships ever did.

Smoking is on the decline anyhow. It is gradually becoming more socially unacceptable, and eventually it will become a niche vice rather than a mainstream one. You can credit this to the warning labels if you's like, although you'd be wrong. Shock advertising loses it's effectiveness pretty quickly, and making the pictures 50% bigger isn't going to help. Everybody knows the consequences of smoking by now, and they either choose to do it or not.

*see Smoke and Mirrors By Rob Cunningham

/* Google Tracker Code