Monday 28 February 2011

Shark fin soup

A post inspired by a picture I ran across on Deviant Art yesterday:


You won't catch me doing this very often, but I'm going to get on a bit of a soap box for a second here. I saw a documentary about shark finning a while back and was honestly shocked by it.

Understand that I have no problem with killing animals. In fact, I even have a blog tag named "baby seals taste yummy" with 6 posts and counting. Killing and eating animals is how we as a species have survived for so long. These days there are alternatives, and if you choose to be a vegetarian then that's fine .. your call. But if you choose to eat meat, let it not be shark fin soup.

The fins are the only valuable part of the shark, so the sharks are caught, the fins are cut off, and the sharks are dropped back into the water. Having no fins, the sharks die a slow death from either starvation or bleeding to death. I don't know which and it doesn't really matter. The wastefulness of this is incomprehensible. If you kill an animal for food, you ought to eat the whole damned thing. All that protein that they're dropping back into the water could feed millions of people. Yes millions. Estimates are that 100 million sharks are killed every year so people can have this very specific soup, which leads into the next big problem: conservation. Some species of sharks are in danger of extinction as a result of finning.

I'll eat factory farmed chicken. I'll occasionally eat veal, which I understand involves raising a calf in conditions only slightly better than that of a bonzai kitten. I am sure I would eat baby seal too, if someone were to put it on a plate in front of me. But I can't support eating shark fin soup.

Thanks for listening. Getting off the soap box now.

fyi .. I just realized that I mentioned this issue once before, in the early days of this blog. fyi #2: there's also a picture of a hot chick standing on an ice flow at that link. Just thought you should know.

Thursday 24 February 2011

Rider Dome is dead

There were times during Winnipeg's prolonged stadium debate, with ever changing locations, designs, cost estimates and funding arrangements, where it may have seemed as though Regina would get a domed stadium built before Winnipeg even got a pile in ground. But alas, we appear to be actually building something over at the U of M whilst Regina's dream appears to be dead.

The Saskatchewan Party government said Tuesday that the current proposal will be scrapped if the federal government doesn't agree by the end of the month to help fund the project. And Premier Brad Wall said the province may not take the lead role in any future stadium proposals.
From the Regina Leader Post. An agreement with CP Rail to purchase the land expires at the end of the month, hence the deadline.

So, they need the government to chip in $100 million for this stadium ... by the end of the month ... two weeks after telling Quebec City and the province of Quebec to go take a hike. I'm thinking ... ahhhhhh .. not gonna happen.

Now there is a difference between the proposed Regina funding plan and the proposed Quebec funding plan. Regina's is a P3, and Quebec's was a "Give us some money. C'mon man, show us some love. I know you got some.. Come ooooooon. No? Alright, then let us use the gas tax. No? Alright, then fuck you. We don't need you anyhow, assholes."

Had Quebec been looking at a partnership with private investment, they may have got their cash:
In Ottawa on Thursday, Conservative ministers reiterated their government would only commit money to construction if private investors did the same. - tor sun -
But that's beside the point. The point is that Quebec didn't get any money so neither will Regina. I don't care if the money is coming from the P3 fund, or the gas tax, or the House of Commons cafeteria budget; if Ottawa contributes $100m to a stadium in Regina there will be riots in Quebec. All of Quebec, not just Quebec City.

But that's not Regina's only problem. They also have a problem with the other "P":
A lack of private sector investment may have been a "stumbling block" in getting funding approval .... the discussions seem to revolve around things like naming rights and sponsorships rather than direct investment in the project.
Looks like it's crumbling old Mosaic for you greenies for another decade. Tee hee.


I dropped in on Winnipeg Internet Pundits on Wednesday to add my punditry about rent controls. You can find the podcast here. My bit comes on about 45 minutes in.

I'm not really a natural, but it was fun and I thank Tessa and the gang for letting me join in.

Monday 21 February 2011

Rent Controls: Part II

You didn't know there was a part II, did you? Surprise!!

Sorry .. I know how you hate surprises. I have to warn you though: this is going to be boring. Dry whole-wheat toast boring. If you wish to flee to another blog I will not hold it against you, and I might suggest any of the fine choices in my right sidebar.

Okay. Last week's post on rent controls was not so much a critique of the government's commissioned study on the subject, so much as it was a contrast of what they were saying publicly versus what the numbers seemed to imply. This time, I will delve into the actual study. You know, many people might see that the study was written by a professor of economics, and therefore assume that it is full of wise insight, truthful, and incontrovertible. However, there are plenty of academics out there who publish crap from time to time so all work needs to be scrutinized. That's what the peer review process is for. Government commissioned studies are not subject to peer review, therefore I will do my best to fill a little bit of that gap, if I may be so bold. Just let me grab my pipe and put on my glasses here so I look all perfesserly. Alright, I've got my tweed jacket on .. I'm all set to go ..

An Analysis of Manitoba's Rent Regulation Program and the Impact on the Rental Housing Market, by Hugh Grant

Let me start by saying that Hugh does not come to any conclusions through a quantitative analysis of the data. The data is inadequate to do an econometric analysis, he says. Therefore, when he states that "there is no evidence that ..." he is really giving an opinion based on his observation of the data and what he believes is the theoretical effect of the rent control policies.

Some of those conclusions are suspect.

Conclusion 1: "there is no evidence that rent regulations have restricted rents below what would prevail in a perfectly competitive market under equilibrium conditions."

Okay, well first of all, there is no such thing as a perfectly competitive market. The point he's trying to make here is that through the rent control regulation itself and the mechanisms that allow a landlord to apply for increases in various circumstances, the net effect should be that rents increase at the long-run supply price. Not only that, but the author actually claims that by regulating rents, and putting in place additional regulations and controls to negate the original regulations, that this actually improves market efficiency. It's a stunning claim to make.

So this is essentially the goal: to ensure that a landlord doesn't lose money, but also doesn't make a profit. The author refers numerous times to "gouging" and "unwarranted price increases" when talking about rental prices higher that the cost of supplying a unit. I don't know too many people who would go into business to break even. If this is the objective of the program, than it's little wonder that developers stopped building new units.

But let's assume that he's right, and that prices are increasing as they would with the market. What's the point of spending $1.7M on regulating rent prices? The answer: stability. To remove those periods of profits and losses so that rents follow the long term trend without the short term fluctuations. Does it work?

Let's have a look at rental price fluctuations in comparison with a city that does not have rent controls, like Edmonton:

The standard deviation of rent growth in Edmonton is indeed larger than in Winnipeg, but if you exclude a 6-quarter period from 4Q 2001 to 1Q 2003, it's actually less volatile than Winnipeg. But that's a boom and bust economy. Since we are so proud of our stable economy here in Manitoba, perhaps a better comparison is a city like Halifax:

One has rent control, and one does not. At no point does Halifax have a higher rent increase than Manitoba, percentage wise, and its standard deviation is almost identical. So what's the point of all this regulation, red tape and financial cost for administering this program?

Further, there was a period of 6 consecutive years (2001-2006) where the rent guideline was lower than previous year’s rate of inflation. The following years the guideline was increased somewhat, leading the author to say 'see: prices are adjusting just as they would in a real market!'. It is a ridiculous statement to make. The only thing you can conclude is that prices went up because the government adjusted them up. There is no basis to say they are following the market when they are being manually set.

Conclusion numero dos: "There is no evidence that Manitoba’s rent regulation program has a negative impact on the supply of rental accommodation."

Mr. Grant quotes some general numbers for the country as a whole, refutes CMHC's measurement of "rental stock", and then pulls this conclusion out of the ether. Perhaps if he had actually looked at apartment construction in Winnipeg he would have come to a slightly different conclusion:

In the 1990's a pitiful number of rental units were being built each year. This only began to change after the government implemented a 15 year exemption for new construction in 2001, and increased it to 20 years in 2005. It clearly shows that the exemption was an incentive for new construction, which means therefore that the rent cap itself was an impediment to new construction.

Even still, construction lagged far behind what it once was, and failed to close the demand gap. In fact the vacancy rate continued to hover around 1% throughout the 00's. This static vacancy rate, in spite of the exemption on new construction, suggests that either a 20 year exemption is not enough, given the long-term nature of the capital investment, or that there are other barriers to building new apartments. Construction costs are sometimes sited as a factor, but these have not prevented condos and houses from being built. Perhaps the depressed prices in the existing base spill over into new construction.

Perhaps the author should have looked into these things a little more carefully. Instead he writes it off as disequilibrium, resulting from a sudden influx of immigrants:

The supply response has been slow relative to the increase in demand because of the time lag involved in the planning-to-completion of new rental projects and uncertainty regarding the likelihood that the relatively high rates of population growth in the province will persist.
However, immigration has grown steadily since 1998. That must be one heck of a lag. Further, if immigration is supported by a successful provincial program, then how much uncertainty is there really about that trend continuing?


My conclusion is that Hugh Grant's conclusions were pre-determined based on the wishes of his client. It is also possibly that the author simply has a distorted view of the world. This latter option is corroborated by an absolutely astonishing statement that he makes on page 10 of his report:
In the long-run, the high profitability of existing rental units encourages the construction of new rental units with similar features which will eventually bid down rents to the long-run supply price consistent with a perfectly-competitive market. Rent regulations, therefore, play an important role in countervailing the market power exercised by landlords in the short-run by preventing them from advancing monthly rents above the marginal cost of supplying the unit.
The first part: "profitability of existing rental units encourages the construction of new rental units which will eventually bid down rents" is basic intro economics. That's how markets are supposed to work.

However, in the view of the author this is bad and must be stopped: "Rent regulations, therefore, play an important role in countervailing the market power exercised by landlords in the short-run by preventing them from advancing monthly rents above the marginal cost of supplying the unit." What he is saying is precisely: Rent regulations play an important role in preventing landlords from making a profit and in discouraging new construction.

In two simple sentences the author manages to summarize the root of the problem with rent controls, only what is a problem to most economists is actually a solution to Professor Grant.

Thursday 17 February 2011

UPDATED: Manitoba Matters with McFadyen: a preview

Interesting little development here in the Manitoba pre-election campaign campaigning. The provincial PC party sent out a communication about what they call a new TV Program:

Starting tomorrow morning, our party, in partnership with Shaw, will launch Manitoba Matters with McFadyen – a weekly TV program featuring our Leader, Hugh McFadyen, as he meets and listens to Manitobans from all walks of life. The program will air every weekend, once every hour, on Shaw TV Winnipeg ... with a new episode each week.
They promise "thoughtful ideas to bring vision, change and progress". Sounds good. We could use some of that "ideas" and "progress" stuff, and also some of that "vision" stuff that I always hear so much about. Vision, in politics, is like Bigfoot or the G spot. People claim it exists, but ...

Anyhow, without further adoo (Ado? Adieu? whatever...) here's your first look at McFadyen TV:

I sure hope this is in HD so I can see the bacteria in Hugh's pores:

Hugh meeting people: check. Hugh talking to people: check. Ideas and vision? I don't recall seeing any of that in the, err, TV program. Mind you, this is just the first one. We can hope for more substance in later episodes.

This is pretty crafty and well done, in my opnion. Yes, Hugh didn't actually say anything of substance, but the portrayal is very good. He's out with the people. He supporting something of importance -- a cause that resonates with almost everybody, and he's letting other people do the talking for him. Best of all, snagging a smiliing Hannah Taylor is a major coup. How can you not like Hannah Taylor? She's the Ladybug girl!!

You have to also appreciate that this is a positive message. He didn't place the blame of all these hapless homeless schmucks on Selinger. But the fact that he is out there walking to help homelessness, talking to people who are concerned about homelessness and interviewing Hannah with no sign of Greg Selinger anywhere, puts him on the front edge of this issue without having to say anything of substance. Neat trick.

Also a neat trick is this partnership with Shaw. How does that work exactly? Jim and/or Brad Shaw must obviously be aligned with the PCs, but one might wonder if the PCs are paying for the air time, or if Shaw is donating it, or if Shaw is actually paying Hugh McFayden to host one of its "TV Programs".

Hard to say what the impact will be. Half of us don't even get Shaw, and the other half never watch Shaw TV except at Christmas time when they have the flaming logs. However all of this is also on YouTube of course .. and with a bit of buzz this could get some eyeballs.

I also have to say that the PC machine has come a long way since the cheesy ads of four years ago. This could get interesting.

From the Free Press: "It's a paid segment," McFadyen said Friday. "It's similar to buying advertising, except that we're able to do more than you'd normally do in a 30-second spot."

Presumably the NDP could do the same thing ... unless Shaw just happens to have no more available spots left. Actually, if any party needs more exposure it's the Liberals, but that's for another post.

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Rent controls and graphs. Lots of graphs ...

My spongee game tonight was cancelled due to melting ice, so I guess I'll blog. Lucky you.

I had bought into the idea that the lack of apartments in Winnipeg are an unintended consequence of rent controls. Artificial restrictions on profitability will prevent people from building units, right? Makes sense to me. If you take away the upside then all you're left with is the risk.

Now the Free Press is telling me I'm wrong. My beliefs have been shattered into a million pieces, like the mold spores on the ceiling of my last apartment. Apparently some guy did some report for the government that say that rents controls have nothing to do with it:

The 39-page study, authored by University of Winnipeg economics professor Hugh Grant, also concludes "there is no evidence" that caps on rent have slowed the pace of new apartment construction or spurred a recent spike in condo conversions. Furthermore, the provincial government-commissioned report says there is no proof rent regulations have "unduly restricted" rent rises in Manitoba.
Damn you, Hugh Grant! As if all those boring chick flicks weren't painful enough. Now this!!

What do we know about Hugh? Well, he's an economics prof for the U of W. He has written about immigration, he seems to be a well liked teacher, and much like the other Hugh Grant, he gets a chili pepper for hotness:

That's something, I guess.

But still .. should we believe him? The article says that rent controls came into place permanently in 1982. Our vacancy rate looks like this:

Our vacancy rate actually sky-rocketed after rent controls came in. The problems really seemed to begin around 2000. Conclusion: it's all Doer's fault!! There, that was easy.

Or ... we could look into it a little more ...

One of the things that Hugh concludes is that "the rental shortage is largely due to a rapid increase in demand sparked by an aggressive immigration policy". Okay, let's look at immigration:

Manitoba was still losing people to other provinces (pink line), but there was indeed an increase in immigration (deep thought of the day: why do they call it "immigration" instead of "inmigration?") around 2000. I suppose that when people move out of the province, they are generally moving out of their parents' basements, but when people immigrate in, they generally move into apartments instead of parents' basements. Unfortunately I couldn't find any CANSIM data on parents' basements vacancy rates to confirm.

So it looks like immigration may be the culprit, but maybe we should do some statistical analysis just to make sure. Okay .. let's see if I can remember how to do this. Open the crunch-o-matic number cruncher ... put the data here ... feed the thread around the post ... put the bobbin in the hole ... ah, screw it. Here's another graph:

Looks like a smiley face. See, what happened was that vacancy rates actually dropped in the 1990s as immigration dropped. Maybe there is something else at work. What we do know is that apartment construction dropped off the map in the 90s:

... possibly because they began to realize that more often than not rent increases were not keeping up with inflation:

... and eventually our lack of apartments caught up with us as immigration picked up and now we have a vacancy rate of nothing.

If rent controls weren't a factor, then why would the government implement a 20 year exemption on rent controls to encourage new development? I remain unconvinced that rent controls are not the problem. The exemption should help, but as per usual when government regulations meddle in the functioning of a market, the market gets all fucked up and can't reach equilibrium. Hugh Grant should know something about equilibrium. He's an economics prof.

Friday 11 February 2011

Vote for Jon!

Only one day left!

On the anniversary of the 2010 Olympic games, CTV is having a contest for Canada's favourite Olympic 2010 Moment. Manitoban and general nice guy Jon Montgomery is in the running for his dramatic gold medal win, enthusiatic celebration, and iconic stroll through Whistler.

You should vote for Jon. In fact, it is your obligation as a Canadian (assuming you're Canadian, as most of my readers are.) Why? I'll tell you why:

Jon's victory was the turning point in the games. Prior to that, with only a couple of exceptions the games were filled with dissappointing results, broken Zambonis and other mechanical failures, melting ski hills, and gimacing Wayne Gretzkys stuck in traffic on the back of pickup trucks in the rain. After Jon's victory, with only a couple of exceptions, everything was awesome, and Canada walked away with more gold medals that ever before. Plus, he chugged beer on TV. In fact, his whole family chugged beer on TV. Even Jodi!

So ... VOTE NOW!

The winner will be announced on Sunday. Thank you.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

2nd annual Afghan Film Festival

The second annual Afghan Film Festival & Mini Market is scheduled for Saturday, March 5 at 2:00pm - 9:00pm

I enjoyed last year's festival and plan on attending this one. I know that the films last year were well done and left an impression ... one in particular, and not the one I would have expected before hand. The mini market part of the festival features jewelry, soaps, other things that I can't remember but are made in Afghanistan, as well as desserts, tea, and an opium bar. I'm kidding about that last one.

The event is run by the Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and proceeds go towards initiatives to help girls and women in Afghanistan. Find out more on their Facebook page, or read the article in your community newspaper.

Some movie posters:

(If anyone else out there in the media wants to cover this, you can email CW4WA, or email me and I can likely put you in touch with one of the organizers.)

Sunday 6 February 2011

Did he steal my logo?

As I was talking with somebody on the phone the today, I was randomly flipping through pictures on Deviant Art to amuse myself as my phone companion rambled on about God knows what, when I came across a photo with a familiar logo:

A couple years ago I did up a logo for the Deviant Art Epic Logo contest. Actually, the contest was already over by the time I found out about it, but I used it as an excuse to play around with my vector drawing program. I suck with vector drawing. I need all the practice I can get. Anyhow, I did still submit the logo so it's out there on Deviant Art ... this is what I came up with:

So you be the judge. Pretty damn similar logo, no? Maybe it's not the most mind-blowingly original logo ever made, so he may very well have come up it himself, but who knows. Not that I really care. If he were Walmart or something it might be worth looking into, but glancing at his web site, he seems to have a pretty modest business and he's not even using the logo very much.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Bipoles and Coloured Rods

We found out recently that some estimates show the costs of the bipole III power line increasing by $2b. This increase is on the converter half of the equation (now three quarters I suppose) as opposed to the power line part. In the article, Mary Agnes Welch states:

The converter stations are needed whether the line runs down the west side, as the NDP government has mandated, or through the boreal forest on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.
I questioned her on that in an email, because the routing study says that the converters are only needed for the longer west side route:
Unfortunately, due to it's length, its characteristics make it unsuitable to operate with either of the existing Bipole I or II converters, requiring it to have its own converters designed to operate with the longer line.
What's up with that? Well .. MAW promptly replied to my email with a copy and paste from a Hydro committee hearing in which Bob Brennan said the following:
When we originally looked at the proposal to build the line down the east side, it was at that point being tied in to the existing conversion equipment, and at that point, it was–the converter stations, without considering new generation being added to the system or the reliability associated with something happening to the existing converter stations, it was not included at that point.
So, assuming Brennan isn't talking out his ass, the converters would be required for the east side route if capacity were increased. Reliability was already considered in the routing study, contrary to what Brennan said, and converters for the east side route were only suggested as a nice-to-have sort of thing ... almost as an afterthought. Right at the bottom of page 4. Look it up.
Why am I telling you this? Because we also learned recently that Hydro is having a hard time signing profitable export deals with the U.S.. That will just keep getting harder as these costs keep growing. Suppose we don't sign the export contracts .. do we still need to build all that new capacity? Do we still need Conawapa? Would we still need the converters if we went down the east side? This is now a $3 billion question, not $1 billion.

Remember, one of the reasons we're supposedly going down the west side is because the U.S. won't buy our power if we cut down trees on the east side. If the cost of catering to this market makes it unprofitable to sell it to them, then screw 'em. There is no need to be hell-bent on exporting power. Hey, I'm just trying to save us a few billion bucks here...


First there was the Black Rod. The fiercely anonymous blogger who everybody thinks is Marty Gold.

Then came along the Orange Rod, hardcore NDPer and Free Press commenter.

Now say hello to the Blue Rod. Created to offset the Orange Rod and thereby ensure the universe stays in equilibrium.

You may not realize it, but I got in on this rod game a while ago. My avatar:

Is actually a photo of rods of spent nuclear fuel submerged in water. The green glow is a result of something known as Cherenkov (or Čerenkov) radiation.


Speaking of new blogs, blogger Portage and Sane is off to a promising start. The Green Coloured Nuclear Waste Rod welcomes you to the 'sphere.

Wednesday 2 February 2011

City neglect?

As I patiently await my Pulitzer prize for my last post on oranges, I suppose I could get back to local issues for a bit:

For now, a quick thought about the overland flooding caused by a burst water pipe in Winnipeg. I am sure the city is correct when it says it is not responsible for covering damages unless it is negligent in some way. I am not so sure they aren't negligent. Somebody I know once worked in Ottawa on a project that involved mapping out Canada's water infrastructure. Winnipeg's was particularly bad. I believe there was an understanding that these pipes were not intended to last more than 100 years, though many were older than that, including the one that burst on Notre Dame Ave:

"On Monday, the city said a pipe more than 100 years old had become corroded and was to blame for the break." -ctv-

You can't dispense pills that are past their expiry date. You can't serve meat that has been sitting out on the counter all day. If people suffer because you didn't keep your products fresh and current within accepted guidelines then you are held responsible. Why wouldn't this apply to water mains as well? If the pipe that burst was past it's expiry date, is not the City negligent for not having replaced it?

The city may claim that they are replacing pipes that are "nearing the end of their lifespan", but it has been suggested to me that these are already living on borrowed time. If one of you folks at City Hall have information that says otherwise, let me know.

Something to think about anyhow. If I were one of those homeowners, I would at least look into this. You know, with all the spare time I have between working, looking after the kids, and repairing my damaged basement...

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