January 2008

Monthly Archive

The Antagonistic East

Posted by on 31 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Stuff

Local labour relations not rancourous enough for you? Look east to Fredericton and the St. Thomas University “strikeout”. A faculty strike is now in its third week — but that strike came after the faculty was locked out by the administration December 27.

What’s at stake? Well, hard to say at this point, since the faculty association — yes, its acronym really is FAUST — has shifted focus with each iteration of the administration offer. Salary, courseload, benefits, part-time appointments, and — most importantly? — the respect the professors believe they deserve from the administration are all key issues for FAUST. On the administration side, it’s the preservation of St. Thomas as a small, teaching-focused liberal arts college with low tuition fees.

Negotiations began almost one year ago. Talks broke off mid-December, after accusations and letters flew back and forth. The administration tried to impose a vote on a final offer, then withdrew its request. FAUST set a strike vote for several days after the winter term was to begin, perhaps hoping to use captive students as a bargaining chip; the administration responded by locking out the faculty before it returned from Christmas holidays, the first time a Canadian university has locked out its faculty.

(For a comprehensive timeline, check out Facebook.)

Negotiations resumed on January 3, with the union leaving the table on January 4 after complaining the administration was not negotiating in good faith (one of several such claims, from both sides, during the negotiation process).

FAUST then held a strike vote, and despite a less-than-resounding mandate of 77.1% of full-time members and 80.4% of part-time faculty who voted, went on strike. FAUST thanked its membership for its “tremendous support.” The most tremendous support of all came from the national organization, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, which ponied up a $1 million strike fund and has advised the St. T. faculty association along the way.

After a brief attempt at resuming negotiations ended up in failure once again, FAUST insisted on the appointment of a second external mediator, providing a shortlist of favoured candidates. The administration resisted the appointment, so FAUST applied to the Ministry of Post-secondary Education on its own and was successful in getting one of the shortlisted candidates:

“FAUST looks forward to receiving the assistance of the mediator who helped resolve recent faculty strikes at Cape Breton University, Dalhousie University, University of Prince Edward Island, and, most recently, Acadia University,” said Dawn Morgan, FAUST Executive Member-at-large.

After several days of negotiations, the mediator called a stalemate and issued a report that attacked FAUST’s position on salary:

A principled approach to collective bargaining, particularly on compensation, requires attention and fidelity to some basic principles… The operating premise is that a party would only be justified in maintaining its position if that original position essentially was correct and substantially answered the needs of the situation.

The Union’s position on wages is based upon another model I did not find convincing. It would drive salaries considerably higher, over the three year period of the replacement agreement for full time employees, than those of the comparator universities… I am thus unable to determine why the employer should pay salaries which seem substantially in excess of what is indicated by the compensation offered by the comparator universities mentioned above.

The union’s response: he calculated averages differently, but he sided with us on other points.

Since then, a truly awesome war of words has been waged on the partieswebsites and on Facebook. A slowly growing contingent of dissident faculty members has posted essays (remember, they’re academics) on another website, The Mysterious East. 

The administration sweetened its offer after the mediator’s report and forced a final offer vote on the faculty association, which recommended its members reject the final offer because, among other reasons,

 The final offer vote precludes negotiation of a back to work protocol or memoranda of settlement. This means the employer would dictate the terms of returning to work, making up the term, retroactivity, or lack thereof, etc.

Whereupon the administration offered to draw up back-to-work protocols with FAUST’s lawyer. As you can probably, by now, guess, that offer was refused.

The results of the final offer vote showed support for FAUST decreasing, but the rejection of the final offer was enough to drive the administration, which had been publicly musing about what it would do if the offer was rejected:

 the University will has a number of options including process solutions proposed by the external mediator that include binding arbitration, final offer selection or expedited mediation.  We are certain that the Provincial Government, as the sponsor of past conciliation and two rounds of mediation, will have views on how best to proceed to resolve this impasse.

…back to the negotiating table, where the two sides continue to meet today.

Has the nastiness stopped? Not a chance. As The Mysterious East highlights in a posting, FAUST posted a letter to members Tuesday indicating its eagerness to use the mediator’s report as the basis for a negotiated settlement, but once the adminstration had agreed to resume negotiations, reposted the message with new, less limiting language.

And the administration today posted, without comment, a Telegraph-Journal editorial highly critical of FAUST’s demands from a local paper on its website. (This seems to have been removed from the front page of the administration site sometime Friday, which seems wise.)

Meanwhile, frustrated students, worried they will either lose their semester or run out of funding before the end of a delayed winter term extended into May, are talking to law firms about launching a class action suit — against both sides.

Updated to add: What would a Canadian conflict be without some gratuitous anti-Americanism? A teasing posting about STU on Professors R-Squared, home of “Houston’s only openly Republican Political Science Professors”, has led to an even more toxic back-and-forth between pro-FAUST and anti-FAUST professors, students, with some knee-jerk nastiness about Texas to boot. Enjoy.

As of February 2, the strike is over. The winner? Mr. binding arbitration.

Hubbert’s cliff

Posted by on 29 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Current Events, Tech

I’m a peak oil agnostic, more or less – obviously something of the kind has to happen eventually, but I’ll let people who know more about geology than I do argue about whether it’s in the far future, the near future or (as some maintain) has already happened.

Still, I was struck by an essay on The Oil Drum making the case that if peak oil does eventually arrive, we may not have the luxury of sliding gently down the declining side of Hubbert’s Peak, planning sensibly along the way, but may instead end up very suddenly in the post-oil economy – much faster than the amount of oil remaining in the ground would imply. His whole argument is worth looking at, but it can be summarized by the idea that when the water hole dries up, the animals look at each other differently.

IIRC, David Strahan also mentions this scenario in his book. (Strahan has a theory of the Iraq war which is based entirely on peak oil, which I found interesting.)

1. Return on Investment: Increased scarcity of energy, as well as increased prices, increase the return on investment for attacks that target energy infrastructure. Whether the actor is an ideologically driven group (al-Qa’ida), or a privateer(youth gangs in the Niger Delta), the geologically-driven declines increase the ROI for attacks on energy, which will drive both decisions to act, as well as targeting decisions for that action. This is a positive feedback-loop because attacks on energy infrastructure and supply drive up the price, which further increases the ROI for such attacks…

2. Mercantilism: To avoid the dawning “bidding cycles” between crude oil price increases and demand destruction, Nation-States are increasingly returning to a mercantilist paradigm on energy. This is the attitude of “there isn’t enough of it to go around, and we can’t afford to pay the market price, so we need to lock up our own supply.” …

3. “Export-Land” Model … In a regime of high or rising prices, a state’s existing oil exports brings in great revenues, which trickles into the state’s economy, and leads to increasing domestic oil consumption. This is exactly what is happening in most oil exporting states. The result, however, is that growth in domestic consumption reduces oil available for export.

4. Nationalism … the territories of nations and states are rarely contiguous. As a result, it is often the case that a nation is cut out of the benefits from its host state’s oil exports. This will be especially apparent when the “export-land” effect reduces the total size of the pie to be divided. As a result, nations or sectarian groups within states will increasingly agitate for a larger share of the pie.

5. Privateering: Nationalist insurgencies and economies ruined by the downslide of the “export-land” effect will leave huge populations with no conventional economic prospects. High oil prices, and the willingness to make high protection payments, will drive those people to become energy privateers. We are seeing exactly this effect in Nigeria, where a substantial portion of the infrastructure disruption is no longer carried out by politically-motivated insurgents, but by profit-motivated gangs.

Geopolitical positive feedback-loops … do not act like logistic curves. They are positive feedback loops that are both self-intensifying and intensified by geologically-driven declines in production. While the geologically-dictated baseline in oil production decline may exhibit a long tail of ongoing production, geopolitical forces may abruptly chop off that tail. Commercial oil production requires some threshold level of security, rule of law, etc. to operate at all. Below that threshold, oil production does not gradually decline, but rather stops completely.

Now’s your chance –

Posted by on 28 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Current Events, Food and Wine

I know that sometimes one’s deep thoughts about world politics, the failings of the educational system and global warming are overwhelmed by a need to consider the plight of Ontario’s wild turkeys. Now, you can have your say:

ONTARIO MINISTRY OF NATURAL RESOURCES

Transmitted by CNW Group on : January 18, 2008 15:20
Public Asked To Comment On Wild Turkey Plan

McGuinty Government Proposes Changes To Wild Turkey Management

TORONTO, Jan. 18 /CNW/ – The government is seeking public comment on proposed changes to a wild turkey management plan and the expansion of wild turkey hunting opportunities.

For the first time, a fall hunt is proposed in several areas of the province. An open spring turkey season is also proposed in three new areas of central Ontario.

“Wild turkeys are an important part of Ontario’s biodiversity, and they have been successfully restored to suitable habitats across the province,” said Natural Resources Minister Donna Cansfield. “The tremendous success of the wild turkey restoration program also means that we have the chance to offer hunters increased hunting opportunities.”

Wild turkey populations in Ontario have rebounded and are healthy some 25 years after being reintroduced in the province. In 1984, Ontario undertook efforts to bring back populations of this bird. The estimated provincial population of turkeys was greater than 70,000 birds in 2007.

The proposed changes to wild turkey management are available on the Environmental Bill of Rights Registry at ontario.ca/environmentalregistry, Registry Numbers 010-2424 and 010-2429.

<< Disponible en français
ontario.ca/mnr
>>

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For further information: Jolanta Kowalski, Communications Services Branch, (416) 314-2106/

Boring administrivia re: users

Posted by on 27 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Tech

I’ve turned off self-registration for Mock Turtle. Spammers keep signing up in the hope that it’ll let them post their crap. They can’t anyway, but it’s boring to keep deleting them.

If anyone wants to register as a subscriber or writer or whatever, presumably they’ll know one or more of the existing writers and can email for access. I hope that’s not overly restrictive.

And now, the weather

Posted by on 24 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Ottawa, Stuff

I’m not sure how Environment Canada’s new five-day local weather page is supposed to be an improvement on its predecessor. The graphic design is a bit cleaner, but a) the user now has to mouseover for text information which was directly posted on the page before, and b) the icon for flurries and ‘periods of snow’ is now the same, forcing the user to look at the text forecast. Check it out:

Knowing that there will be periods of snow is the kind of information that leads people to look at a weather forecast in the first place, which brings us back to point (a).

RSS is a step ahead, but they really need a more 21st-century way of distributing weather warnings. GO Transit’s system could be a model.

Anyway, just for fun, here are all 45 new weather icons. My favourite is #43, which as far as I can tell warns of blowing leaves:

Any ideas about #23? It’s either ‘Sun and clouds will prevail at night’ or a solar eclipse.

Calling the recession

Posted by on 24 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Business

BMO joins the fray:

Judging from recent indicators, we are prepared now to say that the U.S. economy is in recession. The marked and widespread deterioration of business, consumer and investor sentiment since the start of 2008 has prompted us to revisit and revise our forecast.

Ever the optimist, though, BMO’s Doug Porter sees Canada missing the bullet:

However, there are three solid reasons to believe that the Canadian economy can narrowly avoid an outright recession: a) the housing market is much healthier than in the U.S., b) government finances are in strong shape allowing for the recent GST cut and upcoming fiscal measures, and c) the commodity boom of recent years will support capital spending.

That’s a revised — one might even say, less impressive — list of reasons Porter outlined (and I blogged) back at the end of 2007:

1) significant tax cuts are arriving in January, 2) housing is still holding up very well nationally, 3) strong commodity prices are supporting corporate earnings and personal incomes, and 4) credit conditions are much less restrictive in Canada than for U.S. borrowers.

Note the change in language — strong commodity prices are now the “recent commodity boom”, suggesting (quite possibly correctly) that it’s over, and the shift has focused from the tiny 2008 tax cuts and the imaginary stimulative effect they might have to the strength of government finances, which has started to come under scrutiny.

RBC sees weakness in the trade sector seeping into Canada’s domestic economy as well:

 We agree with the Bank’s assessment that the outlook for exports has been dampened by the deterioration in the U.S. economy. We also expect this weakness to filter into the domestic economy in the months ahead. We now expect Canada’s economy to grow at a slower than 2% pace in 2008.

For a truly triumphant view of the Canadian economy, trust the housing market’s main lobby group, the Canadian Real Estate Association:

Three key economic ingredients will keep Canada’s housing market on a different track from the United States. One is consumer confidence, the second is employment, and third is affordable interest rates. The Bank of Canada cut interest rates on January 22nd because of weaker prospects for Canadian economic growth in 2008.

I told you this would be a happy view. Don’t worry, there’s a silver lining:

“Those lower interest rates will also help temper the erosion in housing affordability due to additional home price increases,” Bosley added.

If only mortgage rates were set based on the overnight rate. But they’re not. Chief Economist Klump continues:

“Consumer confidence may be sideswiped by stock market volatility, and reports that chances of a U.S. economic recession will put the brakes on the Canadian economy. With slower job growth, a low unemployment rate and the absence of widespread layoffs, consumer confidence will bounce back. The domestic economy and the housing market will weather the sub-prime fallout with the help of lower interest rates”.

Is it just me, or does the CREA seem to be trying much harder than usual to paint a rosy picture?

“Everything in Canada is terrible”

Posted by on 22 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Stuff

Jessica (“Decca”) Mitford writes from Toronto, 1941:

I don’t like Canada at all, it seems to me like an awful copy of America, & the people are horrid. They are anti English and anti American but vastly inferior to both…. There are several English refugees here & I really feel sorry for them (tho not for those in America as they are very well treated & anyway America is such heaven)…

Calling the bottom, Day 1

Posted by on 21 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Stuff

It’s actually about day 180, since the calls for the bottom of the market started as soon as things got choppy in August. But I’m re-setting the clock and calling this day of 600-point TSX tumbles Day One:

January 21, 2008: “I think we may be into panic selling here and I don’t know if we’re at the bottom yet, but we have got to be getting close to it,” said Rick Hutcheon, president and chief operating officer at RKH Investments.

Puters!

Posted by on 21 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Stuff

I was thinking of getting a new computer before Christmas, but my union sent out a prepare-for-battle memo warning us to postpone major purchases, which on reflection seemed like a good idea. Now that I know that I’m getting paid next Thursday, and not by the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers at the union office,  that plan’s on the front burner again.

I’m thinking:

  • Desktop
  • PC. I have a mini-Mac, mostly for video production, and they’ll have to share keyboard, mouse and screen.
  • Easy to buy. Dell has various sins, which I’m aware of, but they do offer the convenience of online ordering.
  • I don’t need extra processing capacity for gaming, but I might need it for something else – my current computer chokes when I’m running Photoshop along with a couple of other programs.
  • Budget, for the sake of argument, somewhere between $1K-$1500.
  • What about this thing, just to get the ball rolling?

    Your tax dollars at work

    Posted by on 21 Jan 2008 | Tagged as: Current Events

    Reality shows all have dumb, repetitive premises, but this is one we all paid for, and it’s another depressing indicator of how much of feminism’s progress has been erased in the last twenty years. Episode 1:

    With a mix of excitement and trepidation, the town of Hardisty, Alberta gets ready for a week without Mom. The men’s bravado speaks volumes as the guys discuss their best (and worst) case scenarios without wives, girlfriends, sisters and mothers around. Some men plan to party, others hope to connect with their kids and a few just hope they survive…!

    I don’t know. If they can’t manage to look after themselves, as they likely did before they were married, but then unlearned, or after anyone else, like their spawn, do we really want them to survive?

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