January 24, 2013

Is the media’s love affair with “extreme weather” just an elaborate insurance scam?

Terence Corcoran in the Financial Post:

All it takes these days is a little normal January Canadian cold spell and all of a sudden the nation is plunged into a frenzy of chatter about “extreme weather.” The CBC led the way, aided and abetted by climate alarmists in the Canadian insurance industry, with help from an apparently leaked data point from an Environment Canada report that supposedly will show that Canadian winters are now 3.2C warmer than they used to be. Get it? It’s really cold, but that’s because of climate change, which is making Canada’s winters warmer.

If you find this confusing, well, get used to it. That may even be part of the objective, which, judging by the sudden extreme flood of media reports, seems to be keep Canada’s population agitated about global warming, a cause that has so far failed to ignite voters.

If the theory of climate change doesn’t grab people, maybe “extreme weather” will. The media certainly love it. All News Radio in Toronto now has an “Extreme Weather Centre” that rouses itself every time weather happens — snow storms, cold spells, heat waves, rain, temperature anomalies. Alarmist weather forecasting and reporting is a media staple, but the concept now appears to have reached a new level of hypedom.

[. . .]

The insurance angle was cleverly juxtaposed with a leaked bit of data from an Environment Canada report that will not be released until May. It supposedly will show that Canadian winter temperatures have risen 3.2C since Canada began keeping systematic records in 1948. As a standalone bit of data, not much can be made of it. Even less can be made of it for popular consumption if current temperatures are approaching record cold. How can we have record warm and record cold at the same time?

That’s where “extreme weather” comes in. It’s also where the Canadian insurance industry, through a front group called the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, is actively promoting extreme weather as a major vehicle for business and policy development. With offices in Toronto and the University of Western Ontario, the institute’s membership is almost exclusively insurance companies, its eight-member board is stacked with five insurance executives, and the executive director is Paul Kovacs, is former head of the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Dalton McGuinty, custom-tailored for Ontario politics

Filed under: Books, Cancon, Media, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:59

Chris Selley discusses a new book on Dalton McGuinty, which raises more questions about the soon-to-be-former Premier than it answers. For example, I would never in a million years have guessed that McGuinty once held views like this:

And we learn that Mr. McGuinty, upon entering politics after his father’s death, was widely seen as cut from the same cloth: “the odd duck from Ottawa South with the socially conservative views [who] could have fit quite comfortably into the [Progressive Conservative] caucus,” as Mr. Coyle puts it. He was the guy who voted against same-sex spousal benefits in 1994, bemoaned Ontario’s soaring debt levels and preached self-reliant smaller government.

“Too many people today have come to view government as the first resort instead of the last resort,” he wrote in a 1994 op-ed. “Most forget that our first schools, universities, hospitals and all forerunners to our modern social programs were not run or even funded by government. These services were provided by individual volunteers and charitable organizations.”

To strongly disagree with the original author — someone with views like that would most certainly not have fit with the Progressive Conservative caucus of the day: Ontario PCs were almost interchangeable with Ontario Liberals and “self reliance” and “small government” were radical, beyond-the-pale notions that had no place in either caucus. Such heresies belonged out with the uncivilized cowboys of Alberta (or even Texas), not in the smug, comfortable centre-of-the-universe nexus of Ontario politics.

Mr. McGuinty finishes his journey as pretty much the opposite of all of the foregoing, as the paragon of a mushy Canadian progressive nanny statist. One former MPP suggests to Mr. Coyle that this is simple a matter of “growing up” — but this is an absurd dramatic licence we afford only to politicians. Normal people’s views don’t change that much between the ages of 40 and 60 without some epiphanous triggering event.

Ideology aside, the “evolution” Mr. Coyle describes will be interesting enough for political junkies, but it’s not very revelatory: At first Mr. McGuinty was an introverted and not-very-organized politician; he won the party leadership more or less by accident; and eventually, with some savvy backroom help, he developed into a well-organized, professional, bog-standard progressive Canadian politician with all the advantages that entails.

Had Mr. McGuinty been an evangelical, of course, he never would have gotten away with this: The less of a social-conservative agenda Stephen Harper & Co. pursue, the bigger government gets under their watch, the more they are accused of plotting a theocratic small-government revolution. But conservative Catholics can publicly transform into liberal Catholics entirely in less than two decades, and they will almost always get the benefit of the doubt.

The LCBO’s tentative, faltering steps to allowing wider sales of wine

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Cancon, Wine — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:39

In the latest Ontario Wine Review, Michael Pinkus pours scorn on the LCBO’s latest attempt to fend off an actual competitive market:

The LCBO is about money and profits — and about control. I know I will have people freaking out at me for saying this but I want you to ask yourself “why?” Why would the LCBO suddenly decide that grocery stores are the place to put locations? Doesn’t sound all that smart to me — and not what we asked for. We asked for the right to pick up booze and bread in the same place — the government has said fine but you’ll still have to visit two cashiers and wait in line. Heck, I could have gone across to the mall parking lot to the LCBO location, got a bigger selection than in that tiny kiosk they’ll most likely rent and I still would have had to stand in line at a different cashier — where’s the convenience?

Plus we already have Wine Rack and Wine Shoppe locations in grocery stores … and therein lies the rub (as Shakespeare would say). The LCBO already knows those stores are profitable, the “pilot project” is done, there’s no study needed, Vincor and Peller have already done the research (and if you don’t think the LCBO has had a look at those numbers you’ve got another surprise coming) — this is just another way for the LCBO to compete with those two companies — and by extension, the wineries of Ontario. [Ed. Note: just in case you don’t know Peller and Vincor hold the majority of private liquor store licenses in the province — something they acquired before 1988 when free trade came in].

“… and will also create new VQA boutiques for Ontario wines inside five of its own stores.” A novel idea? I don’t think so. They have one in St. Catharines already (of all places), and what do you want to bet the LCBO will place these new “boutiques” where they are most needed like Niagara, Prince Edward County and Windsor where wineries already exist — no better way to compete with your competition than on their own turf.

Pirate attacks down off Somali coast, but rising in the Gulf of Guinea

Filed under: Africa, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:23

Strategy Page counts the number of attacks by pirates in two hotspots around Africa:

Piracy attacks were down last year, returning to 2007 levels. The greatest reductions occurred off Somalia, where more effective anti-pirate patrols and escort operations made it very difficult for the pirates to even get close to merchant ships. When pirates did close in, the crews were better equipped and trained to get away. Many ships now carry some armed guards when off Somalia, who can shoot back (much more accurately) if the pirates get too close. No ship with armed guards has been taken.

Last year there were 75 pirate attacks on large ships off Somalia, compared to 237 in 2011. Last year pirates took 14 ships, compared to 28 in 2011. It’s been more than six months since pirates have taken a ship off Somalia and several large pirate gangs have simply gone out of business. Others have switched to smuggling people from Africa to Yemen. That business is booming.

There has been more piracy off the west coast of Africa, where there were 58 incidents last year. Most of this has been taking place in the Gulf of Guinea where the pirates have become bolder and are hijacking ships (which they mainly take only long enough to steal the cargo). This is not a new trend (it has long been common in Asia) but it is new for West Africa.

Sun TV’s about-face on “making us all pay for it”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Media — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:12

Andrew Coyne makes some good points about Sun TV’s hypocrisy, he could have made a stronger case for getting the CRTC entirely out of the business of deciding what Canadians can watch on TV:

When the Sun News Network first loomed on the national horizon two years ago, before it had even begun broadcasting, sections of the Canadian left reacted as they do to most things: with hysterics.

A petition was launched — from the United States, as it happens — demanding the CRTC deny Sun the licence it sought, claiming “Prime Minister Harper is trying to push American-style hate media onto our airwaves, and make us all pay for it.”

[. . .]

Well, that was then: much has happened since. Teneycke lost his job, briefly, after questions were raised about how the bogus signatures found their way onto the petition. The network has mostly avoided peddling hate, unless you count that business about the Roma. And, less than two years since its launch, Sun is back before the CRTC, asking to be put on basic cable.

Well, asking is not quite the word. The network, never shy about self-promotion, seems almost an infomercial for itself these days. Network personalities have been drafted to explain the urgent public necessity of making Sun mandatory carriage, that is of taxing everyone with cable or satellite service. Viewers are directed to a website, where they can send an email to the CRTC in support of its application.

[. . .]

But if fairness is what we’re after, there’s another way to go about it. Rather than give every channel an equal chance to stick their hands in the public’s pockets — to force viewers to pay for channels they would not pay for willingly — it is to grant that privilege to no one: to leave viewers free to decide whether or not to subscribe to each channel, on its own merits. And yes, in case anyone’s wondering, that includes the CBC. (Notwithstanding the princely $500 a pop the corporation pays me to bloviate on At Issue, I have been rash enough to argue, publicly and often, for defunding the CBC.)

For goodness sake, it is 2013. The circumstances that might once have justified such regulatory micro-managing, in the days when there were only three channels and barely room for more on the dial, are long gone. Then, a new or special-interest channel might have made the case for market failure: since it was impossible for viewers to pay for channels directly, there was a built-in bias to the biggest audience, and the programming that tailored to it.

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