Quotulatiousness

April 24, 2017

A new anti-censorship tool – Slitheen

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

The Register‘s Thomas Claburn on a new tool being developed in Canada to aid internet users in countries with hard censorship access material their governments don’t want them to see:

Computer boffins in Canada are working on anti-censorship software called Slitheen that disguises disallowed web content as government-sanctioned pablum. They intend for it to be used in countries where network connections get scrutinized for forbidden thought.

Slitheen – named after Doctor Who aliens capable of mimicking humans to avoid detection – could thus make reading the Universal Declaration of Human Rights look like a lengthy refresher course in North Korean juche ideology or a politically acceptable celebration of cats.

In a presentation last October, Cecylia Bocovich, a University of Waterloo PhD student developing the technology in conjunction with computer science professor Ian Goldberg, said that governments in countries such as China, Iran, and Pakistan have used a variety of techniques to censor internet access, including filtering by IP address, filtering by hostname, protocol-specific throttling, URL keyword filtering, active probing, and application layer deep packet inspection.

In an email to The Register, Goldberg said the software is based on the concept of decoy routing.

“The basic idea behind decoy routing is that the (censored) user’s computer makes an Internet connection to some non-censored (‘overt’) site, such as a site with cute cat videos,” said Goldberg. “However, it embeds a hidden cryptographic tag in its connection, which only a particular Internet router somewhere on the path between the user and the cute cat site can see. That router, seeing the tag, then redirects the traffic to a censored (‘covert’) site, say Wikipedia.”

As Bocovich and Goldberg explain in a paper [PDF] they co-authored, these tags make the web session’s master TLS secret available to a cooperating ISP. This allows the ISP to conduct what amounts to a friendly man-in-the-middle attack by having a network relay it controls open a proxy connection to the censored website.

April 20, 2017

Without our sacred supply management, it’d be “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh saddles up old Rocinante and has a tilt at the ludicrous supply management regime in milk:

You remember how Chobani, a hipster yogurt business based in New York state, got a temporary permit to sell the product in Ontario and won over customers. You know how it tried to meet our supply-managed dairy system halfway by making plans for a factory in Kingston. You know how milk processors waged berserker war in court to prevent the permit from being renewed, and closed ranks to deny the company a supply of Canadian milk.

And, most of all, you know how the product disappeared from our shelves, how Canadians still seek it out on cross-border trips, and how slow and confused the dairy cartel was about meeting the new demand for extra-heavy yogurt. None of this is going to be too easy to explain to a four-year-old.

I hasten to add that I am not seriously playing the “Won’t someone think of the children” card so beloved of politicians, newspaper columnists, and other shameless scum. The four-year-old will get over it. She’ll grow up in a free-trade Canada in which she does not have to accept a world of consumer second-bests, simulacra, and make-dos, except possibly in the dairy section. She can have no personal memory of Seventies Canada — never know what it is like to switch from Eaton’s to The Bay just to buy slightly different versions of the same low-quality, unfashionable crap. The question I grew up with was “Why does Canada have seemingly permanent poorer living standards than the U.S.?”; now it is just “Why are the cheese sections in our grocery stores so pathetic?”

So, Mad Max to the rescue? Not if champion protectionist Steven Blaney can stop him:

… supply management froze the world of Canadian dairying at a perfect moment for Quebec, and so the system has become a sacred cow made of other, literal cows. Because economists and intellectuals know that supply management is a transfer of wealth from consumers of all classes to a few thousand affluent farmers, the beneficiaries reinvest a great deal of the profit in hapless, defensive public-relations efforts that only tend to make us loathe them more.

They have even found a political champion in Steven Blaney, the cadaverous oddball from the Eastern Townships who is in the Conservative leadership race to play milk spoiler to fellow Quebecer Maxime Bernier. Bernier wants to retire supply management by buying farmers out of their quotas with a national tax on dairy, lasting for a fixed period.

This is a generous approach to free trade in dairy: it is a buyout of unearned entitlements. Producers who want to leave the industry would do so with an enormous grubstake — the kind of which workers laid off from regular jobs can only dream. Those who hang in there would get to keep something like the present value of their annulled production quotas as they face new careers in an honest-to-God marketplace (which is what some of them very much wish to do).

April 17, 2017

QotD: The dubious “value add” of the LCBO

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Government, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The liquor board’s cocktail recipe of the month, offered on its website, is for “gin and lemonade,” which you make with a shot of gin and some lemonade. The gin is cherry, so there’s that. Its three recommended beers of the month are themed for the hockey playoffs. They are — I am not kidding — Molson Canadian in a bottle, Molson Canadian in a can, and Molson Canadian in a larger can. The value the LCBO’s adding that a private retailer couldn’t is not obvious.

David Reevely, “LCBO union uses government’s rhetoric against it in brewing labour battle”, National Post, 2017-04-06.

April 15, 2017

Federal marijuana bill “is about as good a framework as we had any right to expect”

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Chris Selley looks at the Trudeau government’s marijuana legalization framework, as revealed on Thursday:

The fact is, though, this is about as good a framework as we had any right to expect from the Canadian government. The feds will insist upon a safe and controlled supply chain, with licenses and inspections; you may keep four plants at home — an indulgence I would have bet against; promotional materials will be severely restricted in much the same way as for tobacco; the minimum age will be 18; and the maximum limit on the amount of dried flower you can carry around in public will be 30 grams — same as it is in Washington state and Colorado.

Retail and all the questions that go with it are the provinces’ problem, just as they should be. (In theory, a buzz-kill province could set the legal age at 105 and the public possession limit at zero, though the government says mail order would be available in provinces that don’t have a retail sector.)

The feds will balance out all this wanton permissiveness with tough talk of putting “organized crime” out of business and protecting our children from weed. (The maximum sentence for giving marijuana to a minor is 14 years in prison!)

And now we see whether it actually happens — by summer 2018, or at all.

The news Thursday was full of worries and concerns and potential reasons why it might not. They range from legitimate-but-surmountable to downright silly.

Yes, the science of THC impairment behind the wheel is inexact. So I guess pot-consuming car-drivers had better take that under advisement. THC-impaired driving is already illegal, after all.

There is the bewilderingly persistent supposed issue of Canada’s obligation to prohibit drugs under UN conventions on narcotic and psychotropic substances. This week, the University of Ottawa’s Global Strategy Lab released a 27-page paper explaining “how Canada can remain party to the conventions without either withdrawing … or amending them.” It’s all very interesting, but why not just withdraw from the damn things?

[…]

Frankly, I’m amazed the Liberals have come even this far at a time when they’re walking on eggshells around the Trump administration. To the extent it has articulated a pot policy, it has been the opposite of the relatively laissez-faire approach the Obama administration took toward states that decided to legalize. Attorney-General Jeff Sessions talks about marijuana the way General Ripper in Dr. Strangelove talks about communists.

That will make legalization all the more impressive an achievement if the Liberals pull it off — and all the more damaging a self-inflicted wound if they don’t.

April 14, 2017

The Canadian Corps Takes Vimy Ridge – The Battle of Arras I THE GREAT WAR Week 142

Filed under: Australia, Cancon, Europe, History, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 13 Apr 2017

This week 100 years ago, the Western Front comes to live with a big British offensive at Arras. The Canadian Corps and the British 51st Infantry Division take Vimy Ridge which had been contested for 3 years by now. The rest of the battles goes well in the beginning too but due to a snowstorm and the German defences it soon slows down.

Alberta’s new problem of “rising income support caseloads”

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh sounds a warning note for Alberta’s NDP government:

… there is a danger — I say this with glum certainty that this centuries-old accepted truth will incite tantrums — in permitting the dole to grow too large. One need only look at the United States’s current addiction to federal and other disability programs. The U.S. reformed welfare as Alberta (and eventually Ontario) did, but disability schemes involving armies of doctors, lawyers and administrative judges became an equally huge species of para-welfare.

The result is a national orgy of prescription opioids and suicide, as policy inertia encourages millions to make a bad back or a trick knee the centre of an unproductive, isolated life. The bottle of OxyContin absolves and soothes; Donald Trump wins a presidential election.

I want no part of anything like this for Alberta. During my lifetime the province has been an economic colony, obsessed with competitiveness and quite short on the state’s version of “compassion.” We all knew we would get NDP economic policy when we voted NDP. They have un-flattened taxes, revived groovy ’70s industrial planning, taxed carbon, regulated farms, run planet-sized deficits, and sheltered the bureaucracy while businesses choked and private-sector workers struggled.

Only the very inattentive could have been unprepared for most of this, as a price to be paid for hosing out the Conservative stable, or even as a desirable correction. Welfare numbers signify a more fundamental, threatening change. It is one that the New Democrats may find more dangerous to its electoral future than all the rest put together, if Ontario history is any guide.

The growth in welfare rolls that can take place in a year may take 10 to reverse. And, of course, such growth suggests that other NDP nostrums, like hiking the minimum wage, aren’t working out. Why would anyone at all require state income support in labour’s paradise? Do NDPers need to look far to find a stalking, wrathful, hyperconservative Mike Harris figure in Alberta?

April 12, 2017

Why wasn’t Lucy Maud Montgomery considered for inclusion on a banknote?

Filed under: Books, Cancon, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh uncharacteristically praises-to-the-skies Lucy Maud Montgomery as even a shortlist candidate to appear on a Canadian banknote:

The choice of Viola Desmond came at the end of a formal search for historic women to put on a banknote, and I am still baffled by the absence of one name from the shortlist: that of the novelist L.M. Montgomery. If you think about the global noteworthiness standard, there are not many Canadians of any race or gender who can meet it. In its highest form it would exclude, for example, Wayne Gretzky, who must be one of the two or three most famous Canadians: there are too many places on Earth that know or care nothing of ice hockey.

They play Bach on keyboard instruments everywhere, so you could put Glenn Gould on a banknote under this rule. I start running out of names pretty damn fast after that, which may suggest a truth about our country that we do not like to confront. But Lucy Maud Montgomery is surely near the top of any such list.

Think what an extraordinary thing it is that we are still arguing about the merits of new adaptations of (and posters for) Anne of Green Gables. Those books are literature of a type that almost revels in its ephemerality. They were meant to be affordable components of a homogenous literary diet for the young. Montgomery could never have imagined that she would end up as the most enduring, best-travelled Canadian fiction author of all.

But how many cycles of fashion has Anne outlived; how many avant-garde authors and poets of her time has she seen off into oblivion? There is something about her that has unfailingly charmed readers of 1960 and 1990 and 2017. Nothing about this phenomenon is insincere or contrived, and it seems to transcend the English-speaking world with ease. Progressives and feminists are not reluctant to give the Anne books to their children. There has been no attack that I know of on Montgomery’s political bona fides. Her intellectual ambitions were small, and confined to an out-of-the-way place, yet her imagination conquered a world.

All of which does not even take into account the merely commercial argument for a banknote with Anne of Green Gables and/or her creator on it: the Japanese would hoard it like treasure. Then again, maybe that is what the Bank of Canada is afraid of — unpredictable monetary effects from an important currency denomination being too popular as a collectible. But I cannot see any other reason for them to keep missing this layup. Maybe they are prudently keeping Anne in reserve for the advent of the five-dollar coin, in order that the annie might join the loonie and the toonie?

April 9, 2017

Vimy Ridge: The Canadian National Memorial

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, France, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 11 Nov 2014

A visit to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in northern France. The memorial commemorates the lives lost in the April 1917 battle of Vimy Ridge.

April 6, 2017

On legalization the feds are headed the wrong way

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Libertarian Party of Canada leader Tim Moen looks at the public safety aspects of Justin Trudeau’s marijuana legalization plans:

If we are concerned about public safety we need to make it more attractive for people to grow, distribute and consume cannabis legally than illegally so that there is engagement with public safety mechanisms. Right now it is far more attractive for people to grow and consume illegally. Cannabis is easy to produce, you just need seeds and dirt, and there is a high demand for it. A regime that restricts legal supply through onerous licensing and prohibitions will drive up illegal supply to meet the demand.

We were seeing a trend towards improved public safety. Storefronts offered customers a safe place to buy cannabis from businesses that had a vested interest in developing a reputation for quality and safety. Small- to medium-sized growers have been operating in the sunlight where public safety officials like me could inspect and educate. Cannabis was emerging from the shadows and the problems associated with illicit activity were fading away.

All the Trudeau government had to do was notice what was going on and end the rules that made it difficult for public safety to emerge. Instead, over the past month we have seen a hard crackdown on storefront cannabis dispensaries. Coordinated raids have occurred across the country and some business owners are facing financial ruination and life in prison at the same time the Trudeau government has announced legalization by the summer of 2018. The message to the cannabis industry is loud and clear, “Fall in line with the regime, or else.”

The federal government is poised to adopt the report of The Task Force on Marijuana Legalization and Regulation as the way forward and this is cause for serious concern from a public safety perspective. The Task Force recommends a requirement for a federal license to grow cannabis commercially. If you’re one of the hundreds of small- to medium-sized dispensaries currently operating in the sunlight your days are numbered. If you are a customer of one of these dispensaries you will be faced with a choice of big government-approved corporation or local black market dealer.

It’s not clear why customers would choose the low quality, limited access, unreliable cannabis that a few big government-approved corporations would provide over locally grown craft cannabis. Imagine if growing tomatoes required a federal license and there was a coordinated effort to raid local growers and sellers who did not have a federal license. Would people stop putting tomato seeds in dirt? Would people drive past an unlicensed farmer selling big, fresh, juicy tomatoes from a roadside stand on their way to a licensed grocery store which may have some small, pale, nearly-spoiled tomatoes in stock? It is naive to imagine people are going to follow stupid rules that they can easily avoid following, yet this naivety has permeated cannabis prohibitionism and continues to permeate the thinking of cannabis legislators.

April 3, 2017

William Shatner | Battle of Vimy Ridge #Vimy100 #LestWeForget #VimyRidge

Filed under: Cancon, Europe, France, History, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Published on 31 Mar 2017

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Battle of Vimy Ridge, Legion Magazine, Canada’s Ultimate Story and William Shatner tell the story of this important First World War battle. Our victory at Vimy was a defining event for Canada. On the 100th anniversary, we revisit the Canadian triumph over the German army and explore why the battle has come to signify the birth of our nation. We ask you to share with #Vimy100 #LestWeForget or #VimyRidge

Directed by Adam Tindal
Written by Don Gillmor
Graphics & Animation by Julia Paddick
Produced by Jason Duprau, Jennifer McGill, Eric Harris
Executive Producer: Jennifer Morse
Recorded by William Harp, Media City Sound, LA

Special thank you to Library and Archives Canada

Copyright Canvet Publications Ltd. 2017

March 31, 2017

The likely impact of legalized marijuana on healthcare costs

Filed under: Cancon, Health, Law, Liberty, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Colby Cosh, a self-confessed hardcore druggie (okay, he admits “I’m not a big pot smoker, although it is a point of honour with me to admit in print that I have done it plenty of times”), on some interesting aspects of next year’s “Cannabis Day” legalization target:

What leapt out at me in [recently elected MP and former cop Glen] Motz’s stream of consciousness was a claim that “health-care costs are starting to rise” in the recreational-marijuana states. What could this mean? The U.S. doesn’t have single-payer universal public healthcare, and its programs for the poor, the aged, and veterans are all administered federally. But if Motz wants to bring up health-care costs, we can certainly go there.

    They found that when individual states legalized medical marijuana (as 28 now have), doctors in those states began to fill fewer prescriptions addressing medical conditions for which there is some evidence that marijuana might help — anxiety, nausea, seizures, and the like

One of the most remarkable economic findings of any kind on piecemeal marijuana acceptance in the U.S. appeared in the journal Health Affairs last July. It became famous almost immediately as the “Medicare Part D study”: two policy specialists at the University of Georgia in Athens looked at data on 87 million pharmaceutical prescriptions paid for by the federal government from 2010 to 2013. They found that when individual states legalized medical marijuana (as 28 now have), doctors in those states began to fill fewer prescriptions addressing medical conditions for which there is some evidence that marijuana might help — anxiety, nausea, seizures, and the like.

By “fewer” I mean “a lot fewer.” The study estimated, for example, that medical marijuana reduced prescriptions for pain medication by about 1,800 per physician per year. That estimate could be off by an order of magnitude and still be pretty impressive. It is only one study, but when the researchers double-checked their results by looking at conditions that nobody thinks marijuana is indicated for, they found no declines in prescribing.

Marijuana is still an outlawed Schedule I drug under U.S. federal law, doctors even in medical-marijuana states “recommend” the stuff rather than formally prescribing it, and patients have to pay for it. Moreover, pot may be relatively unpopular with the (mostly pension-age) Medicare-eligible population. The Medicare Part D study shows, if nothing else, that American medicine is already making heavy professional use of marijuana. The authors think it might have saved Medicare half a billion dollars over the four-year study period. Perhaps there are concomitant harms that this study does not account for. It is hard for me to imagine what they might be, but I am not a politician.

Why Do Some English Speaking Countries Pronounce Z as “Zed” and Others as “Zee”?

Filed under: Australia, Britain, Cancon, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 19 Mar 2017

It’s not just the British that pronounce “z” as “zed”. The vast majority of the English speaking world does this. The primary exception, of course, is in the United States where “z” is pronounced “zee”.

March 29, 2017

The long political road to a legalized marijuana market

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Law, Liberty — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Chris Selley discusses the federal government’s much-hinted-at full legalization plan which is expected to be implemented in time for Canada Day next year, and what it means for the existing quasi-legal market:

In any event, the legislation will have the benefit of forcing the provinces finally to come to grips with their policy preferences.

[…]

The others will soon have to follow suit. And they should be considering what to do if legalization doesn’t happen, as well. Tabling the legislation and any associated boosterism is only going to energize the open black market that has flourished in Canadian cities’ storefronts under the polite fiction of “dispensaries,” making a hollow mockery of the law.

The cries of injustice when police bust these businesses have been silly. Policing marijuana isn’t a great use of resources at any time, if you ask me, but a Liberal campaign promise isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on; it’s certainly not a legal defence. If you’re a “budtender” working for minimum wage in a “dispensary,” now would be a good time to realize that, under the law, you’re a minimum wage drug dealer.

In Toronto, it has been instructive, if not surprising, to see that the dispensary model works. People value the expertise, the variety of retail environments, the fact it’s not some dodgy dude on a bike who wants to hang out for an hour. The only things wrong with the model are byproducts of prohibition: lots of cash on hand makes them a target for robberies, for example, which often go unreported.

Across the country, people are happily buying marijuana the way people in jurisdictions all over the world (though certainly not in Ontario) buy their other intoxicants of choice.

That’s a lesson for Canadian jurisdictions to learn if the Liberals legalize marijuana: the private sector can handle it. And it’s a lesson if it stays illegal, too. The law is the law, but if Ottawa’s going to encourage people to break it, the ensuing mess doesn’t have to be the provinces’ problem.

Instead of enforcing it very sporadically, they could just not enforce it at all. Better yet, under such a policy, they could try to remedy some of the problems that prohibition creates in the storefront market.

March 26, 2017

The Mark Steyn Show with Maxime Bernier

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Mar 23, 2017

In this brand new edition of The Mark Steyn Show, Mark talks to Canadian Conservative Party leadership candidate Maxime Bernier. M Bernier was the country’s Foreign Minister under Stephen Harper until his rising star somewhat spectacularly self-detonated. But, after biding his time, he returned as a hero of the libertarian right – “the Albertan from Quebec”, as he became known. Steyn and Bernier talk about what it means to be a conservative francophone in rural Quebec, the role of a medium-rank power in a turbulent world, and Canadian-US relations.

March 25, 2017

How to become public enemy number 1 in Quebec

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Andrew Potter, writing for Maclean’s did much more than just ruffle a few feathers in his March 20th article titled “How a snowstorm exposed Quebec’s real problem: social malaise“:

Major public crises tend to have one of two effects on a society. In the best cases, they serve to reveal the strength of the latent bonds of trust and social solidarity that lie dormant as we hurry about the city in our private bubbles — a reminder of the strength of our institutions and our selves, in the face of infrastructure. Such was the case in New York after 9/11, and across much of the northeast during the great blackout of 2003.

But sometimes the opposite occurs. The slightest bit of stress works its way into the underlying cracks of the body politic, a crisis turns those cracks to fractures, and the very idea of civil society starts to look like a cheapo paint job from a chiseling body shop. Exhibit A: The mass breakdown in the social order that saw 300 cars stranded overnight in the middle of a major Montreal highway during a snowstorm last week.

The fiasco is being portrayed as a political scandal, marked by administrative laziness, weak leadership, and a failure of communication. And while the episode certainly contains plenty of that, what is far more worrisome is the way it reveals the essential malaise eating away at the foundations of Quebec society.

Compared to the rest of the country, Quebec is an almost pathologically alienated and low-trust society, deficient in many of the most basic forms of social capital that other Canadians take for granted. This is at odds with the standard narrative; a big part of Quebec’s self-image — and one of the frequently-cited excuses for why the province ought to separate — is that it is a more communitarian place than the rest of Canada, more committed to the common good and the pursuit of collectivist goals.

But you don’t have to live in a place like Montreal very long to experience the tension between that self-image and the facts on the ground. The absence of solidarity manifests itself in so many different ways that it becomes part of the background hiss of the city.

To start with one glaring example, the police here don’t wear proper uniforms. Since 2014, municipal police across the province have worn pink, yellow, and red clownish camo pants as a protest against provincial pension reforms. They have also plastered their cruisers with stickers demanding “libre nego” — ”free negotiations” — and in many cases the stickers actually cover up the police service logo. The EMS workers have now joined in; nothing says you’re in good hands like being driven to the hospital in an ambulance covered in stickers that read “On Strike.” While this might speak to the limited virtues of collective bargaining, the broader impact on social cohesion and trust in institutions remains corrosive.

We’re talking here about a place where some restaurants offer you two bills: one for if you’re paying cash, and another if you’re paying by a more traceable mechanism. And it’s not just restaurants and the various housing contractors or garage owners who insist on cash — it’s also the family doctor, or the ultrasound clinic.

The backlash to Potter’s article hasn’t yet diminished … he’s had to resign from his position with McGill University as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada (although he still holds a professorship there), and Maclean’s has made some modifications to the original text of the article in response to the outcry. In the Montreal Gazette, Don Macpherson says the anger isn’t at what Potter wrote, exactly:

Potter’s piece, though not entirely unfounded, is poorly informed and argued, and betrays the authoritative ignorance of an overconfident observer who only recently moved to this place. It is so indefensible that not even he would try to defend any of it less than 24 hours later. (May I never write anything for which I apologize the next day.)

But the vehemence of the reaction to it, and the indifference to Martineau’s similar column, show that Potter’s real crime is not what he wrote; it’s who wrote it, the language in which he wrote it, and for whom he wrote it.

That is, Potter is an anglophone, who wrote in English, for a publication from outside Quebec (whose editors were therefore unable to do their duty to protect their writer from himself by questioning such assertions as the one that restaurants here routinely offer their clients second bills for payment in cash, tax-free).

[…]

Potter is not family, even though he speaks French well enough to have taught at the Université de Montréal. And he would not be, even if he had been born and raised and educated here, and had spent his entire life here.

For to belong to the English-speaking community in Quebec is to be excluded, or to choose to exclude oneself, from the French-speaking one, the true Québécois nation.

And every now and then, it’s useful for everybody to be reminded of that.

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