Category: Media Criticism

Jeffrey Simpson and Lazy Writing aka I wrote a letter to the editor

Jeffrey Simpson wrote an interesting article on the politics of tarsands pipelines that had some good insights:

  • Harper lecturing Obama on playing politics is a bit rich
  • The opposition is multi-faceted, not just based on the carbon footprint
  • The opposition is widespread, and opposition is not tarsands specific, but against expanding fossil fuel in a world poised to warm at an ever increasing rate
  • Tarsands oil is dirty oil, and no amount of lobbying can take that away
  • Alterate pipeline routes such as Enbridge’s Northern Gateway are not going to be easy to construct given significant First Nations’ opposition

It was on the last point that Jeffrey Simpson’s otherwise useful Op-Ed degenerated into what can be charitably described (by a PR hack) as an “unwise choice of words”.

The route must traverse huge tracts of land claimed by aboriginals who, for a variety of reasons, don’t want a pipeline. Maybe they’re pigheaded. Maybe they don’t want to join modernity.

This is insulting and ignorant to begin with. Surely Jeffrey Simpson does basic research before he writes these columns, and google searches will reveal many many articles, including one in the newspaper that pays his salary that clearly explain the rational reasons behind First Nations’ concerns on pipelines. Simpson seems to have no trouble finding rational reasons to buttress other opposition claims. He says Nebraska’s opposition was due to the pipeline passing over environmentally sensitive areas. He also uses a Royal Society of Canada report judging Canada’s green house gas mitigation efforts as inadequate to make a larger point about the pollution caused by the tarsands and fossil fuels.

However, for First Nations’ concerns alone, he resorts to the irrational, tired and racist tropes of First Nations people being “pigheaded”, or “opposed to modernity”. What exactly is Mr Simpson trying to imply?

I was angry enough to dash a letter off to the Globe and Mail, which they promptly published, thanks folks.

Here’s what they published

Jeffrey Simpson’s column (Pipe-Altering Lessons – Nov. 16) offers some good insights into pipeline politics and government hypocrisy and states accurately that people are opposed to most fossil fuel expansion, not just the oil sands. However, his speculation on First Nations’ opposition to the Northern Gateway project as “pig headed” or not wanting “to join modernity” are offensive and misstate the valid concerns voiced by more than 60 indigenous communities. They are concerned about irreparable damage to the land and salmon migration routes and are well aware how little of the large profits made by energy companies accrues to the First Nations whose land these projects are frequently based on. Their reasons are well founded and well documented by many First Nations, including the Wet’suwet’en.

Here’s what I wrote.

Jeffrey Simpson’s Opinion, Pipeline-altering lessons offers some good insights into oilsands pipeline politics, government hypocrisy and states accurately that people are opposed to most fossil fuel expansion, not just the oilsands . However, Simpson’s speculation on First Nations’ opposition to the Northern Gateway project as “pig
headed”, or “not wanting to join modernity” are offensive and misstate the valid concerns voiced by more than 60 indigenous communities. They are concerned about irreparable damage to their land, and salmon migration routes. They are well aware that little/none of the large profits made by Enbridge and other oil companies accrue to the First Nations whose land these projects are frequently based on. Their reasons for opposing are well founded, and well documented by many First Nations including the Wet’suwet’en.

If Mr Simpson were a little less “pig headed”, or “more willing to join modernity”, he would fire up that marvellous modern invention, the web browser and look up His unnecessary slurs take away from what is a otherwise a sensible and well written article.

They did leave out my rather snarky last paragraph 🙂

Pig picture from jm999uk’s flickr stream used under a creative commons licence.

Transfer cheats or transfer windows? BC Transit and transfers

The BC Transit CEO is claiming that an additional $600,000 is being seen in revenue without increasing ridership due to a crackdown on “cheating”

“It’s pretty amazing — the level of fare evasion that was going on out there,” said Manuel Achadinha, president and chief executive of B.C. Transit.

Pretty incendiary. BC Transit’s financials from the September 13th Victoria Regional Transit Commission meeting reveal a small increase in ridership, and an increase in revenue (over plan) from passengers and advertising of $685K, YTD.

When BC Transit in Victoria changed its transfer system recently, it did three things:

  1. Reduced its transfer window from 90 to 60 minutes, a 33% reduction. Now, I don’t know how much this is being enforced. I use a monthly pass, but anecdotal observation of bus transfer lengths indicates that it is enforced with varying levels of strictness (people watching is fun on the bus!).
  2. Made transfers one way, so people running short errands can no longer use a transfer on the return.
  3. Did away with the “letter of the day” system, and prevented people from banking transfers from previous days and times.

Now, the only cheats are the ones who gamed the letter of the day, not the ones who were using the transfer for short errands, who now pay double what they paid, or those stopping en-route to home and running a small errand in their 90 minute time window, now 60 minutes.

It’s obviously easy to parade cases of cheating, creating beautiful anecdata.

“I actually had a guy who had a glass case who had everything [all the transfers] alphabetical”

Right, the power of ONE! While a numerical estimate of $200,000 was provided for the cheating, it’s hard to tell what this was based on. It is disturbing that the Times Colonist didn’t bother questioning BC Transit on the methodology used, or the provenance of the numbers. It seems as likely to me that a shortening of the transfer window, and banning two way travel with a transfer could have increased the revenue per passenger from $1.47 to $1.52, a 3.4% increase. But that goes against BC Transit’s story.

I am sympathetic of BC Transit’s need to raise more revenue without bothering the car driving and property owning public with property tax increases. As a monthly pass buyer and property tax payer, I contribute in many ways! I suspect they noticed the reuse of transfers and saw it as an opportunity to raise revenue by tacking on unrelated transfer restrictions. We should be exploring more mobility tied solutions such as linking the carbon tax with transit funding, as these University of Victoria students are advocating. This is on the head of BC’s provincial government, which believes more in the optics of having a carbon tax in place and wowing environmentalists worldwide, rather than designing a system that works well.  Car drivers, think of it as paying a modest (really modest) toll to get people off the road so you can drive in peace! I would do it!

Photo courtesy Stephen Rees Flickr Photostream used under a Creative Commons Licence. Do read his blog as well, he always has insight to add to BC’s transit options.

Green Scolding and Media Victim Blaming

Dracula Lurks in Your Set-Top Box –

Most Americans are guilty of a similar if less costly squandering of
energy when it comes to their cable or satellite TV boxes. A new study
released on Tuesday by the National Resources Defense Council shows that
set-top boxes in the United States consume nearly as much energy when
not in use as when they are on, costing a cumulative $2 billion a year.

Dear media, let’s break down the choices consumers have with regards to set top boxes:

  1. Not get one, and hence lose access to encrypted channels, digital cable, etc, which are now de rigueur
  2. Get one, and unplug it every time, which means reaching behind (as you kindly mention), unplugging, and waiting for restart, etc. My Telus box usually takes a couple of minutes at least to reinitialize, and behaves a bit weirdly for another minute afterwards. So how many people will do this?
  3. Be scolded by you for not being environmentally friendly.

Now, let’s see what would happen in a real, and properly regulated market.

  1. There would be little connection between the set top box and the content. You would get a box, or use your computer, and just put in a card from your cable company for decryption. While cablecards kinda exist, the reason you haven’t heard of them is because cable companies want you captured by their expensive hardware. separate the two, box manufacturers are free to sell you fancy boxes like this one that can manage all your media, have a friendly interface, cost less, look cool, and consume less energy, and can use all these as marketing points.
  2. There would be sensible regulation on ALL electric devices to include standby mode, with automatic sleep mode. So, if something is not in use, it shuts off in 15 minutes. Seems difficult? Computers do this all the time, routinely. A set top box is just an underpowered computer.

So, let’s not blame the consumer here, shall we? If anyone is guilty, it is media and telecommunication oligopolies that don’t let us actually have free choice, while simultaneously claiming that any regulation is anti-  free market.