Archive for the 'politics' Category

Media Watch

September 06th, 2010 | Category: politics,reporting

In monday’s The Globe and Mail, they ran a column/editorial by Dan Pallotta on the proposed salary limits for charity executives.


However, Mr. Pallotta’s background is not told to the reader, other than that he is the author of Uncharitable. No information about the book itself is given either.

Let me fill in the missing information:

In his groundbreaking new book, Uncharitable: How Restraints on Nonprofits Undermine Their Potential , Pallotta makes the case that the nonprofit sector needs to be deregulated so that it can directly harness the energy of capitalism and the profit motive in pursuit of philanthropy.


This is Pallotta’s cause du jour. This needs to be relayed to the reader so they can adequately judge who is doing the writing.

Now, his editorial has some flaws of logic. He is assuming, as many do, that increasing monetary rewards increases motivation, effort, and quality. This is wrong. Study after study has shown some simple facts: money only improves the speed of rote physical tasks. Anything that involves creative thinking, processing, or problem solving, monetary rewards actually make people slower. It also the quality of the output as well. Further studies showed that when you pay people just enough to take money worries off of the table, people work for intrinsic benefits. They want a sense of challenge in their work. They want to impress their peers. They want purpose and interesting challenges.

Pallotta needs to take a look at this research, and see how he can use it in charities. Pay the employees, not just the executives, enough that they don’t have to worry about money. Give them challenging problems. Let them impress their peers. Let them take ownership of the problem, rather than following the dictates of a CEO that is paid 100x more than they are.

Thats another part of the research that shocked people, especially researchers at Harvard. When someone is paid comfortably, and then they see someone being paid more, for what seems like the same work, then money worries become an issue again, and block effort and motivation.

Instead of placing a direct cap on CEO compensation, what should instead be done is to limit pay to a flat multiple of the lowest-paid full-time employee. Say 10x? That means janitors, which make an average of $30,000 a year, would set the limit at $300,000 for the executives. This motivates the CEO to pay his employees better. But due to the number of employees, no board will let the CEO give massive payraises to everyone. The employees, which do all the actual work Mr. Pallotta, are now free to stop worrying about money, and do the best job on their job, while the CEO is paid less.

There is also the fact that Pallotta seems to feel that restricting restricts the quality of the leadership. There is no empirical evidence this is true. For the last 10 years, Harvard economists have not found any link between executive pay, and corporate performance. If anything, there is a slight reverse correlation, where the higher the pay, the worse the companies do.

Mr. Pallotta, look into compensation, rewards and motivations, and pay. You may get some better ideas on how to make charities run better, than spending millions on a CEO. Spending more doesn’t help Wall Street companies, so how will it help charities?

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Political Expediency

May 13th, 2009 | Category: politics

Disclaimer: This is a political post, concerned primarily with the politics of BC, Canada. If you don’t care, don’t read. You have been warned.

The BC provincial election is now over; the votes have been counted, and the losers have slunk away licking their wounds. But there is a certain problem. We also had a referendum. This referendum was about using Single Transferable Vote as the electoral system, rather than First-Past-The-Post.  STV was unfortunately defeated, meaning we will have the same old, same old. No proportional representation, no fairness, nothing of the kind. I’d be okay with it, because it was decided by democracy.

Except for one factor: the no-stv side lied. Repeatedly. Continuously. They posted ads in all the major provincial papers, half-page ads. I saw it, and reading it, I felt something wrong. I had an immediate sense that they were lying, but about what. The logic didn’t seem right. So I investigated the facts of the matter. I read wikipedia, I learned about STV, and I checked the facts the ad proclaims.

They claim that STV would remove local accountability. They were wrong.

Each new, larger riding, would have a maximum of 7 MLAs up for running, with a maximum of 350,000 registered voters. The number of ridings would be approximately 20, down from 85. They specifically say  “You would no longer have a local MLA responsible for issues in your riding – instead there would be a committee of MLAs for a much larger area – and none could be held to account.” This is a leap of faith. They don’t show how such an arrangement would constitute a committee. They don’t say why none could be held to account, relying instead on people’s fear of committees and people’s perception of politicians as slimy. You will see that they self-contradict themselves later on the second point in the ad. There is absolutely no evidence that either of those things would happen, and they give us none.

Rather, the situation is more likely to be that if a riding contains several cities or towns, like the Okanagan riding would have, then each city would offer a large amount of support to the MLA from that city. In fact, that is the politically smart strategy, to have MLAs from one party campaign for support in concentrated areas, with some campaigning outside. This means then that they can get some second votes and third votes outside of their area, as people have a tendency to vote along party lines, rather than for individuals.

As to accountability, what is to prevent the people of the riding from not electing the MLA again? They completely ignore that concept.

They claim that the voter will never know where their vote went. Wrong.

The ad specifically says this: “And the complicated STV system chops votes into fractions – you may never know where your vote went.” (Emphasis theirs) Again, no proof. It is a leap of faith. They mention fractions, attempting to scare people with the idea of complex math.  STV doesn’t chop your vote into fractions. They lied, and anyone that takes the time to understand the system can see that they lied. To put it simply, you know exactly where your vote went. If your #1 vote went to the first candidate elected in your riding, as an example, then your #2 vote, if you made one, would then be counted for that person, in addition to all the #1 votes they received. If that candidate has enough votes, then all of the #2 votes of the people that voted #1 for them, and all of the #3 votes of the people that voted #2 for them, would go to the respective candidates.  You know exactly what happens. The process continues for every winning candidate in your riding.

To make this clearer, lets say we have six candidates in the riding, A, B, C, D, E, and F. You vote for A, and they recieved enough votes to be elected. If you voted for F as #2, then your vote is also counted for F. If doing this allows F to recieve enough votes to be elected, then all of the secondary and tertiary votes for F would be given to their respective candidates. Again, you will know exactly what happened. The no-stv lobby tries to scare people, via intimations of fractions, which you can see are patently false.

They claim that other areas under STV don’t elect as many women as FPTP does. Wrong.

They quote that Ireland and Malta, which use STV don’t elect many women, implying that this is the fault of STV. They ignore issues of sexism, or the cultural roles of women in those countries. In addition, they claim only two places use STV. I will address that in a bit. Yes, Ireland has an low amount of women in office. But they fail to address that until very recently, the number of women in office in the United States of America was 13% ; the same as Ireland’s percentage. The two countries use different electoral systems, and yet the percentages are the same. By omitting this very relevant fact, they try to make it sound like under STV, people are more biased. This fails a basic test of logic: how does the electoral system make people more biased, or let more bias through? It can’t. It has absolutely no relation to sexism. The system does not affect the rate of sexism… people affect the rate of sexism.

(Useful reference about politics, ireland, and women:  WOMEN IN POLITICS IN IRELAND, NORTH AND SOUTH, Yvonne Galligan )

They claim only two places have implemented STV. Wrong.

The ad claims that only Ireland and Malta have implemented STV. This is wrong. According to Wikipedia, which has all the references you need to double-check this, STV has been implemented in Ireland, Malta, the UK, Scotland, Australia, Tasmania, New Zealand, and the United States! Even the Academy Awards, the Oscars, are decided by STV. In most of the listed countries, STV is used for state/provincial, municipal, or for a specific house of government. Again, no-stv lied.

I’m going to skip a few more erroneous statements, as this post is already over 1000 words, and skip to a couple more.

They claim that the farther from the legislature one gets, the more votes needed to get there. Wrong.

This again, fails simple logic. It is fear mongering. For reference, what they said exactly was this: “Under STV, in Victoria, candidates need only 12.5% of the vote to be elected, but in Dawson Creek 33% and in Prince George 25%. Thats simply not fair! The farther you are from the legislature, the more votes it takes to get you there.” How does this work by logic? They appear to have cherry-picked regions far out in the province with smaller populations, versus Victoria, with a very large population. If we examine the math, which anyone that has passed Grade 9 math can do, then we see where they got their numbers from.

STV uses a quota system to determine the percentage of votes needed to elect a candidate in one of the large STV ridings. Lets take the maximum sample, 7 MLAs, with 350,000 voters. We’ll assume all the voters come out and vote, but as we all know, that doesn’t ever happen. The quota equation is (votes/(seats+1)) +1. That means to be elected, a candidate needs 43,751 votes. This works out to 12.5% of the vote. If we have a riding with 100,000 people, and only 3 seats, then the percentage of votes needed would be 25%! They cherry-picked areas, and made optimistic assumptions for some, and pessimistic assumptions for other areas. They lied. They cherry-picked specific areas, and ran the math, and twisted it for an assertion that is patently false. As an example, in the Okanagan riding under STV, a candidate would need 12.5% of the vote, just like in Victoria, except that Okanagan is hours away from the legislature. This defeats their assertion.

They claim because all of these different groups oppose STV that STV is obviously bad for everyone. Wrong.

They quote NDP, Green, BC Liberal, BC Conservative, BC Refederation, and non-aligned voters as being groups opposed to STV. This is wrong. Individual members of those organizations came out against STV. The no-stv group used these individual statements and conflated them with entire groups, trying to make the stv side sound like they are against everyone else.

Why would no-stv lie, so many times? Why would they falsely conflate individual opinions with a group’s opinion? Why do they feel that they need to lie to defend first past the post? Why do they feel its right to deceive the population of BC, treat them like idiots that are scared of math, and get away with it? The no-stv group has perpetrated a large fraud on the people of BC, and we fell for it. I hereby ask, any politicians that read this, any grassroots campaigners, to work hard for the next four years to change the laws on political ads about referendums. Campaign for truth, even in that small category. We need it.

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Copyright proposals

July 22nd, 2008 | Category: copyright,politics,Uncategorized

This is yet another post in my Bill C-61 series.

Previous entries:

So, faced with the impending problems of the bill, what can be done? I am by no means an expert in legal matters, nor am I a hippy that wants everything for free. (Anyone that accuses me of that will be summarily ignored. Its a blatant straw man, and I do not debate strawmen.) As a disclaimer, here are my interests: I believe in freedom, and rights for the consumer. I believe that consumers should come before companies, each and every single time. And yet, I plan to run a successful business upon graduation, that will be dealing largely with artists, and with producing content that will be consumed.

My beliefs and interest are as both a proponent of freedom and rights and as a soon content creator and copyright holder. I can see, and understand both sides of the issue, both sides of the debate, and this is frankly, the toughest divide that has been faced by law.

How exactly do you ensure the content creators are fairly compensated for their work, while still allowing consumers the freedoms and rights they need for innovation and progress to occur? That is our question. How do we do this, in a way that is not susceptible to lobbyist manipulation, to shady legal tactics, that does not unfairly impact the income of content creators?

The first issue I can see is that content creators do not want to sue their fans. As an artist, would you want to sue the people that take pictures of your work? Would you, as a software programmer, want to sue someone that found your work genuinely useful? And would you as a consumer, want to be sued for enjoying and promoting someone’s work?

However, they do in fact want to, and should, sue those that commercially benefit from spreading their work. If a person or entity spreads someone’s work for the express purpose of profiting from it, without permission or license from the content creator, then they should be on the hook for each copy that they sold. If it can be shown that such a punishment would not deter, or has not deterred them in the past, then the courts can apply higher fines and punishments. Assumed in all of this is a legal injunction to stop producing and spreading bootleg work. Those that knowingly import and sell bootleg copies of works would also be subject to this provision.

What about people that have no commercial intent, but the scale of their actions did or may have a negative affect on a content creator’s income, they should be given light fines, and again an injunction. Those fines go straight to a fund that encourages and supports Canadian artists and content creators. It must be noted however, that satire, criticism, education, or parody, should all be protected. They are an essential part of art, commentary, and of progress.

And finally, we must address fair use. Consumers should have the right to move media to any medium they want, even give songs to their friends and family. Such a scale does not harm the content creator, and has been shown to encourage it. If you hear a song on the radio, and like it, the odds are you will buy it in stores or download it. We live in an age where when you hear a song you like, you can within minutes have a licensed copy on your hard drive. If a friend has a cool song, and reccommends the album, you are more likely to buy it.

There are of course, those that would never buy any music, or movies, and will always download them. Those people constitute a small majority… and this is an important caveat, if you make it easy to buy and use the content legally. So long as its easy to buy, most people will buy instead of download. But that is beyond the scope of legislature.

Consumers should also have the right to appropriate clips(of a certain length that does not harm the profitability of the content creator’s work) and music for their own productions, so long as it is for non-commercial purposes, and they provide attribution.

There of course, is a bit of a difficult issue, however, in a global internet and global economy: works in other countries. I admit, that I do download episodes of animes shows. However, I only download what is not available for sale in Canada. If I only had some way of buying it, or giving money to the creators, despite the fact they operate in a different country, I would! And my situation is mirrored by several million other people, across the world. If only we had a way…

It would be incredibly revolutionary, and something almost universally support by the voters, (hint hint politicians), is if either a crown corporation that provides or legislation encouraging and subsidizing services that would enable users to pay money for copies they downloaded elsewhere, and the money goes straight to the content creators, minus banking fees and costs to run the company. This would support the companies whose work we enjoy, while giving citizens a pass on downloading content that is not available anywhere but on P2P sites.

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Futility of technological locks

July 12th, 2008 | Category: Bill C-61,copyright,politics

This is yet another post in my Bill C-61 series. And a fair warning, this is an extremely long post. You have been forewarned.

Previous entries:

Bill C-61 does, admittedly, provide for a lot of protections and freedoms. Except where those freedoms conflict with a technological lock. So pretty much, even a half-assed protection scheme like CSS for DVDs, would prevent us from exercising our rights.

(See Bill C-61 Sidebar for a small discussion on a paradox I found in the Bill)

The problem however, is that the bill gives precedence for technological measures over basic usage rights, like backups, and rights protection. (See section 41.21(1) for its treatment above all of “Rights Management Information)

And this is quite frankly stupid. Technological locks can and will be broken, given enough of an incentive. Even the purportedly unbreakable encryption schemes of HD-DVD and Blu-ray were broken relatively quickly. I’ve even participated in such efforts, like working on code that circumvents the hash checks of the code blocks sent to my creative ZEN. Admittedly, I played a small role. But I was still able to do so, using no more than a computer, with a compiler, usb ports, and code.

Do we now outlaw compilers? USB ports? Code? The bad comes with the good. I can use the tools provided on a basic Linux distribution to write a computer virus, using no more than the ability of my mind. Does this mean the tool should be locked up? Or rather, should the actions of a few be punished and socially condemned?

What if they have a “supervisor” that prevents anyone from using a compiler to do so. Even a very well-programmed guardian can and will be fooled, as can be attested by anyone that has tried to block porn sites from teenagers. Any machine block can and will be defeated.

Anything that restricts us, that was made by a human being, can and will be defeated. Any puzzle, any scheme thought up by one man, can and will be broken by another. That is what intelligence and free-will means. We can imagine ourselves as the creator, and find the flaw, for there is always a flaw. Always.

All it takes is time, and effort. And if you prevent enough people from doing things easily, they have a reason to do so. Any technological restriction and will be defeated. There is no way to stop it. Ask any third year computer science student. Ask any mathematician that deals with encryption.

To make it a bit clearer, let us borrow an analogy from the real world. Imagine I place a lock on my house. Someone breaks that lock, and enters my house, stealing something. In this case, stealing is when I am deprived and they are simultaneously enriched. Now, do we punish them for breaking the lock by itself? No. We punish them for Breaking and Entering, as well as theft. The breaking itself is not illegal, but when done for the purposes of trespassing, then it is illegal. Even were the door open to all and sundry, that still does not allow for someone to trespass. So, the same punishment still applies, even if they did no breaking. The illegal act here is the entering, not the breaking.

Another example, then. Imagine a company produces beds. They also provide head rests. They design their beds such that they only connect to their head rests, and place a protection(hard plastic perhaps) on changing this. Now, say, I want to make my own head rest, or buy a different companies head rest. Breaking that plastic does not constitute an illegal act, especially not when it is commercially detrimental to the bed company. All that protection did was to try force me to buy their head rests.

Forcing one to buy other products, or forcing a person to pay over and over again for the same thing, from the same company is extremely illegal, when it comes to physical products. Imagine if I bought a car, and then they came out with an updated version. Then they stop all support of my car, and pester me to upgrade for better “features”. My car works perfectly well, great quality, yet, I am essentially forced to buy their “better” version, once again. This is whats happened in music, and the music companies love this. People bought records, then 8 track tapes, then casettes, then CDs, then ringtones and downloads… and it was all the same music.

Technological locks make us do this. If we can’t transfer our casettes over to CDs, then we have to buy the CDs! And if our computer dies, and we weren’t allowed to make backups… too bad so sad, buy it again!

I can almost picture these companies cackling as they slip their greasy fingers into my wallet, and try to extortion more money from me. Technological measures do not, I repeat, do not stop piracy. Their only purpose is to make us buy more.

So the question that must be asked is: why oh, oh why, is it that in Canada, the corporation’s bottom line matters more than the consumers wallet? Collectively, our wallets hold more money(and more taxable income) than the corporations individually do. But they’re more valuable to protect than we are Wow. Just wow. The government wants to allow corporations to make us poor. When you talk to your MP, mention these points, that the voting public, is infinitely more valuable, and more important than a psychopathic corporation. The public interests should come way ahead of any corporations interests. Make this very clear, and that any politician seen acceding to corporate interests over voter’s interests will not be voted for. Make it clear you will campaign against any such politician, that you will write, you will speak. You will donate your time, effort, convince your family, co-workers, friends and lovers to not vote for them.

You have power. You have influence. Use it.

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Fair Use provisions

July 10th, 2008 | Category: copyright,politics

Fair use is a simple concept. In Canada its known as Fair Dealing. The idea is that no matter what you bought, no company has the right to restrict your actions with the product. Essentially, it follows from the idea that you could buy a newspaper, and cut out clippings of a newspaper article, and give them to everyone. The clipping is what you want to show people. This is perfectly allowed by law, since you OWN that physical copy.

Of course, in the digital world, it gets a little bit upset by some basic characteristics of digital products. Characteristics of digital products:

  • Copying is now a zero-cost activity. Or at the very least, neglible cost. Any digital product can be copied to any other medium, can be transferred between computers, stored on MP3 players, stored on phones, etc.
  • Copying does not degrade the product. Every copy is zero-cost, and zero-decay. The copy of a song on my mp3 player is a perfect copy. The copy of a show on a dvd is a perfect copy.
  • It has become easier than ever to make mashups of content. We can use our own pictures, or even clips from shows, along with music or dialogue to make our own content, derived usefully from copyright content. (See Lawrence Lessig’s talk at TED for some ideas how this works)

Even taking these into account, fair dealing provisions are still eminently necessary. Despite the above, there should be no reason for companies to deny us fair dealing for any reason. I would like to denote that fair dealing does not mean full sharing, but it means backups, and sharing clips and pieces of a work.

Fair dealing allows me to let my co-worker listen to the song I’m listening to. If he likes it, he’ll get it. Fair dealing allows me to back up my files and folders to disc or to an external hard drive, in case of disaster. In fact, disaster hit me once already, and I was very very lucky. Thanks to all the music I had on my mp3 player, I didn’t have to worry. Everything else had to be recovered from the dead hard drive.

The most important thing however, is that fair dealing protects me from depradations, by both the content companies, and by nature. It saves me having to rebuy my music when my computer dies. It saves me having to rebuy my music in the newest most updated form.

Of course, companies hate that. Why… thats lost money right there! Screw you. Thats all I have to say. Getting my money yet again for something I already bought? Thats not capitalism. Thats not offering me better services or products. Thats locking me in to your products. That is not fair.

Fair dealing exists to protect consumers. Yet Bill C-61 eliminates all mention of fair dealing. It is the content cartels most hated two words, because all they can see is the direct loss of money.

They are ignoring the overall benefit of fair dealing. For one, it protects consumers. This is a good thing. Not a bad thing. If a consumer has already paid for a product, they should do with it what they will. No company should be able to stop a consumer from using a bed they bought how they will. And it follows that the same applies to digital content as well.

Another is that it exposes new people, new audiences, to your products. They get to see the clips. They get to hear the music. Word of mouth has become the most important way of sharing information about products. And word of mouth is always improved by actual product viewing/use. I’m more likely to buy a game my friends like than what the hot girl on tv reccomends.

Introducing new people to your products is not a bad thing. But companies see it as bad, since no one paid them for the privilege. You can be perfectly successful using word of mouth. For example, Jonathon Coulton. He composed an addictively hilariously song called Code Monkey, and due to it, is actually making money from gigs. He composed the ending song for Portal, dontchaknow.

There are a few more important things that fair dealing protects: Parody, criticism, and satire. These are essential parts of a healthy artistic community. As well, parody and satire are a neccesary component of Canadian humour. Making those illegal will harm artists, critics, and even students of art everywhere. Plus, the comedians will be less funny. Do you want unfunny comedians?

More reason to want fair dealing: it allows criticism, parody, and satire of ridiculous content… like scientologists. Under Bill C-61, they could sue anyone that talked about their religion’s texts negatively for $20,000. Don’t believe me? They’ve done it in the states.

So really, if you want to be able to use your stuff how you want, without worrying if a company will sue you for Umpteen million dollars, talk to your MP about Bill C-61. Direct them to well, any site against it. Explain how it does not protect you the consumer, and how that is more important than lining the wallets of already rich companies.


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