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Japan's Disposable Workers
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I Am Skooter
So here's us, on the raggedy edge.
Caught in the struggle tight on the rod / I want you / Bring out the devil to bring out the god
— Peter Gabriel, And Through the Wire
December 29, 2009

Harper’s Magazine Advocates a Protectionist Economy

I really can’t find any other way to read this month’s editorial at Harpers as advocating anything other than a return to good old fashion protectionism. It all just seems a bit weird.

Notebook: Up from Globalism
by Alan Tonelson

“…the full potential of the Buy American approach has been limited by U.S. treaty obligations under NAFTA, and by our membership in the World Trade Organization. Hence, at the very least, the United States should declare these obligations suspended until the economic crisis has been vanquished.” Harpers, January 2010, pp. 9

Oddly, they go on to argue against consumption taxes arguing that they give other countries a competitive advantage.

“Another gigantic but barely recognized barrier to balancing America’s manufacturing dominated trade flows is the use of value-added taxes (VATs) by virtually all U.S. trade partners. VATs are applied only to goods consumed domestically, and since the United States lacks such measures, foreign VATs clandestinely subsidize exports to the United States by subtracting the cost of foreign governments for everything that is not consumed locally.” ibid.

On the first point, it seems clear that there’s nothing inherently wrong with a globalized economy. In theory it promotes a level playing field amongst the world’s citizens and is responsible for the rising (albeit slowly) quality of life of many citizens of traditionally third world nations.

The notion that the United States can create a walled community in which all of its needs are met seems just patently ridiculous. The American economy can’t even provide its own food. As Harpers itself has pointed out

America’s biggest crop, grain corn, is completely unpalatable. It is raw material for an industry that manufactures food substitutes. Likewise, you can’t eat unprocessed wheat. You certainly can’t eat hay. You can eat unprocessed soybeans, but mostly we don’t. These four crops cover 82 percent of American cropland.

On the second I have difficulty seeing consumption taxes as a bad thing. As with any method of taxation the taxes need to be allocated and used effectively by governments. At heart a consumption tax means that those who consume more pay more tax, and its quite difficult to hide from them. Put simply: the guy who buys a BMW pays more taxes than the guy who buys a Honda Civic.

Given the sheer size of the U.S. deficit, and the enormous levels of household debt involved it seems clear that the current strategy of American taxation isn’t sustainable.

Something has to give, and perhaps a consumption tax would help to balance the equation a bit.

Posted by skooter at 2:05 AM This entry is filed under America, Food, Politics.
Tags: America, Economics, Oil, Recession

December 22, 2009

Really? In Vancouver?

Insured by Smith and Wesson

Posted by skooter at 10:19 PM This entry is filed under Vancouver.
Tags: America, Conservative Party of Canada, Guns

December 20, 2009

2009 in Concerts

I’ve seen a lot of live shows this year. Certainly more than any other year in my life, and enough to confidently say that anybody who’s seen more than I have is either in the business or doesn’t have to get out of bed to get into work at 7 a.m. five days a week.

Either way…whatever. This isn’t a contest. Some notes on particular standouts.

The Gist with Dan Mangan, Ivan E. Coyote, Brendan McLeod, and Damonde Tschritter

Coming hot on the heels of the release of Dan’s astonishing album, this collaborative show with Ivan (one of my favourite storytellers) and two people I’d never heard of seemed like a unique event. The funny thing is, I almost didn’t go…but I did, and it’s one of the most interesting live shows I’ve seen in a while.

Not strictly a concert the artists joined each other on stage, fading to stage left and stage right as the moment demanded. Watching these four together made for memorable night of entertainment.

I’d like to see something similar again, though I suspect we won’t see Dan in that small a room in Vancouver anytime again. If you missed this, you missed a great night.

Wilco, June 30th, Jacksonville, Oregon

When the summer concert schedule for Wilco didn’t include a trip to Vancouver, I decided not to take it personally. A show was scheduled in Jacksonville, Oregon—only 9 hours straight driving on I-5! Jacksonville was close to Crater Lake National Park so I decided to spend a few days there before heading to Jacksonville for the show.

Wilco rarely disappoints, and coming on the night of the Wilco’s release the show was no exception. At an absolutely beautiful venue on an absolutely beautiful warm summer evening, songs like Remember the Mountain Bed, Spiders, Bull Black Nova and Poor Places soared into the air. The band played right through to the cutoff time for the venue, and the crowd loved every minute of it.

Neko Case, Vogue Theatre, June 3rd

If there’s one thing better than Neko in the studio, it’s Neko live. Vogue is a beautiful venue, and sitting second row centre didn’t hurt.

With a great selection of animations on the backdrop, and plenty of witty stage banter between Neko and Kelly Hogan (including a shout out to Captain Caveman) the audience laughed and cried and asked for more. Lady Pilot was a great moment, and the home made music box used in Middle Cyclone sounded absolutely gorgeous.

Young Galaxy, October 28th, Biltmore Cabaret and November 13th, Legendary Horseshoe Tavern

Don’t make me choose which was the better show. The Vancouver show was a Tuesday night, and with the U2 concert in town…well, you could have picked a better night. I was lucky to be in Toronto the night they played there.

Great show with Catherine McCandless’s beautiful voice on display. I chatted with her at both shows.

I had more fun at the Horseshoe: it was a great crowd, and I met a few nice folks. Yes, they do exist in Toronto.

Patrick Watson, December 10th, Vogue Theatre

Patrick Watson won the 2007 Polaris Prize and then proceeded to follow a first album with an amazing second one. Seeing the band play live was like watching a kid in a playground. Saying Patrick has stage presence doesn’t even being to do it justice.

With a backing band that included one cellist and three viola players, the music was stunning. Highlight of the show? Patrick sitting at a piano, alone on stage and killing every light in the house. Total darkness with just one piano and voice to cut through it. Simply amazing.

Amy Millan, October 24th, Biltmore Cabaret

The Biltmore is like my home away from home these days, and the Amy Millan show there was one of the highlights of my year for reasons that go well beyond a fun performance that included an audience member getting up on stage to sing backing vocals (and doing a very fine job.)

The opening act was Bahamas, and he ended his set with a fine cover of Purple Rain during which the entire audience sang the chorus. Two weeks earlier I heard Immaculate Machine cover The Boys are Back in Town on the same stage. I’m still not sure which I enjoyed more. Do I have to choose?

There’s other reasons this was a great show for me, but they’ve got nothing to do with the show. It was a magic night though.

December 18, 2009

2009’s Best Albums

With the end of the year approaching, lists are everywhere. It seems rather silly for me to buck this rather benign trend, so some thoughts about a year in music.

Having gotten rid of my television completely early this year, I’ve had a year that’s been fairly saturated in music.

Picking a Best album can be a fool’s game. Is there ever a single best? Is one album so much better than others that it can really be singled out from the crowd? This list is far from a complete list of everything I liked this year, but it’s a good start.

Dan Mangan: Nice, Nice, Very Nice

If there was this year, for me, it would probably be Dan Mangan’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice. Coming in a year which had Neko Case releasing Middle Cyclone and Wilco’s Wilco (the Album) this is no faint praise. Dan’s album has a depth that’s just amazing, and it’s been on heavy repeat for me since late August when I discovered it. I first heard Dan being interviewed by Stephen Quinn on CBC on one of those extremely rare summer days when I had driven to work in the last week of August. I was immediately blown away, and bought the album as soon as I got home. Sadly, I missed the album launch that weekend at The Cultch on my birthday.

Fair Verona is quite possibly my favourite song on the album. It’s quirky timings lack the radio friendliness of Road Regrets and the crowd pleasing hand clapping of Robots but it’s a song that lingers in the mind. Basket is another, and after hearing Dan play it live it’s firmly in the category of music that reaches deep into me in a very personal way.

It’s an amazing album, and if Dan doens’t win the Polaris Music Prize next year…well, buy whatever does. It’s hard to imagine an album of this depth.

There’s no doubt that the fact that Dan is new to me is a huge part of the appeal, but an album this good would have blown me away regardless. If I do have to pick a single best of Nice, Nice, Very Nice is probably it.

Wilco (the Album)

A new Wilco album is always a treat and this year’s was no exception. Jeff Tweedy claims to be happier than he has been in years and it shows—the album is cheerful and upbeat when compared to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Summerteeth, and A Ghost is Born. If there’s an album this year that defies the notion that great art comes from sadness, this is it.

Standout tracks include One Wing, Bull Black Nova and I’ll Fight.

Wilco also released Ashes of American Flags on DVD and (as they have always done) offered the DVD’s music content for download. If there’s anything better than Wilco in the studio it’s Wilco live and Ashes of American Flags doesn’t disappoint. From the chimes of the opening track to the rediscovered vocal of It’s Just That Simple from A.M. this was the album that I listened to the most through late spring and beginning of the summer.

Neko Case: Middle Cyclone

It seems as if Neko can do no wrong: from the very early Canadian Amp through Blacklisted and all the way to Middle Cyclone her albums are so consistently good it’s hard to imagine her ever putting out a bad one.

Middle Cyclone, largely produced on her farm in Vermont, has been called the only animal rights album that doesn’t suck. Neko’s lyrics are full of the kind of wry humour that comes from the dark places in your heart.

Neko called Don’t Forget Me the saddest song ever the first time I heard her sing it, and it’s hard to disagree with that. On the album the much discussed piano orchestra she rustled up from Craigslist gives the song a big, rich sound.

She’s introduced the incredibly fun People Got a Lot of Nerve this way:

“Picture elephants, and killer whales, in a jeep…on a killing spree. They’re four wheelin’, they got rifles, let’s do it.”

and Middle Cyclone was recorded with a home made music box as the main instrument and it’s rough analog sound is just beautiful.

Topping it all off, the album ends with 31 minutes of frogs and crickets recorded on the farm. In an interview Neko said that it was actually about four minutes that was looped back on itself because that was about as long as she could stand still before her cords started making that “whup whup whup” sound. I wish I could find that interview, but you’ll have to take my word for it.

Amy Milan: Masters of the Burial

CBC radio’s Q has been the single best thing to happen to the Canadian arts & culture scene in the last year, and it’s how I found Amy Millan. On the way home from Dan Mangan’s show at the Port Moody Festival of the Arts I was listening, and Jian Ghomeshi was interviewing Amy. Struck by the interview, I thought I’d go see her live at the Biltmore. It turned out to be a great and memorable night out.

After the show I bought the album—with a photo of an elephant on the cover, it was almost mandatory for me—and its gradually worked its way into my frequent listening over the past month or so. Beautiful and introspective, its spare roots aesthetic has endless appeal. Between Amy and seeing Jason Collett I may yet become a Broken Social Scene fan (though I feel disloyal to Vancouver’s local supergroup The New Pornographers when I say that.)

Posted by skooter at 2:24 PM This entry is filed under Music, Vancouver.
Tags: Amy Millan, Best of 2009, Dan Mangan, Neko Case, New Pornographers, Wilco

December 17, 2009

Intel’s Recruiting Process

No actual Intel engineers were injured in the filming of this video.

Posted by skooter at 1:53 PM This entry is filed under Technology.
Tags: Finland, Intel

December 15, 2009

Arcade Fire with David Bowie - Wake Up

The drummer totally makes the video clip. No modesty in the Arcade Fire

Posted by skooter at 10:51 PM This entry is filed under Entertainment.
Tags: Arcade Fire, David Bowie, Music, Music Videos

Portrait of a Multitasking Mind

Scientific American debunks the myth of the multi-tasking mind (a little bit, at least.) The emphasis below is mine.

Media multitasking is increasingly common, to the extent that some have dubbed today’s teens “Generation M.”

People often think of the ability to multitask as a positive attribute, to the degree that they will proudly tout their ability to multitask. Likewise it’s not uncommon to see job advertisements that place “ability to multitask” at the top of their list of required abilities. Technologies such as smartphones cater to this idea that we can (and should) maximize our efficiency by getting things done in parallel with each other. Why aren’t you paying your bills and checking traffic while you’re driving and talking on the phone with your mother? However, new research by EyalOphir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner at Stanford University suggests that people who multitask suffer from a problem: weaker self-control ability.

Posted by skooter at 12:37 PM This entry is filed under Science.
Tags: Multitasking, Research, Science

The Last Penguin

A excellent New Yorker slideshow called The Last Penguin includes one of the saddest photos you’ll ever see: a single, lone survivor of one of Anterctica’s Adelie penguin colonies.

If you need another reason to fight for climate change think of The Last Penguin. It wasn’t that long ago, after all, that Tom Cruise starred in The Last Samurai.

Posted by skooter at 9:09 AM This entry is filed under Penguins, Science.
Tags: Environmentalism, Penguins

December 10, 2009

Global Warming = Less Beer

As if you needed more reasons to leave the car at home, global warming is bad for hops, which meants it’s bad for beer.

Posted by skooter at 5:41 PM This entry is filed under Science.
Tags: Beer, Environmentalism

Take That Alberta

H2oil animated sequences from Dale Hayward on Vimeo.

Otherwise known as why the tar sands are not a truly viable source of oil.

Posted by skooter at 1:58 AM This entry is filed under Politics.
Tags: Alberta, Environmentalism, Oil

December 9, 2009

George Burns & the Muppets: Train Back Home

Too lovely for words. It’s hard to imagine that George Burns has been gone so long.

San Francisco is a grand old place
when I get back I’ll never never roam
tell those cable cars to wait
and open up that Golden Gate
I’m gonna take the train back home
to San Francisco

Posted by skooter at 4:13 AM This entry is filed under Entertainment.
Tags: Comedy, Muppets

The Economist: Shopping Around the Web

In February of 2000, The Economist published a study of the state of the e-commerce industry. If not exactly in its infancy at the time, it was certainly not yet a full grown child. Amazon was five years into its life, and the first wave of e-commerce pioneers was having its inevitable and unpredictable failures. The stock market was in the throes of its irrational exuberance

Some excerpts from the study. All citations are related to the Economist e-commerce survey found in issue of February 26th, 2000.

“Electronic commerce may not amount to much at the moment, but it is growing very fast…[business to business] transactions account for as much as 80% of all e-commerce which, according to Forrester Research, an Internet consulting firm, added up to over $150 billion last year.” pp. 5

“In many areas of retailing and commerce, the Internet is unlikely to capture more than a few percentage points of the market for several years to come. But even a small share can quickly start to have a big effect. In the travel business, for instance, margins are so thing that a loss of only 3-5% of the market to the Internet threatens to drive large numbers of traditional travel agents out of business.” pp. 5

Continue reading "The Economist: Shopping Around the Web"

Posted by skooter at 2:34 AM This entry is filed under Technology.
Tags: E-commerce, Economics, iTunes, Online Marketing

December 8, 2009

Cannondale Dutchess Concept Bike

Cannondale Dutchess Concept Bike North America needs more bikes like this. Badly. They are the difference between cycling as mainstream transportation and 3% of all trips being made by bicycle in the City of Vancouver.

Posted by skooter at 5:02 AM This entry is filed under Cycling.
Tags: Cannondale, Cycling, Design, Transportation

National Public Radio’s Best of 2009

Over at NPR listeners (including this one) have chosen their favourite albums and songs of 2009. I’ve got no major quibbles with the list, judged in abstract anyway. I never take the order of these lists too literally (aside from obvious large gaps of the “WTF do you mean Britney Spears ranks 10 higher than Wilco!” sort.) At least three of the top ten are on my list of favourite things from this year.

Most of what they missed is, frankly, Canadian and as such not entirely surprising. NPR listeners don’t get the Canadian content that CBC listeners do. It’s what makes CBC feel like home for me.

I’ll write more later.

Posted by skooter at 4:26 AM This entry is filed under Canada, Entertainment, Music.
Tags: Neko Case, NPR, Wilco

December 3, 2009

Thirty Conversations on Design

If you only watch the interview with Richard Saul Wurman it will be worth it.

“”Our sense of style and aesthetics and what’s in changes. Our sense of understanding something is…less changeable”
- Richard Saul Wurman

Posted by skooter at 6:00 AM This entry is filed under Marketing, Technology.
Tags: Interaction Design, Usability